Europe’s Economy Expanded in Spring, and Inflation Has Eased

The News

Europe’s economy showed signs of recovery in spring, emerging from a stagnant start to the year to expand in the months of April to June, data released on Monday showed. What’s more, the annual rate of inflation eased in July.

But not all of the news was positive, with economic growth varying widely among the 20 countries that use the euro. And price pressures remain elevated, raising concerns that it may take more time and action by the European Central Bank before inflation meaningfully subsides.

Economic Growth: The euro area expands, but the gains are uneven.

Gross domestic product in the eurozone grew 0.3 percent in the second quarter of 2023, a stronger result than predicted by economists. But the recovery, after zero growth in the first quarter, was not consistent across countries.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, stagnated in the second quarter and prospects for a recovery throughout the year remain low, as many of the country’s heavy industries rely on energy and have suffered from the price increases triggered by the war in Ukraine.

“The main cause for concern is the industrial sector, where despite dwindling supply chain problems, production continues to tread water and we see a downward trend on the intake of new orders,” said Fritzi Köhler-Geib, the chief economist with KfW, Germany’s state-owned investment bank.

Italy, Austria and Latvia all saw output fall in the second quarter. But growth in Spain, which saw strong domestic demand, and France, which saw an 11.2 percent jump in exports of transport equipment (in particular, the delivery of a cruise ship) helped to lift the eurozone’s numbers.

Inflation: Well above 2 percent target, but cooling.

Inflation across the eurozone dipped to an annual rate of 5.3 percent in July, down from 5.5 percent the previous month. The European Central Bank has increased interest rates at every meeting held this year, as it tries to bring inflation down to its 2 percent target.

Last week, the bank pushed the deposit rate up by a quarter of a point, to 3.75 percent, the highest since late 2000. Speaking over the weekend, Christine Lagarde, the central bank’s president, said in remarks to the French daily Le Figaro that “monetary policy has clearly begun to have an impact on lowering inflation.”

Some policymakers have pointed to the persistence of so-called core inflation, which strips out food and energy prices, as an indication that the eurozone is not out of the woods yet. Core inflation held steady at a 5.5 percent annual rate in July.

What’s Next: Another rate increase?

Ms. Lagarde has kept her options open ahead of the E.C.B.’s next meeting, in September. Monetary policy tends to work slowly and policymakers will receive a lot of fresh data between now and the next rate-setting meeting.

Although energy prices, which were a main driver of inflation over the past year, have eased and Europe is on track to make it through a second winter without significant amounts of fossil fuels from Russia, the war in Ukraine continues to be a drag on Europe’s economy.

And past rate increases have led to tighter lending conditions and declining demand for loans, which has driven down consumer spending across much of the eurozone. These trends have raised concerns among economists, with some warning that Europe remains at a risk of stagnation or even recession.

“On the whole, the eurozone economy recorded another underwhelming quarter,” said Ricardo Amaro, a senior economist at Oxford Economics. He noted that “the second half of the year is likely to be as underwhelming, if not more than the first half, with the eurozone economy risking stagnation or worse.”

Melissa Eddy is a correspondent based in Berlin who covers German politics, social issues and culture. She came to Germany as a Fulbright scholar in 1996, and previously worked for The Associated Press in Frankfurt, Vienna and the Balkans. More about Melissa Eddy

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