President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi wants higher growth rate in the Eurozone( Photo: ESB)
President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi wants higher growth rate in the Eurozone from March(Photo: ESB)

Frankfurt/LONDON (AP) — Unemployment across the 19-country eurozone fell in December for the 15th month running to its lowest level in a little more than four years, official figures showed Tuesay. President of the European Central, ECB, Bank Mario Draghi addresses the committee on economic and monetary affairs at the European parliament in Brussels, Belgium. Draghi made an introductory statement before the plenary session on the ECB annual report Monday, Feb. 1, 2016.

Small decline

However, the monthly decline was the smallest in six months and has reinforced concerns that the recovery was already losing momentum at the end of 2015 — even before the China-related turmoil in financial markets stoked fears for the global economic outlook. Statistic agency Eurostat said the number of people out of work across the eurozone in December decreased by 49,000 to a total of 16.75 million, its lowest level since October 2011. The last time the eurozone has enjoyed a longer run of falling unemployment was the 21-month stretch that ended in June 2007.

Germany as Norway

As a result of the latest monthly fall, the unemployment rate fell from 10.5 percent to 10.4 percent, its lowest since September 2011. Though unemployment has been falling steadily, it’s still relatively high across the region, certainly in comparison with the United States, where the jobless rate stands at 5 percent. And the overall numbers continue to mask big disparities. While Germany’s unemployment rate stands at 4.5 percent, according to Eurostat, Greece and Spain remain lumbered by jobless rates above 20 percent. And youth unemployment is way too high at 22 percent across the eurozone as a whole.

Higher inflation

A further note of caution comes from the fact that the monthly decline was the smallest since June and may add to concerns over the economy. On Monday, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the «downside risks» facing the European economy have increased recently, a comment that’s reinforced speculation that the bank is preparing to unveil further stimulus measures at its next policy meeting in March. Getting unemployment down is not the direct motivation behind the ECB’s stimulus program, which involves super-low and even negative interest rates and large-scale bond purchases. The ECB’s main aim is to get consumer price inflation back toward the target of just below 2 percent by shoring up economic activity. In the year to January, inflation stood at a paltry 0.4 percent.

Falling prices

Separate figures from Eurostat showed just how muted price pressures are in the eurozone. Producer prices, which measure the cost of goods and materials for companies, were down 0.8 percent in December, way more than the 0.2 percent drop recorded in the previous month. The fall showcases the effect of big declines in oil and commodity costs. Analysts said the subdued inflation environment among firms is likely to be replicated in consumer prices over the coming months, making it more likely that the ECB provides more stimulus on March 10.

-In all, the latest data support our view that the ECB has a lot more work to do if it is to stand any chance of hitting its consumer price inflation target in the medium term,» said Jennifer McKeown, senior European economist at Capital Economics.

Analysts think the ECB could add to its 60 billion euros ($65 billion) in monthly bond purchases through at least March 2017, a step which pumps newly printed money into the economy. It could also cut the rate on the deposits it takes from commercial banks from its current rate of minus 0.3 percent. The negative rate is aimed at pushing banks to lend money rather than hoarding it.

Must deliver in March

Draghi now has the challenge of backing up words with action. He must defuse a restless minority of stimulus skeptics on the bank’s 25-member governing council and come up with something convincing — or risk disappointing the already frazzled financial markets, triggering another drop in stocks. The ECB left its stimulus programs unchanged last week, but Draghi said it would review the possibility of more stimulus on March 10. And he repeated several times there was «no limit» to the stimulus tools the bank could use, reports Associated Press.

Mario Draghi in ECB must deliver more growth within medio March( Photo: AP)
Mario Draghi in ECB must deliver more growth within medio March. (Photo: AP)

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