Below is an article from The Economist that focuses on stagnation in the euro-zone economy. I have put together a worksheet on the passage that you may find useful.
THIS week’s figures for the euro-zone economy were dispiriting by any measure. An already feeble and faltering recovery has stumbled. Output across the euro area was flat in the second quarter. That followed a poor start to the year when the single-currency club managed to grow by just 0.2% (0.8% at an annual rate).
There were some bright spots in the bulletin of misery. Both the Dutch and Portuguese economies, which had contracted in the first quarter, rebounded, growing by 0.5% and 0.6% respectively. Spanish growth picked up from 0.4% in the first quarter to 0.6% in the second. But these perky performances were overshadowed by the poor figures recorded in the three biggest economies. Italy, the third largest, had already reported a decline of 0.2%, pushing it into a triple-dip recession. France, the second biggest, continued to stagnate. But the real blow came from Germany, the powerhouse of the euro zone, where output slipped by 0.2%.
The setback may reflect some temporary factors, as workers took extra time off after public holidays. German output was also depressed by a fall in construction, some of which had been brought forward to the first quarter thanks to warm weather. This effect should also be temporary. However, the tensions between Europe and Russia over Ukraine and the resulting sanctions may adversely affect German growth in the coming months.
The new GDP figures are yet more evidence that the euro-zone economy is in a bad way, not least since it has come to rely so heavily upon Germany, which had grown by 0.7% in the first quarter. It is not only that growth is evaporating; inflation is also extraordinarily low. In July it was only 0.4%, far below the target of just below 2% set by the European Central Bank (ECB). Consistently low inflation has prompted fears that Europe will soon slide into deflation. Prices are already falling in Spain and three other euro-zone countries.
Deflation would be particularly grave for the euro area because both private and public debt is so high in many of the 18 countries that share the single currency. Even if inflation is positive but stays low it hurts debtors, as their incomes rise more slowly than they expected when they borrowed. If deflation were to set in, the effects would be worse still: when prices and wages fall, debts, which do not shrink, become harder to repay.
The poor GDP figures will intensify pressure on the ECB to do more. Already in June it lowered its main borrowing rate to just 0.15% and became the first big central bank to introduce negative interest rates, in effect charging banks for deposits they leave with it. That has helped bring short-term, wholesale interest rates close to zero and has also weakened the euro. Both these effects will help to bolster the economy and restore growth.
As well as these interest-rate cuts, the ECB announced that it would lend copiously to banks for as long as four years, as long as they pledged to improve their own lending performance to the private sector. The plan, which resembles the Bank of England’s “funding for lending” scheme, has some merit but may not boost lending as much as expected due to the feeble state of the banks. It will also take a long time to work its way through the economy.
The ECB’s critics say that this is not enough and urge the central bank to introduce quantitative easing—creating money to buy financial assets. The ECB is likely to hold off; it seems to consider QE as a weapon of last resort. For his part Mario Draghi, the central bank’s president, urges countries like Italy and France to get on with structural reforms that would improve their underlying growth potential. Patience on all sides is wearing thin.
Read the article from The Economist and answer the questions below:
a) What happened to the GDP figures for the euro-zone economy in the second quarter for 2014? (2)
b) What have been the surprises in the contributions of the six countries mentioned in the articles? (3)
c) Although the GDP figures are dispiriting there is the indication that this is a temporary problem. Explain (2)
d) Comment on the level of inflation in the euro-zone and the target set by the European Central Bank (ECB). (4)
e) Why is deflation particularly grave for the euro area? (4)
f) Explain negative interest rates. Why has this policy been implemented by the ECB? (4)
g) What have the ECB’s critics suggested they should do and explain how this policy works. (4)