Deflation returns: Prices are falling again in Europe

europe deflation oil
Low energy prices pushed Europe back into deflation in September.

Just when the world could use some good economic news, Europe manages to deliver another nasty surprise.

China is slowing, Japan is flirting with yet another recession, and now the eurozone economy has fallen back into deflation.

Preliminary data for September showed consumer prices across the eurozone fell by 0.1%.

That's the first negative reading for inflation since March, when the European Central Bank began pumping 60 billion euros ($67 billion) a month into the region's markets in an attempt to boost prices and economic activity.

Analysts were expecting inflation to stay flat this month, and the weaker than expected reading is entirely explained by a sharp fall in energy prices.

With oil and commodity prices still stuck in the basement, deflation could persist in the near term.

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Prices should begin rising again toward the end of the year, economists say.

But persistently high unemployment -- it was stuck at 11% in August -- and recent strength in the euro (which makes imports cheaper) will mean any recovery is likely to be weak, and could prompt more calls for the ECB to increase its bond-buying program.

Howard Archer at IHS Global Insight said it would be "a long and arduous slog" before European inflation gets near the ECB's target of just below 2%. "Indeed, it looks increasingly unlikely to happen until 2018," he noted.

The ECB's one trillion euro program of quantitative easing will run for at least another year, but the central bank has made clear it could be extended if necessary.

China's slowing economy has already put a dent in Europe's recovery.

Earlier this month, the ECB cut its forecasts for eurozone GDP growth for this year and next. President Mario Draghi made clear the central bank could increase the size of its asset purchases and prolong the program.

Confirmation that a global slowdown is throwing Europe's recovery off track could further complicate the debate over whether the Federal Reserve should raise interest rates in October or December.

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