The Eurozone economy doesn’t seem able to gain a sustainable growth path, despite the hundreds of billions that, lately, European Central Bank has injected into the financial system. Analysts say, though, that ECB’s intervention came too late. There is more bad news for the real economy coming from the prices front.
Last week, Eurostat, the EU statistical service published its flash estimate for the March inflation, finding it again below the zero line at -0.1%, from -0.2% in February. Very low or negative inflation has been prevailing in Eurozone for many years now and, indisputably, this is a very bad omen for the state of the entire economy.
Near the recession trap
At the same time, GDP oscillates just above the recession level for a sixth year in a row, because the economy is still suffering from the devastating effects of the 2008-2010 financial meltdown. According to Eurostat, euro area’s (EU19) GDP rose by 0.3% during the last quarter of 2015, compared with the previous quarter.
This meagerly positive rate of growth is far from being enough to lead to a perceptible reduction of the double digit unemployment rate. Not to say anything about the dreadfully high jobless youth numbers in most EU countries. This is not any more just an economic problem, it has already become a social, political and a security predicament.
Manufacturing just about survives
In the heart of the economy, the manufacturing sector remains very close to the thin line which separates contraction from growth. According to Markit, a financial information and services company, the manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for Eurozone in March was estimated at 51.6 from 51.2 in February.
According to the configuration of the PMI index, the measurement of 50 is the dividing level. Below that, it’s recession, and above that, it’s growth. Visibly, Eurozone manufacturing remains barely above the surface level, unable to support a sustainable and noticeable recovery.
The quite unsatisfactory betterment of PMI from February to March has been recorded, despite the recent spectacular change of ECB’s monetary policy, from tightness to quantitative easing. The central bank, after many years of nonintervention policy decided in March 2015 to inject around €60 billion a month of almost zero interest rates, in the hope that this will be translated into increased financing, to revive the real economy. Soon this scheme will reach €80bn a month.
Unfortunately, it seems that the recipients of this money bonanza, the banks, do not fulfill their duty towards society. They withhold most of the money and use it for betting in the derivatives markets for quick but risky profits. If their bets come true, they keep the profits, if they come sour they ask the taxpayers to cover the losses. It was like that in 2008 and, alas, nothing has changed since.
The EU a net exporter
Still, the EU is a net strong exporter of goods and services. According to Eurostat in 2015, the 28 Member States exported a total of €4,861bn and imported a total of €4,707bn of goods. That leaves a trade balance in goods of €154bn. If you add the positive trade balance of services of about €750nb yearly, the EU records in total a lucrative trade balance of goods and services of around €900bn. That’s why the foreign value of the euro is so resilient compared with the dollar, despite the fact that the US grows faster than the stagnant Eurozone.
However, a large part of the excellent export performance of many EU countries, is based on the trade distortion in favour of intra-EU transactions, that the EU Customs union has produced. This is done by imposing straight forward import duties but not only; there is a long array of many other trade distorting measures favoring intra-EU exchanges, like ‘special’ technical standards, anti-dumping legislation etc. As a result, around two thirds of the EU exports were directed last year to another EU member state. Only three countries, Germany, Ireland and Sweden had as first customer for their goods a country outside the EU.
Bad news for Britain
By the way, this is bad news for Britain. If this country decides next June to leave the protected market of the EU customs union, it will get itself into trouble. Soon, the British exporters will face mounting difficulties exporting to mainland Europe. Add to that the chronic problem that the UK has with its current account deficit of around 5% of GDP (transactions in goods, services and incomes), and the fervent ‘leavers’ will soon discover, that they vied to damage their country’s economy. Oddly enough, this fact is not used as a prime argument by the ‘stay’ in the EU camp.
In conclusion, under the current bearish economic circumstances, a possible Brexit will come as a blow to both the UK and the EU. Fortunately, the latest polls still give the ‘stay’ side a lead. In any case, the referendum is already affecting the economic climate in Britain and in mainland Europe and the impact will increase as we approach Thursday 23 June. Unfortunately, though, the rather more probable ‘stay’ outcome doesn’t seem enough to lift the entire EU economy.