The publication March’s Markit indices confirms the downward pressure on activity in the manufacturing sector. The leading indices published for the Euro zone, Germany and France, on March 22, have been revised downward. This is never a very good signal as to the strength of the activity. This revision was marginal in the Euro zone (from 47.6 to 47.5) and in France (49.8 to 49.7) but more marked in Germany from 44.7 to 44.1. This latter has not been so low since July 2012. For the Euro zone, the index has not been as low since June 2013 but at the time the movement was bullish while here it reflects a deterioration of the activity. For the other two major countries, Spain and Italy, there is a slight rebound in Spain from 49.9 in February to 50.9 in March, but the Italian situation continues to deteriorate, from 47.7 to 47.4.
A good explanation is the pace of international trade. Germany is frankly penalized by the contraction of trade due to an openness rate higher than 44% of GDP. Any shock on world trade has an immediate impact on it. More generally, because of the intensive trade between countries of the zone, any external shock is amplified by a contagion effect and penalizes the activity of all. This had been a very positive uptrend in 2017 but is declining today. Germany saw its export orders revised downwards compared to the March estimate (38.9 vs. 39.5 initially). For France, the figure is unchanged.
The proactive economic policy of the Eurozone can only be seen on monetary side with a very accommodative policy but it cannot go further in that direction to limit the impact and the spillover effect of the shock. Except for a sudden and unexpected reversal of world trade, the trend in the Euro zone is here to stay. It should be possible to support domestic demand for this through budgetary means. This is not the current mood at the European level even if France plays constrained by the social unrest
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.
World trade, seen from developed countries, is now at risk. The average export orders (Markit) of the USA, Japan and Euro zone fall to 48.6. The braking action is terrible. If China slows further, the global economy will be stifled.
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.
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.
World growth has stopped accelerating and hit a plateau, inflationary risk is now more visible in investors’ behavior, and the ECB is advocating urgent reforms to the euro area’s institutional framework in order to make it more resilient.
After an acceleration in the last quarter of 2017, is world growth hitting a plateau? This is what manufacturing sector Markit surveys seem to suggest. The swift growth seen right throughout 2017 has ground to a halt, and while indices all stand at admittedly impressive levels reflecting swift growth in economic activity, they are no longer rising.
The global index was flat in January at 54.4 vs. 54.5 in December. This figure is very useful as it acts as a leading indicator of world trade trends. The relationship between the two metrics is important and world growth was so extensive and uniform precisely because this correlation worked well again in 2017. In this respect, monetary policy accommodation across the globe was a prerequisite for a recovery in growth, and in 2017 provided sufficient impetus to truly spark it off. Continue reading →
Strong profiles for Markit indices for the manufacturing sector in the Euro Area. This reinforces growth prospects for the region. All countries are growing even Greece for which the index is above 50 for the first time in a year (but only one month June2016). France is now marginally above Spain and Germany is very robust. The consistency of all these indices will improve trade within the Euro Area feeding economic expansion
New orders momentum is getting stronger at the end of the second quarter. This should lead to a strong acceleration in the manufacturing production index in the months to come. This will feed trade and growth.
At a disaggregated level, Germany has the strongest dynamics for orders. Italy and France are trending upward and Spain is in a robust trend, but not an accelerating one.
Pressures on prices are weaker in June. This is linked to lower oil prices. This will reduce tensions on the production price index. The ECB will not see higher inflation momentum and has no reason to change its mind.