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.

The German economy on the way to normalization

German growth stopped during the second half of 2018. During this period, the GDP was up by only +0.1% compared to the first six months (at annual rate).
It can be seen on the graph that the main source of growth inflection is external demand. Its contribution fell sharply in the second half of the year. The slowdown in trade with China and Asia (a consequence of a Trump effect on Chinese trade) explains the stagnation of exports. But imports are growing rapidly due to a strong private domestic demand.
This is the major point of the graph. Until 2015, the contributions of internal private demand and external demand were of the same order. This is no longer the case and private demand is now the main contributor to growth and with a certain margin. The weight of foreign trade is still important in Germany, but it’s no longer the main source of the German dynamics.
The German economy is normalizing its structure and it becomes comparable to other developed countries where the main source of the GDP growth is the private demand. This shows a greater dependence on its internal market. This is not bad news for the Eurozone.

Brexit – The cumulative cost since the referendum is high

Since the referendum on Brexit in June 2016, the dynamics of the British economy have been shrinking. Evidenced by the slowdown in growth in 2018 to 1.4%, the slowest pace since 2012 and a pace, as in 2017, slower than the Euro zone and France.

To fully appreciate the divergence between the United Kingdom on the one hand and France and the euro zone on the other, I calculated a trend starting in 2013 (beginning of the recovery everywhere) and ending in the second quarter of 2016 at the moment of the referendum.

The trend of each country is then extended while retaining the initial parameters. I then calculate the deviation (in%) of GDP to this trend. These are the three curves on the graph.

The UK curve is 2.5% below its pre-referendum trend. The cumulative difference since the choice of the British reflects the cost associated with it even before the Brexit is formally established (March 29, 2019 theoretically).

At the same time, the acceleration of growth in the eurozone and in France throughout 2017 marks these two countries, above their trend. France is 1.7% above the trend and the euro zone 0.8%.

Despite being the UK’s largest trading partner, European expansion has not benefited the UK. This is a very disturbing element.

Nevertheless, the expected slowdown in eurozone growth, beyond the effects of Brexit, should weigh on the economic situation across the Channel and increase, ex post, the cost of the referendum.

French growth’s low momentum

The French GDP growth was 1.1% (at annual rate) during the fourth quarter of last year. The same number than during the third quarter.
Social unrest has had no impact on the headline figure. Nevertheless, details show that the private sector domestic demand stalled (0.2%) during the last quarter after a strong 2.4% growth in the third quarter. Households’ consumption was 0 and investment contribution was at 0.2% versus 0.9% in Q3. On companies’ side, investment contribution decreased on the same scale (0.2% after 0.9%). Residential investment was down with a negative contribution (-0.1%).
The good surprise was on exports’ side with a strong increase at 9.8% vs 0.7% in the third quarter. Therefore and despite a rapid imports’growth, the external demand contribution was positive at 0.9% after 1.1% in Q3.
Inventories have had a marginal negative contribution.

For 2018, the average growth was at 1.5% after 2.3% in 2017 but the end of 2017 was the peak of the cycle and the economy is now converging to its potential.
In 2019, with 1.2% per quarter which is close to the 2018 average, growth will be at 1.1%. We have a forecast at this level. It way below the government forecast at 1.7%. We can’t expect a strong reversal in the GDP momentum that could justify such a forecast.
In 2019 consumption will be pushed up by all the measures on purchasing power that has been announced by the President Macron in December. But as long as social unrest remains companies will not boost their investment. The improvement seen on exports will not last. World trade is slowing down rapidly and France will follow this trend.
In other words, the French economy has a limited growth momentum (just 0.9% from Q4 2017 to Q4 2018). With social unrest and uncertainty on external trade, the French economy will continue this trend close to 1% in 2019.

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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