Europe: unemployment hits record high, auto sales continues to decline image

In Europe the situation continues to be in the red area.

Unemployment across the 17-member Eurozone rose to 10.9 percent in March – its highest level since the euro was launched in 1999 – official figures showed Wednesday. The number of people out of work in the region rose by 169,000 from February to 17.4 million.

Spain had the region’s highest unemployment rate in March, at 24.1 percent, with Greece at 21.7 percent, the report showed. The lowest rates were in Austria and the Netherlands, at 4 percent and 5 percent respectively.

The manufacturing PMI for the euro zone slumped to 45.9 in April from March’s 47.7. That was weaker than the preliminary reading and also the lowest index level since June 2009. Economists had forecast the index would be unchanged from the 46.0 preliminary reading.

It has been below the 50 mark that divides growth from contraction for nine months.

Worryingly for European policymakers, a downturn that is hitting Italy and Spain hard, now appears to be taking root among core members France and Germany.

Over the first four months of 2012, French car registrations were down 18% from the same period in 2011 after sales in Europe’s biggest auto market after Germany had fallen sharply in the first quarter.

On the same time, in March, new car sales slumped in Europe 6.6% from a year earlier to 1.50 million, after a decline of 23% in France, 27% in Italy, 43% in Greece, and 49% in Portugal. In Spain, the decline was more modest, with registrations down just 4.5%.