Low inflation rate expected in 2019, lower than core inflation

The price of oil is, on December 19, 20% below its 2018 average. The contribution of energy to the inflation rate will quickly be negative. Inflation will fall below 1% in the euro zone in 2019. (The energy price is the main source of fluctuations of the inflation rate. Sometimes on the upside sometimes on the downside. Currently it’s on the downside)

For a zero contribution to inflation, on average over 2019, the price of oil should increase by 25% It is only above this 25% increase, on average in 2019, that inflation will go above underlying inflation (close to 1%). No rush for the ECB to change its mind on monetary policy

The Federal Reserve tells us one hike now and two next year

The Fed raised its benchmark rate by 25 basis points. The fed funds rate will thus evolve in the 2.25 – 2.5% corridor. This rate level is close to the corridor, 2.5-3.0%, considered by the Fed as a long-term target. This is the 4th rise this year.

The central bank does not appear worried about the pace of the economy in the coming months. Growth will slow down somewhat in 2019, but the unemployment rate will remain close to its current level, beyond full employment. Inflation will be close to 2%. It is a little weaker than at the September meeting because of the drop in the price of oil.

The Fed said it could raise its benchmark rate twice in 2019. In September, at the previous meeting, it was considering 3 rises. The pace of oil prices and its effect on the inflation rate probably explain this lessening.

Why two further hikes: the economy still operates on a trend beyond full employment. This imbalance must be offset by a monetary policy that must become a little restrictive to avoid possible imbalances, currently not very visible but that could develop in the not too distant future. The economy has changed, but not so much that it can function too long beyond full employment without having consequences that are difficult to manage in the long run. In addition, the White House policy that fuels domestic demand is resulting in a rapid rise in imports (see here). Through a somewhat restrictive monetary policy the Fed must weigh on the demand and limit the external imbalance.

The ECB ready to maintain its accommodative policy in 2019

The ECB puts all its energy on it but inflation does not converge frankly towards the objective (2%) it has defined. Can we say, like Mario Draghi, that the Quantitative Easing has worked properly?
Yes probably on the activity. The fall of all the interest rates has modified the inter-temporal trade-off on consumers’ side favoring the immediate expenses to the detriment of the future expenses.
On inflation? Yes, if the recovery helped to avoid deflation but beyond? We can wonder. Convergence towards the ECB’s target is postponed year after year.
Forecasts on growth (convergence towards potential in 2021 estimated at 1.5% by the ECB) and on inflation, suggest, except to change the reaction function, that the ECB will remain accommodative for a extended time.

Large US trade imbalance and the Fed’s tightening

The US external trade is weakening rapidly. Its deficit has never been so important (measured in real terms and ex oil trade). Imports have a strong momentum. It reflects the White House fiscal strategy and it is done at the expense of American citizens. Not the good strategy. This large imbalance is also a good reason for the Fed to maintain its tightening bias in order to limit the domestic demand momentum. Powell has spoken many times of the non sustainable fiscal policy of the White House. This trade imbalance is just an illustration of it.

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The flattening of the yield curve and the possibility of a recession in the US.

First step the 5yr-2yr spread is now null before being negative with the Fed tightening. Then the 10yr-2yr will flatten before being negative for the same reason. This has always been a signal of recession. This time is not different and 2020 can be anticipated for it.
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The two curves have the same pattern even if levels are different. They provide the same message for 2020.
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The ECB will be unable to normalize its monetary policy soon

The ECB will not start the normalization of its monetary policy in 2019. The interest rate level will remain stable, my bet is that the refi rate and the deposit rate will remain at the current level in 2019.
The lack of external impulse, the slower momentum in the manufacturing sector and the convergence of the headline inflation rate to the core inflation rate are three reasons that suggest that the ECB will not take risks in the management of its monetary policy. The monetary policy normalization, even the expectation of it, may weaken economic activity. Therefore it’s not the good policy when the inflation rate is way below the ECB target with no convergence to the target in a foreseeable future.

The framework I have in mind is the following: Due to more heterogeneous behaviors and uncertainty at the political level, global growth will become, in 2019, weaker than in 2017 and in 2018. Inside the Euro Area, there are no coordinated policies that may boost growth, therefore growth trajectories will converge to potential growth. This framework is not a source of monetary policy normalization. But we can add that the dramatic oil price drop in recent weeks (due to excess supply in the US and in Arabia) will push the headline inflation rate to the core inflation rate which has been close to 1% for months. It’s still way below the ECB target and therefore not a source of monetary policy normalization.  Continue reading

Trump and the Federal Reserve

Donald Trump hit out again recently at the Federal Reserve for its monetary policy management, taking it to task for hiking interest rates, which he claims would hamper US growth. But this is something of a bold statement given the White House’s fiscal policy.
The chart below depicts US unemployment and the government balance as a percentage of GDP, revealing that the two indicators have trended in a similar way over almost 60 years, each reflecting the US cycle. When economic activity is robust, jobless numbers decrease, while at the same time, tax income increases and spending to support the economy is lower, thereby improving the budget balance. This twofold trend has always worked well, even when Ronald Reagan embarked on economic stimulus at the start of the 1980s. Meanwhile, the budget surplus at the end of the 1990s is also an illustration of this trend, with Bill Clinton’s – fairly smart – moves to implement austerity policies to gain leeway in the event of a downturn in the cycle.

But the current period marks an exception. The cycle is robust, as reflected by the drop in unemployment to 3.7% in September 2018, hitting its lowest since 1969, yet the government balance is not improving, but rather it is deteriorating under the influence of Donald Trump’s policies. The public deficit stands at close to 5%, yet it should have fallen significantly on the back of the economic cycle. The government is driving economic stimulus at a time when the economy is running on full employment.

So it is reasonable for the Fed to take action to counter these excesses and avoid the emergence of persistent imbalances. We cannot rule out the possibility that fiscal policy will bolster domestic demand, triggering a significant surge in inflation and a larger external imbalance despite the White House’s protectionist measures (demand is rising sharply – due to tax cuts and increased spending – and supply does not have time to adjust, which leads to a swell in imports).

The Fed, as embodied by Chair Jay Powell, has clearly indicated that this policy is not sustainable in the medium term and that it must be offset, which is why the Fed is hiking interest ratesand it is right to do so – thereby setting the US economy on a more sustainable path for the medium term.

However, the risk lies in the event of a severe negative economic shock, as there would be no leeway for fiscal policy to adjust, and there would be no scope for raising the budget deficit or implementing a stimulus plan like Obama did in 2009, as the budget deficit is already extensive before a potential shock: the US economy would therefore be hampered over the long term. Trump’s policies will only help the better-off in society, who benefit from lower taxes, while the cost of this policy is spread out across the population via the ensuing increase in the public deficit. And this approach will create even more inequality in the longer term as some Republicans are alarmed at the extent of public debt and are arguing for a reduction in social spending to make this debt sustainable in the medium term. For now, America seems to have lost sight of the meaning of the words equality and fairness.unemploymentand budgetdeficitUS