EFN Report Winter 2014/15: Economic Outlook for the Euro Area in 2015 and 2016
At the beginning of the year 2015 crude oil is, with little more than 50 dollars per barrel (Brent), about 50% cheaper than in the summer 2014. The oil price hike is a stimulus for the whole world economy, even though the gains of energy users are matched by losses of the suppliers: oil producing countries frequently run high current account surpluses vis-à-vis the rest of the world. It is therefore plausible to assume that, reacting to the redistribution of incomes, the oil user countries will increase their spending by more than what will be lost in spending by producers. Investment activity in the euro area has recently been particularly weak. Remarkably, investment in Greece, Portugal, and Spain, i.e. in countries that had to accept international support during the euro crisis, has strengthened. The setback took place in the so-called core countries, including Germany. Consumption growth was also subdued. Lower oil prices, by increasing real incomes of consumers and lowering production costs for firms, should increase private consumption and, in particular, investment. Moreover, the depreciation of the euro will favour exports. Overall, according to our forecasts, the euro area GDP will grow by 1.3% in 2015 and by 1.6% in 2016. GDP growth is about 0.3 percentage points higher due to the impact of lower oil prices in 2015. However, these forecasts are subject to substantial uncertainty, and we do not see any significant reduction of the unemployment rate during the forecasting horizon. Our inflation forecast for 2015 is 0.3%, with the possibility of a mild deflation not excluded. In 2016 inflation will increase up to 1.1%, still clearly below the 2% ECB’s target. This calls for further monetary expansion, though its effects could be limited in the absence of a complementary fiscal stimulus. The expansionary cyclical policies should be combined with more structural reforms to enhance the competitiveness of the euro area and its growth potential, which in our forecasts remains quite limited. In fact, we expect potential output to grow by only 0.4% both in 2015 and 2016.