French 'Yellow Vests' protests cost 0.2 percentage points of growth - Le Maire

FILE PHOTO: A French flag and a yellow vest flutter in the air as protesters take part in a demonstration of the "yellow vests" movement in Marseille, France, February 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s “Yellow Vests” anti-government protests have shaved 0.2 percentage points off economic growth since they started, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday.

The protests erupted in mid-November originally over fuel price hikes and the high cost of living but spiralled into a broader movement against President Emmanuel Macron and his drive for economic reforms.

At their peak in December, the weekly protests forced many businesses to temporarily shutter in central Paris and other cities, as the capital suffered its worst rioting and vandalism in decades.

“It’s a very high cost, it’s of the order of 0.2 percentage points of quarterly growth, so it’s a lot,” Le Maire told Public Senat television.

The government had previously said that the protests cost the economy more than 0.1 percentage point of growth in the fourth quarter, which amounts to about 2.5 billion euros (£2.1 billion).

The INSEE statistics office said on Thursday that the French economy grew 0.3 percent in the fourth quarter as strong exports made up for weak spending at home, confirming a previous estimate.

INSEE also confirmed the economy grew 1.5 percent over the course of last year, down from a decade-high of 2.3 percent in the previous year.

Separately, INSEE said consumer spending rebounded by 1.2 percent in January after a slump in December, beating expectations for an increase of 1.0 percent in a Reuters poll.

The increase, driven by higher energy spending amid cold weather and new car purchases, helped to offset a drop of 1.5 percent the previous month.

Reporting by Leigh Thomas and Myriam Rivet; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta