BRUSSELS - Exports saved the euro zone from a deeper recession in the third quarter of this year while companies emptied warehouses and cut investments, putting the onus on trade to drive a recovery.
The overall shrinkage in economic output for the July-to-September period was confirmed at 0.1 percent from the previous quarter, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said on Thursday.
In line with expectations, the reading puts the 17-nation bloc in its second recession since 2009, the result of stagnant government spending and household consumption, and a lower contribution from investment and inventories in the quarter, Eurostat said in its second release of the data.
Eurostat released its first estimate for gross domestic product on Nov. 15 and fleshed out its numbers on Thursday, showing French and German growth slowing to a crawl, Italy and Spain contracting in the quarter, and Belgium stagnating.
The Netherlands registered the biggest drop in the quarter, falling 1.1 percent compared to the previous three-month period.
While the numbers show a recession, economists and policymakers are divided over whether the worst is yet to come for the bloc, which generates a fifth of global output and has been badly weakened - first by the global financial crisis of 2007/2008 and then by the euro zone debt crisis.
The European Commission sees modest, 0.1 percent growth next year, while the OECD and many investment banks see the recession continuing into 2013, which would drive up already record levels of unemployment and drag on the rest of the world's output.
The European Central Bank may lower its projections for growth at its meeting on Thursday, economists say.