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    24 July 2022
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    The ECB Governing Council has surprised markets by a 50 bp rate hike and by dropping its forward guidance and moving to a data-dependent tightening cycle. This may reflect unease about how quickly the euro area economy might react to the policy moves and about the consequences of uncertainty about gas supply during the winter months. Another key decision was the introduction of the Transmission Protection Instrument (TPI), a tool to address unwarranted spread widening that would weigh on the effectiveness of monetary policy transmission. The data dependency of further rate hikes and the vagueness about the triggers for using the TPI may lead to an increase of the volatility in interest rates and sovereign spreads whereby investors try to understand the ECB’s reaction function. 
    Although supply timescales are still historically long, the PMI index which assesses them has gradually improved since last autumn. According to the PMI sector survey, this reduction in delivery times can also be seen in most industries, particularly in the automotive, electronic equipment and agri-food sectors. As a result of these reductions, the backlogs of work indicator recorded its biggest fall in over two years. The aggregate value chain pressures index, which is published by the Federal Reserve of New York, confirms these positive developments. It has fallen to its lowest level since March 2021. These gradual but continuous improvements should help to ease some of the inflationary pressures currently weighing on the manufactured goods sector in particular.
    The world recorded 6.9 million new confirmed COVID-19 cases between 13 and 20 July, 9% more than in the previous week. This was a fifth consecutive week of rising case numbers. Asia saw the largest weekly growth. At the same time, footfall in shopping and leisure facilities in France, Belgium and Germany remains at its pre-COVID-19 level, while in Italy it is no longer very far off. However, footfall is still below the pre-pandemic level in the US, UK, Spain and Japan.
    17 July 2022
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    Next Thursday’s meeting of the ECB Governing Council is eagerly awaited. The rate hike decision has been pre-announced so the more important question is whether the new tool to address unwarranted sovereign spread widening will be unveiled. The rationale for such an instrument is well understood but its design and use raise several questions. One is easy to answer. To avoid a conflict with the monetary policy stance, bond purchases by the central bank would need to sterilized. The others are more challenging. Where is the threshold to call a spread widening ‘unwarranted’? Should the ECB be clear or ambiguous on this threshold and on its reaction when it would be reached? The final question concerns moral hazard and, hence, conditionality. When the ECB intervenes to address unwarranted spread widening, what are governments supposed to do in return in terms of fiscal policy?
    Chinese economic activity contracted by 2.6% quarter-on-quarter in Q2 2022, with almost zero growth (0.4%) year-on-year. This poor performance was primarily the result of mobility restrictions introduced in several of the country’s provinces in response to the latest wave of the Covid19 pandemic, with the strictest restrictions in force from March to May in major economic centres such as Shanghai. The economic shock in Q2 2022 was severe and unexpected, but was nevertheless less violent than that in Q1 2020, when the lockdown measures introduced at the beginning of the crisis resulted in a collapse in activity of 10.3% q/q and 6.9% y/y.
    The three-month moving average growth for the UK was 0.4% in May (3.5% y/y), above the expectations (0%). The Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides a detailed analysis of monthly changes in economic activity. After contractions in March and April, GDP returned to growth in May (+0.5% m/m). This growth was driven by the three main sectors: services , production and construction.
    Since 8 July, a new governmental scheme has offered an ‘anti-inflation’ cheque of EUR200 per person to 2.7 million of the most vulnerable Spanish households. This measure is part of a total package of EUR9 billion, approved by the authorities at the end of June. This also includes another cut in VAT on electricity (from 10% to 5%) and a cut in travel costs. These steps to support households’ purchasing power are welcome as inflationary pressures continue to rise.
    Between 5 and 12 July, 6.2 million new cases of Covid-19 were reported around the world, a 15% increase compared with the previous week and the fourth consecutive week of rising infections. Case numbers rose in all regions. Europe saw the largest increase (figure 1): infections rose by 20% to 3 million, representing 48% of the global total.
    11 July 2022
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    Recent data send conflicting signals about the outlook for the US economy. A survey of chief financial officers shows they have become gloomier and the nowcast of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta is forecasting a contraction of real GDP in the second quarter. This would mean two successive quarters of negative GDP growth, which corresponds to the popular definition of a recession. However, the labour market continues to be strong and the majority of indicators used by the NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee are still in an uptrend. This suggests there is no imminent risk of recession yet.
    The downward trend of the global manufacturing PMI continued in June. The index dropped in the US and declined in the euro area to respectively 52.7 and 52.1, which brings us close to the crucial 50 mark. The various euro area countries for which data are available all recorded lower numbers. Data were also weaker in the UK and Japan. Australia, Mexico and, in particular, China saw an improvement.   
    Results from the various economic activity indexes and confidence surveys are all pointing in the same direction. The US economic slowdown is becoming more severe, particularly judging by the sharp fall in the flash composite PMI for June, which came in at 51.2, down 2.4 points relative to May. Consumer surveys are continuing to show a sharp drop in confidence. The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index slumped 9.5 points in June, taking the total decline since January to 17 points, while the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index – which had previously been more resilient – finally gave way, falling 3.5 points. 
    In May 2022, Germany recorded its first trade deficit since 1991. Due to a much bigger than expected increase in imports (2.7% m/m) and an unexpected drop in exports (-0.5% m/m), the country’s trade balance was negative to the tune of EUR 1 billion. By comparison, Germany was running a monthly trade surplus of nearly EUR 20 billion at the end of 2019. Moreover, this deterioration of the trade balance is likely to continue.   
    Although real GDP held up in Q1 (+0.1% q/q), our barometer clearly shows that the economic outlook is worsening. Annual inflation rose again in June, going from 7.3% to 8.5%, while manufacturing output stagnated: although Italy’s manufacturing PMI remained in the expansion zone at 50.9 in June, it fell for the seventh straight month and has been down 11.9 points over that period. 
    04 July 2022
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    The chief financial officers of US companies have become gloomier about the outlook for the US economy. The latest Duke University CFO survey shows that 20.8% of the participants expect negative GDP growth over the next 12 months. The assessment about the own-company prospects has declined far less, leading to a record high gap with the outlook for the economy as a whole. This is a source of concern: how long can own-company confidence remain high if the overall environment continues to deteriorate? Interest rate developments will play a key role in this respect. Of those US companies that plan to borrow, two-thirds would reduce their investments in case of an increase of borrowing costs of 3 percent. It is a sobering message considering the expected tightening of monetary policy.
    Our different uncertainty gauges are complementary, in terms of scope and methodology. Starting top left and continuing clockwise, US economic policy uncertainty based on media coverage has eased slightly in recent weeks after a significant increase, triggered, at least in part, by concern about the prospect of aggressive rate hikes by the Federal Reserve. In the US, business uncertainty about sales revenue growth has increased slightly as of late but it has decreased significantly with respect to employment growth. The European Commission’s uncertainty index has edged higher. 
    On the economic front the eurozone has seen a succession of similar-looking months, with inflation continuing to rise and confidence surveys continuing to fall to different extents. Although there is a clear deterioration in the economic situation and outlook, its scale and duration remain uncertain. A recession is getting more likely but is not (yet) a certainty, first because activity levels remain strong and not all the economic indicators are flashing red (particularly when it comes to the labour market) and secondly because growth has some tailwinds or, at the very least, shock-absorbers.
    The latest results from the Tankan survey show a fragile but stable outlook for Japanese industry (the balance moved from 2 to 1), whilst confidence in the service sector improved (the balance rose from -2 to 4). The total balance of opinion improved from 0 to 2. Amongst large companies, the improvement in confidence was the biggest in personal services (up 32 points to 18) and hotels and restaurants (up 25 points to -31), even though confidence in the latter remains very low. Conversely, the sectors suffering the biggest falls were lumber and wood products (down 20 points to 0) and iron & steel (down 16 to -6). 
    Inflation has continued to accelerate, at 5.8% y/y in June, and has not yet reached its peak. Most significantly, the energy component saw a further monthly rise of 5.3% in June, having already risen by 9% in March. Not only had the initial shock not yet fully passed through into other prices (food, manufactured goods, services), but this new increase signals a further acceleration in inflation, particularly in the food component which suffered the most from the initial shock (1.4% increase month-on-month and 3.1% over 3 months): In June, this food index has increased by 5.7% y/y, below July 2008’s 6.4% peak, but should rise above and reach 9% in December 2022, according to our forecasts.
    27 June 2022
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    A lasting, unwarranted widening of sovereign spreads in the euro area would represent an excessive tightening of financial conditions and weigh on activity and demand. It would run into conflict with the objectives of the ECB in the context of its monetary policy normalisation. Spreads are influenced by various fundamental variables that are directly or indirectly related to debt sustainability issues. These tend to be slow-moving. Sovereign spreads also depend on the level of risk aversion, a variable that fluctuates a lot and which is influenced by global factors. This complicates the assessment of whether an observed spread widening is warranted or not.
    Although some signs of improvement are visible on certain trade routes—notably between China and the West Coast of the US—the overall situation is still far from a return to normal. The lockdown in Shanghai will continue to have significant repercussions for the operation of ports in China and elsewhere in Asia throughout the second half of 2022.
    19 June 2022
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    In recent weeks, the prospect of several ECB rate hikes has caused an increase in Bund yields and, unexpectedly, several sovereign spreads. Beyond a certain point, higher spreads may become unwarranted. Under such circumstances, the ECB might consider stepping in to avoid that its policy transmission would be impacted. Determining whether sovereign spreads have increased too much is a real challenge. Historically, based on a 20-week moving window, the relationship (beta) between the BTP-Bund spread and Bund yields fluctuates a lot, so this calls for taking a longer perspective. Using data since 2013, the current spread is in line with an estimate based on current Bund yields. Clearly,  other economic variables should be added to the analysis. It shows the complexity of the task should the ECB commit to address unwarranted spread widening.
    The significant contraction of the blue area relative to the dotted area illustrates the magnitude of the shock faced by the Chinese economy since March 2022. The resurgence of the Covid epidemic has led to the introduction of mobility restrictions in many provinces, with the most stringent lockdowns affecting major industrial and port regions, notably Shanghai. Restrictions have depressed household demand and dampened activity in factories, disturbed the transportation and export of goods, and led to supply-chain disruptions in China and abroad.
    The strength of the employment data reflects a degree of resilience in the Spanish economy in the face of the multiple shocks. According to the Spanish Employment Office (SEPE) an additional 33,366 active workers (+0.2% m/m) were registered in the social security system in May, the thirteenth consecutive month of growth. The government is expecting a further increase in June. Meanwhile, unemployment fell by 41,069 in May, to its lowest level since 2008. This decline was driven by a further drop in youth unemployment (25 and under), of 21,974.
    Unsurprisingly, the 16 June meeting of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) led to a further increase in its policy rate, the fifth consecutive 25 basis point increase, taking it to 1.25%. This tightening of monetary policy, relatively modest when compared to the Fed’s 75bp hike, aims to control inflation, which is continuing to rise steeply (2.5% m/m NSA in April, giving a year-on-year figure of 9%), without putting excessive constraints on an economy already hit by the inflation shock.
    12 June 2022
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    The global economy has been hit by multiple shocks this year: new Covid-19 cases in China, the war in Ukraine, rising interest rates. Financial market behaviour and the US Survey of Professional Forecasters point to mounting concerns about the risk of a recession. These worries come with a cost to the economy and may cause growth to slow down further. Some degree of concern is welcome because it enhances the effectiveness of a restrictive monetary policy. There is a tipping point however, beyond which slowdown fears become self-fulfilling. Addressing these would be difficult if by then inflation has not yet converged sufficiently to target.
    The negative prospects for the second quarter of 2022 are no longer a risk as suggested by business surveys, they are now taking concrete shape in Germany. After the very sharp worsening in the trade balance in March (a 4% decline in exports in volume terms and a symmetrical 4.1% increase in imports), it barely improved in April and remains at an extremely low level. According to the Kiel Institute’s real-time forecasts, exports probably fell in May (-1.7% m/m) but will see a slight recovery in June (0.6% m/m). Over the second quarter as a whole, Germany’s trade balance could shrink to its lowest level since Q2 2001. 
    The latest economic data from INSEE have provided detail on the timing and scale of the purchasing power shock to household consumption, with three figures standing out: the 1.8% q/q fall in the purchasing power of gross disposable income over the first quarter; the revised fall of 1.5% q/q in household consumption (from -1.3% in the initial estimate); and the downgrade in GDP growth to -0.2% q/q, from 0% in the initial estimate.   
    The deterioration of the business climate surveys continued in May, particularly in the manufacturing sector, even though industrial production held up until April. Output rose 1.6% m/m, to its highest level since December 2007. However, the manufacturing PMI dropped 2.6 points to 51.9 in May, its sixth consecutive monthly fall. The sharp fall in this indicator shows up clearly in our barometer. 
    The Covid-19 pandemic continues to slow around the world. According to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University, 3.3 million new cases were recorded around the world in the week of 1 to 7 June, a 4% drop on the previous week. On a regional level, the epidemic continues to ease in Africa (-24%) and Asia (-18%), whilst the number of new cases in Europe has stabilised after two months of substantial falls. New case numbers in South America continued to rise strongly (21%), whilst North America also posted a small increase. Meanwhile, 67% of the world’s population has now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
    06 June 2022
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    Since the start of the year, media increasingly use the word recession and, over the same period, there was a significant increase in Treasury yields. The common driver behind these developments is, to a large degree probably, the more hawkish tone from the Federal Reserve. Unease about recession risk shows up in the latest quarterly Survey of Professional Forecasters conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Recession probabilities across the projection horizon have moved higher and they are now well above what we have seen in the past at this stage of the tightening cycle. Exceptionally high inflation requires aggressive rate hikes to bring it back under control. This implies a difficult balancing act for the Federal Reserve and explains the heightened concerns about recession risk.
    The global manufacturing PMI continues its sideways movement since March, when it had declined due to the war in Ukraine. May saw a weakening in the US and the euro area, where in particular Italy recorded a considerable decline. In Australia the PMI recorded a big drop. China saw a rebound following the easing of mobility restrictions. In India the PMI has been stable at a high level for several months and Vietnam saw a sizeable improvement in May. The services PMI was down in the US and the euro area, where in particular Germany was confronted with weaker data, although still well above the 50 mark. In the UK, the index recorded a huge drop. Japan is benefiting from better data and in India the already elevated index moved higher again in May.
    US GDP growth was revised slightly downwards (-0.1 point) for Q1 2022, bringing the contraction in the annualised quarterly growth rate to -1.5%, contrary to expectations of a smaller contraction of only -1.3%. This correction can be attributed to a lower-than-expected private inventory investment (contribution of -1.1 points) as well as to the smaller contribution of investment (+1.2 point), especially residential investment. These revisions were partly offset by an increase in consumer spending of both goods and services (+2.1 points). Increases in exports and imports of goods cancelled each other out, leaving foreign trade’s net contribution unchanged (-3.2 points).
    At its 10 March meeting, the ECB paved the way for raising its key deposit rate, although the timing of the first rate increase remained uncertain at the time: the odds of a September move had declined compared to a few weeks ago and July was excluded, which left December. The wait-and-see approach still seemed appropriate given the increasing downside risks to growth, aggravated by the current inflationary shock, the war in Ukraine and China’s zero-Covid strategy. Yet economic data reported in the meantime, as well as the hawkish tone of several ECB members, seems to have accelerated the tempo. Concerning data, it is the combination of high inflation, a weak euro and relatively resilient growth that has moved forward the lift-off date.
    The epidemiological situation arising from the Covid-19 pandemic continues to improve in most regions of the world. For the first time since mid-November 2021, the number of new cases has dropped below the symbolic level of 3.5 million per week (7-day moving average). Over the same period, visits to retail and leisure facilities held at pre-pandemic levels in Belgium, Germany and France, and are approaching normal levels in Italy. Retail and leisure mobility still falls short of pre-pandemic levels in the other countries (United States, Spain, the UK and Japan).
    29 May 2022
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    Historically, there is a close relationship in the US and the euro area between, on the one hand, a measure of price pressures based on survey data on manufacturing delivery times and input prices, and, on the other hand, core inflation. The recent flash purchasing managers’ indices show that price pressures may be peaking, thereby providing hope that inflation will follow in the not-too-distant future. This will focus the attention to the speed of decline in inflation. A very slow process would be highly discomforting, raising fears that ever-higher interest rates would end up causing a recession. Everybody wants slower growth to bring inflation under control, but nobody wants the growth engine to stall.
    Our different uncertainty gauges are complementary, in terms of scope and methodology. US economic policy uncertainty based on media coverage has eased slightly after a significant increase, reflecting concern about the impact of aggressive monetary policy tightening. In the US, business uncertainty about sales revenue growth has been stable but uncertainty about employment growth has rebounded somewhat, probably reflecting ongoing difficulties in filling vacancies. The European Commission’s uncertainty index, after having jumped following the war in Ukraine, has stabilised.
    Global PMI numbers point to a significant slowdown in global economic activity. The new export orders sub-index dropped to 48.1 in March, below the threshold for expansion, and was unchanged in April. More specifically, new export orders for Taiwan recorded a heavy fall (down 17.2% m/m), the biggest drop for fourteen months. Although a pullback was expected, following a strong rise in March (21.6%), the scale of the decline was surprising.
    22 May 2022
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    Uncertainty matters greatly for households and businesses when taking decisions. It can have many causes: economic, economic policy, political or even geopolitical. Survey data of the European Commission show that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a huge jump in uncertainty, followed by a gradual decline. The war in Ukraine has triggered another, albeit more limited, increase. It will be important to monitor the development of uncertainty in the coming months at the level of consumers, businesses and individual countries. In the absence of a decline, one should expect that the negative impact shows up in spending and activity data.
    China’s economic growth started to slow down in March, then activity contracted in April (industrial production: -2.9% year-on-year, services production: -6.1% y/y). This rapid deterioration has principally resulted from mobility restrictions implemented in various provinces of the country in response to the epidemic wave. Most importantly, stringent lockdowns have been imposed in some major industrial and port regions (notably Shanghai), which has dampened activity in manufacturing factories, disturbed transport of goods and leading to supply chain disruptions in many sectors. Overall, the health situation and the level of mobility restrictions in China are improving in May. Local economic activity may therefore be able to recover at least slightly.
    The Italian economy began 2022 on a wrong footing, with a 0.2% q/q contraction in real GDP in the first quarter. The country has been hit hard by the war in Ukraine and by lasting disruption in world trade. These factors are having a particularly strong effect on economies with a large industrial base, as is the case in Italy. Inflation, which was 6.3% y/y in April (down from 6.8% y/y in March), has also had a significant negative effect on household confidence. According to the European Commission, consumer confidence increased very slightly in April (the balance of opinion rose 1.9 points to -22), but March had been the worst month since January 2014.
    According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 4 million new cases were recorded around the world between 12 and 18 May, an increase of 5% on the previous week. This represents the first weekly increase since the beginning of February. Looked at on a regional level, the situation in Europe improved significantly (-20%), and that in Africa stabilised. However, case numbers continued to climb in North and South America (17%). Asia saw the first increase after two months of virtually continuous falls. Meanwhile, 66% of the world’s population has now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
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