Europe’s jobless rate at record seen resisting recovery for now
By Stefan Riecher
Europe’s nascent economic recovery is too green to make any impact on the region’s jobs market yet, according to economists.
Unemployment in the 17-nation euro area remained at a record high of 12.1 percent in August, according to the median estimate of 30 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. The European Union’s statistics office is due to publish the jobless numbers at 11 a.m. tomorrow in Luxembourg.
“Europe is faced with a high level of structural unemployment and this is not going to change any time soon,” said Annamaria Grimaldi, an economist at Intesa Sanpaolo SpA in Milan. “The recovery is happening painfully slowly and that’s another reason why we’ll see jobless rates far above 11 percent well into 2015.”
Even after the currency bloc emerged from its longest-ever recession, economists predict unemployment to keep rising and peak at 12.3 percent in the final quarter of this year. The job market’s resistance to an improving economy has been the subject of political debate across the region, with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi urging governments to implement “decisive structural reforms” to fight unemployment.
The situation for the unemployed is particularly bleak in Spain and Greece, where the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development expects jobless rates to remain above 25 percent in 2014.
While unemployment in Spain fell for the first time in two years in the second quarter, net job creation requires at least 1 percent year-on-year economic growth, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said this month. That level won’t be reached before the final quarter of 2014, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
In Italy, where the OECD sees unemployment at 12.5 percent next year, data released at 10 a.m. in Rome tomorrow will show whether joblessness still is near a May all-time high of 12.2 percent. It stood at 12 percent in July.
Unemployment in Europe “is a social tragedy and we need to address it,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said in July when presenting the organization’s annual employment outlook.
Earlier this month, Air France-KLM Group, Europe’s biggest airline, scrapped a plan to break even at its main French unit this year, putting 2,800 jobs in the country at risk.
“France’s unemployment still looks to be gradually creeping up,” economists at HSBC Holdings Plc in London said in a note to customers. On the euro area, they said that the unemployment rate has been unchanged for five months and that this may have continued in August as the labor market “appears to have stabilized.”
While most Southern European economies are struggling to provide work for the unemployed, the jobless rate in Germany, the region’s largest economy, remained at 6.8 percent in September, according to 31 estimates in a separate Bloomberg survey. That’s close to a two-decade low of 6.7 percent. The Federal Labor Agency is due to publish these data tomorrow at 9:55 a.m. in Nuremberg.
A robust job market and Germany’s economic strength in the midst of the euro area’s debt crisis helped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats take the largest share of the vote in Sept. 22 elections.
Gross domestic product in the 17-nation euro economy grew 0.3 percent in the three months through June, the first quarterly expansion after six contractions. Signs of resurgence in the economy have helped boost equities, with the Stoxx Europe 600 Index up 5 percent since the start of the month.
Economic confidence rose more than forecasts in September, with sentiment improving in the industrial sector as well as in services, retail and financial services.
While the ECB expects the currency bloc’s economy to gain further strength in the second half of this year, Draghi said this month that risks are still on the downside, referring to a “modest pace of the recovery.” The Frankfurt-based central bank predicts the economy will shrink 0.4 percent this year before growing 1 percent in 2014.
The ECB pledged to keep interest rates at current levels or lower for an extended period of time to fuel the recovery, a commitment it first made in July and repeated in August and September. Policy makers will gather in Paris on Oct. 2 for their next monthly rate decision meeting.
“It’s possible for recovery to continue, but the danger is that you have a jobless recovery,” said Howard Archer, an economist at IHS Global Insight in London. “I don’t think the euro zone is really growing fast enough in most countries to make significant inroads into the high unemployment levels.”