Growth: the Gallic village resists

INSEE, the French statistical institute published its new forecasts for the first half of this year. (Its forecasts are just for a semester to avoid being in conflict with the government expectations). Activity would increase by 0.4% in the first and second quarters (non annualized rate). INSEE slightly revised up its second-quarter figure.
The carryover growth for 2019 would thus be 1.1% at the end of the first half. To reach the new government forecast at 1.4% (indicated by Bruno Le Maire while the budget for 2019 had a forecast at 1.7%), quarterly growth has to be at 0.4% for each quarter. The current trend for the first semester would therefore be extended to the whole year. This figure, 1.4%, is also the one recently published by the Banque de France.

The articulation of the INSEE forecast is based on two elements.

The first is the rebound in domestic demand in the first months of 2019. On this point, all experts agree. The measures that have been taken on purchasing power should be support for household consumption. The pace of growth of this one would thus pass from an average figure per quarter of 0.125% in 2018 to 0.5% in the first quarter and 0.4% in the second. (Measures to boost the purchasing power have been taken after yellow vests’ protests. The amount of these measure is around Eur 11bn)

The second element of the framework drawn by INSEE is the momentum associated with the international environment. The Institute considers that the slowdown seen at the end of 2018 is just temporary and that the situation will rapidly improve to regain a more robust outlook. The demand’s profile to France from the rest of the world is unchanged from the INSEE’s December economic outlook. And this is a fairly solid figure, rising 0.7% in the first quarter and 0.9% in the second, while the average figure for 2018 was 0.5% per quarter.

If the strong slowdown of the last quarter, which conditioned the strong downward revision of the OECD forecasts (from 1.8% to 1% for the Euro zone) and the ECB (from 1.7% to 1%), is reversed then the outlook may be robust in coming months.
Such a conjecture implies a rather robust pace for exports as world trade regains a stronger track. It also implies a rebound in business investment, as expected demand would recover. In that case, a strong recovery can be expected as companies’ financial situation will improve dramatically in 2019 (Lower taxes which was a policy proposed by Hollande in 2013 will be replace in the future by lower charges on wages. But in 2019 both measures are available as the new measure will be put in place and the former has a one year lag. This is a opportunity for firms. They will take advantage of that if expected demand improves dramatically).

If the global shock is persistent then the pace of exports will be less sustained and the investment will be gloomier. The improvement of financial conditions are only permissive conditions but not decisive when the expected demand is mediocre.
The pace of employment will also be conditioned by the persistence or not of the shock.

If one assumes a more persistent shock from the rest of the world then the figures are less robust beyond the jump of the first quarter and without being catastrophic growth would tend to 1.1- 1.2% on average for 2019. And this does not suggest necessarily a re-acceleration of growth in 2020 as suggested by the Banque de France.

The key element will therefore be the overall momentum beyond the short-term effects of government measures. The Fed, the OECD and the ECB are wondering about the pace that this global dynamic can have. The Fed no longer wants to make commitments (on the pace of interest rates and on the reduction of its balance sheet) in order to be able to respond to a possible global shock without having hands tied. But France resists this mood.

In the first months of 2019, the economic situation will largely depend on domestic demand and therefore the measures taken by the government on purchasing power. An immediate consequence is that the government will not be able to engage in a policy of reducing public spending which is a precondition for a credible reduction in taxation. An expenditure reduction policy would annihilate support measures. The public deficit will therefore remain high, probably at best around 3.5% in 2019.

The yellow vests and the French economic outlook

The French economy remains under pressure at the beginning of 2019. Business leaders do not want to commit to the long term because of the uncertainty that hangs over the immediate situation. Since November, there has been a clear drop in orders for capital goods. It may imply a sharp slowdown or even a decline in productive investment around the turn of the year.leading to a low trajectory. The protracted social unrest is beginning to weigh on employment, as shown by the rapid slowdown in hirings as measured by the French Social Security for the fourth quarter of 2018.
We can not spontaneously wait for relay from the European countries. The composite indicator calculated by Markit for the Euro zone is at its lowest since July 2013. The impetus will not come from there.
The difficulties of reducing social uncertainty will weigh on the profile of 2019 growth, which will probably have to be revised downwards. We must now think about a growth rate of around 1% for the whole year. The “Grand Débat” launched by the French President Emmanuel Macron to reduce the current social unrest and the preparation of the European elections next May, where new lists (yellow vests) appear, will maintain this deleterious climate. This will not help either employment or purchasing power. France goes around in circles.

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%.

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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Germany and France on a slower momentum

According to companies’ survey in Germany and in France the economic activity was marginally down in August. German’s companies were a little more pessimistic for the 6 month period to come.
Even if levels are different we perceive in the following graph that there is a kind of stability in economic activity during the last twelve months. This synchronization of the business cycle suggest that France and Germany cannot really expect a stronger growth momentum in the short run. In other words, it seems that German and French economic activity are not able to accelerate from their current level. It’s not worrisome for Germany as its unemployment rate is low but it is problematic for France as its unemployment rate is just below 10%. As there is no impulse from outside as world trade trend is flat, it means that the impulse must come from inside. The ECB has done the job so we must expect a more proactive fiscal policy in order to jump on a higher trajectory. Continue reading

Weekly Column: What can we Learn from the Week of the 24 November?

Every  Monday, I record a podcast in French (here) on macroeconomic news of the previous week and on macroeconomic news expected for the week to come.
The translation in English of the podcast can be found below

Four points have to be mentioned in the week beginning on November the 24th

The first point is the absence of commitment on production at the OPEC meeting in Vienna (November the 27th). The downward impact on oil price was strong. The Brent is now priced circa USD 70. Since the beginning of the year, the price is down by -36% in dollar and by almost 30% in euro.
This will have a positive impact on activity for developed countries and it will be a strong support for a recovery, specifically in the Euro Area. We do not expect a rapid change in behavior. The last meeting does not provide elements that could lead to a rapid convergence of interest. Continue reading

Three graphs on the French Economy after the INSEE survey

The French survey published this morning by INSEE shows a drop in economic activity in August. The index level is now 91 (with an historical average at 100 and a standard error at 10). It is the same level than in August 2013.
These figures can be consistent with a small GDP contraction in the third quarter. As European surveys appeared weaker in August, it is not possible to expect an short term positive impulse coming from French main trading partners. The French economy must be boost from inside to gain some autonomy in its growth process.
The new economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, have a huge task in front of him. Continue reading