China – US: the battle is just beginning

Donald Trump’s threats to world trade are a desperate attempt from the US to maintain the country’s world economic leadership. The most dramatic shift over the past 20 years has taken place in China, as the country has displayed stellar growth and now accounts for an increasingly large percentage of the world economy.

China has been one of the big winners from globalization, as citizens have enjoyed an impressive surge in income to the detriment of the middle and lower classes in developed markets, as shown by Branko Milanovic’s famous elephant chart. This chart also goes a long way to explaining recent political events in western countries: the middle classes across the board have ended up in a more unstable situation than 10 or 20 years ago, and this has major consequences for the way they vote.

The industrial momentum that very swiftly pushes up income is now the preserve of Asia, and China in particular. Industrial output across the US, Japan and Europe – the three major areas that drove world growth after the Second World War – has stagnated over the past ten years, while figures in Asia (excluding Japan) have doubled. The “Made in China 2015” plan seeks to further accelerate this shift.

This contrasting industrial momentum now comes firmly down on the side of Asia and acts as the focus for Trump’s trade measures against China. Output is no longer increasing in western countries, but rather in Asia, driving the region’s catch-up trend and reducing developed countries’ headway. The US is seeing its leadership diminish, while at the same time the situation also raises major challenges for Europe, although it has not taken the same aggressive course of action as the White House. Furthermore, the industrial revival in developed countries often referred to as “Industry 4.0” only seems to involve the substitution of existing production, rather than a true jump in production volumes. For the moment, this so-called revival is not sufficient to point to a reversal in the aforementioned trend towards the location of production in Asian countries. Continue reading

Fed:+25 bp

The Fed has raised its main rate by a quarter-point. It is now in the range of 1.75-2%. Explanations are the strength of the business cycle and inflation close to the Fed’s target. Projections still suggest two rate increases in 2018, 3 in 2019 and 1 in 2020.

This is consistent with my forecasts but will lead to a flattening of the curve and therefore a higher probability of a recession in 2020.

An explanation of the steel and aluminum tariff war in 16 points

The US imposed steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) duties on Europe, Canada and Mexico on May 31, reflecting Trump’s obsession to bring business back to the US and contain the country’s external deficit. He had already presented this idea right from his inaugural address (in French) at the White House, with his view of the world economy as a zero-sum game, meaning each country has to fight tooth-and-nail to get its hands on the biggest slice of the pie. This view is admittedly not helpful in understanding economic and growth momentum, but it is the view we are dealing with here.

Based on steel and aluminum exports to the US, the cost for Canada is very high at around 2 billion, as well as for Mexico (600 million) and the European Union at around 1.7 billion, including close to 400 million for Germany and 150 million for France. These are substantial figures, so they can have an impact on trade with the US.

So in the end, who will come out the winner from this tariff jostling? It is probably a no-win situation. A trade war is a bit like going 15 rounds in heavyweight boxing match…the two fighters make it through, but they are both a mess by the end and run the serious risk of some long-lasting after-effects.

We can raise a number of points:

1 – Announcements made at the start of March and on Thursday May 31 pushed steel prices up, as shown very clearly by the chart below. Continue reading

ECB rate: an amazing calculation

Central bankers are very attentive to the unemployment rate even if it is for different reasons. In the US, Janet Yellen’s main target was the unemployment rate and she drove the USA economy to full employment at the end of her mandate. Mario Draghi doesn’t focus too much on the unemployment rate during his press conferences. But when we look at low inflation pressures in a Phillips curve we can anticipate that the equilibrium unemployment rate is lower than what we previously thought. It will have to be lower than now to generate inflation pressures.
The comparison of the US and EA unemployment rates is amazing as they follow the same post recession trend Continue reading

Soaring US deficit is a source of concern

When our grandchildren study economics one day, will they systematically have to add a dummy variable* to their econometric equations for the period covering the Trump administration? Will the US economy over this period have something of a “special status” due to Trump’s and Congress’ decisions? This question is worth raising in light of moves to cut taxes and raise spending, with the ensuing effects on the appalling US public deficit.

The state of public finances is the trickiest of questions. The sustainable rise in the public deficit seems to show that the economy is undergoing a severe recession, yet this is far from true as Janet Yellen took the economy to full employment (see analysis from Jason Furman). So economic stimulus moves from the White House and Congress raise very real questions on the rationale behind this policy. Governments do not embark on economic stimulus programs when the country is running on full employment, otherwise major long term imbalances are created, which are bad news for all concerned. Continue reading

The Fed increases its rate, but more to come

The Federal Reserve has increased its main interest rate by 25 basis points. The corridor for the fed fund’s rate is now [1.5 – 1.75%] versus [1.25 – 1.50%] since December 13, 2017. The dots graph which represents FOMC members’ expectations of the fed fund suggests that the US central bank will hike its rate 3 times in 2018 (already one is done), 3 times in 2019 but only twice in 2020. The rate’s profile contained in the dots graph is unchanged even if growth expectations are stronger according to these same FOMC members.
Continue reading