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ROME, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- Supporting increase in domestic demand is a crucial factor in order to put Italy's economy back on track, after the country posted a zero growth in the second quarter of 2016, according to an analyst of Italian economic think-tank Prometeia.

Italy's growth path was affected by an increasingly uncertain global context, as well as many other countries, said Stefania Tomasini, Prometeia's head of economic analysis and forecasting.

Yet, "Italy's domestic demand has further weakened from the 2016 second quarter on, while net exports have continued to grow," Tomasini told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"What it most concerning is that, behind such drop, there seems to be a sharp slowdown in the purchases of durable goods by households and firms, which had been a key driver of recovery since end of 2014 and beginning of 2015," said the expert.

"Such slowdown was expected, but it has not been replaced by an increase in non-durable goods consumption of families and businesses ... And that is exactly the worrying factor," she pointed out.

More precisely, the domestic demand fell to 0.1 percent in the second quarter of 2016 from 0.4 percent registered in the first quarter. Fixed investments dropped more, falling from a 2.1 percent growth rate in Q1 to -0.6 percent in Q2.

"This decline was particularly sharp and unexpected,"she said.

"Exports have accelerated in the corresponding period, which means the drop does not depend on foreign demand, but on domestic demand," Tomasini said.

In a recent study, Prometeia said Italy's recovery is confirmed as being one of the weakest, with gross domestic product (GDP) estimates reduced from 0.8 percent to 0.7 percent in 2016, and from 0.9 percent to 0.8 percent in 2017.

The stagnation registered in the second quarter of this year was particularly concerning due to its origin: that is "the domestic demand has breached expectations," the think-tank said in its quarterly study.

Overall, Prometeia forecast Italian domestic consumption to grow by 1 percent in 2016.

According to the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), Italy's GDP came to a halt in the second quarter of 2016 compared to a 0.3 percent growth in the previous period. It grew by 0.8 percent compared to the same quarter of 2015, above a preliminary estimate of 0.7 percent.

The institute also focused on the lack of productivity increase as another key factor behind Italy's weak growth.

"The key issue for the Italian economy is how to support the growth in demand, with limited fiscal resources, without forgetting to ensure the continuation of long-term growth: in other words, how to break out of the trap of economic growth without productivity," it said in its quarterly outlook.

In this sense, the increase in employment attained in the past three years would be emblematic.

"Employment has been growing in Italy, due to a temporary measure that was certainly commendable (relief from social security contributions for new recruits)," Tomasini explained.

"Yet, the job rate has been growing more than the country's GDP, which is unusual: normally, it is the other way around,"she said.

The temporary measure to boost employment, which offers firms a relief from social security contributions for all new recruits, was positive and commendable, according to the chief economist.

The apparent discrepancy between high levels of employment expansion and low GDP growth would imply a fall in labor productivity, which could have potential negative effects on long-term growth.

"Yet, it would be crucial to follow up such employment rise with an increase in job productivity, so as to boost growth in the long term," she stressed.

As such, productivity would be a "crucial long-term issue" for Italy and the other more solid economies, Tomasini added.

According to the economic analyst, the Italian economy has been suffering from the current stagnation in global trade, which is expected to grow only about 1.6 percent in 2016, the lowest growth rate since 2009.

"Italy is lacking a very important driver of growth, since its economy is very export-oriented," Tomasini said.

The sharp slowdown in global trade, a major concern also addressed at the G20 summit held in China early this month, would affect Italy's growth in a further, indirect way, she added.

"In Italy, there has always been a strong connection between export cycle and investment cycle: the medium-large companies are the most export-oriented, and those investing more as well."

With the global trade stagnation and a weak foreign demand, such firms were now very cautious in their investments.

"This is certainly one of the factors behind Italy's weak growth," said Tomasini.

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