Euro-area jobless rate holding at 12.1 percent

Frankfurt, Germany - Euro-area unemployment held at a record in November as policy makers struggled to bolster the recovery from the currency bloc's longest recession.

The jobless rate remained at 12.1 percent, the European Union's statistics office in Luxembourg said Wednesday. That's in line with the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of 26 economists. After several revisions of previous months' data, unemployment has been stable at that level since April, Eurostat said.

While unemployment remains resistant to policy makers' attempts to boost the economy, positive signs are gradually accumulating. November retail sales increased 1.4 percent from the previous month, beating analysts' estimates, and 1.6 percent year on year, Eurostat said in a separate report.

"It was to be expected that the unemployment rate remains unchanged at a high level," said Carsten Brzeski, an economist at ING Group in Brussels. "The labor market is lagging behind the economic recovery in the euro area and it will take at least until the middle of the year until we'll see significant improvement."

Europe's fragile labor market remains a major concern for EU leaders as they try to foster the recovery.

Last month, they acknowledged that the jobless rate remains "unacceptably high," especially among young people.

The European Central Bank estimates that the euro-area economy will expand 1.1 percent this year after contracting 0.4 percent in 2013. Unemployment will average 12.1 percent this year and 11.8 percent in 2015, economists forecast in a separate Bloomberg survey.

Meager growth has prompted European companies to shed jobs in a bid to cut costs and remain competitive. European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co. said last month that it would cut 5,800 jobs in Germany, France, Spain and Britain.

Unemployment varied widely across the euro area in November, from a low of 4.8 percent in Austria to a high of 26.7 percent in Spain. Greece, which last reported in September, had a jobless rate of 27.4 percent. Among people under the age of 25, unemployment in the then 17-nation euro zone stood at 24.2 percent.

In addition to retail sales, EU leaders can point to improving economic confidence as they seek evidence of a strengthening recovery. The European Commission will publish the results of its December survey tomorrow, with the gauge forecast to rise to 99.1, the highest reading since July 2011, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

The ECB, after cutting its main refinancing rate to a record-low 0.25 percent in November, sees "no immediate need to act" further on "encouraging signs" that the euro area's crisis is easing, President Mario Draghi said on Dec. 28 in an interview published in Der Spiegel. December inflation slowed to 0.8 percent, and the rate has been below the ECB's 2 percent ceiling for 11 months.

The Frankfurt-based central bank will leave its key rate unchanged tomorrow, according to all 51 economists in another Bloomberg survey.

"The weak underlying price pressures and low inflation rate provide strong arguments in favor of further easing at tomorrow's ECB meeting," said Martin van Vliet, an economist at ING Bank in Amsterdam.

"However, the ongoing signs of economic recovery will likely keep the ECB on the sidelines, with the hawks arguing that the recovery will eventually lead to a pick-up in price pressures," he said.

NEWS SUMMARY

BRIGHTER OUTLOOK: Glimmers of hope emerged Wednesday for the eurozone economy to suggest that the coming year will see the recovery gathering steam. Official figures showed unemployment holding steady and retail sales posting the biggest monthly increase 12 years.

NOT GETTING WORSE: Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, said the eurozone's unemployment rate held steady in November at a record 12.1 percent for the eighth month running.

SALES JUMP: The agency also said retail sales during the month rose 1.4 percent, the biggest gain since November 2001. Economists were expecting an increase of only about 0.3 percent.

- Associated Press

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