Since the financial crisis of 2008, GDP growth in Europe has been dismal. This could be attributed to the appreciation of the Euro exchange rate, which has strengthened 10% on an effective basis between August 2012 and March 2014. This has led to a loss in competitiveness in export markets as well as business confidence with a resulting negative knock-on effect on manufacturing activity which continues to gradually decline as evidenced by the persistently poor PMI numbers coming out of the Eurozone countries. Effects of the latter phenomenon have been more pronounced in countries that have been slow to take up and implement structural reforms namely, Spain and Germany. To add to the Eurozone woes, rising political tensions in Ukraine are adversely affecting sentiment on the continent.
It has not been all bad though, Europe can still point out to continually and gradually declining bond yields; stabilizing unemployment which in turn has given consumers new found confidence to increase consumption; signs of renewed housing market transactions and rising construction activity as some of the factors that gives the continent and investors alike hope for an improved economic outlook.
Economic recovery: Scenarios
Investment: as driver of growth
In light of the above it is plausible that going forward, external demand from relatively thriving economies like the US and Emerging Markets like the BRIC countries supported by a weaker Euro will form the basis of economic growth in Europe which will be driven by investments.
Consumer spending: as driver of growth
With consumer confidence on the rise as unemployment abates, there is a high degree of probability that consumption will follow suit. To further support consumer spending in order for it to have material effect on economic growth, authorities could relax lending conditions.
It is encouraging to note that in terms of rhetoric and policy action there has been a shift in emphasis from austerity measures which comprises of freezing, capping and or cutting expenditure to accommodative monetary policy- best exemplified by the recently instituted bond buying program by the ECB also known as quantitative easing-meaning that deflation is likely to be avoided. However, given the continuing substantial underutilization of resources in the labour market, the Eurozone may still struggle with very low levels of inflation for long time to come.
As I intimidated earlier, risks to growth forecasts are balanced. Downside risks include impact of US and the European Union (EU) sanctions on the Russian economy and Russia’s retaliatory measures. Upside risks encompass stronger-than-expected earnings growth in Germany and a positive shock to exports boosted by the weaker euro and a stronger world demand.