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
The French GDP growth in 2017 has accelerated to 1.9% on average after 1.1% in 2016. The quarterly sequence of the GDP expansion was steady at 0.6% per quarter except 0.5% in the third quarter.
The carryover growth for 2018 at the end of 2017 is 0.9% which slightly higher than a year ago. At the end of 2016 it was at 0.4% for 2017. The effort that has to be done to converge to 2% in 2018 on average will be lower than in 2017. It is just a 0.42% increase per quarter (versus 0.58% in 2017).
The very positive part of the fourth quarter report was the strength of corporate investment.
The government budget for 2018 has been defined with a 1.7% growth (or 0.33% per quarter). This means that we can expect higher receipts compared to what was forecasted. The government credibility will be measured by its ability to use these extra receipts to reduce expenditures not to increase them. In the past these type of temporary receipts were systematically spent in permanent expenditures leading to a persistent budget deficit. We can expect a different strategy from the president Macron.
A reduction in expenditures and therefore lower demand would be consistent with what we currently perceive on the business cycle. A recent survey has shown that it was quite impossible for companies to increase their production. The production capacity utilization rate is at a peak, production bottlenecks are growing and there are difficulties in hiring.
With these constraints in mind, a boost in demand through higher government expenditures would be a mistake. The target is to reduce these constraints through incentives on investment (through public investment) and education. That will be the main government task in 2018.
The graph below shows that the current growth trend is slightly lower than before the 2008 crisis. It means that there will be no catching up and that the cost of the crisis is permanent. The gap between the current GDP level and the trend from 2000 to 2008 is -8%. The GDP level would have been 8% higher without the crisis. This is quite big and this gap will widen in coming years as I do not expect a catchup of growth.
Growth in France is set to come to 1.8% in 2017 and 1.7% in 2018. From today’s standpoint, these figures look high as trend growth for the French economy came to slightly more than 1.1% on a yearly basis between 2013 and the third quarter of 2017, making 2017 and 2018 look like good vintages. However, a comparison with the pre-crisis period is harsh. Trend growth for the French economy stood at 1.8% over the period between 2000 and 2008 and could go well beyond this figure, which equates to the cycle peak in today’s economy.
The extent of the economic cycle provided leeway for all concerned as growth could go well beyond this trend, e.g. coming out at 4% in 2000. French economic policy at the time did not generally view this cycle peak as an opportunity to adopt a more restrictive strategy, and France as a whole was unable to reduce imbalances when growth was strong, particularly from a budgetary standpoint. The French budget “funding pot” concept, invented during periods of vigorous growth, was used to justify all sorts of spending on the back of higher budget revenues. Continue reading