Greece’s economy deeper in recession than forecast…crisis could intensify social unrest

Friday, August 13, 2010
By Paul Martin

• Second-quarter GDP in Greece estimated to have fallen by 3.5% year-on-year
• Record jump in Greek unemployment prompts that crisis could intensify social unrest

Katie Allen
Thursday 12 August 2010

Greece’s recession deepened more than expected in the second quarter of 2010 after the country was rocked by its financial crisis and a series of government measures to slash public debt.

Investment dropped and public spending slumped in the three months to June as Greek politicians battled to regain the confidence of financial markets and meet the conditions of a multibillion-euro bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

There was also a fresh warning sign that the economic crisis could further intensify social unrest, after a record jump in unemployment. The crisis has already led to widespread industrial action and public protests.

With the fiscal squeeze only just starting, Greece is expected to remain mired in recession for the rest of this year.

The country’s ELSTAT statistics office estimated that second-quarter GDP fell by 1.5% during the three months, and was 3.5% less than a year ago. Those were steeper falls than the quarterly 1% and annual 3.3% contractions forecast in a Reuters poll of economists.

The falls were also sharper than in the first quarter. So while many fellow European economies, including the UK, were enjoying a quickening recovery out of recession in the second quarter, Greece’s first-quarter contraction of 0.8% almost doubled. The statistics office said that the deterioration reflected a drop in investment and public spending cuts.

Economists predict Greece’s economy is unlikely to recover for some time yet as austerity measures continue to hurt consumers and businesses. The overhaul includes a public-sector pay freeze, a VAT rise, new laws making it easier for companies to lay off workers and a higher retirement age.

Giada Giani at Citigroup told Reuters: “We think the largest hit to private consumption from tighter fiscal policy is probably still ahead of us, as monthly indicators on consumer spending had not really plummeted yet in the second quarter.

“On the other hand, net export probably provided a large positive contribution to GDP as export growth is lifted by improving global trade while import is depressed by falling domestic demand.

“We expect growth to remain negative for the rest of the year, with an average decline of around 3.5% for 2010.”

Reflecting the austerity measures and efforts to shrink the public sector, Greek unemployment posted a record jump in May. According to labour market data from the statistics service, the unemployment rate rose sharply to 12% from 8.5% a year earlier. It was the biggest annual rise since comparable records began in 2004, with the number of people out of work rocketing by 43% from May 2009 to 602,185.

Echoing a report overnight from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Greek data showed young people were the hardest hit by the latest jump in unemployment. The jobless rate for 15- to 24-year-olds now stands at 32.5% in Greece.

According to the ILO, global youth unemployment has hit an all-time high and is expected to rise further this year. It says that of about 620 million economically active 15- to 24-year-olds, 81 million were unemployed at the end of 2009, the highest number since records began in 1991. That put the global youth unemployment rate at 13%.

In the UK, labour market data yesterday showed youth unemployment slipped back in the second quarter. The jobless rate for 18- to 24-year-olds here is 17.5%.

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