OECD cuts eurozone growth forecasts

OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria: "The situation remains particularly fragile in Europe"

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The OECD has again cut its growth forecasts for the eurozone and called on the European Central Bank to consider doing more to boost growth.

The organisation says the eurozone will shrink by 0.6% this year, widening the gap between it and faster-growing economies such as the US and Japan.

The UK forecast was revised down to 0.8% growth this year and 1.5% in 2014.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has given France two more years to complete its austerity programme.

France fell back into recession in the first three months of the year.

Spain, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands and Slovenia have also been given more time to complete fiscal tightening.

The move suggests a shift away from a focus on austerity in Europe.

Eurozone worries persist

In its twice-yearly Economic Outlook, the OECD said prolonged economic weakness in Europe could damage the global economy.

Analysis

Europe's financial crisis is still the dark cloud hanging over the global economic outlook.

It may have receded a bit. The deluge is no longer imminent in the way it seemed to be earlier in the crisis. But it is still a worry for the OECD's economists.

They wouldn't otherwise be calling for the European Central Bank to take the very unusual step of putting one of its interest rates below zero - only for banks holding money at the ECB, mind you. Nobody would be able to get a mortgage on that basis.

The European Commission, meanwhile, proposes that six countries, including France, Spain and Slovenia be given more time to get their government borrowing to below 3% of national income.

Given the Commission's insistence on the importance of fixing weak government finances, that is another sign of how intractable the eurozone is finding this crisis.

The organisation, which represents 34 advanced economies, forecast average growth across its members of 1.2% this year and 2.3% in 2014.

It painted a troubled picture of the eurozone economy. The forecast of a 0.6% contraction in GDP is down markedly from the 0.1% contraction forecast just six months ago.

It said eurozone unemployment would continue to rise from its current rate of 12%, stabilising in 2014.

It blamed continuing austerity measures, weak confidence and tight credit conditions. It hinted that the European Central Bank (ECB) might want to expand quantitative easing (QE) as a measure to encourage stronger growth.

It warned the continuing weakness in Europe "could evolve into stagnation, with negative implications for the global economy".

While trimming the UK's growth forecast, the OECD said the UK government's austerity plans had affected growth, but said the measures were "necessary" and warned that "further fiscal consolidation" was needed.

The US and Japan have seen a greater focus on stimulus measures compared with Europe, where austerity measures have taken precedence.

Japan is forecast to grow relatively strongly this year, adding 1.6% to its GDP on the back of extraordinary economic stimulus measures introduced by the government this year.

But the OECD said there was considerable uncertainty over whether that recovery would continue into 2014, when the government is expected to cut spending.

In the US, where growth of nearly 2% is forecast for this year, the OECD said quantitative easing measures might need to be "gradually reduced".

China is not included in the OECD club, but the organisation expects its annual growth to be about 8% over the next two years.

The organisation's chief economist, Pier Paolo Padoan, told Reuters that the eurozone remained the dominant area of concern.

"Europe is in a dire situation," he told the news agency. "We think that the eurozone could consider more aggressive options. We could call it a eurozone-style QE."

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