Business investment profile is still worrisome

The pace of capital goods orders in Germany in March suggests a further slowdown in investment in OECD countries over the coming months.
Orders are down 5.9% year-on-year and this indicator is closely correlated with the investment profile of OECD countries.

This slowdown in orders is global.
The rebound in the Euro zone is limited since over a year the decline in orders is still -6.5%. The rest of the world does not look encouraging either.

This is why I have doubts on the investment profile published by INSEE yesterday for the manufacturing sector for France. A 11% growth is expected for 2019 after 0% in 2018. This seems excessive since the survey shows a rapid slowdown in the second half. This means that the first semester has to be very strong. This is not necessarily consistent with what we see in the pace of investment of non-financial companies in the first quarter.
The survey is probably a bit too optimistic. Capital goods orders continue to contract in April 2019. I do not imagine strong investments in France while the rest of the world is rather in an investment slowdown.

The shock in the manufacturing sector in Germany: IFO vs Markit

The modest rebound in the IFO index in March is sometimes interpreted as the counterpoint to the drop of the Markit index released last Friday.
There is indeed an opposition in March between the pace of the two indicators. One goes up again while the other is down.

However, what shocked in the Markit survey is the sharp downturn in the manufacturing sector, while the services sector was doing quite well. The manufacturing index was 44.7 against 47.6 in February. It contracts for the third month in a row. In contrast, the composite services indicator (calculated as the non-manufacturing ISM) is stable in March at 53.7 as in February.
The culprit is the manufacturing index. Yet when comparing the manufacturing index of Markit and that of the IFO we have exactly the same profile.

The peak of the two indices is almost the same and the break observed since the beginning of 2018 is similar.
The shock on the German economy reflects the rapid slowdown in the world trade momentum. The impact on the German economy is through the manufacturing sector whether measured by IFO or Markit.
The pace of service between the two measures is not the same and this is what differentiates synthetic indicators from the two surveys. But services are more reflective of the domestic market than the sensitivity of the German economy to world trade via the manufacturing sector.
The external shock is strong and brutal in Germany and it has first to be stabilized before the beginning of a recovery. It will take time and this justifies the pessimistic forecasts for Germany.

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.”….

Germany in recession ?

Recent data on the German industrial production show a rapid drop in the economic activity. The quarterly change was already at -5.5% in the third quarter (annual rate). At the end of November, the carryover for the last quarter of 2018 is at -7.8%.
There is a strong consistency between the quarterly change in the industrial production index and the GDP as it is shown on the graph.
During the third quarter of 2018 the GDP was down -0.8% and related to the strong decrease in the German production this winter, the GDP may again shift downward in the last quarter. Germany would then be in recession.
The impact could be strong on the Euro Area’s momentum and leading to a downward revision of the EA growth forecast (the starting point for 2019 would be lower). The convergence to potential growth (1.6%) would then be quicker than expected.
The ECB will not change its monetary policy before long.

The Italian standpoint is changing – My Monday column

This post is available in pdf format  My weekly Column – Italy Standpoint – PW

What were last week’s major changes?
The main change was in Italy with a strong and rapid drop in the interest spread with Germany.it-ger-spread10y

Why ?
Since the new coalition government came to office, fears have emerged on exactly how the campaign-trail program would translate into the forthcoming budget – an answer to this question is expected on September 27.
The government’s stance so far has been to be fairly relaxed, especially on the 3% threshold (of budget deficit as % of GDP), which explains why the yield spread with Germany widened considerably over recent weeks.

This was a source of concern as the Italian economy would soon have run up against financing difficulties due to the reluctance of non-resident investors – who hold around 35% of the country’s debt – to revisit the Italian market after withdrawing their investment in the country all summer. Italians cannot and do not want to leave the euro area, so additional pressure on liquidity and interest rates could have hampered funding for Europe as a whole.

However, the economic situation is swiftly changing in Italy, as economic activity slowed sharply over the summer months, Continue reading

ECB, Monetary Policy and Germany – My Monday column

Mario Draghi’s stance is guarded. His latest press conference gave no indication of the change in communication tone that we are set to see from the European Central Bank in January.
The ECB is finally taking on board the strength of the economic cycle and so its communication stance must adapt to this shift. This is rather good news, as the central bank constantly appeared to be acting in reaction to an environment that could swiftly deteriorate, and this shift can bolster our confidence in the strength and length of the economic cycle. The other point noted by the ECB is the move away from an exclusively inflation-based focus and towards a more broad-based communication tone. This implicitly means that the ECB is extending its reach, but really when it comes down to it, this was already the case: the ECB’s intervention has hinged on the economic cycle rather than inflation since the euro was adopted in 1999. The chart below shows the Markit composite index and the difference in the ECB main refinancing rate over 5 months, and reveals that changes in the second indicator are clearly dictated by changes in the economic cycle, rather than in inflation.

The ECB is picking up its old habits from before the 2007 crisis. Continue reading

German risks for Europe

After the failure to form a coalition the first thing to notice is that Merkel is no longer at the center of the game. She has been replaced by the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who will decide what will be the next steps.

These steps can be threefold
1 – A coalition between the CDU-CSU and the social democrats of the SPD but the SPD is reluctant to participate.
2 – A minority government but with the risk of doing nothing while important issues have to be managed (the current negotiation failed on the refugees’ question, on carbon emissions, on taxes and on education) These are important issues that cannot be postponed.
3 – New elections at the beginning of next year

I favor the third possibility but my guess is that in this type of situation domestic questions are at the center of the discussion or of the campaign.
European questions were not at the center in recents days but with Merkel’s recent point of view was a kind of guarantee that Europe would not be forgotten.
It could be the case in a foreseeable future if Merkel is no longer the leader. Europe could then be erased from discussions

The recent improvement in the perception of Europe is twofold.
1- GDP growth is stronger and employment is improving rapidly
2- The commitment between Merkel and Macron to improve the way institutions are working at the European level

If Merkel is weaker and focused on internal issues then European reforms will no longer be on the agenda
This would create an uncertainty that could reduce the economic horizon then limiting investment and the possibility to improve the potential growth. Therefore it can have a negative impact on growth and could  be damaging.

Another point on reforms is that with stronger growth it limits the risk of populism. If, because Merkel is no longer at the center of the picture, reforms are not done then we will see the convergence to a lower growth trend rate and more that the come back of populism with the risk of weaker institutions. Some nationalists want to exit from the EU.
The political process in Germany is at risk not only for the Germans but also for Europeans as the current momentum would become more fragile opening the door to populism

The impact on Brexit negotiators will depend on the result of the current political process. A bias positive to populism would a piece of cake for the UK government as populists do not like Europe. It would be the worst situation for a European citizen.