The massive €18.7bn (£15.76bn) surplus was almost entirely driven by falling domestic demand for foreign goods, as exports stagnated and imports fell by 10 per cent on the year. The extent to which the surplus increased was not foreseen by the markets, where a smaller rise to €13bn was expected.
Howard Archer, European chief economist for IHS Global Insight, said trade figures must improve if the euro area as a whole is to finally begin some form of recovery. “It is vitally important for the Eurozone that global growth improves as 2013 proceeds, thereby boosting exports and facilitating the single currency area’s exit from recession that has now lasted a record six quarters”.
The consumer price index in the euro area was also announced yesterday, plunging to a 38-month low of 1.2 per cent, falling well short of the European Central Bank’s aspiration for price increases at slightly below two per cent.
Between individual countries, inflation varied considerably. While Greece and Latvia saw overall deflation, prices in the Netherlands rose by 2.8 per cent.
In a speech last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that European monetary policy might be too loose for her country’s economy, while appearing to be too tight for some countries on the struggling periphery.