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Euro zone economy to gain momentum in 2021 on vaccine hopes: Reuters poll

BENGALURU (Reuters) - The euro zone economy will contract again this quarter as renewed lockdown measures stifle activity, according to a Reuters poll which showed the bloc’s GDP would then return to pre-crisis levels within two years.

FILE PHOTO: Containers and cars are loaded on freight trains at the railroad shunting yard in Maschen near Hamburg September 23, 2012. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer/File Photo

Hopes for a coronavirus vaccine and additional support from the European Central Bank this month meant quarterly growth forecasts for next year were upgraded in the poll conducted from Nov. 26-Dec. 2.

“We now assume vaccines will be rolled out in the euro zone next year and most restrictions on economic activity are lifted during Q2. As a result, GDP increases by around 5% next year, regaining its pre-COVID level in early 2022,” said Andrew Kenningham, chief Europe economist at Capital Economics.

“There are still big risks to this forecast. There could yet be a third wave of the virus, vaccine distribution could run into political or logistical problems, and governments could be slower to ease restrictions. On the other hand, the vaccines could be more effective or easier to roll out than anticipated”.

Nearly 80% of respondents, or 36 of 45, who replied to an extra question said the economy would return to pre-crisis levels within two years.

That was a major turnaround in expectations from August when more than 70% of economists said it would take two or more years to reach that level.

The wider poll showed after contracting 2.6% this quarter, the economy would grow 1.1% in the first quarter of 2021 compared with 0.8% in the last poll. It was then predicted to expand 2.0% and 1.8% in Q2 and Q3, better than median predictions of 1.8%, 1.2% in November.

On an annual basis, the economy was expected to shrink 7.4% this year, and grow 5.0% in 2021 largely unchanged from the last poll. For 2022, the growth forecast was upgraded to 3.5% from 3.1%. (Graphic: Reuters Poll: Euro zone economy and ECB monetary policy outlook, )

That pick-up in growth will not filter through to inflation which was expected to remain far below the European Central Bank’s target of just below 2%, averaging 0.3% in 2020. 0.9% in 2021 and 1.3% in 2022.

Having remained in negative territory for the fourth straight month in November, inflation is likely to be a point of focus when the ECB’s Governing Council meets next week.

The ECB has launched a strategic review after years of inflation undershooting its target and nearly 80% of respondents to an extra question, or 33 of 43 economists, said the ECB would change its inflation target.

While a smaller section of poll participants commented on what the target would be, most said the ECB would allow more leeway around 2% or adopt an average inflation targeting framework, similar to the Federal Reserve’s recent policy.

“We are probably going to see something which looks a little bit similar to the Fed in the sense that this will be more of a symmetrical target. By changing to a symmetrical target, you build in a little more tolerance for higher inflation in the future,” said Elwin de Groot, head of macro strategy at Rabobank.

“This cements the idea rates will stay very low in the coming years... but the past ten years suggest these very relaxed policy settings are not sufficient to really create more growth and inflation. What you really need is a combination of monetary and fiscal policy.”

The ECB was expected to top up its pandemic-related bond purchases by 500 billion euros, at its Dec. 10 meeting, extending the programme by six months until December 2021, a Nov. 18 poll found. It was also predicted to change the terms of its targeted long-term loans to financial institutions.

Reporting by Richa Rebello and Manjul Paul; Polling by Tushar Goenka and Hari Kishan; Editing by Jonathan Cable and Toby Chopra

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