Europe’s biggest economies endured another torrid month in July as businesses battled slumping demand, according to surveys on Friday that gave scant hope the region will emerge any time soon from a malaise induced by a paralyzing debt crisis.
Purchasing managers indexes (PMIs), which gauge business activity and have a good record of tracking economic growth, showed order books at euro zone companies shrivelled last month as a downturn in Germany and France became more entrenched.
And growth in Britain’s dominant services sector slowed to a crawl in July, casting fresh doubt over whether its economy will rebound from a contraction in the first half of the year.
Overall, the PMIs pointed to a recession-laden second half of the year for most of Europe’s biggest economies, at odds with their portrayal of steady but unspectacular growth in Asia and the United States.
At the heart of the region’s problems is the sovereign debt crisis, which has pushed government borrowing costs in big economies like Spain and Italy to unsustainable levels and stamped on consumer and businesses confidence.
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi warned the risks to economic growth in the euro zone are on the downside after its policy meeting on Thursday, while sidestepping immediate action to calm the debt crisis.
“If you look at the breakdown by country, it suggests that recession is going to be pretty broad-based and it’s not purely down to developments in the (euro zone) periphery,” said Ben May, European economist at Capital Economics in London.
The composite euro zone PMI rose marginally in July to 46.5 from 46.4 in June, but was still well below the 50 threshold that marks growth. Survey compiler Markit said it was consistent with a 0.6 per cent quarterly rate of economic decline.
The euro zone narrowly avoided recession in the first quarter this year thanks only to the resilience of Germany.
While Reuters polls of economists last month suggested both Germany and France can still skirt recession, Italy and Spain look destined for painful economic contractions into 2013.
Official data on Friday also showed euro zone retail sales in June came in above expectations, even as growth slowed sharply from the previous month.
But the more forward-looking PMIs augured badly for future business activity in Europe. Euro zone new business orders collapsed at the fastest rate since June 2009 – a much worse situation than portrayed in the flash reading two weeks ago.
While companies in Italy and Spain performed particularly poorly in July, the PMI showed the euro zone’s biggest and most resilient economy is now floundering too.
“The big worry is that the downturn in Germany may be becoming more entrenched, suggesting that the largest euro economies are seeing convergence in collective and mutually-reinforcing decline,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at survey compiler Markit.
Germany’s services sector expanded unexpectedly in July, that but failed to offset a manufacturing economy that contracted at its fastest pace in more than three years.
Job losses also mounted among euro zone companies last month, at fastest pace since January 2010.
Britain’s Markit/CIPS services purchasing managers’ index unexpectedly fell to 51.0 in July from 51.3 in June, its lowest level since December 2010 and only marginally above the 50-mark that separates growth from contraction.
Coming on top of the weakest manufacturing figures in more than three years, and sluggish construction growth, the services PMI pushed Markit’s composite measure of British output growth in July down to 49.5 from 51.1 – its first contractionary reading since the depths of the financial crisis in April 2009.
“They are weaker than what we would like to have seen,” said Peter Dixon, economist at Commerzbank.
“We didn’t see any rebound in those figures following the June dip, which we perhaps could have expected – it’s indicative of the fact that the economy is very definitely losing momentum.”
Sweden provided a rare bright spot in Europe. Its services sector surged at its fastest pace in more than a year, as the PMI rose above 50 for the first time since March and defying a wider European economic slowdown.
In Asia too, the PMIs painted a much healthier picture than Europe.
The services sectors in emerging powerhouses China and India grew in July at a healthy pace, providing vital support for the two economies as manufacturing there also struggles with the global downturn emanating from Europe.
Similarly, economists expect the U.S. non-manufacturing ISM survey, due at 1400 GMT and comparable to the PMIs, to show an uptick in July to 52.1 from 51.7 in June, suggesting quickening but modest growth among service sector firms.