Europe’s recovery remains tentative as pace of growth slips

Purchasing managers’ indexes indicate activity in both services and manufacturing falls back

European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Wed, Nov 6, 2013, 15:31

The euro zone’s economic recovery lost a little momentum last month, according to surveys that showed only modest growth in German and French businesses.

Data from non-euro zone Britain impressed again, however, and German industrial orders jumped underlining the uneven nature of overall European recovery.

Today’s purchasing managers’ indexes (PMIs) from Markit showed the pace of growth in euro zone businesses slipped last month, although not nearly as badly as first projections.

Taken as a whole, the indexes pointed to fragile economic growth that will do little to ease the pressure on the European Central Bank to take some action, although not perhaps at its policy meeting tomorrow.

With surprisingly low inflation last month, speculation in markets and among economists has grown that the ECB is primed to stimulate the economy again - perhaps next month.

“Our view is that rates will remain on hold tomorrow although we expect that ECB President (Mario) Draghi will ‘disclose’ that a rate cut was considered,” said analysts at Rabobank, after the PMIs. Financial markets also question what effect a straightforward interest rate cut would have given that rates are already at record lows.

Overall, the tone of the data today were mixed. German industrial orders rose at a far faster pace than expected in September, but euro zone retails sales slipped more than predicted during the same month.

By contrast, British indicators added to evidence the UK is spearheading Europe’s recovery from recession. UK industrial output in September came in much better than the Reuters consensus, following on from yesterday’s upbeat business surveys.

The Bank of England meets today and tomorrow and is not expected to change policy, having said it will keep interest rates at their record low until unemployment falls to 7 per cent.

Economists expect the bank to bring forward its expectation for when that will happen - currently late 2016 - when it publishes new forecasts next week.

The euro tip-toed away from a seven-week low today after the data, as talk of extending the lifespan of the US Federal Reserve’s stimulus helped balance expectations of easing by the ECB in coming months.

Markit’s October euro zone Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) of activity in both the services and manufacturing sectors slipped to 51.9 in October from 52.2 in September.

That marked an improvement on an initial estimate two weeks ago of 51.5, however.

The PMI for the services sector, covering thousands of firms across the euro zone from major banks to hairdressers, slipped to 51.6 from September’s 52.2. Again, that was higher than the preliminary reading of 50.9. Readings above 50 indicate expansion in activity.

While the modest pace of growth in activity at German and French companies was unchanged last month, it dwindled at Italian services firms and activity declined again in Spain.

“The loss of momentum raises concerns that the upturn is faltering and piles further pressure on the European Central Bank to reinvigorate the recovery,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at PMI compiler Markit. The ECB is likely to resist pressure for an interest rate cut tomorrow despite a dive in inflation to 0.7 per cent in October, close to a four-year low and far below its target of close to 2 per cent.

Companies continued to trim prices charged to customers at a steady pace last month, the PMI showed, suggesting little chance inflation will edge higher. The surveys brought more bad news on the labour front as companies cut jobs at a faster pace in October.

Data last week showed euro zone unemployment hit a record 12.2 per cent in September.

Reuters