EFN Report Spring 2017: Economic Outlook for the Euro Area in 2017 and 2018
Global economic activity appears to be expanding rapidly during spring 2017. Confidence among managers is either strong or has improved in all major regions, and world trade and industrial production have, after two years of weakness, picked up markedly during last winter. For 2 ½ years, the euro area economy has now been constantly expanding at an annual rate of about 1.6%, slightly above potential. Employment has also been expanding steadily. Production and employment have been recently rising almost everywhere, including countries such as France and Italy where unemployment rates still do not appear to be on a downward trend. Official investment data for 2015 and 2016 appear to be distorted: big multinational firms relocated parts of their assets (intellectual property products in particular) or their registered business offices from countries outside the euro area to Ireland. As a consequence, reported gross fixed capital formation in Ireland expanded by 33% in 2015 and by 45% in 2016. Without this effect, investment growth in the euro area is about one percentage point lower in 2015 and 2016. Headline inflation hit 2% in February, but this was only the effect of higher world oil prices. The core rate is stubbornly at slightly below 1%, and wages rise annually by scarcely 1.5%. The revival of the economy will have to continue for considerably more time until inflation will come close to the ECB target zone. As monetary conditions continue to support growth, financial policies will be slightly expansive, and a certain external stimulus should come from the apparent recovery of world trade. Overall, we forecast euro area GDP to expand by 1.7% in both 2017 and 2018. However, policy uncertainty is substantial and could have a negative effect. In particular, elections in member states might give power to movements that aim at disintegrating Europe. Such a turn could rapidly undermine confidence, in particular in the financial strength of highly indebted member states.