Faire le pont

France blames its ugly factory data on workers taking too many four-day weekends

July 10, 2014
July 10, 2014

France just reported a big and unexpected drop in May factory output—the steepest monthly decline in nearly two years, down 2.3% from the month before. French manufacturers still haven’t made up much of the ground they lost after the 2008 financial crisis, and at this rate it will be a long time before they do:

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The country’s statistics agency put a special note at the top of today’s data release, hoping to put the suprising weakness in context. Three public holidays happened to fall on Thursdays in May, the agency pointed out, so many workers also took the following Friday off.

The venerable French tradition of le pont (the bridge) means that employees often skip work the day after a Thursday holiday, or the day before a Tuesday holiday. All else equal, three “bridging” days in a single month would indeed dampen activity “dramatically” (the agency’s words), if enough factory workers decided to go en vacances.

But the French economy is hardly humming, le pont is hardly a new phenomenon, and other European countries have also reported grim factory numbers in recent days. If France’s manufacturing output doesn’t improve in June and July—months that have only a single national holiday each, on a Monday—it will have to find a new scapegoat.

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