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- Sunday, March 03, 2013 - From Print Edition


BRUSSELS: Official data on Friday painted a far from encouraging picture of the European economy, with unemployment running at record and “unacceptable” high in the Eurozone while inflation fell sharply, highlighting the weakness of consumer demand.


Separately, a closely followed manufacturing survey showed the Eurozone remained in the doldrums for a 19th consecutive month in February, although it also noted some signs of increased export demand — a key growth driver.


The Markit Eurozone Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index was 47.9 points in February, unchanged from January when it hit an 11-month high, albeit one still below the 50-points boom-bust line.


The Eurostat data agency said unemployment in the 17-nation Eurozone rose to a record 11.9 percent in January from 11.8 percent in December, with nearly 19 million people out of work.


That outcome makes uncomfortable reading, coming in so close already to the official forecast of 12.2 percent unemployment for this year and with the debt-laden Eurozone not expected to return to growth until 2014.


Eurostat said that compared with December, some 201,000 joined the jobless queues in the Eurozone in January and 222,000 in the 27-nation EU.


These figures are “unacceptable ... (they are) a tragedy for Europe,” said a spokesman for EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor.


Martin van Vliet at ING Bank said the data marked a “sharp acceleration from December” and meant that “an end to the labour market downturn is not yet in sight.


“Even if the Eurozone economy exits from recession in due course, the labour market is likely to remain in recession for most if not all of this year,” van Vliet said.


“It still looks highly probable that the Eurozone unemployment rate will move well above 12 percent during 2013 and could very well near 12.5 percent,” warned Howard Archer of IHS Global.


In the EU the unemployment rate edged up to 10.8 percent from 10.7 percent in December, with 26.2 million jobless.


The highest jobless rates were in bailed-out Greece, at 27 percent — although this figure is for November — and in struggling Spain, on 26.2 percent.


The lowest rates were Austria with 4.9 percent, and Germany and Luxembourg, both on 5.3 percent.


In January 2012, Eurozone unemployment was 10.8 percent and the EU 10.1 percent, highlighting how the debt crisis and economic slump have hit the jobless numbers, especially among the under-25s.


Eurozone youth unemployment was put at 24.2 percent in January, up from 21.9 percent in January 2012. In the EU, under-25 unemployment rose to 23.6 percent from 22.4 percent.


For Greece, the youth unemployment rate in January was given as 59.4 percent, with Spain on 55.5 percent and Italy 38.7 percent.


On the Eurozone inflation front, Eurostat said the rate of price increases fell to 1.8 percent in February, putting it well below the European Central Bank’s target rate for the first time in more than two years.