LONDON - The recession that's gripped the eurozone since late 2011 is likely over.
On Wednesday official figures are expected to show that economic growth among the 17 countries that use the euro inched up 0.2 percent in the April-June quarter compared with the previous quarter.
The increase is slight. But it would end six straight quarters of a debilitating recession - the longest to afflict the single-currency bloc since its creation in 1999.
An elderly man carries shopping bags at Athens' central fruit and vegetable market, on Tuesday. Greece is beating its budget targets by a wide margin so far this year, a sign the country's painful cost cuts and tax increases, combined with international bailout funds, are paying off.
And it would represent an encouraging sign for other economies, including the United States, the world's largest, because the eurozone is the world's biggest trading bloc. The eurozone's recession held back growth in the United States, Japan and elsewhere as European consumers and businesses spent less on goods from those nations.
"Concerns about the eurozone were causing a lot of companies to put investment on hold," said David Owen, chief European economist at Jefferies International.
The eurozone's recession was a byproduct of the debt crisis that engulfed the currency union in 2010. The crisis forced debt-laden governments to impose painful cuts, spooked investors and raised doubts about the viability of the eurozone. Shrunken government spending and higher taxes devastated living standards in much of the eurozone, slowed economies and drove the bloc's unemployment rate to a record 12.1 percent.
The austerity programs embraced by the most troubled eurozone countries contrast with more expansionary efforts in the United States. The Federal Reserve has also been more active than the European Central Bank in helping the economy. It drove borrowing rates to record lows once the financial crisis erupted in 2008. Ultra-low U.S. rates helped boost stock prices and home sales. U.S. unemployment has dropped to 7.4 percent from 10 percent in late 2009 despite a subpar economic recovery.
In recent months, the picture has brightened in Europe as well as governments have shifted their focus away from debt reduction. Industrial production is rising. Consumer spending has stabilized. Exports have increased as key trade partners, including the United States and Japan, strengthen.
Confidence has also recovered as stock and bond markets have rallied. That's partly due to the European Central Bank's pledge a year ago to do "whatever it takes" to save the currency union and its decision to cut its main interest rate to a record low of 0.5 percent.
In Spain and Italy, for example, government borrowing rates have sunk in the past year, a sign of investor confidence. Analysts expect Wednesday's figures to show improvement in both countries, though both are likely to have remained in recession.
Investors have bid up stock prices in key eurozone countries this year. Stock indexes in two major economies - France and Spain - have reached 52-week highs. France's CAC 40 stock index has jumped 12 percent this year and Spain's IBEX 7 percent. Germany's DAX index is up nearly 10 percent this year and Italy's FTSE MIB nearly 7 percent.