Euro-Zone Data Deepen Gloom

 

LONDON—A further decline in euro-zone manufacturing Friday and a climb in the number of jobless people to a fresh record suggested that the region’s economy will continue to flounder in the second quarter as its debt crisis deepens.

Manufacturing activity in Spain, which is fighting to rescue one of its biggest banks and avoid becoming another casualty of the crisis, fell to a three-year low, its reading underperforming even that of Greece. Germany and France also posted figures at or near three-year lows.

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The final manufacturing purchasing managers’ index for the 17-nation currency bloc fell to 45.1 in May from 45.9 in April, marking a near-three-year low, Markit Economics said Friday. That is the 10th straight month that the manufacturing PMI has been below the key 50 threshold, which signals activity is shrinking month-to-month.

May’s reading was very slightly improved from a preliminary reading of 45.0 published last month.

Official statistics also published Friday showed the number of people out of work in the euro zone rose in April to its highest level ever recorded in the history of the currency union.

European Union statistics agency Eurostat said there were 17.4 million people without jobs in the 17 nations that use the euro in April, an increase of 110,000 since March and 1.8 million higher than a year earlier.

That’s the highest total since comparable records began in January 1995, a spokesman said.

The bloc’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate remained stable to 11% in April, in line with economists’ expectations, following a small upward revision to March’s figure to 11% from 10.9% previously.

The rise in unemployment is likely to weigh on consumer spending and hold back the currency union’s economy. Rising joblessness may also fuel discontent with the austerity programs underway in many member states.

Signs that the euro-zone economy is weakening further have added to investor concerns that the region will struggle to escape its debt crisis intact. High borrowing costs in Spain have sparked fears that that country could soon need financial aid, joining Ireland, Portugal and Greece. Austerity measures across the bloc have suppressed economic activity, making it harder for governments to repay debts.

In a measure of the strains besetting the euro zone, the yield on two-year German debt turned negative early Friday, with investors briefly prepared to pay up just to protect their capital. Meanwhile Spanish bond yields are at levels considered unsustainable as fears about the country’s troubled banking system and highly indebted regions persist.

“The damage to the real economy caused by the region’s financial and political crises continues to spread across the region,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, referring to the PMI data.

Euro Zone by the Numbers

The 17-nation euro zone is a collection of countries with vastly different economic profiles. See how they stack up on the major measures.

He said May’s figures suggest manufacturing will be a “major drag” on gross domestic product in the second quarter. The euro zone barely escaped recession in the first quarter, posting zero growth after a 0.3% contraction in output in the fourth quarter.

But the current rate of decline in manufacturing is still “nowhere near as severe” as at the height of the crisis in 2008/2009 that followed the collapse of investment bank Lehman Bros, Mr. Williamson said.

Underscoring the impact of the downturn on the real economy, Fiat SpA F.MI -1.89% postponed the European launch of two cars for its namesake brand by at least a year, the latest example of the Italian auto maker’s efforts to save money as the region’s car market shrinks.

A spate of poor data from Asia Friday showed the downturn isn’t limited to Europe, and also pointed to faltering demand for European goods in other markets.

Two purchasing managers indexes for China fell in May, stoking speculation Beijing may have to respond aggressively to support growth. A rare trade deficit in Indonesia and an unexpected fall in South Korea’s exports, considered a bellwether for Asia, added to the gloom.

“The green shoots of recovery that we were seeing a month or so back are wilting away,” said Rob Subbaraman, chief Asia economist at Nomura Securities.

A weak performance from Germany suggested Europe’s biggest economy is struggling to escape the troubles of its weaker neighbors.

In Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, the manufacturing activity index fell to 45.2 from 46.2 in April. France’s PMI sank to 44.7 from 46.9.

German industrial giant Siemens AG’s SI -2.49% Chief Executive Peter Löscher said in April that the global economy seems to be stabilizing, but at a considerably lower level, and last week he said the company’s growth in its home market is set to slow.

“In the core countries, the picture…looks alarmingly weak,” said Ken Wattret, chief euro zone economist at BNP Paribas.

Spain’s manufacturing PMI dropped to 42.0 from 43.5, meaning it is now suffering the biggest month-to-month decline of all the countries surveyed.

There were some slight improvements. Italy’s reading edged up to 44.8 from 43.8, an unexpected improvement that nonetheless left activity contracting at a steep pace. Greece’s reading hit an eight-month high at 43.1, but likewise still showed activity falling sharply month-to-month.

—Michael S. Arnold, Gilles Castonguay and Philip Grontzki contributed to this article.

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