An index of executive and consumer sentiment in the 16 nations that use the euro rose to 67.2, the first increase since May 2008, the European Commission said yesterday. The figure was above the 65.6 median estimate of 26 economists in a Bloomberg survey, and up from 64.7 in March. Euro-area capacity utilization for the quarter fell to 70.5 percent, the lowest since 1990, the commission said.
"It is too early to raise the flag," said Martin van Vliet, an economist at ING Groep in Amsterdam. "It remains important for the European Central Bank to be persistent and lower the rate by a quarter point and announce unconventional measures."
ECB policy makers are debating whether to follow counterparts in the U.S. and the U.K. in buying assets to combat the economic slump, the region’s worst since World War II. The 22-member Governing Council has split over how aggressive to be at a time when the benchmark interest rate is already at a record low of 1.25 percent.
While the central bank said yesterday that banks expect to tighten credit conditions less aggressively in the second quarter, the ECB also said loans to households and businesses grew in March at the slowest pace since at least 1991. Inflation is expected to remain near a record low this month as the global recession hurts demand for products from cars to chemicals. Economists expect a 0.7 percent inflation rate for April, according to a Bloomberg survey, near March’s 0.6 percent, which was the lowest since the data were first compiled in 1996. The April price data are due today.