Eurozone growth goes from setback to setback with last week’s GDP number being just the latest in a long line of similar disappointments. Soft indicators have consistently overstated the strength of this year’s recovery, and the unpleasant truth is that as one country after another has swooned under the summer heat we are down to Spain as ‘last man standing’. Our leading indicators are pointing to anaemic growth ahead for much of the eurozone and Russia’s recent food sanctions on European agriculture will only add to the downturn.
Nothing comes for free and with the eurozone periphery deflating its way to a currency account surplus the aggregate external balance of the euro area has increased to its highest level ever at more than 2% of GDP. Coupled with tighter liquidity (less euros sloshing around), improved sentiment and repatriation ahead of AQR the EUR has seen strong support this year.
European economies showed further signs of stabilization in January with flash PMIs registering continued strengthening on most fronts (this week will see a number of actual PMI readings). The only noteworthy exception was France where conditions deteriorated further, with the composite reading falling to 42.6 (from 44.7 in December) and hence showing a sharp contraction. At the other end of the scale was Germany, where the composite showed 53.6 (up from 50.3 in December), an evidently positive surge in activity.
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In our view, the Spanish banking system is in need of wholesale recapitalisation to deal with the sizeable losses in the country’s property market. This will likely include a bad bank provision. Before that happens, the ECB’s open market operations will mainly buy time in the form of liquidity as well as provide banks with money to exchange bad loans for lending to the government.