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Euro-Area Economy Soars, Surpassing Expectations and Signaling Robust Growth

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Lauren Miller

April 23, 2024 - 08:16 am

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Surge in Euro-Area Economic Activity Signals Robust Growth

Euro-area private-sector activity has witnessed a significant surge, reaching its peak in almost a year, with a particularly robust services sector and Germany’s rebound to growth fuelling the uplift. The latest data divulged on Tuesday showed that the S&P Global's purchasing managers’ index (PMI) soared to 51.4 in April, transcending economists' forecasts of 50.7 and maintaining above the critical 50 threshold, which demarcates expansion, for the second consecutive month. This resurgence, particularly in Germany, has surpassed analysts' expectations, which had anticipated a continuation of more subdued figures.

Cyrus de la Rubia, the chief economist at Hamburg Commercial Bank, elaborated on the implications of the positive figures, positing that the euro area is likely to mirror its first quarter growth rate of 0.3% in the second quarter. This growth projection presents a more optimistic outlook compared to the Bloomberg consensus, which only forecasts a slight 0.1% expansion at the start of the year. Further insights on economic performance will be unveiled with data due on April 30.

In a detailed analysis of the German economy, it is found that private-sector activity has grown for the first time in 10 months, mainly propelled by the services sector, while the manufacturing sector continues to dwindle in size. However, the decline in manufacturing has slowed down compared to previous months. De la Rubia observed that the anticipated recession may have been largely contained within the manufacturing industry, while the broader economy seems to have narrowly dodged a downturn, thanks to the services sector, which could act as a stimulus for overall economic recovery.

Previous forecasts had painted a bleak picture of the German economy, projecting a mild recession over the winter following a contraction in the last quarter of the previous year. Contrary to these predictions, the Bundesbank suggested last week that the first three months of the year might have witnessed a slight increase in output, spurred by industrial production, exports, and construction activities. This upturn suggests that Germany might evade the anticipated recessionary phase.

De la Rubia concurred with the Bundesbank’s optimism, citing a Nowcast model that indicates potential economic growth of 0.1% in the first quarter, set to follow with a 0.2% upturn in the second. Following the publication of the German data, bond prices fell across the curve, and money markets scaled down their bets on the likelihood of interest-rate cuts, showcasing a changing sentiment among investors.

There was also a notable improvement in France’s economic performance, where activity steadied after a continued 10-month contraction, predominantly driven by the services sector. Rising demand led to an expansion in services, marking the first increase in almost a year. Meanwhile, new factory orders dropped significantly, marking the most considerable decline since January and amplifying the divergence between manufacturing and service industries.

Norman Liebke, an economist at Hamburg Commercial Bank, highlighted the vital role of the French services sector, which he referred to as the economy’s workhorse. Despite the subdued performance of French manufacturing output, Liebke anticipates it will soon echo the recovery trajectory of the services sector, though it currently acts as a drag on the economy's overall recuperation.

In both Germany and France, the budding momentum was accompanied by increased price pressures, raising potential concerns for the officials at the European Central Bank (ECB), who are preparing for a rate cut in June. Services sectors, primarily influenced by rising wages, were the centers of these mounting price pressures.

The disparity in economic fortunes was also mirrored in employment trends. While services firms in both countries have accelerated hiring, factories have cut back on jobs. Despite these national efforts, the broader euro area's progress seems to outpace both Germany and France, suggesting a regional recovery from energy crises which had throttled the post-Covid rebound.

The jump in power costs, a repercussion of Russia's military engagement in Ukraine, has also stoked inflation; however, consumer price inflation has since shown a significant deceleration. The PMI data for this month revealed a slight intensification in price pressures.

De la Rubia questioned the ECB's readiness to trim interest rates come June, pointing to inputs that indicate an accelerated increase in input costs. These cost inflations are attributed to not just the upsurge in oil prices but also, and more worryingly, to higher wage demands. The service-sector companies have seemingly ratcheted up their pricing, catalyzing predictions of continued inflation within the services.

However, despite the potential impediments, de la Rubia believes that the ECB will not waver on its widely signaled forthcoming policy easing. He anticipates a more measured approach, contrasting Francois Villeroy de Galhau's suggestion of a 'pragmatic speed’ for the easing.

Backing this cautious stance, ECB Vice President Luis de Guindos emphasized the soaring levels of uncertainty, making it arduous to forecast future economic conditions accurately. His statement to Le Monde, as documented on the ECB website, signposts a preference for prudence, further reinforcing the expectation of a deliberate and careful retreat from current policy tightening.

PMIs play a crucial role in financial markets due to their timely monthly release, providing an immediate insight into economic trends and potential turning points. While these business surveys reflect changes in output breadth and may not always align seamlessly with quarterly GDP data, they offer valuable early indicators of economic health.

Upcoming PMI figures from the United Kingdom and the United States are anticipated to confirm continued economic growth. Complementing this outlook, earlier reports from Australia, India, and Japan have indicated an acceleration in economic expansion providing a global perspective on the recovery trend.

In conclusion, with additional insights from Joel Rinneby, Mark Evans, and James Hirai, the recent economic data signals a promising phase for the euro area and its largest economies. While the nuances of the recovery may vary between services and manufacturing sectors, the overall upward trajectory points to a resilient euro zone poised for growth amid challenging global and geopolitical conditions. As the ECB navigates the intricate balance between promoting growth and controlling inflation, the euro area seems to be on a stable path, gradually emerging from the shadows of the previous year's downturns.