Europe Economy

Euro zone stalling? Barclays downgrades growth

The challenges facing the European Central Bank (ECB) were laid bare once again on Monday, with yet more data indicating the region is failing to build on the flickering signs of growth it posted this time last year.

Industrial production in the 18 countries that share the euro showed a disappointing slump in May, according to official statistics published Monday. Output fell by 1.1 percent from the month before - the largest month-on-month drop since September 2012.

The "disappointing print" led Barclays to reduce its projections for the euro area's quarterly growth by 0.2 percentage points on Monday, to an estimated reading of 0.2 percent for the second quarter. The bank said this move was consistent with other recent weak data points, such as the Purchasing Managers' Index from data provider Markit.

Recovery over?

With volatility back in peripheral government bond yields and European banking stocks also trading cautiously, Barclays' analysts aren't the only ones concerned about the region's prospects.

First-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) in the region missed forecasts back in May, expanding by just 0.2 percent on the quarter. The ECB responded to growth concerns by announcing a range new policy tools aimed at stimulating growth in June - but has meant little for backward looking data, and their impact may not be felt for some time.

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Jessica Hinds, an economist at Capital Economics, said the industrial production figures bode ill for the region's overall economic recovery, which "is flagging before it has even really begun."

IHS Global Insight economist Howard Archer, meanwhile, said the industrial production figures were "hugely disappointing" and dented hopes that euro zone GDP growth saw significant improvement in the second quarter.

"Indeed, there is now a grave danger that the sector contracted in the second quarter thereby limiting euro zone GDP growth," he said in a note.

Following the financial crash of 2008, nations across the globe were forced to restructure and rebalancing their economies. Substantial sovereign and bank debt led the euro zone to fall back into recession in 2011.

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The bloc's economy managed to expand again – just - in the summer of 2013, but its failure to build on that has the potential to hit asset markets, monetary policy, social and economic stability in Europe and the global economy more broadly.

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Japanese investors, for example, have been piling into French bonds, according to a report by Reuters. The news agency reported Monday that there has been a record surge in demand from the Asian buyers who are betting on a prolonged period of weak inflation growth and low interest rates. Investors tend to favor bonds in a low-inflation environment.

'Erratic' weakness

Despite sending a note to clients Monday posing the question: "Has the recovery in the euro area stalled?", Credit Suisse appears to be slightly more bullish on the region.

The French bank is not forecasting a relapse into recession, or even a slowdown in its own projections. Instead its analysts said the recent weakness in growth was "erratic" and could be related the bank holidays that fell in the month of May.

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"To the extent to which some of the weakness is fundamental, we judge it to be a lagged reflection of external conditions: the broad-based slowdown in global growth in (the first half of the year)," Neville Hill, the head of the European economics team at Credit Suisse and a former U.K. Treasury official, said in a research note Monday.

"We expect reliable leading and coincident indicators of euro area growth to improve in the second half of the year. That should slowly reassure investors that the euro area recovery is still alive, even not yet kicking."

The flash estimate for second-quarter euro zone GDP is due on August 14.