November 16, 2014 / 8:08 AM / 3 years ago

Spotlight falls on Europe's stuttering economy

A euro logo sculpture stands in front the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt October 26, 2014.Ralph Orlowski

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - As large parts of Europe's economy grind almost to a halt, attention will focus this week on the latest assessments of business confidence in the euro zone and Germany, which has just narrowly avoided a recession.

While the United States economy has accelerated and China holds a slower but steady course, euro zone countries have remained sluggish, with overall growth in output slowing to a trickle.

"The euro zone is the best part of 20 percent of the global economy," James Knightley, an economist with ING, said. "The longer the stagnation goes on the more Japan-like it becomes."

The euro zone's problems have raised expectations that the European Central Bank is preparing to loosen its purse strings further to try to rekindle growth.

Against this backdrop, Germany's Centre for European Economic Research's (ZEW) monthly barometer of sentiment, due on Nov 18, will provide more insight into business confidence levels.

The Ukraine crisis is a major drag on business and investor sentiment, especially as there have been new reports of Russian troops pouring into eastern Ukraine.

Russia has denied sending military forces to help separatist rebels in that region launch a new offensive in a conflict that has killed more than 4,000 people.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the G20 leaders' summit on Saturday in Brisbane that the European Union was considering further financial sanctions against Russian individuals because of the crisis.

Fallout from the Ukraine conflict is exacerbating the euro zone's problems, with European sanctions squeezing Russia's banks and companies and having knock-on effects particularly on Germany.

A company purchasing managers' survey on Nov. 20 will offer a snapshot of whether companies are expanding in Germany, France and across the euro zone.

That follows new monthly information on international trade, due out on Monday, which will show the extent of falls in exports to Russia.

The bleak picture in Europe contrasts with brighter prospects for the United States, where an update on the how the country's manufacturers are faring is also out on Monday.

As the U.S. economy picks up, its central bank is moving closer to raising the cost of borrowing for the first time in more than eight years.

Later in the week, economists will pore over the minutes of the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting for any hints as to when Fed Chair Janet Yellen will begin reining in cheap money.

The health of China's economy, a growth-driver for the United States and Europe, has also been a major concern given signs that growth is faltering.

The communist country's economy now mirrors those of its rivals in the West and is having to confront many of the problems they have faced from rising wages and property bubbles to demands for stricter environmental standards.

As global demand for its goods has slowed, its manufacturing costs are rising, prompting some companies to shift to cheaper neighbors such as Vietnam.

The Chinese government has tried to head off a sharper slowdown in the economy, on track to grow at its slowest pace in 24 years, by easing some curbs on the property market.

Such restrictions on second homes, for instance, had been introduced to dampen runaway property prices in cities such as Beijing, where the cost of a two-bedroom flat can reach $1 million.

A further property price slowdown is likely to be confirmed when home price data is published early in the week.

The downbeat picture in Europe and China's wobble have convinced some economists that the world will have to get used to more modest living standards.

Even in countries where the recovery has been relatively robust, such as the United States or Britain, many people have barely noticed the difference between recovery and recession because their earnings have stayed low.

"There is a growing divergence between highly-skilled well-paid jobs and low-skilled low-paid jobs," Matthew Whittaker, the chief economist at the Resolution Foundation think tank, said. "The UK recovery has been marked by pay going down."

Price inflation in Britain, due out on Nov 18, is likely to stay around the 5-year low it hit in September.

Some economists are now convinced that low or no inflation is the new normal.

"If you look at Japan, the U.S. or China, there is no inflation to be had," Lena Komileva of consultancy G+ Economics said. "We have to readjust expectations to much lower growth."

Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, Kevin Yao in Beijing and William Schomberg in London; editing by Jane Merriman

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