Spanish jobless numbers fall for first time in nine months
The number of unemployed people in Spain fell in April for the first time in nine months, official data showed on Tuesday, boosting the government's argument that the eurozone's highest jobless rate peaked during the first quarter.
The total number of those without work fell last month by 24,188 people over the previous to 4,142,425, its first monthly drop since July 2009, the labour ministry said in a statement.
The number of unemployed was up by 497,545 people over April 2009, it added.
Maravillas Rojo, Spain's employment secretary, said that the jobless figures for April "were good, given the complexity of the current situation."
"It indicates that the rate of destruction of jobs is slowing down and it gradually brings us to the evolution of monthly data preceding the start of the crisis," she added.
The jobless figures for the month of April confirm leaked figures which were published over the weekend in what was seen as a move to silence criticism sparked by the release on Friday of quarterly figures showing the number of unemployed had topped 20 percent, the highest rate since 1997.
The quarterly figure from the national statistics institute INE, which uses a different calculator method from the labour ministry, said the average number of unemployed in the first three months of the year jumped by 280,200 to 4,612,700 people.
Last week Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said that the unemployment rate had likely peaked during the first quarter as the economy probably returned to growth and would now begin dropping.
But French bank BNP Baripas predicted Tuesday that "the unemployment rate, however, should continue to grow in the coming months, but at a slower pace than in the past."
It predicts Spain's average annual unemployment rate will rise to 20.4 percent in 2011 after hitting 20 percent this year.
Spain's jobless rate has soared since the global credit crisis hastened the collapse of its labour-intensive construction industry at the end of 2008.
The high unemployment rate means the government will face an even bigger bill for jobless benefits as it tries to rein in a public deficit that hit 11.2 percent of gross domestic product last year, the third-biggest in the eurozone after that of Greece and Ireland.
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero extended unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed last year and had pledged to maintain welfare payments even as he works to bring the public deficit to within a limit of 3.0 percent of output imposed on eurozone nations by 2013.
Standard & Poor's on Wednesday lowered Spain's long-term sovereign credit rating to "AA" from "AA+" amid fears its recession could further weaken its public finances.
© 2010 AFP