L'économie française - Comptes et dossiers - Insee Références - Édition 2010
The French economy in 2009: a recession of unprecedented scale since the Second World War
After virtually stagnating in 2008, the French economy suffered its biggest postwar recession in 2009. Volume of activity fell by 2.6% on average over the year (after + 0.2%), a far bigger drop than that which came after the first oil shock (- 1.0% in 1975) or the one in 1993 (- 0.9%). The fall in GDP started in spring 2008 and suddenly accelerated in autumn and winter 2009. Activity has recovered since then, but is still a long way off its pre-crisis level: at the end of the year it was still at a level close to that observed three years previously. Against a backdrop of worldwide recession, the French economy was penalised by the very sharp contraction of exports, which fell by 12.4%, in line with the fall in world trade. After exports, the main reason for the decline in activity was the drop in demand from enterprises. Their level of investment fell back sharply (- 8.6% after + 2.9% in 2008), particularly in capital goods (- 11.9% after + 2.6%) and construction (- 6.1% after + 3.0%). Furthermore, they ran off stocks massively, and inventory change alone contributed 1.9 point to the downturn in activity (figure 1). Household investment, which mainly goes towards the purchase of new houses, also declined substantially (- 8.7% after - 2.7%). On the other hand, household consumer spending held up reasonably well. Although it slowed considerably compared with the average rate prior to the crisis, it nonetheless progressed in 2009, by 0.6% after + 0.5% in 2008. Lastly, general government demand accelerated in 2009 and supported activity, notably by means of the stimulus plan. The drop in total demand led to a fall in imports which was almost as marked as that in exports, to the extent that the contribution of foreign trade was only just negative (- 0.2 point).