Euro zone joblessness at record high, inflation up
By Martin Santa and Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Euro zone unemployment is at a record high and consumer prices are being driven upward by volatile energy and food prices, data showed on Monday, underlining the fragility of the bloc's economic health.
Inflation in the 17-nation euro zone, which is suffering from its longest ever recession, increased to 1.6 percent year-on-year in June from 1.4 percent in May, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said.
Joblessness in the bloc stood at a record 12.1 percent in May, with the number of people out of work rising further above 19 million, Eurostat added.
Government austerity programs across the continent have helped fuel the economic hardship and provoked widespread public discontent, especially with more than half of young people unemployed in Greece and Spain.
June's inflation reading was the second upward move from a three-year low of 1.2 percent in April, although it remains beneath the European Central Bank's target of just under 2 percent.
Economists expect inflation to remain below the target for the rest of this year, giving the ECB scope to leave interest rates at a record low, although signs of improvement at European factories may stop the bank from cutting rates again.
"June's rise was driven rather by unfavorable base effects and the ECB has flagged the possibility of short-term inflation volatility," said Nick Matthews, a senior European economist at Nomura. "We expect inflation to drop sharply again in summer."
Prices of food, alcohol and tobacco products were the key factor driving inflation in June, followed by energy and services, Eurostat said in its first estimate for the month. Continued...