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COMMENTARY: Eurozone pulls out of a record recession

by By DALE McFEATTERS, Scripps Howard News Service on August 20, 2013 10:00 AM

We had a shot of good economic news recently: The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits declined by 15,000 to 320,000, the lowest since October 2007. There was something special about the context.

Conscientious readers who dig deeply enough into stories documenting the United States’ slog back toward prosperity inevitably run into a disclaimer that says all of this economic domestic progress could slow greatly or even stop if Europe slides deeper into recession.

Thankfully, the 17-nation eurozone has emerged from a record 18-month recession. The bloc’s economy collectively grew at 0.3 percent in the April-to-June quarter, an annual rate of 1.1 percent.

Predictably, Germany was the zone’s powerhouse, with a quarterly growth of 0.7 percent — fortuitously for Angela Merkel, who faces voters Sept. 22 in running for a third term as chancellor. France followed at 0.5 percent. And economically anemic Portugal, admittedly starting from a low base, posted the bloc’s highest quarterly gain at 1.1 percent.

The problem-plagued economies of Italy and Spain contracted by 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent for the quarter — more slowly than expected. But that, too, was an improvement of sorts, prompting The Financial Times to say the “data showed both Italy and Spain were slowly easing out of their recessions.”

Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic affairs, said the recovery, though “delicate but sustainable,” showed that the eurozone response to the recession was the correct one.

The Wall Street Journal took a more measured and pessimistic view: “Most economists say the recovery is too sluggish to overcome the eurozone’s multiple ailments, including still-rising debts, mass unemployment, hobbled banks and political instability.”

That means the conscientious reader looking for an economic downer out of Europe will just have to read even deeper into stories out of the eurozone to offset good news out of the U.S.

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