Greece, the future remains bleak

After years of recession, the Greek economy is back to growth as the first graph shows. But the 2017 figure is very low while the rest of the Eurozone was in a strong expansion. Despite this improvement, the GDP level remains, at the end of 2017, 25% below the 2007 peak. The adjustment, almost 10 years of recession, that has been imposed by the troika (IMF, European Commission, ECB) was extremely strong, persistent and brutal. It has broken the capacity of the Greek economy to recover endogenously.
An historical comparison shows that the duration of the Greek depression has been longer than that witnessed by the US during the great depression in the 30’s. Ten years after the start of the US depression the US economy was back to its pre-crisis level. After 10 years, the Greek economy is still 25% below this peak. That makes the difference and show how deep and strong was the adjustment. Continue reading

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

Italy – The crisis is coming

The adjustment on the upside is not over on Italian rates. The 10 year bond’s rate is converging to 3%. The spread with the German 10-year rate is now circa 270 bp. This also reflects a safe heaven effect for German bonds.

With a rate at 3% % while the inflation is at 0.5% (in April), the real rate is way too high in Italy compared to real growth prospects. But such a level on the real rate (2.5%) would be just above the average seen since the beginning of the Euro Area (2.2%). It’s too high when the GDP trend is close to 1%. This has deterred investment and it will continue limiting the capacity to grow. We have to expect a slowdown in the economic activity in coming months. It will come from the real rate level but also from the uncertainty in the Italian economy. An austerity program that can be expected from a transition government is not good news for Italy but also for the rest of the Eurozone.