Six major changes since the financial crisis – My Monday column

Developed countries’ economies were enjoying robust growth in the first half of 2008, despite some initial cracks that had been appearing since the previous summer. That was ten years ago, and since then, world economic dynamics have transformed completely, as the sources of momentum and adjustment systems have changed, especially in developed countries.

We could potentially identify a whole raft of differences but I have focused on six that I feel are useful in helping us understand the new world economic order.

1 – World trade is no longer growing at the same pace

World trade has entirely changed pace since the crisis in 2008. Before that date, it fluctuated fairly broadly around a trend estimated at 6.8% per year in volume terms, thereby creating a strong source of momentum in each economy and driving economic growth, with an overall virtuous dynamic between trade and economic activity.
But since 2011, world trade has seen little fluctuation and the trend is now at 2.3%. The turning point in 2011 can be attributed to austerity policies and in particular programs implemented in Europe. So momentum that can be expected across the rest of the world is no longer on a par with past showings. This change is significant for Europe as the continent used to wait for the rest of the world to pick up a pace before staging its own improvement, and this explains the systematic time lag in the cycle between the US, which traditionally recovered very sharply after a negative shock, and Europe, which always seemed to be lagging slightly. Continue reading

What should the dollar’s value be? Unemployment in France – My Monday column

The hefty fiscal stimulus in the US involving a rise in spending (1% of GDP in 2018 and 2019) and the implementation of tax cuts should be seen as a shock for the international economy. The uniformity of economic policy across developed countries, which acted as the driver for the growth recovery witnessed since 2017, is now just a distant memory.

Fiscal policy in the US will clearly trigger an adjustment between economic blocks and particularly between the US and the euro area and this will necessarily involve the exchange rate. The greenback has so far tended to lose value, regardless of whether we look at the effective exchange rate (nominal or real) or the dollar/euro rate.
The big question now is the dollar’s trend over the months ahead. Will the greenback gain value or must it inevitably fall as a result of the imbalances triggered by policy from the White House and Congress?

There has been something of a logic in the trend between monetary policy expectations in the US and the euro area, and the euro/dollar exchange rate since 2007. Expectations of more restrictive monetary policy in the US led to gains for the dollar right throughout this period, as shown by the chart below. However, we can see that since the Fall of 2017 there has been a clear divergence between the two indicators. The exchange rate stands at 1.24 while monetary policy expectations put it more towards parity.
It is important to understand this point at a time when economic policy is changing in the US.
Eurodollarexchangerate-interestrates
It is worth looking back to the start of the 1980’s when the greenback gained considerably as a result of much higher real interest rates in the US than in other developed countries, reflecting the impact of Paul Volcker’s very restrictive policy when he chaired the Fed at the very start of the 1980s and then the effects of Reagan’s very expansionary fiscal policy, which led to a long-lasting deterioration in the fiscal balance and the current account balance. Continue reading

Jay Powell, the US economy’s new leader

The stockmarkets took a real rollercoaster ride the week of February 5, with the Dow Jones plummeting more than 1,100 points in a single day’s trading on February 5, the most severe decline in its history in number of points, although only 4.6% in relative terms as compared to the 22.6% crash on October 19, 1987. The index shed a further 1,000 on February 8. US indices had put in spectacular rallies since the start of the year and their growth was not sustainable, so a change in trend was inevitable.

However, this market shift remains a clear sign from investors, and comes just as the Fed undergoes a change in leadership. Janet Yellen took her final bow on the evening of February 2 and Jerome Powell was sworn in on February 5. Market losses and the change in leadership at the Fed are connected: the US central bank is very powerful and the choices it makes over the months ahead will be crucial for both the US economy and market performances. Continue reading

The US economy’s worrying change of pace – My Monday column

Is the US economy’s current pace set to trigger major imbalances, disrupt the current cycle and spark off a significant downturn in economic activity?

The stockmarkets’ severe recent downturn reflects investors’ concerns on forthcoming trends for the global economy, and in particular the performances we can expect from the US. Firstly, they reacted to the change in stance from the Federal Reserve on forthcoming inflation trends, expected to converge towards the central bank’s target of 2% and stay there in the long term. Secondly, rising wages confirmed this idea of nominal pressure, even if the 2.9% gain announced in January’s figures was probably a result of the reduction in number of hours worked due to unusually cold weather conditions. Lastly, the handover at the Fed added another level of uncertainty. Janet Yellen did a good job of steering the US economy, will Jay Powell do the job equally well?
I have already written at length on these matters, and an article published on Forbes.fr will provide details on the uncertainties surrounding Powell’s arrival to chair the Fed. However, looking beyond these factors, a number of other questions are being raised about the US economy.

The first question involves economic policy and the way fiscal and monetary policies can coordinate against a backdrop of full employment. This coordination has worked pretty well so far. The US economy nosedived in 2009 and both policy areas instantly loosened: it was vital that every effort be made to avoid a drastic chain of events that would end up creating higher unemployment and a long-term hit to the standard of living. This approach was successful and the country hit its cycle trough in the second quarter of 2009, moving into an upward phase that has lasted ever since. Monetary policy continued to accommodate, but fiscal policy became restrictive in 2011 and then converged to a sort of neutral situation to avoid hampering the economy. This policy combination drove the US into one of the longest periods of growth it has enjoyed since the Second World War: the pace of GDP growth was admittedly not as brisk as before, but it did not trigger any major imbalances, as reflected by an economy running on full employment and continued moderate inflation, remaining below the Fed’s target. Continue reading

Growth, Inflationary Risk, and Euro Area Reforms – My Monday column

World growth has stopped accelerating and hit a plateau, inflationary risk is now more visible in investors’ behavior, and the ECB is advocating urgent reforms to the euro area’s institutional framework in order to make it more resilient.

After an acceleration in the last quarter of 2017, is world growth hitting a plateau? This is what manufacturing sector Markit surveys seem to suggest. The swift growth seen right throughout 2017 has ground to a halt, and while indices all stand at admittedly impressive levels reflecting swift growth in economic activity, they are no longer rising.

The global index was flat in January at 54.4 vs. 54.5 in December. This figure is very useful as it acts as a leading indicator of world trade trends. The relationship between the two metrics is important and world growth was so extensive and uniform precisely because this correlation worked well again in 2017. In this respect, monetary policy accommodation across the globe was a prerequisite for a recovery in growth, and in 2017 provided sufficient impetus to truly spark it off. Continue reading

The ECB and the Quest for Full Employment

“To reduce the European unemployment rate, the ECB must copy the Fed’s behavior”

Growth in the euro area picked up considerably in 2017 coming out at 2.5% vs. 1.8% in 2016, and hitting its highest point since 2007. The ECB played a lead role in this economic improvement: its policy of keeping interest rates very low by maintaining the main refinancing operations rate at 0% and via its asset purchase program on longer maturity securities was very effective.

These moves helped encourage Europeans to spend now by reducing the incentives to hang onto their wealth and spend it later, and in this respect, ECB President Mario Draghi skilfully steered the situation. The growth we are currently witnessing is driven by private domestic demand i.e. household spending and investment.

Unemployment trends
Yet unemployment remains high in the euro area, standing 1.4 points above end-2007 figures, when it came to 7.3%. This means that growth has not yet fully completed its upward adjustment. Continue reading