Germany drives record recovery, but experts fear 'peak'
Germany posted its best growth since reunification on Friday, driving Europe past the United States in a four-year record but analysts warned of a recovery that may be peaking out.
Accelerating growth in Britain, France and even Spain initially nudged European stockmarkets higher but the early optimism faded as investors prepared for US data later in the day after a series of poor figures over recent weeks stoked fears of a double-dip recession.
With 2.2-percent growth between April and June, Germany was "playing in a league of its own," according to Brussels-based ING economist Carsten Brzeski.
Analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast a 1.4 percent gain.
After suffering its worst post-war recession in 2009, "we are now experiencing XL growth," Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said, the best since 1990, when Germany was reunited after a 45-year Cold War division.
However, Chris Williamson of London-based Markit economists argued that German manufacturers were winning export sales because concerns about weaker Mediterranean partners were helping to keep the euro down.
"It remains to be seen if the buoyancy of the eurozone's core spills over to the periphery, or whether the periphery drags the core down," Williamson said.
Frankfurt-based Commerzbank analyst Christoph Weil maintained that the German growth, routinely described as "stellar," was above all driven by rising demand abroad and low interest rates.
"This speed is unlikely to be sustained," he cautioned.
The 1.0 percent expansion across the 16 eurozone nations, and also the 27-member European Union as a whole, was "the sharpest in four years," Jennifer McKeown of London-based Capital Economics said.
After managing just 0.2 percent in the first quarter, growth beat forecasts for 0.7 percent and outpaced that of the US, which posted a quarterly gain of 0.6 percent -- down from 0.9 percent between January and March.
But while Amsterdam-based Nick Kounis of ABN AMRO said worries over a "double-dip" recession now centre "on the other side of the Atlantic," he admitted the overall picture could be "misleading."
Spending cuts in almost all countries will make the road "bumpy" and "long," he stressed, adding that "the deepening of Greece's recession is a timely reminder."
Greece's economy shrank 1.5 percent in the second quarter after 0.8 percent in the first as savage cuts agreed with the EU and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a massive bailout loan hit home.
"All in all, we think the second quarter marked the peak of the bounce-back," Martin Lueck of Frankfurt-based UBS Investment Research said.
On the upside, Britain posted a 1.l percent expansion and France -- Europe's biggest economy after Germany -- 0.6 percent, providing welcome relief after recession last year of 2.5 percent.
Paris now expects growth of 1.4 percent this year, although Oscar Bernal of ING in London also warned of a slowdown, citing one of the eurozone's largest fiscal deficits.
Spain, which only escaped recession in the first quarter, saw its economy grow by 0.2 percent, while the Netherlands and Austria each performed strongly with a 0.9 percent gain.
With additional data showing the eurozone's trade balance delivering a 2.4-billion-euro June surplus, investors welcomed the cocktail of good news in early trading.
But as fears grow that the economies of the United States and China are running out of steam, Europe's main stock markets soon reverted to type and slipped back into the red.
© 2010 AFP