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Gloomy eurozone data piles pressure on ECB to reverse interest rate hike

‘The recovery has finished, we are now contracting,’ said the chief economist at Markit, which published PMI data showing manufacturing and services sectors both shrank

The eurozone’s private economy is shrinking for the first time since the depths of the last recession, sparking warnings that the region’s economic recovery is over.

Gloomy economic data released on Thursday showed that the eurozone’s manufacturing and services sectors both contracted this month.

Analysts said this piles pressure on the European Central Bank to step in to stop the economy worsening, at a time when Europe’s debt crisis is threatening the world economy.

“The recovery has finished, we are now contracting,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, which published the data.

Flash PMI surveys showed that eurozone service industries are shrinking for the first time in two years, while manufacturing output hit a two-year low. The Markit eurozone services survey, which gauges business activity at firms from banks to restaurants, slumped to 49.1 this month from August’s 51.5. This is the first time since August 2009 that the services index has fallen below the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction.

The composite PMI, which combines the services and manufacturing data, fell to 49.2, its first contraction since July 2009, from 50.7 last month. Factory output contracted for the second month running, with the manufacturing PMI dropping to 48.4.

Williamson warned that the forward-looking indicators within the PMI surveys suggest that things will deteriorate further in the coming months.

“It’s not just the periphery problems spilling over to the core. There is a wider malaise in the global economy which is hurting.”

The PMI data helped to drive down share prices across Europe, with the FTSE 100 plunging 4.25% or 226 points to 5062 in morning trading.

Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight said it was “a very bad day for the eurozone economy”.

The escalating debt crisis – which started in Greece, soon spread to Ireland and Portugal and is now threatening to engulf Italy and Spain – and the turmoil in global markets have also depressed confidence and stymied growth.

“Today’s flash eurozone PMI figures make grim reading and raise the spectre a renewed economic downturn in the 17-country region. The current [composite] index level indicates that the eurozone recovery has ground to a complete halt,” said eurozone economist Martin van Vliet, of ING.

“The figures reinforce our suspicion that the eurozone economy as a whole might contract slightly in the second half of this year. At the same time, with ongoing fiscal austerity and political leaders still way behind the curve in terms of resolving the debt crisis we cannot dismiss the risk of a full-blown recession. This data will amplify pressure on the ECB to come to the rescue and use the remaining scope for monetary stimulus.”

The ECB has been criticised for raising interest rates earlier this year, and some economists believe it may have to execute a U-turn.

“Pressure is mounting on the ECB to quickly reverse its recent monetary policy tightening cycle rather than just halting it, with a near-term interest rate cut,” said Archer.

In the US, the Federal Reserve launched a bold 0bn (£258bn) bond-buying plan on Wednesday while the Bank of England made clear that it would pump billions of pounds into the economy before Christmas to ward off a double dip recession.

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