Spain's economy is faring a little better after an end-2012 slump and growth could even return by the end of the year, Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said Tuesday as doubts grew over the prospects for debt-laden southern European economies.
The Spanish economy had "clearly" improved from the final three months of 2012, when output plunged by 0.8 percent, De Guindos told an economic forum.
The Spanish economic chief did not, however, predict an economic expansion in the first quarter of 2013.
"The first quarter of this year will be clearly less bad than the previous quarter," De Guindos said.
Later, on the margins of the forum, he said the government expected gross domestic product to show a decline of 0.5 or 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2013, a further slight improvement in the second quarter and nearly zero growth in the third quarter.
In the final three months of 2013, the government believed there was a "possibility" of positive economic growth for Spain on a quarterly basis, De Guindos said.
The minister stressed, however, that his first-quarter estimate was based on incomplete data with all the figures for March yet to come in.
Spain is immersed in a double-dip recession after failing to recover convincingly from the collapse of a decade-long property boom in 2008, an economic disaster that has sent the unemployment rate soaring to a record 26 percent.
The Spanish economy, the eurozone's fourth-largest, contracted by 1.4 percent last year, the second worst yearly slump since 1970.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government is predicting a return to economic growth in 2014 if the country sticks to a programme of cost-cutting measures and of reforms aimed at improving economic efficiency.
The government has admitted that it will have to revise its existing forecast for an economic dip of only 0.5 percent this year. The Bank of Spain is predicting a 1.5-percent plunge in output this year and only a "modest rebound" in 2014.
Doubts are growing over the prospects for southern European states that are fighting to slash deficits while their economies wallow in recession.
Portugal is preparing a new battery of spending cuts after the country's constitutional court struck down four of nine contested austerity measures that the government had introduced as part of its 2013 budget that were aimed at respecting the terms of its international bailout.
Spain's constitutional court has received various appeals of government austerity measures, which include a value-added tax increase and cuts to jobless benefits and public-sector wages, but De Guindos said he was "convinced" that Spain would not find itself in the same situation as its neighbour.
"All the measures which were adopted by the Spanish government had a fundamental principle, which was to absolutely respect the law," he said.
Spain recorded an annual public deficit equal to 7.0 percent of gross domestic product last year, missing a 6.3-percent target it had agreed with the European Union.
Now, the Spanish government wants Brussels to agree to relax its 2013 deficit target to about 6.0 of GDP from the previously agreed 4.5 percent, a government source said this month.
Spain also wants the European Union to agree to give it an extra year to bring its deficit to below the bloc's ceiling of 3.0 percent of GDP, the source said.
Rajoy vowed Tuesday to "fight" to convince European Commission to agree to let Spain reduce its public deficit at a "reasonable and sensible" pace even as he stressed that the country needed to rein in its spending.
"We can't live with a deficit like the one which we have now because we can't live permanently on credit," he added during a debate in parliament.