This post is available in pdf format My weekly Column – Italy Standpoint – PW
What were last week’s major changes?
The main change was in Italy with a strong and rapid drop in the interest spread with Germany.
Since the new coalition government came to office, fears have emerged on exactly how the campaign-trail program would translate into the forthcoming budget – an answer to this question is expected on September 27.
The government’s stance so far has been to be fairly relaxed, especially on the 3% threshold (of budget deficit as % of GDP), which explains why the yield spread with Germany widened considerably over recent weeks.
This was a source of concern as the Italian economy would soon have run up against financing difficulties due to the reluctance of non-resident investors – who hold around 35% of the country’s debt – to revisit the Italian market after withdrawing their investment in the country all summer. Italians cannot and do not want to leave the euro area, so additional pressure on liquidity and interest rates could have hampered funding for Europe as a whole.
However, the economic situation is swiftly changing in Italy, as economic activity slowed sharply over the summer months, Continue reading
Oil prices are soaring out of control to slightly above $75/bbl, while the greenback is gaining ground again, and now stands at under 1.2 to the euro with its effective exchange rate rising swiftly and triggering uncertainty on the markets, particularly emergings.
Meanwhile, wages are still not rising in the US, despite unemployment falling below the 4% mark for the first time since December 2000: at the time, the reference wage was up 3.8% vs. an increase of merely 2.6% in April 2018.
Is the French economy becoming virtuous? With the public deficit falling below the 3% mark, it is tempting to think so… 2.6% for the full year 2017 and 2.1% for the last quarter of the year, so it is really very tempting.
But yet if we look at the figures and the consistency of public accounts with the acceleration in growth in 2017, our bubble bursts as the public deficit profile perfectly follows the trend in growth, which virtually doubled between 2016 and 2017, surging from 1.1% to 2%, so public finances naturally improved. We can see on the chart the strong consistency between the public deficit profile and the pace of real growth with a two-quarter lead. The deficit improves alongside economic growth but it is still difficult to stay on course when growth slows.
Inflation figures at 1.1% in February do not trigger expectations of a fast and sharp change in the ECB’s monetary policy, and Mario Draghi and Peter Praet did not indicate that they were in any hurry to implement swift or sudden change in their comments at the end of last week.
The ECB’s monetary strategy is dependent on reaching inflation in line with its medium-term objectives: the 1.1% figure does not point in this direction.
The chart below shows the contribution from each of the three main sectors to the rise in inflation, and we can see that none of them display a marked uptrend. Continue reading
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.
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
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
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