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Ever so slowly, the euro zone economy awakes

LONDON: Moribund. Decrepit. Sclerotic. Popular words to describe the economy shared by the 19 countries of the euro zone – but perhaps no longer apt.

Very slowly – and primarily because of massive stimulus from the European Central Bank – the euro zone is showing signs of recovery. It is a dawn that policymakers are struggling to nurture into broad daylight.

It also may not be felt equally across the board, viz Spain and Greece’s unemployed versus Germany’s busy builders.

But putting aside for the moment that the euro zone’s nascent recovery is happening just as China is wobbling and financial markets are unhinged, the numbers look generally positive.

Economic growth was running at an annual rate of 1.6 percent in the third quarter. While this may not seem robust, it is roughly twice the average annual growth rate between 2003 and 2014 (itself dragged down by the sharp contraction of 2009), and the equal highest rate since 2010.

So, for the euro zone, reasonably good. ECB forecasters and economists polled by Reuters expect it to grow at a slightly faster pace this year at around 1.7 percent.

Other data – though sometimes mixed – also points to a stronger-than-advertised economic performance.

Unemployment has been falling fairly steadily. It was at 10.5 percent in November, which is high, but the lowest in more than four years and well below the 12 percent of 2013.

Consumer confidence is on the rise and economic sentiment is at a more than four-year high. Manufacturing, as measured by purchasing managers’ indexes, rose firmly into expansion in 2015, albeit still shy of its 2013 peak.

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