FRANCE and Germany made a surprise return to growth in the second quarter of 2009, official data showed yesterday, making them the first of the major economies to exit the worst post-war global recession.<br /><br />Figures from Eurostat showed that Western Europe&rsquo;s two largest economies both grew by 0.3 per cent in the three months to June on the previous quarter, while the Eurozone as a whole shrank by 0.1 per cent.<br /><br />European stock markets closed higher yesterday, cheered by the growth data, although disappointing US figures undermined initial gains.<br /><br />But politicians remained wary. German economy minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said: &ldquo;There are no grounds for euphoria; we&rsquo;re still a long way from seeing the economy back at the level that it was at last year.&rdquo;<br /><br />French and German output was boosted by a bounce in consumer spending &ndash; in particular the success of the car scrappage schemes &ndash; and a positive net trade contribution.<br /><br />Whether the data marks a return to growth or a blip remains to be seen. Charles Dumas at Lombard Street Research said: &ldquo;Given the temporary nature of the cash for clunkers boost, the prospects for consumer spending this autumn and winter are not rosy.&rdquo;<br /><br />CMC Markets&rsquo; Ashraf Laidi agreed, saying that one-time quarterly rebounds in the aftermath of two to three consecutive quarterly contractions are not unusual.<br /><br />&ldquo;Government stimuli, car incentive schemes and inventory restocking remain no substitutes to a secular rebound in consumer power, especially when unemployment rates have yet to stabilise,&rdquo; he added.<br /><br />However, the return to growth was welcomed in Britain by business secretary Lord Mandelson, who said that any improvements in France and Germany were &ldquo;good news&rdquo; for the UK, which conducts about half its trade in the Eurozone.<br /><br />Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor, Vince Cable, agreed but said the size of the UK&rsquo;s banking sector and its housing bubble left it more exposed than either France or Germany.<br /><br />Economists now see the whole Eurozone expanding in the third quarter. Previously, the UK had been expected to exit recession first, but poor second quarter data scuppered these hopes.