Euro zone confidence improves, highlights divergence
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Confidence in the euro zone's economy strengthened in January for the first time since early 2011, EU data showed on Monday, but a recovery in Germany masked a deterioration in France and Italy, highlighting the bloc's diverging fortunes.
Germany has shown more resilience to the euro zone's troubles than many of its neighbors, helped by fiscal prudence, a competitive edge and good demand for its high quality goods.
France and Italy have struggled to keep up, facing questions about the sustainability of their own finances as Greece tries to agree a debt restructuring and Portugal comes under fresh scrutiny in financial markets.
The divergence complicates the task of EU leaders who are meeting in Brussels on Monday to try and sketch a path out of the economic slump.
The European Commission's economic sentiment indicator rose by 0.6 points in the euro zone to 93.4, the first improvement in sentiment since March last year as some confidence returned to services, consumers and construction.
"We're seeing a slight stabilization and we expect the recession the euro zone will end in the spring," said Christoph Weil, an economist at Commerzbank.
"But we can also see that the divergence in the euro zone is increasing and that is of great concern," he said.
The European Central Bank's decision in December to provide 3-year loans to banks averted a credit freeze, while the U.S. economy expanded strongly in the last quarter of 2011 and China has remained robust, maintaining demand for Europe's goods. Continued...