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Downturn bottomed out, Trichet signals

By Chris Giles and Daniel Pimlott in London and Ralph Atkins in Frankfurt

Published: May 11 2009 14:35 | Last updated: May 11 2009 20:36

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Jean-Claude Trichet signalled on Monday that the global downturn had bottomed out with some large economies already able to put the recession behind them and look forward to renewed growth.

OECD composite leading indicatorsThe European Central Bank president’s comments on Monday in Basel, Switzerland, had added weight because he was speaking on behalf of the world’s leading central bankers, not just for the eurozone.

His remarks came as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said there were signs of a “pause” in the economic slowdown in France, Italy, the UK and China.

The tentative signs of green shoots across the global economy have already led to a 40 per cent increase in global equity prices since the trough in March, according to the FTSE All World ex Japan index.

There has also been a rise in business and consumer sentiment in recent weeks, as orders have begun to return and levels of unsold stock have begun to subside.

As recently as late April, the world’s central bankers and finance ministers were still extremely cautious when they gathered in Washington and the International Monetary Fund said the global economy would contract sharply this year and recover only sluggishly in 2010.

Last week Mr Trichet had warned that in the 16-country eurozone “economic activity was likely to be very weak for the remainder of this year, before gradually recovering in the course of 2010”.

On Monday, however, Mr Trichet struck a much more optimistic note, ditching his previous refusal to spot green shoots for fear that they might soon wither and die. The global economy was “around the inflection point”, he said, with some countries “being beyond the inflection point”.

“In all cases we see a slowing down of the decrease in GDP. In certain cases you see already a picking up,” Mr Trichet said.

But the depth of the downturn already endured was still evident in official data released on Monday that showed Italian industrial production fell 4.6 per cent in March, leaving output almost 24 per cent below a year earlier, while French industrial production also fell 1.4 per cent in the same month.

Economists expect the eurozone economy to have shrunk by 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent in the first quarter, significantly worse than declines in the US and UK already published.

But according to the Paris-based OECD, these severe declines in economic output across the world are moderating.

While the organisation said the latest signals from a wide range of surveys and market indications pointed to a continued “strong slowdown” in the OECD area, which encompasses the world’s advanced economies, “the pace of the deterioration is easing”.

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