By Paul Hannon
The eurozone's trade balance with the rest of the world returned to surplus in February after a rare deficit the previous month, a boost to hopes that a modest recovery gathered momentum in the first quarter.
The European Union's statistics agency Wednesday said the 19 countries that use the euro exported 170.3 billion euros ($182 billion) of goods to countries outside the currency area, while importing goods valued at EUR152.6 billion from the U.S., the U.K. and other economies, leaving a surplus of EUR17.8 billion. In January, the eurozone ran a deficit of EUR600 million, the first such gap for three years.
Adjusting for seasonal effects, the eurozone's exports rose by 0.4% from January, while imports were down 1.7%.
The return tosurplus adds to a mixed picture of the currency area's economy in the first three months of the year. Surveys of businesses and households released this year suggest growth is picking up, with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and his colleagues declaring their optimism that the recovery is "steadily firming."
But some of the actual data on activity collected by Eurostat and other statistics agencies around the currency area is less positive. In addition to the January trade deficit, Eurostat recorded a decline in industrial production during February.
Official figures for economic growth during the first quarter will be released on May 3. But if they do record the pickup in growth anticipated by ECB policy makers, it is unlikely to be very large, or transform the outlook. In fresh forecasts for the global economy released Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund said it expects the eurozone economy to expand at the same 1.7% rate this year as it did last. In 2018, it expects growth to ease to 1.6%.
With growth remaining modest and unemployment falling slowly from very high rates, ECB policy makers are likely to remain reluctant to quickly remove the stimulus they have been providing since mid-2014.
Other figures released Wednesday by Eurostat confirmed that the annual rate of inflation fell to 1.5% in March from 2% in February, and was once again below the ECB's target.
Write to Paul Hannon at firstname.lastname@example.org
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April 19, 2017 05:17 ET (09:17 GMT)
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