BRUSSELS (Reuters) — Euro zone employment rose for the second consecutive quarter in the first three months of the year in a sign the recovery was finally helping the labour market and a widening trade surplus signalled a further positive contribution to growth in April.
The number of persons employed in the 18 countries sharing the euro rose by 0.1 per cent on the quarter in the three months to March and was up by 0.2 per cent on the year, the first annual rise since the third quarter of 2011, the European Union's statistics office said.
In Germany, the euro zone growth engine, employment rose 0.3 per cent on the quarter and 0.8 per cent on the year. In Portugal, which exited an international bailout in May, employment fell 0.3 per cent on the quarter, but jumped 1.8 per cent year-on-year.
Employment in Greece rose on the quarter and slowed its annual fall to 0.5 per cent from 2.6 per cent in the last quarter of 2013, signalling that also the euro zone's troubled periphery was experiencing a gradual recovery in labour markets.
But despite four consecutive quarters of economic growth still 18.7 million people were without jobs in April and the jobless rate remains close to record highs seen last year.
Separately, data showed that net trade made a positive contribution to growth in April as the trade surplus increased to 15.7 billion euros ($21.38 billion), from 14 billion in the same period of 2013.
The higher surplus was mainly because imports, down three per cent year-on-year, slowed more than exports, which fell only one per cent in April on a non-seasonally adjusted basis.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected the trade surplus to narrow to 13.9 billion euros in April from the originally reported 17.1-billion surplus in March.
EU exports to Russia, with which relations are tense because of Russian annexation of Crimea, fell 12 per cent on the year on a non-seasonally adjusted basis in the first three months of the year, Eurostat said.
Imports from Russia, which is the EU's fourth biggest trade partner, fell nine per cent on the year in the first quarter.