French GDP slump less than feared: central bank

The French economy will contract by 8.7 percent this year owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the central bank estimated Monday, less than originally forecast due to consumer spending.

The Bank of France had previously expected a 10.3-percent slump as companies reel from the impact of coronavirus restrictions that have prompted hundreds of thousands of layoffs.

However “the second-quarter shock was less significant than expected,” the bank said, adding that “the rebound suggested by business surveys in recent months has been stronger.”

As a result, the French economy could return to its pre-crisis levels by early 2022, instead of later that year as the bank had expected.

The new forecast is in line with the 9.0-percent drop expected by statistics office Insee, which produces official economic data, though for now the government has not changed its outlook for an 11-percent decline.

Third-quarter growth is expected to jump by 16 percent from the second quarter, when gross domestic product (GDP) plunged by 13.8 percent amid a two-month nationwide lockdown.

The increase reflects household spending that held up better than expected, as well as resilience in the automobile, construction and even restaurant and hotel sectors — foreign travel restrictions meant many French took vacations closer to home this summer.

But unemployment is expected to keep climbing, despite the government’s financing of salaries for employees who have been laid off or forced to reduce their hours.

Unemployment, set to reach 9.5 percent by the end of this year, could rise to 11.1 percent in 2021, the Bank of France said.

“We are entering a phase where economic activity is going to keep improving, but we are not at all near the rhythm we have seen these past months,” the bank’s director general Olivier Garnier told a press conference.



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