Thursday, February 25, 2010

Economics 25/02/2010: European economy and EU Commission

"Slide 1Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again. Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now." The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Indeed. Today's ECFIN weekly newsletter said it all. Titled cheerfully "ECFIN e-news 8 - EU interim economic forecast: fragile recovery has begun" it featured the revised interim forecast for EU economy from the EU Commission. It turns out, per forecast that (unbeknown to most of us in the real world) "the longest and deepest recession in EU history came to an end as real GDP in the EU started to grow again in the third quarter of 2009." This comes despite the fact that growth actually fell (and almost reached back into negative territory) in Q4 2009. Thus, in line with Commission optimism, Brussels now expects "seven largest EU Member States, expand by an anaemic 0.7%".

eaker housing investments and continuing balance-sheet adjustment across sectors are expected to restrain EU growth in 2010. Unemployment remains on the rise and would thus dampen private consumption as well. Inflation projections remain largely unchanged at 1.4% and 1.1% in the EU and the euro area respectively".

I am not sure if this rather gloomy prospect matches the headline, but the same issue of the newsletter contains another piece titled "Rebound in economic sentiment slows in February". So can someone explain to me, please - is it that the recovery has begun, or is that the recovery is running out of steam? Clearly, I would tend to believe the second one, since it is based not on projections by the Commission (which famously predicted, and actually planned for overtaking the US in terms of productivity, economic growth and economic wellbeing by 2010, moved to 2012 and later to 2015), but on hard data.

Slide 1

In February 2010, the EU's Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) rose by statistically insignificant 0.2% to a still-recessionary 97.4. ESI was down to 95.9 (-0.1% on January) in the euro area. The latter correction follows an unterrupted climb up over 10 months, suggesting that the growth momentum might have been exhausted.

February reading of the Business Climate Indicator (BCI) for the euro area rose for the eleventh month in a row. Happy times? Not really - the relatively low level of the indicator suggests that year-on-year industrial production in January 2010 was still contracting, not expanding.

Drilling deeper into data: all sub-components of the confidence indicators remained below growth levels in January and February 2010. And one - retail trade confidence indicator actually reversed back into contraction territory after December when it crossed over the growth line. Employment conditions in services have turned negative again in January, as did construction confidence indicator.

Which part is showing that the recovery has begun, I wonder?

May be, just may be - the business climate is improving somehow? Well, not really:
EU Commission own BCI is still stuck at -1 - below expansion levels.

Consumers picking up, then? Nope: "In February 2010, the DG ECFIN flash estimate1 of the consumer confidence indicator2 for the euro area signals the first fall after 10 months of improvement (down to -17.4 from -15.8 in January). Confidence declined also among EU consumers, but to a lesser extent (down to -13.6 from -13.1 in January)."

So: consumers are down, producers are in the red and overall economic indicators are turning South again... yet 'recovery has begun'.

A bowl of petunias signalling the nature of the Universe from its Brussels windowsill.

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