Strong exports, slight wage rises offer euro zone hope

BRUSSELS Mon Dec 17, 2012 6:37am EST

Cars are loaded onto a ship at a shipping terminal in the harbour of the northern German town of Bremerhaven, late October 8, 2012. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

Cars are loaded onto a ship at a shipping terminal in the harbour of the northern German town of Bremerhaven, late October 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Fabian Bimmer

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Euro zone exports jumped in October and wages grew only moderately in the third quarter, in the latest signs that the indebted bloc is regaining its competitive edge.

The euro zone's trade balance with the rest of the world swung to a 10.2 billion euro ($13 billion) surplus in October, versus a deficit a year ago, and foreign sales surged 14 percent, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said on Monday.

Greece, Spain and Portugal, which have been at the center of the bloc's three-year crisis, all cut their trade deficits by wide margins in the January-to-September period and Italy even swung to a slight surplus compared to a year ago.

Trade with the United States, Asia and Latin America is the euro zone's biggest hope of avoiding a prolonged recession at a time when Europeans are suffering from record unemployment, government spending cuts and falling pensions and benefits.

A silver lining in the Mediterranean is that only very modest wage increases are helping countries improve their competitiveness after a decade-long boom fuelled by easy credit pushed the euro zone into a false sense of economic wellbeing.

Nominal hourly labor costs rose 0.7 percent in Spain, 0.8 percent in Italy and 1.1 percent in Portugal for the July-to-September period, Eurostat said in a separate release.

Overall, euro zone hourly labor costs rose 2 percent in the quarter, mainly because of a 3.3 percent increase in Germany, which also bodes well because wealthier consumers in Europe's largest economy could buy more of their neighbors' products.

The rise in overall labor costs in the 17-nation bloc was nearly half the level of increases in early 2009, at a time when Europeans were giving themselves generous pay hikes, pushing up the cost of labor by 12 percent between 2001 and 2011.

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(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Rex Merrifield)

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