Sat, Jul 06, 2013 - Page 15 News List

IMF calls for faster Italy reform, urges more ECB action

Reuters, ROME

Italy’s recession-bound economy should begin to recover from the end of this year, but its growth outlook remains weak and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government must accelerate its reform efforts, the IMF said on Thursday.

At the end of annual consultations with Italy, the IMF said the eurozone’s third-largest economy would contract by 1.8 percent this year, worse than its previous projection of a 1.5 percent fall in output.

Next year will see growth of 0.7 percent, the IMF said in its concluding statement, up from its previous forecast of 0.5 percent, but it warned that the risks to its outlook are tilted to the downside and market sentiment remains fragile.

Italy’s reform efforts need to be complemented at the European level, the IMF said, urging direct asset purchases by the European Central Bank (ECB) and more long-term cheap loans “of considerable tenor” to eurozone banks.

Italy is mired in its longest post-war recession, with GDP shrinking for seven consecutive quarters since the middle of 2011 and unemployment at a record high above 12 percent.

The IMF said it expected the recession to end toward the end of this year, supported by exports.

Recent data have been mixed, with some signs of revival in the manufacturing sector, but a persistent slump in construction, retail and services, as domestic demand remains extremely weak.

“Accelerating the momentum for reform will be essential to jumpstart growth and create jobs,” the IMF said.

“Europe will also need to play its part with actions to address financial fragmentation and strengthen further the currency union,” it added.

Italy has been eurozone’s most sluggish economy for more than a decade. After years of stagnation and recession its GDP is lower now, in inflation-adjusted terms, than it was at the end of 2001.

“Italy’s growth prospects over the medium term will strengthen only with the implementation of comprehensive reforms,” the IMF said.

The fund said reforms adopted by Italy in recent years did not go far enough and called for greater deregulation of the service sector and the labor market and reform of a “lengthy and inefficient” justice system.

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