Fabian Demicoli

Economic Sentiment Weakens in the EU but remains broadly stable in the euro area

 After improving in January and February, the Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) decreased in March by 0.8 points in the EU and by a marginal 0.1 points in the euro area, to 93.2 and 94.4, respectively. The decline was mainly driven by decreasing confidence in the industry and construction sectors. By contrast, confidence increased among consumers and in the services and retail trade sectors.

Among the largest Member States, the UK (-2.5) reported the biggest decrease in sentiment, followed by Germany (-2.4), the Netherlands (-1.3) and Spain (-1.1). By contrast, sentiment improved in Italy (+3.5), Poland (+2.2) and France (+2.0). The ESI is above its long-term average only in Germany. In Malta confidenced increased by 0.6.

Confidence in industry worsened markedly in both the EU (-1.8) and the euro area (-1.5).

In both regions, managers' assessment of their companies' past production and current level of order books deteriorated. At the EU level, also the current assessment of stocks of finished products and export order books deteriorated.

However, managers' production expectations remained broadly stable. In the euro area, production expectations declined, but managers' current assessment of export order books improved slightly, and that of stocks was broadly stable. Confidence in services improved in both the EU (+0.8) and the euro area (+0.6), thanks to more positive assessments of the past business situation and past demand, while demand expectations decreased slightly. Confidence in retail trade also improved in the euro area (+1.8) and -to a lesser extent -the EU (+0.5).

By contrast, confidence in construction worsened in both the EU (-0.8) and the euro area (-1.9), mainly due to a worsening of managers' employment expectations in that sector.

In the EU, managers revised their employment plans upwards in all business sectors except construction. At the same time, expected selling prices were also revised up in the industry and services sectors.

Confidence among consumers improved by 1.3 points in the EU and by 0.6 points in the euro area, mainly on the back of a strong increase in consumers' expectations about the general economic situation and an easing of unemployment fears in both regions. Consumers' assessment of their own financial situation improved slightly in the euro-area, but remained unchanged in the EU. Consumers' saving expectations declined in both areas. Confidence in financial services – not included in the ESI – remained broadly stable in the EU (+0.1) and declined in the euro area (-0.8), on the back of managers' more negative assessment of recent developments in business situation and demand. At the same time, managers' expectations about demand for their companies' services improved markedly.

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