Until now, economists have not been particularly worried by the euro’s rise since the beginning of the year, given that business trends and confidence in future growth had gained momentum. At less than $1.20 since mid-summer, the euro is trading well below certain past levels and also more in line with its purchasing power parity. Recent data indicate, however, that the single currency’s appreciation has had a significant impact on corporate margins and on import prices, resulting in a reduction of core inflation rates in the eurozone. This is relatively disconcerting at this stage in the business cycle and may be behind the sluggish stock markets of the past few months.
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The raft of data coming out of the euro area in recent weeks has been more and more mediocre and has erased all doubts: the strategy for extricating the economy from the crisis in the past few years has been a failure. None of the mechanisms born of resulting from decisions made by European leaders have delivered results or are about to:
-the structural policies aimed at improving competitiveness have failed, because global trade is tanking
-as proof: Germany’s export outlook is sputtering and the ability of the euro area’s biggest economy to act as the region’s growth driver (i.e. its “appointed” role) is going up in smoke;
-fiscal austerity’s only effect, under such conditions, is to fuel deflationary pressures and are counter-productive in controlling public debt levels.
These failures hardly come as a surprise. Like many of our peers, we have been decrying these shortcomings but did we really need to spell them out before hoping to make a convincing enough argument to effect the urgent change in the direction of European economic policy? With the situation becoming increasingly dire, where should, at present, our fears and hopes lie?
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Last week’s economic data should have eliminated any lingering doubts about the state of the eurozone. The recession has definitely arrived in the single-currency countries—all of them. Although the third-quarter figures turned out to be slightly less bleak than suggested by surveys this summer, that doesn’t alter the overall picture. In fact, the eurozone will probably pay dearly in the fourth quarter for the unexplained rebound in automotive output that drove the better-than-expected performance, since order backlogs have shrunk dramatically and automakers already plan to mothball significant production capacity in November.