DATA SNAP: Euro-Zone Retail Sales Rose In March
First Published Friday, 4th May 2012 09:14 am - © 2012 Dow Jones
By Paul Hannon
Of Dow Jones NEWSWIRES
LONDON -(Dow Jones)- Retail sales in the 17 countries that use the euro rose slightly in March, driven by pickups in Germany and France, the currency area's largest members.
However, sales were down in a number of euro-zone members that have embarked on tough austerity programs, underlining the divergences within the currency area that will complicate the European Central Bank's future policy decisions.
The European Union's statistics agency Eurostat Friday said the volume of retail sales rose by 0.3% from February, but were down 0.2% from March 2011.
The rise in sales was a surprise, with economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires last week having estimated that sales fell by 0.2% on the month, and 1.2% on the year.
The pickup was largely driven by a 0.8% rise in German retail sales and a 0.9% rise in French sales.
Elsewhere, consumers spent less freely. Sales fell by 0.5% in Spain and by 2.2% in Portugal, both economies in which governments have embarked on tough austerity programs. Eurostat didn't give figures for Greece and Italy, which are also pursuing austerity, while sales in Ireland were unchanged.
The rise in March means retail sales rose in the first quarter as a whole, a positive for the overall growth performance.
The euro-zone economy contracted in the fourth quarter as real disposable incomes and consumer spending fell. Figures to be released on May 15 are expected to show another, modest decline in gross domestic product.
It's unlikely that the March rise heralds a sustained period of higher consumer spending.
Euro-zone consumers have been squeezed by a steady rise in unemployment--which matched a record high in March--slow wage growth, and rising energy prices, added to which is the uncertainty created by the currency area's fiscal crisis. Recent surveys have pointed to a decline in consumer confidence, which usually presages a decline in consumer spending.
-By Paul Hannon, Dow Jones Newswires, +44 20 7842 9491;