Belgium surprises with first-quarter return to growth
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium's economy returned to growth in the first quarter and was not in recession in the second half of 2011 as initially thought, data showed on Wednesday, in an encouraging sign for the broader euro zone.
Gross domestic product grew 0.3 percent in the first quarter from the last three months of 2011 and by 0.5 percent compared with same period last year, Belgium's central bank said.
The rise in output followed a quarterly contraction of 0.1 percent in October to December.
The positive news from a country closer to Europe's core contrasts with data in the last week showing both the Spanish and British economies sinking back into recession.
First quarter figures for the euro zone, which shrank by 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter, will be published on May 15. Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands are also due to release their GDP estimates on that day.
Economists were surprised by the positive Belgian growth figures, having expected austerity measures announced at the end of 2011 to undermine consumer sentiment and domestic demand.
Steven Vanneste of BNP Paribas Fortis said the main driver of growth was likely to have been exports to non-EU countries and to the euro zone's healthiest and largest economy, Germany, which is a major trading partner of Belgium.
"The figures demonstrate the resilience of the Belgian economy versus the euro zone economy.... We saw the same evolution in unemployment today, with the rate growing in the euro area and staying flat in Belgium," he said, referring to data showing a further rise in euro zone joblessness.
ING economist Philippe Ledent said Belgium's economy might still contract in the second quarter, but that sentiment should then pick up as it would benefit from recovery in the United States.
The Belgian central bank also revised up its figure for growth in the third quarter of last year to zero, from -0.1 percent, meaning there was only one rather than the two quarters of contraction that would define a recession.
For the year 2011 as a whole, the Belgian economy grew by 2.0 percent, up from a previous estimate of 1.9 percent.
(Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Silviu Pop; Editing by Catherine Evans)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this