In March, the consumer confidence and the economic sentiment indicators significantly decreased in the EA (Euro Area), as a result of the strong deterioration in expectations caused by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The prices of raw materials and oil presented monthly growth rates of -2.0% and -23.8% (-3.5% and -10.9% in February), reflecting the negative effects of the pandemic on the economy global economy and divergences between oil-producing countries.
In Portugal, not considering three-months moving averages, the information already available for March reveals a strong decrease in economic activity. The consumer confidence indicator registered a significant reduction when comparing with the previous month, being the largest monthly decrease since September 2012 and reaching the minimum value since February 2016. All the business confidence indicators decreased in March, with particularly strong declines in Trade and in Services.
The overall amount of national withdrawals, payment of services and purchases at automatic payment terminals carried out on the automatic teller machines of the Multibanco network decreased significantly in March (-17.0%), after increasing by 10.1% in the previous month. The information regarding vehicle sales also presented a strong decrease in March, with rates of change of -57.5%, -51.2% and -46.9% for passenger cars, light commercial vehicles and heavy duty vehicles.
In April (week from 6 to 10), the Fast and Exceptional Enterprise Survey carried out together by Statistics Portugal and Banco de Portugal, indicated for the responding corporations a strong reduction in turnover and a reduction in the number of employees, notably by using the lay-off regime, with accommodation and restaurants standing out as one of the most affected economic activities by the pandemic crisis.
According to the provisional monthly estimates of the Employment Survey, the provisional unemployment rate (15 to 74 years old), seasonally adjusted, was 6.5% in February, 0.2 percentage points lower than the definitive rate observed in the three previous months (identical rate in the same period of the previous year). The estimate for the employed population (15 to 74 years old), also seasonally adjusted, registered a null year-on-year change rate and a monthly growth rate of -0.2% (year-on-year rate of change of 0.2% in January). The information on recorded unemployment of the IEFP, recently available for March and the first half of April, points out to a significant increase in unemployment.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) presented a null year-on-year rate of change in March (0.4% in the previous month), with this evolution resulting mainly from the reduction in the energy products index.
Although the information in this press release already reflects to some extent the impact of the current situation determined by the pandemic COVID-19, it is expected that the trends analyzed here may change substantially in the disseminations. Nonetheless, the information available today is useful to establish a reference to assess future developments. Despite the circumstances, Statistics Portugal will try to maintain the statistical production and release calendar, although some adjustments might occur associated with the impact of the pandemic in obtaining primary information. For this reason, Statistics Portugal asks for the best collaboration by firms, households and public entities in answering to Statistics Portugal‘s requests to obtain information, using Internet and telephone as alternative channels to face-to-face contacts. In fact, the quality of official statistics, particularly its ability to identify the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, depends crucially on this collaboration that Statistics Portugal is grateful for in advance.