According to the latest statistics published in August by Eurostat, the EU statistical service, the euro area economy grew by a meager 0.3% during the second quarter of this year. Despite the fact that the mere three decimal points of more gross product typically illustrate a positive development for the Eurozone economy, there are other statistical indicators which point to the negative direction. Before presenting those alarming data it’s worthwhile to theorize a bit about the other statistics.
This newspaper has been following closely the languishing growth path of the euro area economy. In this task Eurostat is the main source of credible statistics with the quarterly estimates of GDP. In addition, alongside the gross domestic product data, EU’s statistical service produces more facts concerning equally important variables related to Eurozone’s economic developments. The most pertinent of them are the monthly retail trade sales and industrial production estimates.
There are more variables though related to the overall prospects of the single euro money area economy. Some of them are probably even more important than the GDP evolution statistics themselves. In this line of thinking there is, firstly, the monthly inflation rate statistical series. Actually, in the present languishing economic conjuncture with the danger of disinflation or even deflation hanging around, the consumer price indexes acquire special importance.
The same is true for the unemployment rate. Needless to point out that from the policy point of view, the overall performance of any economy is authentically depicted by the unemployment rate. After all, economies exist for the people to be able to find employment and get along with their lives. Under this light, in relation to the political developments and the government decision making, the monthly unemployment estimates published by Eurostat are more important than any other statistical indicator.
Theory and practice
Now armed with this little theory it’s easier to embark into the sea of statistics. As mentioned above, Eurozone’s DGP grew by three decimal points in the second quarter. Unfortunately, every other indicator points to the negative direction. Starting from the retail trade, Eurostat found that in June the sales fell by 0.6% in relation to May. It’s worth noting that the movements of the retail sales index are a safe estimate of consumption which is the largest component of GDP. On top of that, a drop in retail sales today may be a forewarning for a fall in investment in the immediate future. Knowing that consumption and investments account for the bulk of GDP, it won’t be a wild estimate if one predicted a negative effect on growth in the immediate future.
Let’s pass now to the nuts and bolts of the real economy, the industry; according to Eurostat, industrial production fell by 0.4% in June compared to May. It’s not only that though. In June also industrial producer prices fell in comparison to May. When producers are forced to cut down their prices it’s quite possible that in the next month they might cut down their production too. Unfortunately, all along this year industrial production and industrial producer prices oscillate around zero and during most months they are found to be below the zero line.
The deflation danger still lurking
Regarding now the overall inflation rate, Eurostat published this week its flash estimate for the August figure at 0.2%. Right from the beginning of the year inflation is stuck around zero and in March it actually fell below it. This threatening performance of consumer prices has prompted the European Central bank to introduce its latest extraordinary monetary policy measure of €1.14 trillion, to be printed and spent for free money injections to the economy. Under this scheme, the ECB will be spending at least €60 billion a month until September 2016 in the government debt markets, buying sovereign bonds issued by member states and European institutions.
Last but not least, the Eurozone unemployment rate has steadily remained in the double digit area for many years now, since the 2007-2008 financial Armageddon. Eurostat found it at 10.9% in July. It was stuck at 11.1% for three consecutive months till June. In the euro area all along the last seven years the number of people without a job ranged from 17 to 18.5 million people. This is practically the same as if a major Eurozone country is staying practically totally idle.
What hurts more
All in all, the crucial statistical indicators betray long term stagnation at the limits of recession for the Eurozone economy. As it turns out, the only EU institution that worries about it is the ECB. Berlin has opposed and probably fatally delayed the application of the central bank’s extraordinary measures and Germany, regrettably, seems happy with the present situation. It still insists that the European economy doesn’t need a change of economic policy course. If this ‘arrangement’ continues in the future it is most likely that some countries will face insurmountable economic and political problems.
First of all, Greece may fail to implement the third bailout agreement Athens signed with Brussels and this may trigger quite unpleasant economic and political developments. Add to that the recent fall out in the stock exchanges and the mix may become explosive.