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Shopping street in Rome, Italy
Image: picture alliance / DUMONT Bildarchiv

Italy slides into recession as eurozone struggles

January 31, 2019

Italy's economy contracted in the last two quarters of 2018, and the slowdown is expected to continue into 2019. Italy's problems are having their effects on the rest of the eurozone.


Italy's gross domestic product (GDP) fell a steeper than expected 0.2 percent for the quarter ending in December 2018, following a fall of 0.1 percent in the previous three months. A technical recession is defined as two straight quarters of economic contraction.

The Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) issued the figures on Thursday and reported agriculture, forestry, fishing and industry had all contributed to the economic downturn, while a rise in net exports failed to offset those declines. The service sector was "substantially stable," ISTAT reported.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said government measures would lead to a recovery in the second half of 2019. He said the economy had been weakening since the start of 2017 and had been hit by the slowdowns in China and Germany. 

Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio blamed the previous government and said the data "certified the failure of the entire political class which Italians sent packing" in elections last year.

It is the third recession for Italy in a decade.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Image: picture-alliance/Xinhua News Agency/Ye Pingfan)

Challenging debt

Italy's government debt is the fourth-largest in the world and the biggest in the EU, coming in at more than €2.3 trillion ($2.6 trillion).

The coalition government was forced to revise its expansionary 2019 budget in December after the European Commission raised concerns about the impact on the country's debt levels.

The dispute between Rome and Brussels raised concerns about Italy's ability to manage its debt, especially after borrowing rates on bond markets rose as a result. 

Effect on the eurozone

Italy's recession has had its effect on the wider eurozone, which grew by just 0.2 percent in the final quarter of 2018, according to provisional figures released Thursday by the EU's statistics agency Eurostat. The eurozone's 1.2 percent year-on-year expansion is a new five-year low.

The German government on Wednesday cut its growth forecast for 2019 to 1 percent, which would constitute the slowest pace in six years.

The International Monetary Fund last week cut its forecast for eurozone growth in 2019 from 1.9 percent to 1.6 percent.

Eurostat also reported on Thursday the unemployment rate in the 19 countries that use the single currency remained stable in December at 7.9 percent, the same as the previous month.

jm/ng (Reuters, AP)

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