The eurozone got a tiny bit of good news this Monday, when the unemployment rate fell for the third consecutive month to the lowest level since April 2012.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the 19 countries that adopt the Euro dipped to 11.2 percent in January, down from 11.3 percent in the previous month. According to the European Commission, 140,000 new jobs were added between December and January.
These slow but steady downward numbers encouraged some to say that the European recession is ending. “The economy is turning, ” said Nick Kounis, head of Macro & Financial Markets Research at ABN Amro in Amsterdam.
“We have a lot of factors that support growth in 2015: low euro, low oil prices, consolidation of lower interest rates,” said Johanneis Gareis, economist at Natixis.
Countries expected to perform better than average in the following months are Spain and Ireland, said Kounis. Spain in particular had one of the largest decreases in unemployment in January, falling to 23.4 percent from 25.5 percent in December. Ireland fell from 12.1 percent to 10 percent in the same period.
“Spain managed to put in place some structural reforms and will regain competitiveness better than other countries. There is potential to grow forward,” he said.
On the other hand, Italy is expected to be a major underperformer, because of weak wage growth as well as disappointing exports.
The decrease was led by Germany, whose unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in January. “It is the outlier,” said. Gareis. “The German labor market is booming and it was the main pillar of growth.” In the United States, the unemployment rate in January was 5.7 percent.
Apparently the trouble with Greece didn’t move the needle either way in the jobs market. “The Greek economy makes little impact in labor numbers, but it is important for sentiment,” said Ben Brettel, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown.
The Economic Sentiment Indicator released last week also didn’t seem to be affected by the Greek drama, rising in the second month in a row by 0.7 points in the eurozone in February, being fueled mainly by more optimistic consumers.
Consumer prices are also expected to fall less than expected in February, to -0.3% from -0.6% in January.
But not everyone is ready to say the worst is over. Uwe Duerkop, an economist with Berliner Sparkasse, had forecast a slight increase in the unemployment rate for January and maintains that this is more a stabilization than an upward trend. “I’m a bit skeptical that the labor market is already picking up.”
Indeed, the 11.2 percent unemployment rate masks that especially among people under 25 years of age, joblessness is still alarming. The overall youth unemployment rate in January was 22.9 percent in the eurozone, with Spain and Greece leading the way, with a little over 50 percent of young people unemployed in both countries.
“I am cautiously optimistic, ” said Brettel. “The indicators are moving in the right direction, but quite slowly. It’s difficult to predict what will happen.”