Recent data and surveys suggest that the eurozone economy likely contracted in the third quarter of the year. Demand in the region saw a significant decline in September, marking the fastest pace of decrease in nearly three years. Several factors contributed to this economic downturn, including increased borrowing costs, higher prices, and cautious consumer spending among indebted households.
Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI)
The final Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), compiled by S&P Global and considered a reliable indicator of overall economic health, inched up to 47.2 in September, compared to August’s 46.7. However, this figure remained below the critical 50-mark, indicating a fourth consecutive month of economic contraction. While it slightly exceeded a preliminary estimate of 47.1, it still points to economic challenges.
The economic downturn was broad-based, as both the services and manufacturing sectors experienced declines, similar to the situation in August.
Retail Sales Decline in August
Official data for August revealed a more significant decline in retail sales than anticipated. This points to weakened consumer demand in the eurozone, particularly in the context of persistently high inflation. Analysts and experts are increasingly concerned about the economic outlook.
Forecast of a Recession in Late 2023
Economists, such as Franziska Palmas at Capital Economics, are predicting that the eurozone economy could enter a recession in the latter half of 2023. The drop in retail sales in August and the weakness in the final PMIs for September support this view.
Mixed Performance in Eurozone Countries
The performance of individual eurozone countries varies. For instance, German service sector activity improved slightly in September, while France saw its industry shrink at the fastest rate in almost three years due to declining new orders and export business. Italy’s services industry also contracted slightly for the second consecutive month, but Spain’s demonstrated some resilience by expanding slightly after a dip in August.
UK’s Different Situation
In contrast, the United Kingdom, which is outside the European Union, experienced a less severe downturn in its services sector than initially anticipated. Factors contributing to this include a surprise decrease in inflation and the Bank of England’s decision to keep interest rates unchanged.
Decline in New Business Index
The eurozone’s composite new business index for September, which monitors overall demand, dropped to 44.4 from 44.6. This figure represents a low not seen since November 2020 when the world was grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the PMI for the dominant services industry remained below 50 for a second consecutive month, although it did improve slightly to 48.7 from 47.9, slightly above the flash estimate of 48.4.
Challenges in Manufacturing
The manufacturing sector in the eurozone continues to face significant challenges, with deep and broad-based downturns in demand. The pace of decline is comparable to levels rarely seen since data collection began in 1997.
One positive note amid these economic challenges is that services firms in the eurozone increased their employment levels at a faster pace in September compared to August, with the employment index rising to 51.5 from 50.4. This indicates some resilience in the labor market despite the broader economic downturn.