What slowdown? European growth holds steady

germany shopping gdp
Consumers are helping lift Europe's economy, albeit modestly

Europe is doing its bit for global growth.

For the 19 countries that use the euro, quarterly economic growth held steady in the final three months of 2015 -- making for an annual rate of expansion of 1.5% for the quarter and the year as a whole.

By comparison, the U.S. economy grew by 0.7% in the fourth quarter, and 2.4% for 2015.

Few details were published with the initial estimate of European GDP on Friday, but analysts said there were signs of steady domestic demand.

"Consumer spending has been the main growth driver," said Howard Archer of IHS. The annual growth rate was the "best performance since 2011," he noted.

Related: Will America's economy get dragged into recession?

Archer said the refugee crisis may also have supported activity in the fourth quarter, particularly in Austria and Germany, as governments increased their spending to provide services and support for hundreds of thousands of new arrivals.

After years of recession, Spain powered ahead with 0.8% growth in last quarter of 2015, and a whopping 3.5% compared to the fourth quarter of 2014.

Still, some economists say the GDP figures reflect a fragile recovery that still needs another push from the European Central Bank, likely in March.

Eurozone growth "provides little comfort in the current environment of global market turmoil, and does not preclude the need for further decisive policy action," said Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist of Capital Economics.

He is expecting eurozone growth to slow to 1.2% in 2016.

Italy and Greece may act as a brake. GDP grew by only 0.1% in Italy in the last quarter, well below expectations. And Greece fell back into recession in the fourth quarter, although the contraction was less than feared.

-- Ivana Kottasova contributed to this report.

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