A Lower World Trade Momentum

These two graphs this morning in the “Daily Shot” of the Wall Street Journal show the lower world trade momentum. All the indicators converge to a lower dynamics. With US tariffs and retaliation the risk is an extended downward trend.

The virtuous loop seen in 2017 between trade and activity had an impulse coming from very accommodative monetary policies all around the world. There is no new central bankers’ impulse. It is even the contrary. Investors now expect that the next trend will be on the tighter side after the Fed.
Moreover the uncertainty associated with the lower global economic mood (from non cooperative strategies from the US, UK, Italy and retaliation measures) reduces the economic horizon and therefore the will to invest from corporate companies.

In other words, after a surge in 2017 coming from central banks’ impulse, there is a downside adjustment which is amplified by non cooperative behavior from many governments.
The main risk at the global level is a rapid growth slowdown. It could be sooner than later.

An explanation of the steel and aluminum tariff war in 16 points

The US imposed steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) duties on Europe, Canada and Mexico on May 31, reflecting Trump’s obsession to bring business back to the US and contain the country’s external deficit. He had already presented this idea right from his inaugural address (in French) at the White House, with his view of the world economy as a zero-sum game, meaning each country has to fight tooth-and-nail to get its hands on the biggest slice of the pie. This view is admittedly not helpful in understanding economic and growth momentum, but it is the view we are dealing with here.

Based on steel and aluminum exports to the US, the cost for Canada is very high at around 2 billion, as well as for Mexico (600 million) and the European Union at around 1.7 billion, including close to 400 million for Germany and 150 million for France. These are substantial figures, so they can have an impact on trade with the US.

So in the end, who will come out the winner from this tariff jostling? It is probably a no-win situation. A trade war is a bit like going 15 rounds in heavyweight boxing match…the two fighters make it through, but they are both a mess by the end and run the serious risk of some long-lasting after-effects.

We can raise a number of points:

1 – Announcements made at the start of March and on Thursday May 31 pushed steel prices up, as shown very clearly by the chart below. Continue reading

Economists are rebelling on economic protectionism

US economists are mobilizing against Donald Trump’s protectionist measures. The interdependence of developed and emerging countries, but also the dependence on global trade are today too important to take the risk of changing the rules abruptly. In view of the on cooperative political climate, we can not rule out retaliation and escalation that would be very detrimental to growth, employment and standard of living. The experiences of the past must necessarily help us to think.

“Over a thousand economists have written to Donald Trump warning his “economic protectionism” and tough rhetoric on trade threatens to repeat the mistakes the US made in the 1930s, mistakes that plunged the world into the Great Depression.

The 1,140 economists, including 14 Nobel prize winners, sent the letter on Thursday amid an escalating row over trade between the US and the European Union. Trump has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports but has granted temporary reprieves to the EU, Australia and other countries.

“In 1930, 1,028 economists urged Congress to reject the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act,” the authors write, citing a trade act that many economists argue was one of the triggers for the Great Depression….”

Continue reading here in the Guardian

Each country for itself – My Monday column

Growth has made a comeback but each country already wants to take its own path. Unity is no longer on the cards and the world economy is fast going down a very different road.

During the recovery in 2016 and 2017, the worldwide situation was relatively stable, with no major imbalances, and the central banks cut some slack when required to make it through any bumpy patches. This approach worked fairly well as the pace across the various areas of the world became more uniform, driving growth and trade momentum, and economists were constantly forced to upgrade their forecasts.

But those days are gone, and this cooperative and coordinated dimension has disappeared. Continue reading

Six major changes since the financial crisis – My Monday column

Developed countries’ economies were enjoying robust growth in the first half of 2008, despite some initial cracks that had been appearing since the previous summer. That was ten years ago, and since then, world economic dynamics have transformed completely, as the sources of momentum and adjustment systems have changed, especially in developed countries.

We could potentially identify a whole raft of differences but I have focused on six that I feel are useful in helping us understand the new world economic order.

1 – World trade is no longer growing at the same pace

World trade has entirely changed pace since the crisis in 2008. Before that date, it fluctuated fairly broadly around a trend estimated at 6.8% per year in volume terms, thereby creating a strong source of momentum in each economy and driving economic growth, with an overall virtuous dynamic between trade and economic activity.
But since 2011, world trade has seen little fluctuation and the trend is now at 2.3%. The turning point in 2011 can be attributed to austerity policies and in particular programs implemented in Europe. So momentum that can be expected across the rest of the world is no longer on a par with past showings. This change is significant for Europe as the continent used to wait for the rest of the world to pick up a pace before staging its own improvement, and this explains the systematic time lag in the cycle between the US, which traditionally recovered very sharply after a negative shock, and Europe, which always seemed to be lagging slightly. Continue reading

Davos, Trump, China and French growth – My Monday column

The world balance is changing under the influence of China as it seeks to establish a different path for globalization. America is trying to stage a response at Davos with the White House realizing that America needs its partners in order to be great again. Meanwhile, French growth is running into physical obstacles: the 2% trend is a peak, at least in the short term. 

.    .    .

We saw a surprising development in Davos last week when the US President backtracked on world trade and his global economy model, as the White House indicated that it no longer sees the economy as a zero-sum game, contrary to its stance so far. Continue reading

A Worldwide Dilemma For 2018: Retreating Inward or Joining Forces?

Which side will win out in the current confrontation playing out across the world? The inward-looking attitude that has been so widespread these past months aims at taking power back locally. Meanwhile, the more cooperative approach involves joining forces to address global challenges and is based on continued dialogue. The choice between these two world views will be the key challenge for 2018.
The world is no longer quite so unanimous in its enthusiasm for globalization.

The cooperative dynamics we saw before the 2008 crisis are no longer the dominant force, and this shift was laid bare during the various elections and the referendums of recent times, as globalization and its cooperative approach did not lead to even distribution of wealth, particularly in developed countries. Branko Milanovic’s famous elephant curve was often held up as an example to demonstrate that the most badly off workers in the western countries had paid the price of globalization and swift growth in emerging countries, such as China and India. Continue reading