ECB: How to burn ammunition for nothing

In Sintra, at the ECB seminar, Mario Draghi stressed the risk on growth and the difficulties of converging to the inflation target (close but below 2%).

If additional risks materialize then the ECB could reduce its rates and restart an asset purchase procedure. The idea is to take back and accentuate what has been the success of the ECB since 2013. (Low rate = less incentive to defer its wealth over time given the low return associated with has been strong support for a stronger momentum for the domestic demand)

At the same time, Draghi called for an active economic policy. On this point, the failure to implement a euro area budget reflects non-homogeneous behavior in the euro zone. As a consequence there will be no common fiscal policy in the euro area. One can not therefore imagine a two-component euro-zone policy.

A major rule of the theory of economic policy is that it requires as many instruments as objectives. There are two objectives (growth and inflation) and one instrument, monetary policy.

This will not work especially with a series of negative external shocks. In 2016/2017, monetary policy benefited from a favorable international context even if fiscal policy was not active. Today, the environment is no longer as buoyant and the absence of fiscal policy will make it difficult to cushion external shocks. The ECB will act alone and becoming more accommodating it will burn ammunition for a poor result.

Lower ZEW index implies turmoil in Germany

The drop of the #ZEW survey increases the downside risk for the #German economy. It is linked with the rapid slowdown of the world trade. As no agreement is expected rapidly (even with the Trump/XI meeting at the G20), the risk of recession is increasing for Germany.

The current conditions index is far from its recent highs but the June important fact is the strong change in expectations.The 1st component reflects the drop in German exports(-5% in April vs March and -3% in real term since Dec 2018).The momentum will not improve (expectations)
Mario Draghi said in Sintra that the ECB will ease if necessary. It may be sooner than usually expected

French growth fails to accelerate in the first quarter despite measures on purchasing power

French GDP growth decelerated slightly in the first quarter of 2019 even though the rounded figure stands at 0.3% (non-annualized) as in the previous two quarters. Despite the stimulus measures announced at the end of 2018, growth has not been boosted by the increase in households purchasing power.
Achieving the government target at 1.4% for 2019 on average would require growth of 0.43% in each of the remaining three quarters. It’s ambitious.

The annual change in activity is 1.1% in the first quarter, well below the trend observed since the 2013 recovery at 1.4%.
After the acceleration of 2017, resulting from the very buoyant global environment, the growth of the French economy can not deviate from the figure of its potential growth estimated generally between 1.2 and 1.3%.
For the moment, the measures implemented by the government are not able to go beyond this and this is worrying in a context where the sharp rise in the price of gasoline is a threat to the purchasing power that would penalize consumers’ demand.

Contributions to quarterly GDP growth are easy to remember. Domestic demand contributed 0.3%, inventories increased GDP by 0.3%, while net exports slowed growth with a contribution of -0.3%.

The important point is the slight acceleration of household consumption whose contribution goes from 0 in Q4 2018 to 0.2% in the first quarter. This is barely above the average observed since the recovery (0.15%) while government measures explicitly targeted consumption.
Government spending is growing at a slower pace, and this is the same for investment, whose contribution is decreasing marginally, notably because of the contraction of household investment. On the corporate side, the investment is a little stronger than in the last quarter of 2018 and that’s good news. However, this remains very limited (see the graph in appendix). This is insufficient to instil a solid dynamic into the cycle of the French economy.

The bad surprise comes from foreign trade whose pace is less robust than the monthly figures suggested until February. The contribution is frankly negative even if the contribution of imports is less negative than in Q4 2018. Exports stagnate and penalize growth. The French economy is also penalized by the world trade slowdown.

The accumulation of stocks has driven growth upward. Its pace in the second quarter will depend on the dynamics of demand. If this strengthens stocks will continue to fill. On the other hand, if the demand is lower, because the price of gasoline increases a little too fast, then companies could reduce these stocks which would penalize the profile of the activity.

The French GDP will accelerate in Q1

The French GDP for the first quarter of 2019 will be published Tuesday morning at 0730. After a figure of 0.3% (non annualized figures according to the French tradition) over the last three months of 2018, the consensus is at 0.3%.
My expectation is that 0.3% would rather be the bottom of a range between 0.3 and 0.5%.
During the first three months of the year, there was a clear improvement in industrial production (+ 1.2% carryover for Q1 at the end of February against -0.4% in the last quarter of 2018). There is also a recovery in the pace of the business climate survey. In the last quarter of 2018, this index fell by 2.1 points compared to the previous quarter, whereas it stabilized over the first three months of the year.
It should also be noted that household consumption is slightly positive when it contracted in the last quarter of 2018. Finally, foreign trade could have a neutral impact, with exports (in value) growing a little faster than imports but Given the deficit, the contribution will be close to neutrality.
The big unknown is about business investment. Capital goods orders are shrinking rapidly, suggesting a lower capital expenditure despite the stabilization of business surveys.
Looking at the industrial production and surveys, GDP is expected to pick up slightly in Q1 at 0.4%. If business investment is less dynamic than expected then it will converge to 0.3%. If all goes well (the services sector momentum is improving in the INSEE survey, if the investment is more robust than expected and consumption accelerates in March) then the figure of 0.5% could be reached.

The Euro zone slows sharply in March

The publication March’s Markit indices confirms the downward pressure on activity in the manufacturing sector. The leading indices published for the Euro zone, Germany and France, on March 22, have been revised downward. This is never a very good signal as to the strength of the activity. This revision was marginal in the Euro zone (from 47.6 to 47.5) and in France (49.8 to 49.7) but more marked in Germany from 44.7 to 44.1. This latter has not been so low since July 2012.
For the Euro zone, the index has not been as low since June 2013 but at the time the movement was bullish while here it reflects a deterioration of the activity.
For the other two major countries, Spain and Italy, there is a slight rebound in Spain from 49.9 in February to 50.9 in March, but the Italian situation continues to deteriorate, from 47.7 to 47.4.

A good explanation is the pace of international trade. Germany is frankly penalized by the contraction of trade due to an openness rate higher than 44% of GDP. Any shock on world trade has an immediate impact on it.
More generally, because of the intensive trade between countries of the zone, any external shock is amplified by a contagion effect and penalizes the activity of all. This had been a very positive uptrend in 2017 but is declining today.
Germany saw its export orders revised downwards compared to the March estimate (38.9 vs. 39.5 initially). For France, the figure is unchanged.

The proactive economic policy of the Eurozone can only be seen on monetary side with a very accommodative policy but it cannot go further in that direction to limit the impact and the spillover effect of the shock. Except for a sudden and unexpected reversal of world trade, the trend in the Euro zone is here to stay. It should be possible to support domestic demand for this through budgetary means. This is not the current mood at the European level even if France plays constrained by the social unrest