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Euro zone fourth quarter growth better than expected

Euro zone economic growth accelerated unexpectedly in the final quarter of 2014 as the bloc’s largest member, Germany, expanded at more than twice the expected rate. 

A preliminary estimate showed the euro zone economy expanded by 0.3% between October and December compared with the previous three months, the European Union’s statistics office Eurostat said. 

A Reuters poll of 51 economists had forecast a 0.2% expansion, the same rate as in the third quarter. 

Year-on-year, euro zone growth was 0.9% in the fourth quarter, also 0.1 percentage points higher than expected. 

The euro zone’s biggest economy, Germany was a clear outperformer, growing by 0.7% in the quarter, far surpassing expectations of a 0.3% rise. 

It marked a return to solid expansion in Germany after two quarters close to zero, boosting the growth rate for the whole of last year to 1.6%. Domestic demand lifted Germany out of its mid-year lull and allowed it to achieve 2014 growth of 1.6%. 

The Statistics Office said a significant pick up in household spending had helped overcome the summer slowdown. 

But France could not keep pace, growing by just 0.1%, meaning the euro zone’s second largest economy advanced by just 0.4% across the whole of 2014.

Italy fared even worse. 

“It’s obviously still too weak, but the conditions are ripe to permit a cleaner start of activity in 2015,” said French finance minister Michel Sapin, adding that business leaders were already beginning to increase investment.

With Greece’s place in the euro zone again uncertain, there is plenty of turbulence for the currency bloc to contend with. 

But a halving of the price of oil and the prospect of the European Central Bank buying more than €1 trillion of government bonds with new money over the next 18 months should start to spur growth. 

Latest data suggest a slightly more buoyant start to the year. The January purchasing managers survey produced the best showing for euro zone firms since mid-2014 and pointed to first quarter growth of 0.3%.

In Greece, the economy contracted by 0.2% in the final three months of last year after three consecutive quarters of growth. 

That marked a 1.7% increase from the same time a year earlier, but was below the 2.2% forecast. 

The twice-bailed-out country’s economy had been expected to show it has put a long and savage recession behind it, at least while it remains firmly part of the euro zone. 

Italy’s economy stagnated in the fourth quarter, marking the 14th consecutive quarter without any growth as an increase in exports was offset by weak domestic demand. 

Over the whole of 2014 GDP fell 0.4%, the third consecutive decline after contractions of 1.9% in 2013 and 2.3% in 2012. 

Spain released its fourth quarter figures two weeks ago and boasted quarterly growth of 0.7%, the fastest in seven years. 

Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told Reuters last week that forecasts for 2015 could soon be lifted as high as 3%. 

Today’s figures also show that the Dutch economy grew a healthy 0.5% in the fourth quarter.

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