At last, the eurozone economy appears to be experiencing some kind of recovery. GDP started growing again in the spring of 2013, following seven quarters of decline, with domestic demand shrinking for even nine consecutive quarters between 2011 and 2013. Today, it is conceivable that within a year or so the eurozone might recoup its pre-crisis level of GDP, perhaps marking the end of a “lost decade.”
But it is too soon to declare victory and become complacent. The eurozone remains fragile and the recovery uneven. Having primarily relied on export demand for its meagre growth since 2010, developments in China and elsewhere in the emerging world are posing an acute threat. More recently home-grown demand benefited from peculiar tailwinds that are temporary in nature. It is unclear at this point whether these forces will merge into a stronger self-sustaining recovery, while the likelihood of renewed and spreading political instability along the way keeps rising. It seems unwise, in fact hazardous, not to have a plan B ready at hand should growth falter once again.
Figure 1 shows index values for GDP, gross capital formation, final consumption, exports, and imports, all relative to their respective levels in the first quarter of 2008. Remarkably, only exports have seen some real recovery. Gross capital formation, on the other hand, remains stuck at a severely depressed level to this day, while final consumption is only slightly ahead of its pre-crisis peak. Clearly, the eurozone owes it largely to the rest of the world that it has not sunk into even deeper depression.
The gaping external imbalance that has built up since the crisis quantifies the extent to which the eurozone has weakened and undermined the global recovery in recent years. Its soaring external surplus has required other countries to “over-spend” accordingly. As numerous over-spenders appear overstretched at this point, the eurozone’s external imbalance also signifies its own vulnerability to a deteriorating global environment. In a way, the ongoing deterioration in the global environment also reflects the fact that the driving forces of global growth have come full circle, and seem exhausted and spent today – unlikely to fire up again any time soon. continue reading…