Long-lasting shock on the world economy My weekly column

Concerns and uncertainties on world economic activity having been gathering pace since the fall. The swift decline in world trade reflects this change in pace, moving into the red with a contraction of 0.4% in January vs. yoy growth of 4% in September 2018. This turnaround has triggered concern from the OECD and the ECB, prompting them to slice back growth projections for the euro area in particular.

The very heart of this economic question is whether this shock is permanent and persistent, and in this respect, there are two interrelated questions worth noting, as well as another third aspect.

The first point is the political explanation for this downturn. Trade tariffs applied by the White House have shifted the balance of trade between the US and China, leading to a swift slowdown in trade in Asia since the start of the fall and acting as the main contributing factor behind the decline in world trade as a whole. By targeting China directly, Donald Trump is actually damaging the entire region.

The other aspect is the uncertainty triggered by the White House’s political choices, as doubts on trade following border tariffs are further heightened by the threat of fresh trade moves. A case in point is the German automotive sector, which could be hampered by a border tax of 25%, as the US threatens to impose tariffs on $11bn in European exports to the US in retaliation for European subsidies to Airbus. The WTO will have the final say, but there is also a further threat as Boeing is now struggling with recent problems on its 737 Max.

Huawei vs America

Look at this map. Who then can expect a trade deal between China and the USl The real question is about techno leadership? Huawei has a step ahead of the US.

The Chinese company already has deep discussions with many countries throughout the world. From Asia to Europe, Africa and Latin America the Chinese web is already impressive. On the other side, the US has forbidden purchases of infrastructures coming from Huawei. Australia, New Zélande, Japan and Taiwan follow the same rule. But it is a minority.

Recently, the US has generate pressure on Germany to forbid the German to buy Huawei products in the renewal of their mobile network. Germany has not changed its mind and has allowed Huawei to compete.
The balance of strength at the global level may change rapidly at the expense of the US.

How to expect an agreement that would validate the dominance of one over the other? From China to the US?

American pressure: the issue is the possible use of Chinese 5G by the Germans

Tensions between China and the US are about technological leadership. The Chinese, whose technological catch-up has been rapid in recent decades, is now rather ahead of 5G and Artificial Intelligence. The US does not accept, rightly, this change of equilibrium.
The standoff will continue and I can not imagine a quick trade agreement because it would assume that one of the two countries accepts the leadership of the other. This seems totally illusory and that is why the global environment will remain volatile.
The US is pressuring its allies to limit Chinese influence.
To be convinced, read this article of the Wall Street Journal published this afternoon (March 11). It indicates the pressure of the Americans on the Germans in the adoption of a Chinese 5G technology for the renewal of their mobile network.

The article “Drop Huawei or See Intelligence Sharing Pared Back, U.S. Tells Germany” is available here 
Here is the first paragraph 
“BERLIN—The Trump administration has told the German government it would limit the intelligence it shares with German security agencies if Berlin allows Huawei Technologies Co. to build Germany’s next-generation mobile-internet infrastructure.”….

Weaker productivity gains and shock on world trade My weekly column

The tricky economic outlook in developed markets is the result of a shock on economic activity due to a sharp slowdown in world trade, combined with insufficient productivity growth to trigger a swift recovery in economic activity. The risk of a long-lasting shock hampering both activity and the labor market is particularly high, as economic policy has little leeway to cushion these shocks and spread the cost out over time.

The decline in productivity gains is a real source of concern, especially for developed economies. In short, productivity is the surplus created by the production process, so when we talk about the production process, one plus one makes a little bit more than two: this “little bit more” equates to productivity gains. Depending on the time period and the efficiency of the production set-up, this “little bit more” can vary in size. In the past, productivity gains were vast, with growth of 5.8% per year in France on average in the 1960s, and this led to a downtrend in working time, an increase in wages and the implementation of an effective social security system (productivity gains = increase in production per hour worked in volume terms). The higher this surplus, the greater the production system’s leeway to redistribute these gains to all citizens.

Due to the very nature of the process, these gains drive self-sustaining momentum that helps cushion shocks and swiftly sets an economy back on the track to growth and jobs. The higher the gains, the more readily the economy can recover quickly and on a broad scale.

The current period since the crisis in 2008 has been characterized by a clear slowdown in production per hour worked across all developed countries. This is shown in the table below, which outlines average annual productivity growth across three time periods: an extended period between 1990 and 2007, the period since the US recovery in 2009 and the phase since the recovery in Europe in 2013.

Deep drop in world trade in December

World trade is slowing down sharply. In the last quarter of 2018 compared to the last quarter of 2017, trade is now up only 1.5% against 3.9% in October. The adjustment is not finished if we follow the Markit indicator of export orders in the USA, Japan and the Eurozone.

Asia is the region that contributes the most to this slowdown. Its 3-month contribution to global import growth was at + 4.8% in September and dropped to -5.3% in December. This persistent shock on trade is the result of the choices made in the White House. The brutality of the movement explains the change in outlook on activity since last summer but also the Fed’s new view on its monetary policy.