Message from French households: no future

For French households, the future has darkened during the last two months. The household confidence index plummeted in December and households’ perception of their own situation or that of all French people is at a very low level, not necessarily very different from that observed during the post-Lehman shock period. 2008/2009.
This is a measure of the feeling of what is happening in France today. The difference is that in 2008/2009 the shock was external and in a way it was enough to wait for the effects to fade.
Today the shock is endogenous, it has its source in the very dynamics of French society. When we look at the year-on-year change in the household confidence index, we can see that the shock is stronger than in the winter of 1995 when the French economy froze.
The consequence is that households can no longer project themselves into the future. The perception of their own situation is very degraded leading to a more wait-and-see attitude, leading to a deterioration of the economic situation, feeding a vicious circle.
To get out of it, the government must propose measures in rupture that could change very quickly everyone’s perspective to avoid dramatic political excesses. It is he who has the responsibility and it is certainly not by accentuating the tax burden that the solution will be found.

INSEE expects a moderate recovery in activity in 2019

The latest outlook note from French national statistics body INSEE (full-length version in French, English summary available here) suggests that the French economy will not be affected on a sustainable basis by the recent wave of social unrest in the fourth quarter of the year. The pace of growth over the first half of 2019 fits with the trend witnessed since 2013, apart from 2017, which was an exceptional year.We can see this return to normal on the chart below, showing the half-on-half change in economic activity as reflected by GDP. The pace has returned close to pre-2017 stats and growth is near its potential rate. In these figures, average growth is set to come to 1.5% in 2018 and carry-over at the end of 1H 2019 at 1%.

We can see this return to normal on the chart below, showing the half-on-half change in economic activity as reflected by GDP. The pace has returned close to pre-2017 stats and growth is near its potential rate. In these figures, average growth is set to come to 1.5% in 2018 and carry-over at the end of 1H 2019 at 1%.

The slow transformation of the labor market in France

The unemployment rate is stable in France in the third quarter. It stands at 8.8% for metropolitan France, as it was during spring and at 9.1% when overseas departments are included, again as it was in the second quarter. The pace of the unemployment rate is consistent with that of the economic cycle. Nevertheless, it reacts now a bit faster to the evolution of growth than before the 2008 crisis.
All the indicators suggest that growth is richer in jobs and that it regains some virtue with the increase in full-time work, the rise in fixed-term contracts and the decline in the share of fixed-term contracts.
The labor market is becoming more flexible and it is certainly a positive factor for the dynamics of employment. It is now necessary to improve the training component to further improve this phenomenon by enriching human capital. The aim is to bring down unemployment permanently and move towards full employment. The law passed last summer can contribute to it, it must now be implemented efficiently.
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France: the growth momentum is lower than expected

The French government is still expecting a robust recovery for the last three months of 2018 and for 2019. Companies’ surveys for October do not allow such optimism. 
The main point is the rapid slowdown in the manufacturing sector. It was the leading sector in 2017 and its dynamics was an important contributor to the strong expansion seen this year. It was a source of impetus for the rest of the economy. 
Its current lower momentum is a source of concern. The retail sales sector is weak reflecting question on purchasing power for every French consumer.
My expectations is that the French economy is back to the trend seen before 2017. It means that the forecast for GDP growth is close to 1.4%. This is consistent with what these surveys say. No strong recovery is expected and the French economy will converge to its potential growth which is lower than 1.5%.
The following graph shows the transitory recovery of 2017.france-semester growth.png 

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French growth and employment: A comparison with the Euro Area

The French government is currently scaling down its growth forecast for 2018. In the initial budget the expected growth rate was 1.7% but was upgraded at 2% in April before being scaled down to 1.7%. Bruno Le Maire the French minister of the Economy and Finance also announced yesterday that the public deficit was expected to be wider in 2018 and 2019. He crosses fingers to maintain it below 3% of the GDP in 2019. For 2018, the deficit is now forecast at 2.6% vs 2.3% expected in April.
The French growth story this year is interesting. During the first two quarters the growth number was only at 0.16% on average compared to 0.69% on average for 2017 (all the figures are non annualized). This is a division by more than 4. It’s a kind of sudden stop.  Continue reading

France: Growth was disappointing in Q2

The Q2 growth number for the second quarter was disappointing in France. It was just 0,158% (non annualized) which is rounded at 0,2%. It’s the same figure than in Q1 (0,153%).

Carryover growth is just 1.3% for 2018 at the end of the second quarter. The government growth target in the 2018 budget is 1.7%. This is attainable if growth is at 0.55% in Q3 and in Q4. We can’t imagine the reason of this stronger momentum during the second half of 2018.

Households consumption is the weakness of the French growth since the beginning of the year. Change in the purchasing power was negative in Q1 for fiscal reason (higher taxes) and was probably negative also in Q2 due to a higher inflation rate. Corporate investment was higher in Q2 (good news) after a very weak number in Q1.

For 2018 we can expect a growth figure close to 1.5% which will be way below the 2.3% seen in 2017.

This mean that the public deficit target at 2.3% of GDP will not be reached. It will remain close to its 2017 level at 2.6%.

Emmanuel Macron’s first anniversary as President (part 1)

This month marks Emmanuel Macron’s first anniversary as President. It is too soon to make a full assessment of his presidency, as he has already said himself that he wants to be judged on the full five-year term, but it is also too early to make that call because the very positive economic outlook overall could skew our analysis somewhat. Business indicators in France followed trends in the euro area, displaying a robust performance followed by a downturn.

The latest example of this is this year’s first quarter growth figure, which slowed to 0.3% in France and 0.4% in the euro area, after the country posted showings in line with its European neighbors in 4Q 2017 at 0.7%. Business leader surveys also reveal similar findings.

Economic policy still to show its mettle
It is still too early to sift out the effects of the government’s economic policy from the impact of the overall economic context, and in this respect, 2018 budget performances will provide a useful benchmark. The budget deficit came out at 2.6% in 2017, falling below the infamous 3% mark for the first time since 2007, primarily as a result of growth picking up from 1.1% to 2% between 2016 and 2017. Growth is expected to come out at 2% in 2018, flat vs. 2017, so it is government policy that will shape public finances this year and the public deficit will act as a good gauge of policymakers’ achievements.

However, there is one thing that has most definitely changed over the past year – the way the international community talks about France and its President, both investors and others. International spectators are more interested in the country, reflecting on the one hand the arrival of this newcomer bursting onto the world political stage, and on the other his active international involvement, particularly in promoting Europe.  Continue reading