Why is the euro area slowing? My Weekly column

This post is available in pdf format My weekly column – January 15th

The euro area economy is slowing and could even see a contraction around the end of 2018 due to recessions in Germany and Italy, along with very weak momentum in France. The trend has changed at a faster pace than had been expected at the start of 2018, when the consensus was for similar trends to the very robust growth in 2017 i.e. no acceleration but continued swift economic growth. This pointed to expectations of more self-sustaining growth via jobs, income and investment, thereby driving a more independent trend that could safeguard some of the euro area’s economy against potential external shocks.
This quickening decline is worrying as the situation in a number of countries has gone from solid to shaky, for example Germany, where external trade is now hampering growth, along with Italy and France where domestic demand is no longer on the desired trend.
This quickening decline is worrying as the situation in a number of countries has gone from solid to shaky, for example Germany, where external trade is now hampering growth, along with Italy and France where domestic demand is no longer on the desired trend.

Why this perception of a swift deterioration in the euro area economy?
The first harbinger that all economic observers picked up on is the very swift deterioration in economic indices as measured by business leaders surveys. From a peak in the last quarter of 2017, the composite index slid swiftly and steadily right throughout 2018, failing to display a recovery. This trend is revealed in the euro area Markit manufacturing sector index, which slowed severely and sustainably in sync with world trade, with an accompanying drop in domestic and external orders.

Eurozone recession?

The horizon darkens faster than expected in the Euro zone.
The German figures published this morning (January 8) suggest that the economy is heading towards recession (its GDP had already fallen in Q3). Italy, also with declining GDP in Q3, has negative signals via business surveys. It is also probably in a recession. The French economy lacks vigor, social unrest weighs heavily on the macro dynamics.

In other words, 65% of the Euro zone is probably in decline in the last quarter of 2018 (German and Italian declines do not make up for France’s slight rise). This creates a mediocre momentum and a real concern for the pace of growth of the area for the coming months.
In a context where inflation will be reduced, this will result in poor nominal growth that will not have the ability to create and distribute income. Better coordination of economic policy is a necessary condition (but probably not sufficient) to find a satisfactory trajectory.
Alas, we do not take that path. The two Italian deputy prime ministers blow on the French embers and do not encourage to imagine a serene future.

The ECB ready to maintain its accommodative policy in 2019

The ECB puts all its energy on it but inflation does not converge frankly towards the objective (2%) it has defined. Can we say, like Mario Draghi, that the Quantitative Easing has worked properly?
Yes probably on the activity. The fall of all the interest rates has modified the inter-temporal trade-off on consumers’ side favoring the immediate expenses to the detriment of the future expenses.
On inflation? Yes, if the recovery helped to avoid deflation but beyond? We can wonder. Convergence towards the ECB’s target is postponed year after year.
Forecasts on growth (convergence towards potential in 2021 estimated at 1.5% by the ECB) and on inflation, suggest, except to change the reaction function, that the ECB will remain accommodative for a extended time.

The ECB will be unable to normalize its monetary policy soon

The ECB will not start the normalization of its monetary policy in 2019. The interest rate level will remain stable, my bet is that the refi rate and the deposit rate will remain at the current level in 2019.
The lack of external impulse, the slower momentum in the manufacturing sector and the convergence of the headline inflation rate to the core inflation rate are three reasons that suggest that the ECB will not take risks in the management of its monetary policy. The monetary policy normalization, even the expectation of it, may weaken economic activity. Therefore it’s not the good policy when the inflation rate is way below the ECB target with no convergence to the target in a foreseeable future.

The framework I have in mind is the following: Due to more heterogeneous behaviors and uncertainty at the political level, global growth will become, in 2019, weaker than in 2017 and in 2018. Inside the Euro Area, there are no coordinated policies that may boost growth, therefore growth trajectories will converge to potential growth. This framework is not a source of monetary policy normalization. But we can add that the dramatic oil price drop in recent weeks (due to excess supply in the US and in Arabia) will push the headline inflation rate to the core inflation rate which has been close to 1% for months. It’s still way below the ECB target and therefore not a source of monetary policy normalization.  Continue reading

Angela Merkel’s Smart Move

According to the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Jens Weidmann, the current president of the German Bundesbank, will not be Merkel’s candidate at the head of the ECB in October 2019. Mario Draghi will leave the ECB presidency at this date.
This can be surprising but it is not. It’s the most rational decision for Germany.
The ECB strategy is often looked through the lens of the Bundesbank. We are all attentive to the German point of view. The German central bank is perceived as ultra orthodox on monetary policy and Germany is the largest and the most powerful country of the Eurozone. These two reasons suggest that there is no need of a German president. The Bundesbank president and the accumulated credibility of the Bundesbank are sufficient to condition the ECB’ s behavior. A German president would be redundant.
Germany can therefore choose a German candidate for another job at the top of an other European Institution and extend its influence.
Well done Angela

Wages and the ECB monetary policy

Discussions on wage dynamics in the Euro Area. The momentum is now higher (2%) but not sufficient to push core inflation on the upside. The enigma is not solved yet. That’s the analysis of this NY Times article.

Nevertheless, the example comparing France and Germany in the article is not totally convincing. There is still a lot to understand on the labor market.

Workers may finally be getting a bigger piece of the economic pie — at least in Europe. Just don’t ask why, or whether it will last.

In the decade since the financial crisis, much of the global economy has recovered and is back on stable footing. Companies are reporting record profits, unemployment levels are plummeting and overall global growth is back on track.

Wages in most developed countries, however, have barely budged.

Read the article here. nyti.ms/2mI1Hnv

Many European countries are against reforms in Europe => Which future?

Will the Euro Area be able to reform itself ? Macron/Merkel proposals are fight en by a group of countries led by the Netherlands. They refuse any cooperative instrument in the management of the Euro area.

On July 26, 2012 Mario Draghi said that the political construction of Europe was the most important element of the European architecture. He said, the most important in Europe is people’s will to live together. The euro currency was then just an instrument that supports this political construction.

With the reaction to the Macron/Merkel proposals, I am no longer sure of Mario Draghi’s assertion on the living together hypothesis.