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European traffic activity continues to rebound as lockdowns ease

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European traffic activity continues to rebound as lockdowns ease

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German driving activity hits 93% of pre-pandemic level

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London — Traffic activity in Europe's five biggest economies rose to more than 60% of pre-pandemic levels last week, according to Apple data, as economic and social activity continues to recover in line with the easing of national lockdowns.

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Driving activity in Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Spain stood at 61% of January 13 levels based on direction routing requests from May 13-17, according to Apple mobility data.

European driving activity has been recovering slowly from a multiyear low in mid-March when lockdown measures were implemented across the region.

In Germany, Europe's biggest fuel market which began easing lockdown restrictions in mid-April, traffic activity recovered to 93% of pre-pandemic levels on Sunday, up from a lockdown low of 38% on March 21, the data shows.

In the UK, Europe's number two economy, map-routing requests rose to a post-pandemic high of 63% on Friday, according to the Apple data.

Brent crude futures stood 5% higher at $35.15/b in midday European trading Tuesday, its fourth consecutive daily gain, after rising over $30/b last week helped by signs of demand recovery as global lockdowns loosen.

"There are two main forces behind a stronger oil price, the declining supply and the improving demand. Today the market sees both forces aligning," Rystad Energy's Senior Oil Markets Analyst Paola Rodriguez Masiu said in a note Tuesday. "Lockdown measures are [being] removed globally and the economy needs fuel to restart."

Fuel demand impact

The European Commission on Friday published data showing economic output in the euro area suffered its sharpest decline in more than a decade during the first quarter of 2020. The euro area GDP contracted by 3.8% quarter-on-quarter in Q1 due to disruptions from COVID-19 lockdown measures. Germany and the UK saw their economies shrink by 2.2% and 2% respectively on the quarter, the data shows.

Average global GDP will likely see declines of around 15% in 2020, investment bank Jefferies said Tuesday.

Although a good proxy for average traffic levels, Apple's mobility data is calculated as a change since January 13, when winter driving activity is lower than at warmer times of the year. According to TomTom Traffic Index, traffic congestion in London at peak times on Monday was still up to 44% percentage points below average 2019 levels. In Berlin, traffic congestion was up to 20% below average 2019 levels on Monday, according to the TomTom data.

Road transport accounts for about half of oil demand in Europe with diesel making up about 65% of transport fuel and gasoline at around 30%.

Oil demand in Europe's top five economies is expected to average 7.09 million b/d this year, according to the International Energy Agency, down 1.02 million b/d from 8.11 million b/d in 2019. The five EU countries are expected to see oil demand slump to average 5.79 million b/d in Q2 as a result of the lockdowns, according to the IEA.