Recent euro-area data releases have consistently surprised to the upside, adding to evidence that the region’s recovery is gaining momentum, according to Standard Chartered research notes.

Consumption and net exports are likely to be driving growth in Q1, when GDP growth could reach as high as 0.5% q/q, and the conditions are in place for a sustained investment improvement after a prolonged downturn. 

The euro-area PMI composite has risen to 54.1 in March, the highest since May 2011. France and Italy remain the weakest major economies, but there are bright spots in both countries, with GDP growth likely to pick up from a dismal Q4-2014 in both cases. Meanwhile, Germany is off to a strong start and is likely to pull along some of its smaller neighbours. German companies are benefitting from a more competitive euro, and across the euro area growth of new orders for goods exports has hit an eight-month high, according to Markit. 

Consumption is also strengthening. Euro-area retail sales were up 3.7% y/y in January, the strongest annual increase since 2005. Consumer confidence is at the highest level since 2007 on the back of higher real disposable incomes, due to stronger earnings growth, the lower oil price and generally low inflation. Meanwhile Germany’s labour market is strong, and immigration and a higher minimum wage should boost consumer spending. Across the euro area unemployment is falling, albeit from high levels in some countries. 

Bank lending data also point to a more supportive growth environment. The downtrend of loans to non-financial corporations (adjusted for sales and securitisation) eased further, reaching -0.4% y/y in February. Standard Chartered research forecasts that “this trend will continue and we will very soon see positive y/y growth in loans to corporations. Loans to households, which usually recover earlier than loans to corporations, were up 1% y/y in February, continuing the uptrend that begun around the middle of 2014. Moreover, the third targeted long-term refinancing operation (TLTRO) take-up was strong at EUR 97bn, a signal that banks expect demand for loans to pick up. TLTRO loans are particularly helpful for banks in the periphery.” 

Greece, which was one of the best performers in 2014, has deteriorated very fast due to political uncertainty. The key risk for the euro area’s recovery remains a sentiment deterioration, either over Greece or eastern Ukraine. Ongoing reform discussions with Greece are reaching a critical stage, with Athens due to run out of money over the next month unless bailout funds are released. In Ukraine, tensions have deescalated since the truce, but the situation remains sensitive

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