It’s a strange morning in European economic data, because there are three reasons to be cheerful today.
First we got Spanish retail sales, up 6.5% in December. That’s partly down to a bad December last year, but it’s an 11-year high. Spain has extremely elevated unemployment, and house prices are still well below pre-crash levels, but there are some encouraging signs of consumption growth returning. GDP rose 0.5% in the last two quarters, which by current eurozone standards is practically a boom.
Probably most importantly, private lending is back! After two and a half years of contraction, loans to the private sector grew by 0.1% in December. The end of the European Central Bank’s stress test and the start of a quantitative easing programme should help to keep that figure in positive territory.
Last (and probably least), the European Commission just released its economic sentiment index for January. At 101.2, it’s above the long-term average (100). After a slide last year, the confidence figure turned up in the fourth quarter and looks to be trending higher.
It’s probably no reason to get incredibly excited. In context, European growth is still very weak, and a proper recovery has now been delayed for coming up on 7 years. It’s still a half-formed currency union with a lot of problems in the long-term. Greek politics is going to be a major risk, and deflation is a much bigger issue in Europe than in the US.
But it’s easy to get carried away with the gloom about Europe (and there’s still plenty to be gloomy about). In the UK, that’s what led a lot of people to miss the early signs of green shoots. If these figures are any guide, the eurozone could be looking at a modest recovery, despite its many problems.
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