Euro zone crisis cools, but unemployment hits record-high of 12.1%: Data

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The economic crisis in southern Europe may be easing, a key survey signalled on Monday, but unemployment figures showed the eurozone jobless rate hit a previous record-high of 12.1 per cent in May.

The Eurostat figures offered little hope of a quick end to the social fallout from austerity seen in many countries, with the unemployment rate for the entire European Union being unchanged at 10.9 per cent.

Provisional official data in Italy showed the unemployment rate rising to a record high level of 12.2 per cent, an increase of 0.2 points from the April level and 1.8 percentage points higher over 12 months.

EU leaders agreed to deploy up to 8.0 billion euros ($10.4 billion) in programmes to fight youth unemployment at a summit in Brussels last week after US President Barack Obama warned of the risk of a "lost generation" in Europe.

The Eurostat report, which revised previous figures, showed the eurozone rate reached 12.1 per cent in March, then inched down to 12.0 per cent in April - a slight improvement that ended two years of increases - before rising again in May.

The results were far worse than in May of last year, when eurozone unemployment was at 11.3 per cent and the EU jobless rate at 10.4 per cent.

For under-25s the picture was even worse, with the rate for the eurozone rising to 23.0 per cent for the EU as a whole from 22.8 per cent in May 2012 and to 23.8 per cent for the eurozone from 23.0 per cent over the same period.

Eurostat said 26.4 million men and women in the EU are now out of work.

There were wide differences between EU members, however, with unemployment actually decreasing in May in 10 countries on a 12-month comparison.

The best results were in Latvia, where the rate fell to 12.4 per cent from 15.5 per cent and Estonia, where it went down to 8.3 per cent from 10.0 per cent.

The worst was Cyprus, an island nation that has been plunged into a banking crisis over the past year that has drastically cut down its financial sector and where the jobless rate rose to 16.3 per cent in May 2013 from May 2012.

Unemployment data is a lagging indicator, and in a separate set of figures, however, eurozone manufacturing showed signs of continued improvement in June.

The Markit Eurozone Composite Purchasing Managers Index, a survey of what businesses see happening in their production processes, rose to 48.8 in June - a 16-month high - from 48.3 in May.

- Emerging central Europe looks up: analyst - The PMI index is considered to be a reliable indicator of the future trend of activity.

Ireland saw an improvement and Spain remained stable, while the rates of contraction eased in Austria, France, Greece, Italy and the Netherlands.

"Strong improvements in Spain, Italy and France more than offset a mild German setback as exporters there struggle with weakness in China and competition from Japan," said Christian Schulz, an economist at Berenberg bank.

"On current trends, the end of recession in the crisis countries is approaching fast. Spain's manufacturing PMI left contraction territory for the first time since April 2011 and Italy was not far behind," he said.

The PMIs for Italy and Spain were higher than Germany's for the first time since the eurozone debt crisis reached its peak in 2011.

Meanwhile, William Jackson, the emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London,said that the latest batch of "emerging European" PMI indicators for several countries in central Europe added "to the growing sense that things are improving in the region."

But he also commented: "Even so, we still expect the recovery to be pretty lacklustre."