Purchasing power, debt and jobs – the impossible French equation

This post is available in pdf format Forbes-23-01-2019-PW-en

Careful observation of the French economy provides some insight into the swift escalation in social unrest since November. The initial question of purchasing power sparked off the movement in November. At the start of the financial crisis, purchasing power was not too severely hit initially due to the hefty impact of automatic stabilizers, i.e. economic mechanisms that help even out the effects of shocks over time via redistribution. This system had worked fairly well in the past, keeping GDP fluctuations down during economic downturns. This is one of the key aspects of the French redistributive model.
With a continued weaker macroeconomic situation than in the past, the economy adapted. Three major changes can help shed some light on the social strife that has been dragging down the French economy.

The first problem is that French economic trend growth is now more sluggish than before the 2008/2009 crisis, and this has an impact on purchasing power trends.
We can analyze this situation using the chart below, providing an overview of purchasing power trends on the one hand (demand) and productivity data on the other (supply).
The purple line shows the trend in purchasing power per consumption unit and the blue line plots productivity (GDP per hour worked). We can see that these two indicators ran parallel before the 2007 crisis, then diverged until 2012/2013 before converging again, although with weaker trend growth than before the crisis. Under normal circumstances, these two indicators should move at a similar pace, and a long-lasting divergence is not feasible i.e. wages cannot be disconnected from income creation via the production process

Inflation on the upside in the United Kingdom

The current acceleration of the inflation rate creates a complex situation in the United Kingdom as it weighs on households’ purchasing power.
In April the inflation rate was at 2.7% and the core inflation rate was at 2.5%. The inflation rate has not been so high since the fall of 2013 and november 2012 for the core rate. This is mainly the impact of the depreciation of the currency after last june referendum on Brexit.
A year ago the inflation rate was at 0.3% and the core inflation rate was at 1.2%. This latter magnitude is worrisome as the economy is not growing more rapidly.
uk-2017-aprl-inflation
The main issue is that wages momentum will not follow the inflation profile.  Continue reading

The Japanese Economy after the increase of the VAT Rate

The VAT increase on April the 1st has had a strong and negative impact on the Japanese economy. The inflation rate spiked to 3.4%, households’ purchasing power dropped dramatically and retail sales collapsed. On the manufacturing production side, the decline was significant.
These are mechanical effects of the higher VAT rate and this is a negative and persistent shock for the economy. In 1997 with already a VAT shock, the retail sales profile was the same than now and showed strong persistence. The impact was not only perceived in April but all along the year. Loss in purchasing power (see chart below) will not be reduced spontaneously and it is the trigger of this persistence. Continue reading