London: Retail sales in the 16 countries that use the euro fell in May in a further sign that consumers aren’t optimistic enough about their own futures as unemployment keeps rising.
Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, said on Friday that retail sales in the euro zone fell by 0.4% in May from the previous month, more than reversing the 0.1% increase in April.
On a year-on-year basis, retail sales were down 3.3% for the euro zone and 3.1% for the 27-nation EU.
Capital Economics’ European economist Jennifer McKeown said, “Friday’s retail sales data did provide some indications that the second quarter of the year was better than the first, especially as recent car registrations figures indicate a pick-up in the car market.”
“May’s fall in euro-zone retail sales confirms that high street spending remains depressed, but the data still points to a more modest economic contraction in Q2 than in Q1,” said McKeown.
She noted that if sales were unchanged in June, then retail sales will have only fallen by 0.4% in the second quarter, way better than the 0.9% decline recorded in the first three months of the year.
A similarly downbeat picture of the services sector, which includes retailing, emerged in a survey from information services company Markit. Though it revised up its purchasing managers index - a broad gauge of business activity for the euro zone services sector for June to 44.7 from the initial estimate of 44.5, the sector remains mired in recession. Any reading below 50 indicates a contraction in output and the bigger the difference from 50 the greater that fall in output.
The overall fall in retail spending has come as consumers have tightened their belts amid mounting fears about their own finances as the number out of work rises. Figures on Thursday from Eurostat showed that the unemployment rate for the euro zone in May stood at a ten-year high of 9.5%, up from April’s 9.3%.
Rising unemployment is expected in the markets in light of the ongoing fall in output across Europe in the first quarter of 2009, the euro zone economy saw output plunge by 2.5% as the global recession hit the industrial sector in particular.
The scale of the euro zone recession is bigger than that being experienced in the US and Britain, for example, partly because of its dependence on exporting goods. Some analysts think that the euro zone economies should rebalance their economies away from this dependence on exports towards consumption.
Governments across the euro zone as well as the European Central Bank will be hoping that falling prices in the year to June (they were down 0.1% on the previous year) and stimulus packages of more government spending and tax cuts will combine to boost consumer spending and help the euro zone pull out of recession.
For the EU as a whole, including non-euro members such as Britain and Sweden, retail sales were down 0.5% in May from the previous month, again more than erasing the 0.3% increase recorded in April.
Among the 27 EU member states for which monthly data is available, Eurostat said total retail trade rose in four and fell in twelve. The only increases were recorded in Latvia, Belgium, Germany and Romania while the biggest falls were recorded in Lithuania and Austria. Latvia’s increase of 0.9% may be the most surprising as its economy shrank 18% in the first quarter from a year ago.