France economy grew 2.6% in 2022

The French economy barely dodged a contraction in the final quarter of 2022 despite inflation forcing households to reduce spending, and grew 2.6 percent for the year, data showed on Tuesday.

The figures were better than projections of gross domestic product (GDP) expanding by 2.5 percent for the year, and for a contraction of 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter, when in fact the French economy managed to gain 0.1 percent, according to data released by the government's INSEE statistics office.

A train is driven along a railway line in Nantes on January 30, 2023, on the eve of a strike over the French President's plan to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64. (Photo: AFP)

The momentum from a strong rebound at the end of 2021, as the country recovered from the downturn caused by the Covid pandemic, helped at the start of 2022, before rising inflation and the fallout from the Ukraine war began to put the brakes on growth.

Household spending dropped by 0.9 percent by in the final three months of the year, but foreign trade contributed positively as imports fell by 1.9 percent, outweighing a 0.3 percent dip in exports.

Repairs underway at a large number of France's nuclear reactors contributed to a 5.5 percent quarterly drop in energy production, which was down 4.0 percent for the year.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the result was "testimony to the strong rebound of our economy after the Covid shock and its resilience in the face of the energy crisis", praising the "exceptional ... resistance capacity" of French companies and households.

Allianz economist Maxime Darmet was more skeptical.

"It is a superficial resistance by the French economy," he told AFP.

"Consumption isn't doing well and such a fall in imports isn't a good sign as that is saying that internal demand is really very weak," he added.

That's a bad sign for 2023 as INSEE expects inflation to accelerate to around seven percent in the beginning of the year, adding further downward pressure on consumption.

A preliminary estimate for January showed it edging up to 6.0 percent from 5.9 in December.

Furthermore, French manufacturers have worked through their post-pandemic boom in orders and have begun to feel drops in new orders as global growth slows, said Darmet.

The economist said the data confirms "an economy entering a modest recession or at best stagnation in the first half of 2023."

The Banque de France expects growth to slow to 0.3 percent in 2023, which is much less than the government, which forecasts a 1.0 percent expansion.

The IMF left its forecast for France unchanged at 0.7 percent growth in 2023 in its latest updates released on Monday.

The German economy, which is also being battered by the energy crisis, dipped by 0.2 percent in the final quarter of last year, according to data released on Monday.