Eurozone economic growth eased to its slowest pace in two years last quarter, according to an early estimate from the region's statistics office, but a faster reading for currency area inflation suggests the European Central Bank will likely keep its current interest rate and asset purchase plans in place despite the unexpected weakness.
The Eurozone economy, which includes the 19 countries that currently use the European single currency and is the second-largest trading bloc in the world, grew at a quarterly rate of 0.3% over the three months ending in June, Eurostat said Tuesday, and 2.1% from the same period last year. Both figures, while also improvements from the first quarter, fell modestly shy of analysts forecast.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. President Donald Trump both said they'd reached a deal on trade last week in Washington that will hold the current round of tariffs on steel and aluminium exports into the U.S., and reciprocal levies on $2.8 billion worth of American made goods into the EU, in place while the two held more extensive talks aimed and bringing tariffs between the world's two biggest economic areas "closer to zero".
President Trump's chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, told CBS' 'Face the Nation" Sunday that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will start those talks "immediately", describing it as a "layered process to examine all the different areas."
The Eurozone growth rate marks a stark contrast to the surging advance seen in the United States, which second quarter GDP showed the best rate of expansion -- 4.1% -- in nearly four years as the impact of President Trump's tax cuts continues to boost domestic spending.
The diverging fortunes also mark the difference in trajectory between the pair's central banks, with the Federal Reserve signalling gradual rate hikes through this year and next while the ECB continues to maintain a dovish 'wait-and-see' approach on its own policy path that has kept rates at record lows for the past four years.
Eurostat also published its first estimate of currency area inflation for the month of July, showing prices rose at an annual pace of 2.1%, surpassing the ECB's 'just below 2%' inflation target for the third consecutive month. So-called core inflation, which strips out volatile prices for food, energy, alcohol and tobacco products, also accelerated to 1.1% from 0.9% in the previous month.
The mixed readings kept a cap on gains for the euro, although it did bump marginally higher to 1.1725 against the U.S. dollar immediately after the two releases. The market's ability to boost the euro further, however, is also likely to be blunted by last week's reiteration from ECB President Mario Draghi that, while the Bank's controversial quantitative easing program will come to an end later this year, interest rates and liquidity support will remain in place for many months to come.
"Let me stress that our enhanced forward guidance, which is both date-based and state-contingent, conveys the Governing Council's expectations that key ECB interest rates .. will remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019 and, in any case, for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below but close to 2% over the medium term," Draghi told reporters last week in Frankfurt following the Bank's July interest rate meeting.
Draghi said that, while he wasn't overly concerned with the impact of the current round of trade tariffs on Eurozone growth, a sustained escalation of 'tit-for-tat' retaliations could given he and his colleagues a reason to reconsider their current policy stance.
"We've seen and we have analysed that the implemented, the direct effects of implemented tariffs, as I said last time, are limited," Draghi said. "But clearly, a trade war where you have rounds of retaliation and rounds of responses would create an entirely different climate."
"We would have to assess both the direct effects, which may be significant as the numbers significantly go up, and the indirect effects of confidence on - especially on business investment," he added. "We haven't done anything different from last time yet, so we'll have to assess in the future."