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Winter 2019 Economic Forecast: growth moderates amid global uncertainties

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Brussels, 7 February 2019

The European economy is expected to grow for the seventh year in a row in 2019, with expansion forecast in every Member State. The pace of growth overall is projected to moderate compared to the high rates of recent years and the outlook is subject to large uncertainty.

Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue, also in charge of Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, said: "All EU countries are expected to continue to grow in 2019, which means more jobs and prosperity. Yet our forecast is revised downwards, in particular for the largest euro area economies. This reflects external factors, such as trade tensions and the slowdown in emerging markets, notably in China. Concerns about the sovereign-bank loop and debt sustainability are resurfacing in some euro area countries. The possibility of a disruptive Brexit creates additional uncertainty. Being aware of these mounting risks is half of the job. The other half is choosing the right mix of policies, such as facilitating investment, redoubling efforts to carry out structural reforms and pursuing prudent fiscal policies." 

Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, said: “After its 2017 peak, the EU economy's deceleration is set to continue in 2019, to growth of 1.5%. This slowdown is set to be more pronounced than expected last autumn, especially in the euro area, due to global trade uncertainties and domestic factors in our largest economies. Europe's economic fundamentals remain solid and we continue to see good news particularly on the jobs front. Growth should rebound gradually in the second half of this year and in 2020.

Economic growth

Economic activity moderated in the second half of last year as global trade growth slowed, uncertainty sapped confidence and output in some Member States was adversely affected by temporary domestic factors, such as disruptions in car production, social tensions and fiscal policy uncertainty. As a result, gross domestic product (GDP) growth in both the euro area and the EU likely slipped to 1.9% in 2018, down from 2.4% in 2017 (Autumn Forecast: 2.1% for EU28 and euro area).

Economic momentum at the start of this year was subdued, but the fundamentals remain sound. Economic growth will continue, albeit more moderately. The European economy is set to continue to benefit from improving labour market conditions, favourable financing conditions and a slightly expansionary fiscal stance. Euro area GDP is now forecast to grow by 1.3% in 2019 and 1.6% in 2020 (Autumn Forecast: 1.9% in 2019; 1.7% in 2020). The EU GDP growth forecast has also been revised down to 1.5% in 2019 and 1.7% in 2020 (Autumn Forecast: 1.9% in 2019; 1.8% in 2020).

Among the larger Member States, downward revisions for growth in 2019 were sizeable for Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Many Member States continue to benefit from robust domestic demand, also supported by EU funds.

Inflation

Consumer price inflation in the euro area fell towards the end of 2018 due to a sharp drop in energy prices and lower food price inflation. Core inflation, which excludes energy and unprocessed food prices, was muted throughout the year, despite faster wage growth. Overall inflation (HICP) averaged 1.7% in 2018, up from 1.5% in 2017. With oil price assumptions for this year and next year now lower than in autumn, euro area inflation is forecast to moderate to 1.4% in 2019 before picking up mildly to 1.5% in 2020. For the EU, inflation is forecast to average 1.6% this year and then pick up to 1.8% in 2020.

Uncertainties

A high level of uncertainty surrounds the economic outlook and the projections are subject to downside risks. Trade tensions, which have been weighing on sentiment for some time, have alleviated somewhat but remain a concern. China's economy may be slowing more sharply than anticipated and global financial markets and many emerging markets are vulnerable to abrupt changes in risk sentiment and growth expectations. For the EU, the “Brexit” process remains a source of uncertainty.

For the UK, a purely technical assumption for 2019

In the light of the process of withdrawal of the UK from the EU, projections for 2019 and 2020 are based on a purely technical assumption of status quo in terms of trading patterns between the EU27 and the UK. This is for forecasting purposes only and has no bearing on the process underway in the context of Article 50.

ROMANIA

The economic boom that began in Romania in 2017 eased in 2018. Real GDP growth eased from 7 % in 2017 to 4.3% annualised in the first three quarters of 2018.

For the year as a whole it is estimated at 4 %. The slower pace of growth was due to private consumption, as the effects of tax cuts implemented in 2017 faded away and inflation weighed more heavily on real disposable income. Nonetheless, private consumption growth remained strong as a result of the tight labour market and rising wages.

Investment growth is likely to show a significant decrease in 2018, following contractions in the second and third quarters. According to preliminary data, inventories contributed 2.8 pps. to GDP growth in the first half of 2018. If confirmed, this build-up of inventories may explain the subdued level of private investment in 2018.

Net exports contribution to GDP growth turned more negative in 2018, with both imports and exports declining. Consumption goods were the main drivers of import developments. Exports decelerated on the back of more sluggish external demand and an appreciation of the real effective exchange rate.

Real GDP growth is forecast to further decrease to 3.8 % in 2019 and 3.6 % in 2020. The composition of growth is expected to remain fairly stable, with private consumption still the main driver. The evolution of investment in 2019 will largely depend on the impact of policies introduced in December 2018 concerning the banking, energy and telecommunications sectors.

The contribution of net exports is expected to remain negative but progressively less so in 2019 and 2020.



Risks to the forecast are clearly on the downside. Besides a potential negative impact on credit, the impact of the government’s emergency ordinance in December could have a much broader effect. For example, significantly increased unpredictability of the business environment in Romania may have a negative knock-on effect on investment decisions.

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