Shop owners in the 18-nation eurozone saw business unexpectedly erode in December. Sales slumped massively at Christmastime, dampening hopes for a rebound fuelled by rising November sales.
Retail sales across the euro currency area fell 1.6 percent in December, sharply offsetting a rise by 0.9 percent in the previous month, the European Union's statistics office, Eurostat, announced Wednesday.
Compared with the same month a year ago, December sales turned out to be 1 percent lower, Eurostat said, and added that for the whole of 2013 eurozone consumers bought 0.9 percent less than in 2012.
The eurozone's biggest economy, Germany, fared particularly badly in December as Germans bought 2.5 percent less than in November. Declining sales were also reported from Belgium, down 1.9 percent, Finland minus 1.3 percent and France, where the decline was about 1 percent. Consumers in Luxembourg were especially spendthrift, buying 9.4 percent more than in the previous month.
Retail sales are an important indicator of a healthy economy. The December decline suggests that the recovery in the crisis-hit euro area was faltering at the end of 2013. This will increase pressure on the European Central Bank (ECB) to lower interest rates further at a meeting on Monday. Under efforts to shore up the eurozone's fragile upswing, the ECB has already cut its benchmark interest rate to a historic low of 0.25 percent.
uhe/kms (dpa, AP)