Business confidence fell in Germany and France this month, increasing concern that the global market turmoil may be weighing on the economy of the 19-member euro currency union. Germany's closely watched Ifo confidence index fell to 105.7 points in February from 107.3 last month, the third decline in a row. France's INSEE index dropped to 100 points in February from 102 in January.
The data released Tuesday bolsters the argument for the European Central Bank to expand its monetary stimulus efforts at its next meeting March 10. The central bank is currently pumping 60 billion euros ($66 billion) per month in freshly printed money into the financial system through bond purchases in an attempt to push up weak inflation and support a modest recovery. The eurozone grew 0.3 percent in the last three months of last year; unemployment remains high at 10.4 percent. In Germany, the eurozone's largest economy, business executives' view of current conditions improved but their outlook for the next half-year worsened significantly. The German survey indicated executives share worries about the global economy that have sent financial markets lower recently. China's economy is slowing down, with unpredictable consequences for the rest of the world, while low oil and commodity prices have hit emerging market economies that supply much of the world's growth these days. Financial market turmoil itself could have an impact by making businesses cautious about risking more investment in production.
The Ifo index is valued as a guide to where the economy is headed. The survey is based on monthly responses from about 7,000 firms. Germany, the biggest economy in the 19-country euro currency union, is enjoying low unemployment of 4.5 percent and steady growth of 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. While exports have slowed, spending by consumers and the government has picked up. The French confidence index slipped due to declining confidence among retailers. Manufacturing held up, suggesting global headwinds were not yet severely affecting the country's gradual recovery.