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    31 July 2020
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    Unsurprisingly, this week’s GDP numbers for the second quarter were exceptionally bad. The third quarter should see strong quarterly growth, if only because of a powerful base effect. It also leaves room for disappointment however, should the growth momentum start to slip over the summer. In the US, this already seems to have started. In the euro area, business surveys continue to improve and the employment expectations indicator sees a marked increase. Households are not convinced however and their unemployment expectations have remained broadly stable.
    In Germany, business conditions during the past three months were in general worse than in the preceding three-month period (area within the dashed line). That is most obvious in the production-related hard data, which cover the lockdown period March-May...
    17 July 2020
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    Due to the externalities of economic activity, the lockdown has had a considerable impact, not only on the economy but also on the environment. In a post-lockdown world, the question is how and to what extent the experience of the pandemic will influence the environment in the years to come. Covid-19 may make people more health-focused, including how the environment influences one’s health. This may change behaviour in terms of mobility and spending. It may also cause an increase in the allocation to sustainable investments, which in turn could influence corporate strategies. Changes in global value chains can also have an environmental impact. For fiscal policy, there is an opportunity of meeting the short-term goal of boosting the post-pandemic recovery by making investments that contribute to reaching the goals related to climate change and the environment.
    The bank lending pulse picked up slightly in the Eurozone in May 2020 (+1.9%, after +1.5% in April and +1.7% in March) even as Eurozone GDP is expected to have entered a record-breaking decline in Q2 (-13.5% q/q vs. -3.6% q/q in Q1 2020), as national lockdown measures have a lasting impact on economic activity. Bank lending to the private sector has accelerated rapidly since March (+5.3% in May, after +4.9% in April and +5% in March) after holding at a dynamic but relatively stable annual pace since summer 2018 (+3.5% on average). Lending to non-financial companies continued to grow at a rapid pace in May (+7.4% after +5.5% in March), offsetting the slowdown in household lending (+3%, after +3.4%). Faced with plummeting sales, many companies continued to draw on approved credit lines or take out new bank loans (often benefiting from state-backed guarantees introduced in response to the coronavirus crisis) to finance current expenditures and rebuild precautionary cash balances...
    Italian economic activity started to recover in May, in line with the easing in lockdown restrictions. Our barometer should therefore steadily improved over the summer, although it remains downbeat. Real retail sales rose 25.4% m/m in May, but the 3-month moving average continued to decline, hitting a new all-time low. Industrial production followed a similar trend. The improvement in the survey data was also mixed in June. The composite purchasing managers index (PMI) rose strongly (+13.7 points), but it remains in contraction territory. The European Commission’s economic sentiment indicator (for Italy) continues to hover near the lows reported during the 2008-09 financial crisis...  
    After falling by more than 25% between March and April, UK GDP rose by 1.8% in May. While restriction measures only started to be eased in mid-June, this increase still disappointed expectations. None of the forecasters polled by Reuters was banking on such a small rise, and the consensus expected a 5.5% rebound. This is explained by the services sector’s poor performance. While the industrial production and services indices both fell by about 25% between March and April, the former rose by 6.0% in May whereas the latter ticked up by only 0.9%. It is very likely that conditions in the services sector will improve more rapidly in the coming months. After all, most non-essential shops started welcoming customers again on 15 June, and the tourism and hospitality sector reopened on 4 July...
    10 July 2020
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    The recession of 2020 is unique in nature and, in recent history, in depth. It should be followed by an equally unique recovery. The first phase should be particularly strong and driven by the easing of lockdown measures. Thereafter, growth should be essentially demand-driven. The lockdown-induced drop in demand led to forced savings. Tapping into these excess savings should provide a considerable boost to consumption. However, a significant deterioration in the employment outlook would mean that the forced savings during the lockdown would morph into precautionary savings, implying growth disappointments and a negative feedback loop.
    This week’s economic barometer for the United States integrates the first statistics for June, which are significantly better. This is notably the case for the Institute of Supply Management’s (ISM) business sentiment indexes, which rose above the 50 threshold for all sectors (retailing, construction and manufacturing) [...]  
    Like most economies, Japan was hard hit by the Covid-19 crisis in the first half of 2020. The rebound of the Japanese economy will depend notably on an upturn in private consumption, which has been in a slump since year-end 2019. Retail sales plunged sharply again in May, for the third consecutive month. Sales were down 12.3% year-on-year (y/y), after declining 13.9% in April and 4.7% in March [...]
    03 July 2020
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    The bleak outlook for the labour market implies there is a strong case for measures to boost consumer spending in order to keep the recovery on track. A host of instruments can be considered: vouchers, VAT rate cuts, income tax cuts, tax credits, negative income taxes. Amongst these, a voucher programme offers many advantages given the possibility for fine-tuning the target group, the final beneficiaries, the type of spending and the regional dimension. However, it comes with considerable administrative costs.
    Are we over the worst? In the short term, that would seem to be the message from the latest economic data for May and June at our disposal. Having hit record lows in April, activity indicators posted a rally in May, and an even steeper recovery in June. This recovery was expected, despite the public health measures still in force, given the ending of the lockdown in the eurozone member states. However, the economic activity is still weaker than in normal periods (pandemic free) [...]
    With an increasing number of countries scaling back if not removing the lockdown measures, the purchasing managers’ indices have improved further in June. The world manufacturing PMI is now even above the level reached in February. Big increases have been noted in the US, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Turkey, Indonesia and Vietnam. Brazil and India have also seen a considerable improvement, which seems at odds with the health situation in these countries [...]
    26 June 2020
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    Corporate sentiment has jumped following the easing of Covid-19 related restrictions. There is a risk of excessive enthusiasm because better business expectations do not tell us where we are in terms of the level of activity and demand. The current phase of the rebound is mechanical. It shows that the supply side starts to function again. The real question however is what happens to the demand side in the coming quarters. Companies and households are confronted with limited visibility, so caution will prevail.
    The significant shrinking of the blue area in today’s Pulse indicates that the economic climate has substantially deteriorated during the past three months because of the lockdown measures in order to stop the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there were some remarkable differences [...]
    While the economic horizon cleared up a bit in May, the improvement was much bigger in June. Given its construction, our Pulse does not yet show any traces of this rebound, which is just as remarkable as the preceding plunge [...]
    The barometer for Spain has begun to improve with the introduction of post-lockdown data, but it continues to fluctuate around historically-low averages [...]
    19 June 2020
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    Recent economic data have improved on the back of the easing of lockdowns. This may create a feeling of false comfort. The effects of the severity of the crisis will make themselves felt well into the future. A key factor is the rise in unemployment and in unemployment expectations. Both weigh on household spending, due to related income losses and increased precautionary savings. The major national central banks of the Eurosystem expect unemployment to increase in 2021, despite the economic recovery. When visibility remains limited and the pressure on profits high, many companies have no other option than to reduce their labour force
    Our barometer shows an improvement in China’s economic momentum during the period between March and May 2020, compared to the preceding three months. This came as no surprise as economic activity collapsed in February, the first month of the lockdown, before beginning a very gradual recovery in March...
    Having contracted by 5.8% in March, the UK’s GDP plummeted by more than 20% in April, with industrial production and retail sales down 24.3% and 18.7%, respectively. This is its biggest monthly fall since the data series began in 1997. However, economic growth will probably return quickly, due to the gradual easing of lockdown measures – most ‘non-essential’ shops have reopened this week – and to monetary and fiscal support...
    12 June 2020
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    One of the longer-lasting consequences of this crisis is a forced increase in corporate gearing A high level of corporate leverage can act as a drag on growth. Research shows that firms with higher leverage invest less than others. This reduces the effectiveness of monetary accommodation. Highly indebted companies may also suffer a lasting loss in competitiveness vis-à-vis their better capitalised competitors. It implies that policies aimed at recapitalising companies should have lasting favourable effects on growth.
    Industrial output and retail sales both plunged in April – by 19.1% and 10.5%, respectively on a month-on-month basis. Furthermore, the latest labour market figures show a misleadingly decline in the unemployment rate of 6.3% in April. Indeed, this was due to a record contraction in the labour force; employment also fell sharply...
    There were no exceptions. As expected, the US economic barometer, which covers all or part of the data available through May 2020, is signalling the worst recession to have hit the United States since 1946 ...
    05 June 2020
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    The publication by the ECB of different economic scenarios illustrates the extent of uncertainty which at present surrounds the forecasts for key macroeconomic variables. As a consequence, companies may hold off investing, preferring to wait for better visibility. While understandable at the micro level, such a wait-and-see attitude could act as a drag on growth and reinforce the view of companies that their caution was warranted. The large increase in the dispersion of earnings forecasts points to huge uncertainty at the individual company level. However this has not stopped the US equity market from rallying.  Although several factors help to explain these different reactions to uncertainty, such dissension cannot last forever. At some point company cautiousness or investor bullishness will have to give in.
    The gradual easing of lockdown measures has for the month of May, as expected, led to an improvement in the manufacturing PMIs in all countries with the exception of the Netherlands and Japan. The extent of the rebound however varies greatly between countries [...]
    29 May 2020
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    The European Commission is proposing a comprehensive plan to support growth and achieve the EU ambitions in terms of climate policy and digital strategy. Such an effort is necessary in order to avoid that the current crisis would increase the economic divergence between member states. Such a development would weaken the functioning of the Single Market and weigh on long-term growth. The Commission proposes a combination of grants and loans at favourable terms, funded by debt issued directly by the EU. Given the resistance of certain countries to grants, negotiations on the proposal will be tough.
    Without a doubt, the eurozone GDP will contract much more sharply in Q2 than in Q1 (-3.8% on a quarterly basis, q/q). Yet this deterioration generally seems to have been halted. After a timid upturn in the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) in May, the eurozone Economic Sentiment Index (ESI) also seems to have bottomed out. After dropping to an all-time low of 64.9 in April 2020, the ESI picked up slightly to 67.5 in May [...]
    22 May 2020
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    Across time and countries, financial crises and, more broadly, recessions and recoveries, have had much in common. Recessions predominantly impact the demand side whereas the influence on the supply side is more limited. This time is different. The pandemic-induced recession will have a longer lasting influence on the allocation of household expenditures, if not on the level of spending.  More than a normal recession, it will also have major repercussions on the supply side, through changes in global value chains, working from home or the disruption of the economics of businesses which are confronted with a forced capacity reduction on social distancing grounds.
    Economic activity contracted sharply in February, the first month of the lockdown, before rebounding very gradually in March and April. The recovery is bound to be very slow after this brutal first-quarter shock [...]
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