Euro sign in front of the European Central Bank building in Frankfurt, Germany. Picture: ISTOCK
Euro sign in front of the European Central Bank building in Frankfurt, Germany. Picture: ISTOCK

Brussels — The eurozone economy grew faster than expected last quarter and unemployment fell to its lowest in almost nine years, backing up the European Central Bank’s move to begin reducing its bond buying despite slightly soft inflation this month.

The EU’s statistics office, Eurostat, estimated that the GDP of the 19 countries that use the euro grew 0.6% in July-September from the previous three months, and was 2.5% higher than in the same period of 2016.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.5% quarterly rise and a 2.4% year-on-year gain.

"The better-than-expected GDP print — along with our leading indicators — suggests that growth remains robust, thus supporting the recent ECB quantitative easing recalibration," Morgan Stanley economists Daniele Antonucci and Joao Almeida wrote in a note.

Last week the ECB took its first step towards weaning the eurozone off ultra-loose money by saying that from January, it would halve the amount of bonds it bought every month to €30bn. It nevertheless promised years of stimulus and left the door open to backtracking.

The economic growth helped bring down eurozone unemployment to the lowest level since January 2009, beating market expectations.

The unemployment rate fell to 8.9% of the workforce or 14.513-million people in September from a downwardly revised 9.0%, or 14.609-million, in August. Economists polled by Reuters had expected an unemployment rate of 9.0%. But consumer price growth in October eased to 1.4% year on year, a Eurostat estimate showed, from 1.5% in the previous two months. The ECB wants to see headline inflation below but close to 2% over a two-year horizon.

The slower inflation was mainly because of slower growth of energy prices, which rose 3.0% year on year in October, slowing from 3.9% in September, offsetting equally volatile unprocessed food prices which rose 2.8% after 1.5% in September.

Measured without these two most volatile components, inflation slowed to 1.1% in October from 1.3% in September.

"Strong growth supports the notion that core inflation should eventually normalise further, while headline inflation is likely to print lower for some time and follow a V-shaped trajectory, to come closer to the ECB target from late 2018," the Morgan Stanley analysts wrote.

"Despite today’s downside surprise, core HICP (harmonised index of consumer prices) has inflected higher since the ‘local’ low of 0.7% in March, albeit gradually and from a low level. It should get back to its long-term average of 1.5% in the second half of 2018," it said.


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