French economic growth ground to a halt in the second quarter of the year, raising pressure on the government to cut spending and abolish tax breaks to convince turbulent financial markets it will deliver on debt reduction targets.
France’s statistics office said GDP growth was zero in the April to June period versus first quarter growth that, at 0.9 percent, was the best in almost five years.
The main cause was a drop in household consumption, which was down 0.7 percent from the first quarter, a particularly worrying sign for an economy that, unlike Germany’s, is reliant on domestic demand.
Economists polled by Reuters had on average predicted a rise of 0.3 percent.
After the European Central Bank moved this week to defend the bonds of Italy and Spain, market fire turned on France amid rumor and counter-rumor about the health of its banks and the solidity of its “AAA” credit rating.
French Finance Minister Francois Baroin played down the poor quarter, saying it was no surprise after a strong start to the year.
He said the government would not downgrade its growth forecasts and would meet its debt-cutting goals after French President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered his ministers on Wednesday to find new ways to prune the public deficit.
The government’s debt-cutting plan is based on GDP growth of 2 percent this year, 2.25 percent next year, and 2.5 percent on average in 2013 and 2014.
A recent IMF report gave a somewhat less rosy picture of 2.1 percent for this year, 1.9 percent next year and 2 percent for 2013.