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Germany's economy contracts, signaling a recession

People walk past a store in Berlin on Oct. 11, 2022. The German economy shrank unexpectedly in the first three months of this year.
Michael Sohn
/
AP
People walk past a store in Berlin on Oct. 11, 2022. The German economy shrank unexpectedly in the first three months of this year.

BERLIN — The German economy shrank unexpectedly in the first three months of this year, marking the second quarter of contraction that is one definition of recession.

Data released Thursday by the Federal Statistical Office shows Germany's gross domestic product, or GDP, declined by 0.3% in the period from January to March. This follows a drop of 0.5% in Europe's biggest economy during the last quarter of 2022.

Two consecutive quarters of contraction is a common definition of recession, though economists on the euro area business cycle dating committee use a broader set of data, including employment figures. Germany is one of the 20 countries that use the euro currency.

Employment in the country rose in the first quarter and inflation has eased, but higher interest rates will keep weighing on spending and investment, said Franziska Palmas, senior Europe economist for Capital Economics.

"Germany has experienced a technical recession and has been by far the worst performer among major eurozone economies over the past two quarters," Palmas said, predicting further weakness ahead.

The figures are a blow to the German government, which last month boldly doubled its growth forecast for this year after a feared winter energy crunch failed to materialize. It said the economy would grow by 0.4% — up from a 0.2% expansion predicted in late January — a forecast that may now need to be revised downward.

Economists said high inflation hit consumer spending, with prices in April 7.2% higher than a year ago.

GDP — the broadest gauge of economic output — reflects the total value of goods and services produced in a country. Some experts question whether the figure alone is a useful indicator of economic prosperity given that it doesn't distinguish between types of spending.

As a whole, the eurozone economy scraped out meager growth of 0.1% in the first quarter, according to initial estimates, with inflation eroding people's willingness to spend as their pay fails to keep pace.

The U.S. also reported disappointing growth estimates Thursday that kept alive fears of a recession in the world's largest economy.

The International Monetary Fund predicted this week that the United Kingdom would avoid falling into recession this year after previously expecting it to perform the worst among the Group of Seven leading industrial nations.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Tuesday that "we're likely to see the U.K. performing better than Germany, for example."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press