Italy’s third quarter GDP surprised on the upside, as the economy grew faster than expected by the markets and accelerated from the previous quarter, on the back of expanding domestic demand. Nevertheless, growth remained weak overall and there are signs that the economy could be slowing in Q4. In October, consumer confidence declined for the third consecutive month, following a downward trend that began at the beginning of the year. In the same month, the Purchasing Managers’ Index inched down, on the back of a weaker expansion in output and new orders, while economic sentiment improved. On 4 December, Italians will go to the polls to vote on the constitutional referendum promoted by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The outcome of the vote may decide the fate of the government.
Italy Economic Overview
Italy is the world’s ninth biggest economy. Its economic structure relies mainly on services and manufacturing. The services sector accounts for almost three quarters of total GDP and employs around 65% of the country’s total employed people. Within the service sector, the most important contributors are the wholesale, retail sales and transportation sectors. Industry accounts for a quarter of Italy’s total production and employs around 30% of the total workforce. Manufacturing is the most important sub-sector within the industry sector. The country’s manufacturing is specialized in high-quality goods and is mainly run by small- and medium-sized enterprises. Most of them are family-owned enterprises. Agriculture contributes the remaining share of total GDP and it employs around 4.0% of the total workforce.
The country is divided into a highly-industrialized and developed northern part, where approximately 75% of the nation’s wealth is produced; and a less-developed, more agriculture-depended southern part. As a result, unemployment in the north is lower and per capita income in higher compared to the south.
Italy suffers from political instability, economic stagnation and lack of structural reforms. Prior to the 2008 financial crisis, the country was already idling in low gear. In fact, Italy grew an average of 1.2% between 2001 and 2007. The global crisis had a deteriorating effect on the already fragile Italian economy. In 2009, the economy suffered a hefty 5.5% contraction—the strongest GDP drop in decades. Since then, Italy has shown no clear trend of recovery. In fact, in 2012 and 2013 the economy recorded contractions of 2.4% and 1.8% respectively.
Going forward, the Italian economy faces a number of important challenges, one of which is unemployment. The unemployment rate has increased constantly in the last seven years. In 2013, it reached 12.5%, which is the highest level on record. The stubbornly high unemployment rate highlights the weaknesses of the Italian labor market and growing global competition. Another challenge is presented by the difficult status of the country’s public finances. In 2013, Italy was the second biggest debtor in the Eurozone and the fifth largest worldwide.
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