All EcoWeek

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    19 April 2021
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    The Covid-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on household expenditures. The volume has dropped and its composition has changed significantly. As restrictions are gradually lifted, services such as recreation, food services and accommodation, which have seen a big reduction in demand due to the restrictive measures, could thrive, to the detriment – at least relatively speaking – of spending on goods.  For the strength of the early phases of the recovery, pent-up demand is an important factor. It plays a smaller role in the services sector, which could mean that countries with a larger services sector not only have suffered more from restrictive measures but could also face a bigger challenge during the recovery. 
    Most of our uncertainty indicators continue to decline on the back of vaccination campaigns that pick up speed and better economic data, although in several countries the number of new infections is again rising strongly. Starting top left and moving clockwise, the number of references in the media to uncertainty, after declining very strongly in recent months, has now more or less stabilized.
    It is a true pleasure to read the April 2021 edition of the Beige Book, which the Federal Reserve Board (Fed) publishes eight times a year on current economic conditions in the US. Without exception, all twelve districts covered by Fed surveys reported an improvement in the business climate, with the wealthiest and most productive regions of the northeast, like Philadelphia, bordering on euphoria.
    Italy’s cyclical improvement continues. This is reflected in our pulse, with several indicators rising above their long-term average. This is especially true for indices pertaining to industrial activity. The Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for the manufacturing sector rose to its highest level in 21 years.
    Faced with the resurgence of the pandemic, retail and leisure footfall declined in the developed economies, especially in Europe, during the week of 4-11 April. Moreover, the OECD Weekly Tracker of annual GDP growth continued to decline in Europe. 
    12 April 2021
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    Central banks have become increasingly aware of the impact of climate change on price and financial stability. Moreover, by accepting collateral or via asset purchases, central banks are taking explicitly climate risks on their balance sheets. At the European Central Bank, climate change has become integral part of the monetary strategy review launched in 2020. A major question is whether climate objectives should be pursued in the conduct of monetary policy. The fear is that it could be seen as “mission creep”. At a minimum, one would expect the ECB to ask for more disclosure concerning climate-related factors for assets held on its balance sheet. But the question to what extent market neutrality should be abandoned in favour of greener objectives is still open. The outcome of the review should be announced in September 2021.
    In the manufacturing sector, with a few rare exceptions like Mexico, Egypt and Lebanon, virtually all the countries in our sample reported PMI above the 50 threshold in March 2021. Global manufacturing PMI rose to the highest level in the period under review. The same can be said for the Eurozone, where the index rebounded strongly again in March.
    Our chart shows an improvement in the French economy over the last few months, compared to the previous three ones: the blue-shaded area is larger than the dotted area. However, the picture that emerges from the monthly changes in the component indicators is made less clear by their yo-yo movements. 
    The barometer improved in March, driven by the manufacturing sector, where growth continues to pick up strongly. According to the purchasing managers index (PMI), confidence in the Spanish manufacturing sector has increased to 56.9, the highest level in more than 14 years. 
    The global pandemic continues to worsen as the number of new Covid-19 cases continues to rise. In the week of 1-7 April, more than 4.14 million new cases were reported*, a 23% increase over the previous week. Increases were observed in Europe, Asia, excluding China, and the Americas, up 12%, 51% and 15%, respectively. In Europe, however, the growth rate of the new infections is on a declining trend over the past week. 
    02 April 2021
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    Since the Great Recession, the monetary base in several advanced economies has seen a considerable increase, driven by the creation of bank reserves at the central bank. Yet, contrary to what had been observed in previous decades, this has not been followed by a significant pick-up of inflation. Following the global financial crisis, the demand of the banking system for central bank reserves increased a lot. This was a reflection of the dire state of the economy and money markets as well as tighter liquidity requirements. Subsequently, quantitative easing caused an increase in reserves on the initiative of the central bank. Going forward, as the economy strengthens, money supply growth and inflation could reconnect on the back of an increase in money velocity or faster credit demand growth. Central banks have the tools to address this, if need be. Clearly, asset markets might be less relaxed about such a prospect. 
    The resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe has led to new health measures in most countries. Given this difficult situation, the eurozone economy sent some signs of improvement over the last three months, compared to the previous quarter...
    The slow rollout of the vaccination programme in Japan can be explained by the fact that the country suffered less than others during the pandemic, and thus adopted lighter restrictions than elsewhere. The slow progress in vaccination has not prevented an improvement in business leaders’ confidence...
    Indicators of the strength of the Covid-19 pandemic have continued to rise around the world. With the resurgence of the epidemic in many countries, the gradual tightening of health measures has affected individual mobility...
    29 March 2021
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    In recent months, purchasing managers in the euro area and the US have reported a significant increase in input prices as well as longer delivery lags. They reflect the next stage of the disruptive impact of the pandemic with supply struggling to meet the pick-up in demand. According to an Atlanta Fed survey, firms experiencing the most intense disruption tend to be those with the highest expectation of future inflation. It remains to be seen whether this will convince them to raise prices. The Federal Reserve is relaxed about this but, nevertheless, there will be lot of nail-biting in the second half of the year as US inflation data are released in an economy that should be able to close its output gap quickly.
    The economic climate has slightly deteriorated in recent months according to the Pulse. The blue area in the chart shrank compared to the situation three months earlier. The main reason was the sharp fall in retail sales. This was partly due to the closure of non-essential shops since the middle of December...
    Having been hit particularly hard by Covid-19 (more than 126,000 Britons have died so far), the UK is now one of the countries vaccinating most rapidly. With 31 million doses administered since the beginning of the year, coverage of the population has reached 46%...
    According to data from Johns Hopkins University, the number of Covid-19 cases worldwide continues to rise. In spite of a poor health environment, the OECD Weekly Tracker of year-on-year GDP growth continues to improve. This indicator is based on Google Trends resulting from queries on consumption, the labour market, housing, industrial activity as well as uncertainty...
    22 March 2021
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    The new economic projections of the FOMC members reflect a big but temporary boost to growth from the fiscal stimulus and the normalisation of economic activity as the adult population is vaccinated. They expect a limited, temporary increase of inflation. Four participants now expect that the circumstances would warrant an increase in the federal funds rate next year. Seven expect this to be the case in 2023. Fed chairman Powell was quick to point out that the projections are not a committee forecast and that the data do not justify a change in policy. This message clearly anchors short-term interest rates, whereas longer-term bond yields fluctuate on the waves of ease or unease about where the federal funds rate could be several years into the future.
    According to the latest indicators, China’s economic recovery remained strong over the first two months of 2021, although there was a slight slowdown in the domestic demand growth momentum... 
    A deterioration in the health situation is once again affecting consumer behaviour in certain European countries. According to the latest Google Mobility Report, visits to retail and recreation facilities have seen divergent trends in the main developed economies. In Italy, France and Belgium, where the number of Covid-19 cases has been rising again, footfall has fallen...
    15 March 2021
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    Based on an overview of the functions of a currency, cryptocurrencies should be considered as an investment instrument, rather than as an alternative to fiat money. Since the start of 2020, correlations between bitcoin and copper, equities and, in particular, breakeven inflation have increased. Probably, investors turn to bitcoin when inflation expectations are on the rise. Swings in investor sentiment also play a role. The extent of the change in the bitcoin price suggests that speculative waves are at work, driven by momentum buying and extrapolative expectations of price appreciation. When the fundamental value of an instrument like a cryptocurrency is very hard if not impossible to determine and when short-term price changes are a multiple of those observed in equity markets, caution should prevail when building and managing an exposure.
    The downward trend of our uncertainty indicators continues. This is related to the improvement of the sanitary situation in several countries, the vaccination campaigns and the anticipation of a major fiscal stimulus package in the US... 
    With deaths from Covid-19 having exceeded the startling level of 500,000 in the US, other cheerier statistics have driven the markets forward;  The acceleration in the vaccination campaign, which has already administered 100 million doses, and the associated fall in the number of new cases, to close to their lowest level since the pandemic began, have, day by day, built hope that the crisis is nearing its end...
    As the number of Covid-19 cases has been rising globally over the past two weeks, many countries have now joined the vaccination campaign that began in earnest in December 2020. According to the latest figures on Oxford University’s Our World in Data website, 319.56 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in 118 countries...
    05 March 2021
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    The financial cycle, as captured by bond and equity market developments is very much globally synchronised, but, at present, there is a business cycle desynchronization between the US and the euro area. Rising euro area government bond yields, on the back of higher US yields, cannot be considered as a sign of economic strength. Quite to the contrary, they come at a bad moment. One would expect, at a minimum, a very strong statement from the ECB’s Governing Council on 11 March on its decisiveness to act should yields continue to rise. Markets would of course prefer immediate action. After all, the tool –the PEPP- is available so one might as well step up its use.
    We took away three key points from the detailed breakdown of the Q4 2020 quarterly accounts. First, households reported remarkable purchasing power gains in both Q4 2020 (+1.5% q/q, +1.9% y/y) and full-year 2020 (+0.6%), even though GDP contracted (-1.4% q/q, -4.9% y/y; -8.2% in annual average terms). The resilience of household purchasing power is largely due to emergency support measures...
    Although our barometer generally improved in March, economic growth is set to remain weak in the first quarter of 2021. New car sales were still 40% lower in February 2021 than in February 2020, although the data can be volatile from a month to another...
    In the manufacturing sector, at the world level, the PMI recorded an improvement in February after having eased the month before. It is now at the highest level of the period under review. This also applies to the eurozone, where the index saw a big jump in February. The improvement in the French index was even more impressive, although its level is still below that of the eurozone...
    The latest Google Mobility Report, of 1 March, revealed trends in visits to retail and recreation in the main European countries, Japan and the United States. Over the month, the indicator jumped from -60% to -45% in Germany, from -46% to -33% in Belgium and from -51% to -42% in Spain ...
    26 February 2021
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    Until recently, the rise in long-term interest rates did not stop the equity market from moving higher, but events this week suggest investors are becoming increasingly concerned. The possible impact of higher bond yields on share prices, depends on what causes the increase: faster growth, a decline in uncertainty, rising inflation expectations.The last factor is the trickiest one because it may cause a profound reassessment of the outlook for monetary policy. Over the past two decades, the relationship between rising rates and the equity market has not been statistically significant. Gradualism in monetary policy has played a role. Recent statements by Jerome Powell show he is very much aware of the importance of avoiding to create surprises.
    In February, the economic climate has slightly deteriorated compared to the previous month. Our proprietary business climate indicator for Germany - the unweighted sum of the Pulse’s components - deteriorated slightly, to - 0.35 in February compared with -0.1 in the previous month. Since April 2020, the climate indicator has been in negative territory...
    As shown in our barometer, manufacturing activity has continued to strengthen at the beginning of the year. The manufacturing PMI index reached 55.1 in January, the best reading since March 2018. Italian industry is probably benefiting from activity in the US, which is stronger than in Europe...
    The latest Google Mobility Report published on 23 February paints an encouraging picture of store footfall and visits to recreational facilities around the world, especially in Europe...
    19 February 2021
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    Recently, several calls have been made for the ECB to cancel part of its government debt holdings. Such an operation would violate the EU Treaty. On economic grounds, it is unnecessary, given that the interest paid on the debt to the ECB flows back to governments in the form of dividends. It would actually entail a cost: higher inflation expectations and/or a higher inflation risk premium would cause an increase in bond yields. The extreme nature of the measure could also undermine confidence. In reality, the very low levels of interest rates imply that governments have a lot of time to bring their finances in better shape. Finally, should senior policy makers merely talk about the possibility of debt cancellation, this could also entail a cost: financial markets could consider that the unthinkable is gradually becoming less unthinkable.
    A robust and lasting normalisation of the economic situation will depend on gaining full control over the Covid-19 pandemic and on the renewed confidence of economic agents. Yet the Eurozone economy is struggling to recover in the midst of persistent lockdown measures and health restrictions. After a robust economic rebound in late spring 2020, the recovery phase has virtually levelled off thereafter.
    Retail and leisure traffic flows are increasing in some countries and declining in others according to the Google Mobility Report released on 14 February.
    12 February 2021
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    The dire state of the labour market requires a major support effort for the economy. This view is shared by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Yellen. The massive fiscal stimulus plan prepared by the Biden administration has received criticism from prominent economists. They argue that the plan is too big and could trigger a sizeable increase in inflation. In deciding on the size of the fiscal plan, risk management considerations play an important role. Doing not enough is clearly the greater risk. However, doing a lot will eventually force the Federal Reserve to demonstrate its independence by not shying away from raising rates despite the impact on government finances.
    Even as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads to more victims than ever in the United States, there have never been such high hopes for a recovery. With the number of deaths averaging nearly 3000 a day since January 15 – 50% more than during the April 2020 peak – the health situation remains persistently bad. Yet vaccination campaigns are also accelerating...
    The World composite purchasing managers’ index has been in a narrow range since August last year. At 52.3, it is still comfortably above the 50 mark, although it has been trending down since the peak of 53.3 reached in October. However, the dynamics at the country level are very heterogeneous...
    The rollout of the vaccination process is vital for the economies to go back to normal again. According to the latest figures available on Oxford University’s Our World in Data website, 152 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines were administered in 73 countries, adding 72 million doses and 9 countries up to 10 February...
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