Growth: the Gallic village resists

INSEE, the French statistical institute published its new forecasts for the first half of this year. (Its forecasts are just for a semester to avoid being in conflict with the government expectations). Activity would increase by 0.4% in the first and second quarters (non annualized rate). INSEE slightly revised up its second-quarter figure.
The carryover growth for 2019 would thus be 1.1% at the end of the first half. To reach the new government forecast at 1.4% (indicated by Bruno Le Maire while the budget for 2019 had a forecast at 1.7%), quarterly growth has to be at 0.4% for each quarter. The current trend for the first semester would therefore be extended to the whole year. This figure, 1.4%, is also the one recently published by the Banque de France.

The articulation of the INSEE forecast is based on two elements.

The first is the rebound in domestic demand in the first months of 2019. On this point, all experts agree. The measures that have been taken on purchasing power should be support for household consumption. The pace of growth of this one would thus pass from an average figure per quarter of 0.125% in 2018 to 0.5% in the first quarter and 0.4% in the second. (Measures to boost the purchasing power have been taken after yellow vests’ protests. The amount of these measure is around Eur 11bn)

The second element of the framework drawn by INSEE is the momentum associated with the international environment. The Institute considers that the slowdown seen at the end of 2018 is just temporary and that the situation will rapidly improve to regain a more robust outlook. The demand’s profile to France from the rest of the world is unchanged from the INSEE’s December economic outlook. And this is a fairly solid figure, rising 0.7% in the first quarter and 0.9% in the second, while the average figure for 2018 was 0.5% per quarter.

If the strong slowdown of the last quarter, which conditioned the strong downward revision of the OECD forecasts (from 1.8% to 1% for the Euro zone) and the ECB (from 1.7% to 1%), is reversed then the outlook may be robust in coming months.
Such a conjecture implies a rather robust pace for exports as world trade regains a stronger track. It also implies a rebound in business investment, as expected demand would recover. In that case, a strong recovery can be expected as companies’ financial situation will improve dramatically in 2019 (Lower taxes which was a policy proposed by Hollande in 2013 will be replace in the future by lower charges on wages. But in 2019 both measures are available as the new measure will be put in place and the former has a one year lag. This is a opportunity for firms. They will take advantage of that if expected demand improves dramatically).

If the global shock is persistent then the pace of exports will be less sustained and the investment will be gloomier. The improvement of financial conditions are only permissive conditions but not decisive when the expected demand is mediocre.
The pace of employment will also be conditioned by the persistence or not of the shock.

If one assumes a more persistent shock from the rest of the world then the figures are less robust beyond the jump of the first quarter and without being catastrophic growth would tend to 1.1- 1.2% on average for 2019. And this does not suggest necessarily a re-acceleration of growth in 2020 as suggested by the Banque de France.

The key element will therefore be the overall momentum beyond the short-term effects of government measures. The Fed, the OECD and the ECB are wondering about the pace that this global dynamic can have. The Fed no longer wants to make commitments (on the pace of interest rates and on the reduction of its balance sheet) in order to be able to respond to a possible global shock without having hands tied. But France resists this mood.

In the first months of 2019, the economic situation will largely depend on domestic demand and therefore the measures taken by the government on purchasing power. An immediate consequence is that the government will not be able to engage in a policy of reducing public spending which is a precondition for a credible reduction in taxation. An expenditure reduction policy would annihilate support measures. The public deficit will therefore remain high, probably at best around 3.5% in 2019.

The German economy on the way to normalization

German growth stopped during the second half of 2018. During this period, the GDP was up by only +0.1% compared to the first six months (at annual rate).
It can be seen on the graph that the main source of growth inflection is external demand. Its contribution fell sharply in the second half of the year. The slowdown in trade with China and Asia (a consequence of a Trump effect on Chinese trade) explains the stagnation of exports. But imports are growing rapidly due to a strong private domestic demand.
This is the major point of the graph. Until 2015, the contributions of internal private demand and external demand were of the same order. This is no longer the case and private demand is now the main contributor to growth and with a certain margin. The weight of foreign trade is still important in Germany, but it’s no longer the main source of the German dynamics.
The German economy is normalizing its structure and it becomes comparable to other developed countries where the main source of the GDP growth is the private demand. This shows a greater dependence on its internal market. This is not bad news for the Eurozone.

French growth’s low momentum

The French GDP growth was 1.1% (at annual rate) during the fourth quarter of last year. The same number than during the third quarter.
Social unrest has had no impact on the headline figure. Nevertheless, details show that the private sector domestic demand stalled (0.2%) during the last quarter after a strong 2.4% growth in the third quarter. Households’ consumption was 0 and investment contribution was at 0.2% versus 0.9% in Q3. On companies’ side, investment contribution decreased on the same scale (0.2% after 0.9%). Residential investment was down with a negative contribution (-0.1%).
The good surprise was on exports’ side with a strong increase at 9.8% vs 0.7% in the third quarter. Therefore and despite a rapid imports’growth, the external demand contribution was positive at 0.9% after 1.1% in Q3.
Inventories have had a marginal negative contribution.

For 2018, the average growth was at 1.5% after 2.3% in 2017 but the end of 2017 was the peak of the cycle and the economy is now converging to its potential.
In 2019, with 1.2% per quarter which is close to the 2018 average, growth will be at 1.1%. We have a forecast at this level. It way below the government forecast at 1.7%. We can’t expect a strong reversal in the GDP momentum that could justify such a forecast.
In 2019 consumption will be pushed up by all the measures on purchasing power that has been announced by the President Macron in December. But as long as social unrest remains companies will not boost their investment. The improvement seen on exports will not last. World trade is slowing down rapidly and France will follow this trend.
In other words, the French economy has a limited growth momentum (just 0.9% from Q4 2017 to Q4 2018). With social unrest and uncertainty on external trade, the French economy will continue this trend close to 1% in 2019.

Just a remark on the US growth profile in 2019

US growth is expected at 2.9% on average in 2018. This corresponds to a growth rate of 0.7/0.8% in Q4 (non-annualized figures). This view is consensual, as is the consensual perceived robustness of the economy and the slowdown to an average growth of 2.5% in 2019.
Making all of these elements compatible is interesting.
If the 2.9% of 2018 is ok (with 0.8% in Q4), it is necessary to think about 2019.
The average quarterly growth rate needed to converge to 2.5% is 0.5% (non annualized) The slowdown in the US economy is strong from the very beginning of the year. This figure must be compared to 0.8% which is the average quarterly growth in 2018.
The assumption of maintaining robust growth in the first half of 2019 (0.8% per quarter) implies a rapid decline from the summer. Convergence to 2.5% implies a contraction of -0.2% per quarter from the summer.
If growth is robust at the beginning of 2019, then to be compatible with the consensus forecasts, it will take a break from the summer

US, UK, France and Spain – Heterogeneous growth during the first quarter

During the first quarter, growth was robust in the US and in Spain, slightly lower than expected in France and weaker than anticipated in the United Kingdom.
The first graph shows the GDP quarterly change since 2015, the annual average growth for the last 3 years and the carryover growth for 2018 at the end of the first quarter.

The US growth was, for the first quarter, at the same level than the 2017 average at 2.3% Nevertheless, the figure is slightly lower than the last three quarters of 2017. The impact of the strong fiscal policy is not seen yet in these numbers. The carry over growth for 2018 is at 1.7%.
The 2.2% trend seen since the beginning of 2011 is still the framework for the US growth dynamics. (see the graph on the French version of this post)
In Spain, growth figures are strong since the beginning of 2014 even if the momentum has been a little lower for the last three quarters. The trend is almost linear at 3.2% since 2014. The carryover growth for 2018 is 1.8%
In France, growth was just 0.3% (non annualized) after 0.7% during the last 3 months of 2017. In fact the first quarter figure is just a correction after the 2017 non-sustainable path for the French economy. The current trend (since 2013) is 1.3% for France, therefore  2% was too much to be sustainable. I maintain my growth forecast at 2%.
The carryover growth for 2018 is 1.2% at the end of the first quarter.
In the UK, the trend is clearly weaker since the Brexit referendum. The second graph shows the real GDP level and the trend calculated from 2014 to Q2 2016 (the referendum was on June 23). We see that there is a huge and enlarging gap between the trend and the real GDP profile. It is the cost associated with the Brexit decision. There is no reason to see a reversal in this gap. The carryover growth for 2018 is 0.7%.
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French GDP – First elements

French growth slows in Q1 2018 with + 0.3% (non annualized) vs. 0.7% in Q4 2017. Carryover growth for 2018 is 1.2%.

Explanation : a more limited dynamics of business investment and a marginal contraction of exports. This is consistent with the inflection seen recently in the surveys.

My expectations for 2018 is 0.4% on average per quarter. The first quarter is consistent with this. The main point to look at will be surveys during this spring. But April was not a good start. See here

France – GDP growth at 1.9% in 2017

The French GDP growth in 2017 has accelerated to 1.9% on average after 1.1% in 2016. The quarterly sequence of the GDP expansion was steady at 0.6% per quarter except 0.5% in the third quarter.
The carryover growth for 2018 at the end of 2017 is 0.9% which slightly higher than a year ago. At the end of 2016 it was at 0.4% for 2017. The effort that has to be done to converge to 2% in 2018 on average will be lower than in 2017. It is just a 0.42% increase per quarter (versus 0.58% in 2017).
The very positive part of the fourth quarter report was the strength of corporate investment.

The government budget for 2018 has been defined with a 1.7% growth (or 0.33% per quarter). This means that we can expect higher receipts compared to what was forecasted. The government credibility will be measured by its ability to use these extra receipts to reduce expenditures not to increase them. In the past these type of temporary receipts were systematically spent in permanent expenditures leading to a persistent budget deficit. We can expect a different strategy from the president Macron.

A reduction in expenditures and therefore lower demand would be consistent with what we currently perceive on the business cycle. A recent survey has shown that it was quite impossible for companies to increase their production. The production capacity utilization rate is at a peak, production bottlenecks are growing and there are difficulties in hiring.
With these constraints in mind, a boost in demand through higher government expenditures would be a mistake. The target is to reduce these constraints through incentives on investment (through public investment) and education. That will be the main government task in 2018.

The graph below shows that the current growth trend is slightly lower than before the 2008 crisis. It means that there will be no catching up and that the cost of the crisis is permanent. The gap between the current GDP level and the trend from 2000 to 2008 is -8%. The GDP level would have been 8% higher without the crisis. This is quite big and this gap will widen in coming years as I do not expect a catchup of growth.
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