Eurozone inflation surged to a record high of 10.7 per cent in October, keeping the pressure on the European Central Bank to continue raising interest rates despite a sharp slowdown in growth in the third quarter.
The increase in eurozone consumer prices accelerated from 9.9 per cent in September, which was already the highest in the 23-year history of the euro.
The latest high, reported on Monday by the European Commission’s statistics arm Eurostat, also outstripped the 10.2 per cent expected by economists polled by Reuters. It was the 12th consecutive month that inflation has set a record high in the eurozone, taking it to more than five times the ECB’s 2 per cent target.
Claus Vistesen, an economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the latest inflation figures were “a proper Halloween nightmare for the ECB”.
Real interest rates in the region remain deep in negative territory. The central bank raised its nominal policy rate by 0.75 percentage points last week to 1.5 per cent to tackle “far too high” inflation and said more increases were likely, despite signs that the euro area is on the verge of a recession.
Gross domestic product figures published on Monday by Eurostat confirmed eurozone growth slowed in the third quarter, rising 0.2 per cent from the previous quarter. The figure was in line with expectations, but marked a slowdown from growth of 0.8 per cent in the previous quarter.
Growth accelerated slightly in Germany, but France, Italy and Spain reported sharp slowdowns.
Ken Wattret, head of European analysis and insights at S&P Global Market Intelligence, predicted that the “energy-related constraints on economic activity during the winter” would cause a “short but sharp recession”, with euro area GDP shrinking by 1 percentage point between the final three months of this year and the first quarter of next year.
Investors interpreted ECB president Christine Lagarde’s comments last Thursday that it had made “substantial progress” in tightening monetary policy and a recession was “looming much more on the horizon” as indications that the central bank could soon start to slow the pace of rate rises.
Since then, however, the ECB has sought to distance itself from the idea that it was nearing a “dovish pivot” and Lagarde told Irish broadcaster RTE’s The Late Late Show on Friday evening that “defeating inflation is our mantra, our mission, our mandate”.
Monday’s stronger than expected rise in eurozone inflation — despite a sharp fall in wholesale energy prices in recent weeks — is likely to make it harder for the ECB to consider slowing or stopping its tightening of monetary policy anytime soon.
Klaas Knot, head of the Dutch central bank who sits on the ECB’s rate-setting governing council, told Dutch TV show Buitenhof on Sunday that it was “possible” that it could raise rates by 0.75 percentage points for a third consecutive time in December, despite a recession “becoming more and more likely”.
Eurostat said energy prices rose 41.9 per cent in October, up from 40.7 per cent the previous month. Prices of food, alcohol and tobacco rose 13.1 per cent, up from 11.8 per cent in September.
The closely tracked measure of core inflation, which excludes more volatile energy and food prices to give economists a clearer idea of underlying price pressures, rose 5 per cent, up from 4.8 per cent in September.
Eleven of the euro area’s 19 countries had double-digit levels of inflation and in the three Baltic countries it remained above 20 per cent. However, inflation slowed in almost half the bloc’s member states.
Economists expect the eurozone to fall into recession next year as the soaring cost of living pushes households to cut back on spending, while sharply higher energy costs force industrial groups to scale back or shut production across Europe.
The US economy outperformed many of Europe’s largest countries with quarterly growth of 2.6 per cent in the July to September period, while China reported quarterly growth of 3.9 per cent.