Perspectives

Perspectives

    Perspectives - 08 April 2020
    View document
    The American people and the US economy will no longer be spared the coronavirus pandemic, no more than any other country. Arriving belatedly on US soil and long belittled by President Trump, the virus is now spreading rampantly, to the point that WHO is now preparing to declare the United States the pandemic’s new epicentre. With its federal structure, the US has taken a scattered approach, leaving each state to decide whether or not to introduce lockdown measures. Although the White House has closed the country’s borders (to the European Union and Canada, among others), it was reluctant to restrict domestic movements of goods and people. Foreseeing recession, the markets have plunged and the central bank has launched a veritable monetary “Marshall Plan”.
    China’s population and its economy were the first to be struck by the coronavirus epidemic. Activity contracted abruptly during the month of February before rebounding thereafter at a very gradual pace. Although the situation on the supply side is expected to return to normal in Q2, the demand shock will persist. Domestic investment and consumption will suffer from the effects of lost household and corporate revenues while world demand is falling. The authorities still have substantial resources to intervene to help restart the economy. Central government finances are not threatened. However, after the shock to GDP growth, the expected upsurge in domestic debt ratios will once again aggravate vulnerabilities in the financial sector.
    The shock of the Covid-19 pandemic comes hard on the heels of a difficult second half of 2019 for the Japanese economy. Like many others, the country is exposed to the economic fallout from this crisis. Its significant economic dependence on China, for imports, exports and tourist flows, further weakens the Japanese economy. The latest economic indicators suggest that the shock will be important. Japan will thus go into recession this year. Lacking adequate room for manoeuvre on the monetary front, fiscal policy will need to provide support. To this end, the Abe government would be preparing a major stimulus package.
    The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a recession in the Eurozone that looks likely to be deep but short-lived. After a difficult year and a half on the economic front, the Eurozone was showing some resilience and was even beginning to show signs of stabilisation. The current shock – in demand, supply and uncertainty simultaneously – has completely changed the outlook. The health measures taken- which have been necessary to protect the population from the virus- have created the conditions for a recession. Monetary and fiscal policymakers have reacted swiftly and, so far, proportionately. However, the profile of the economic recovery remains unclear and will be crucial in assessing the damage ultimately caused by the pandemic.
    The German economy has come to a standstill because of the almost complete lockdown. To fight the economic consequences, the government launched a massive stimulus plan to increase spending in the health sector, protect jobs and support businesses. Nevertheless, production losses may reach dimensions that are well beyond growth falls in previous recessions. In the worst scenario of a three-month lockdown, GDP growth could lose around 20 percentage points and 6 million people may have to join the short-time work scheme.
    Clearly, 2020 will not be another year of slow but resilient growth as we were forecasting just last quarter. We must now expect a massive recessionary shock triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. To date, the INSEE estimates the instantaneous loss of economic activity linked directly to confinement measures at 35%, which is equivalent to slashing off 3 points of annual GDP per month of confinement. In March, the business climate was in free fall, which gives us a first glimpse of its scope. A full arsenal of measures have been deployed to mitigate the shock as best possible. According to our estimates, French GDP could contract by 3.1% in 2020, more than the 2.8% decline reported in 2009, before rebounding by 5.4% in 2021. These forecasts are highly uncertain, with risks on the downside.
    The outbreak of Covid-19 hit Italy while the economy was already contracting. The exceptional growth of infected people has brought the Italian Government to take harsh measures, that include stopping all economic activities, excluding those considered as necessary, and imposing a quarantine for the entire population. The combination of an induced supply and demand shocks is going to cause a recession, which is expected to be deep and to last at least until June. In 2020 as a whole, despite the strong support coming from fiscal and monetary policy, the Italian economy should decline by some percentage points.   
    Spain is Europe’s second hardest-hit country by the coronavirus pandemic, and is likely to suffer a sharp economic contraction this year. The economic impact remains hard to quantify. GDP is nonetheless likely to fall by more than 3% in 2020, before a recovery in 2021. The structure of the Spanish economy – turned heavily towards services and with a high proportion of SMEs – suggests that the economic shock could be greater than in other industrialised countries. Endemic unemployment could intensify, leaving a lasting mark on growth over the medium term. However, the improvement in public finances before the virus outbreak and a more stable political situation gives the government some leeway to face the crisis.
    As the country went into a selected lockdown, business confidence plummeted. To limit the economic fallout, the government announced a comprehensive package to protect jobs and businesses, its favourable budgetary position giving it sufficient firing power. Nevertheless, each month of lockdown may reduce output growth by around 2 percentage points. In the case of a rapid recovery, the GDP shrinkage could be limited to around 3.5% in 2020.
    Due to the Covid-19 virus our growth outlook declines by 5 percentage points to -3.5% for the whole of 2020, despite government measures to attenuate the impact of the epidemic. We see strong hits across almost all sectors, most notably construction and real estate related activities. Prime Minister Wilmés was empowered by a “corona coalition”, which provides a welcome if only temporary breather from government formation talks. The government so far managed this crisis in decisive fashion but eventually the bill will have to be footed.
    After what proved to be a rather mild slowdown, Portugal’s GDP growth ended up in the upper range of expectations at 2.2% in 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic will surely erase the country’s enviable performances as whole segments of the economy come to a standstill and the country sinks into a major recession in the weeks ahead. Similarly to its European counterparts, the Costa government is steadily implementing a series of measures to preserve the economic system during the crisis and safeguard the country’s capacity to recover.
    After the economic slowdown was confirmed in 2019, the global shock of the coronavirus pandemic will probably drive Sweden into recession in 2020. The evaporation of global demand, notably from the European Union and China, will trigger a drop-off in exports, and production channels will temporarily freeze up. Investment and consumption will both be hit. The central bank has adopted unprecedented support measures while the government is devoting its financial manoeuvring room to funding a fiscal stimulus policy that supports jobs and businesses.
    With the coronavirus epidemic and its impact on oil prices, which are plummeting, the Norwegian economy is heading for a contraction in 2020. Exports, which account for 41% of GDP, are likely to be hit first. Norway’s central bank cut its key rate to nearly zero and has considerably increased NOK and USD lending, injecting liquidity into the economy while supporting the currency. The government has introduced fiscal measures to buffer the shock for companies and households.
    The Coronavirus epidemic is also sweeping Denmark, which has now introduced relatively strict lockdown measures. With its very open economy (exports account for more than 50% of GDP), GDP growth will contract in 2020. To mitigate the shock, the government has launched major fiscal support measures, comprised notably of paying compensation for all or part of wages for a 3-month period. The central bank is ensuring DKK and EUR liquidity, after signing a swap arrangement with the ECB.
    Economic activity will plummet under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but not only via the export channel. The recession could become more virulent if household consumption and production channels were also to freeze up. In addition to the ECB’s monetary policy support, the government will also try to use fiscal policy to buffer the shock and limit the decline in employment.
    Now a global phenomenon, the Covid-19 pandemic reached the United Kingdom relatively late and did not give rise to immediate protective measures. Having initially opted for a ‘herd immunity’ strategy, Boris Johnson’s government finally decided, on 24 March, to introduce a national lockdown. As in Italy, France and indeed generally across continental Europe, people’s movements and interactions are now limited in the UK. The disease, meanwhile, has spread rapidly, on a trajectory similar to that seen in the worst affected countries. Faced with the health and economic threats created by the pandemic, the government and the monetary policy authorities have introduced an exceptional package of support.
    The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a sudden stop in an increasing number of countries. This in turn had led to international spillovers via a decline in foreign trade and an increase in investor risk aversion triggering a global rush for dollar liquidity and a surge in capital outflows from developing economies. A forceful reaction has followed in major economies in terms of monetary and fiscal policy in an effort to attenuate the impact of the pandemic. The near-term dynamics of demand and activity will entirely depend on the length and severity of the lockdown. Once the lockdown has ended, the recovery is likely to be gradual and uneven and policy will have to shift from pandemic relief to growth-boosting measures, thereby putting additional pressure on public finances.  
    Perspectives - 24 January 2020
    View document
    In recent months, the global manufacturing cycle has been bottoming out whereas in services a slight uptick has been noted. In addition, two major sources of uncertainty have seen a positive development: the US and China signed a trade deal and the UK and the European Union can at last start negotiations about their future relationship. Very accommodative central bank policy has contributed to buoyant market sentiment. The combination of these three factors - stabilisation of business sentiment, decline in uncertainty, supportive financial environment - implies conditions are met to see some uptick in growth. Nevertheless, caution prevails in this assessment, if only because later on this year, uncertainty may very well increase again.
    The dichotomy between economic and market trends has widened, in a context of accommodating monetary policy and rising corporate debt. Risks taken by institutional investors (pension and investment funds, life assurance companies) have increased, as has the vulnerability to any adverse shocks or changes in expectations. 2020 – an election year – is unlikely to bring calm. Welcome as it is, the truce in the trade war with China takes in the bulk of existing tariff increases, without producing any fundamental changes in the position of the US administration and its limited appetite for multilateralism.
    In 2019, economic growth slowed to 6.1%. Total exports contracted and domestic demand continued to weaken. The year 2020 is getting off to a better start as activity shows a few signs of recovering and a preliminary trade agreement was just signed with the United States. Yet economic growth prospects are still looking downbeat in 2020. The rebalancing of China’s growth sources is proving to be a long and hard process, and economic policy is increasingly complex to manage. Faced with this situation, Beijing might decide to give new impetus to the structural reform process, the only solution that will maintain the newfound optimism and boost economic prospects in the medium term.
    In December 2019, the Japanese authorities decided to launch a major fiscal stimulus for the years ahead. A large part of the programme will target disaster prevention after the country was hit by a series of natural disasters recently. The stimulus will also limit the negative impact of last October’s VAT hike, which probably strained private consumption in the year-end period. Buoyed in part by early purchases ahead of the VAT hike, household spending continued at a dynamic pace in Q2 and Q3 2019. The export sector, in contrast, was hard hit by the sluggish global environment. In 2020, public investment is expected to partially offset weak private consumption.
    Will the year 2020 be marked by a rebound in eurozone economic growth? More favourable signs seem to be emerging, although they have yet to show up clearly in hard data. In any case, eurozone growth is bound to remain low. In this environment, inflationary pressures will probably fall short of the central bank’s target. Beyond that, the ECB Governing Council will be tackling new issues in 2020. Christine Lagarde announced a strategic review for the Frankfurt-based monetary institution. On the agenda: cryptocurrencies, climate change, technological progress, and inequalities.
    Economic activity increased by only 0.6% in 2019, as the decline in manufacturing production was offset by increased activity in more domestically oriented sectors. In the coming two years, the economy will be supported by more accommodative fiscal policies. From Q2 2020, the pick-up in exports related to the partial lifting of uncertainties may more than compensate for easing consumption growth. Nevertheless, GDP growth is expected to remain below potential. The possible departure of the SPD from the ruling coalition forms a major political risk.
    The year 2020 is expected to follow along similar lines as in 2019, a mixed performance marked by slow but resilient growth bolstered by the strength of final domestic demand. The economy is expected to keep running at about the same rate (1.1% after 1.3%). The rebound in household consumption should gather steam, fuelled by major purchasing power gains. The dynamic pace of investment, which looks hard to sustain, is expected to slow, while sluggish global demand will continue to curb exports. The intensity of several external downside risks declined in Q1 2020, including trade tensions, Brexit, and fears of a recession in the US and Germany. On the domestic front, upside risks continue to stem from supportive economic policies while the tense social climate constitutes a risk on the downside.
    Italy continues to record a cycle of subdued activity, with the annual growth rate of real GDP slightly above zero, as a result of the feeble growth in services, the modest recovery in construction and the persisting contraction in the industrial sector. From Q1 2018 to Q3 2019, manufacturing production has fallen by more than 3%, with the strongest declines in the sector of means of transport, in that of metal products and in that of textile, clothes and leather items. Together with the short term slow down, Italy is going to face long term challenges due to the ageing population and its impact on the labour force and the pension spending.
    Although Spanish growth remains solid, it is by no means sheltered from the European slowdown. In 2020, growth is expected to continue slowing to about 1.7%, after reaching 2% in 2019. The slowdown is also beginning to have an impact on the labour market. From a political perspective, Pedro Sanchez was the winner of November’s legislative election, although he failed to strengthen the Socialist party’s position. He was invested as a prime minister in early January by Parliament and he will lead a minority coalition government alongside the extreme left Podemos. The coalition will depend on the implicit support of some regional and nationalist parties, notably the pro-independence Catalan ERC party.
    Economic activity may have substantially weakened in Q4, due to the slowdown in world trade and the nitrogen and PFAS problems. Fiscal policy should become very accommodative, although it remains doubtful if the government will succeed in implementing all the spending plans. Growth is likely to slow this year, before picking up in 2021 on the back of a stronger global economy. However, climate challenges and labour shortages continue to weigh on activity in particular in construction. Moreover, pensioners may face severe cuts because of the deteriorated financial situation of the pension funds.
    Belgian GDP growth is expected to drop to 0.8% in 2020, down from 1.3% in 2019. Domestic demand remains the key engine of growth, partially offset by a negative contribution from net trade. Private consumption growth is reduced as employment increases now at a slower pace, after 4 strong years. Investment growth is up, spurred on by public expenditures. The lack of a majority-backed government contributed to renewed fiscal slippage, which remains a key risk for the Belgian economy.
    Supported by catching-up effects, the Greek economy managed to accelerate slightly despite a slowing European environment. Confidence indices have improved strongly and the Greek state has successfully returned to the capital markets. The new centre-right government is seeking to cut taxes on labour and capital without sacrificing fiscal discipline. The recovery will be a long process, but it is on track.
    On 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom will officially leave the European Union and all of its constituent institutions. Brexit will therefore happen in law if not in fact, as, during a so-called ‘transition’ period set to end on 31 December 2020, the British economy will remain a full part of the single market and the European customs union. Goods, services and capital will continue to move freely into and out of the EU, which will continue to have legal and regulatory authority. True separation will only come at the end of this period, once the framework of the future relationship has been settled. As has been the case for some time now, this final step does not look easy to achieve.
    GDP growth slowed sharply in 2019, and this trend is expected to be confirmed in 2020. Uncertainty surrounding the business climate and international trade are straining exports and investment. Consumption is barely rising and is unlikely to revitalize growth. Despite this environment, and with inflation near the central bank’s 2% target rate, the Riksbank opted to raise its key policy rate from -0.25% to 0%. Even so, monetary policy is still accommodating.
    In a less buoyant international environment, Denmark’s small open economy managed to maintain a rather dynamic pace. Thanks to its sector specialisation (pharmaceuticals, digital, etc.), the economy has been fairly resilient despite the downturn in the global manufacturing cycle. A labour market verging on full employment and accelerating wage growth have bolstered consumption, which is still one of the main growth engines. With the Danish krone (DKK) pegged to the euro, the central bank’s monetary policy will follow in line with ECB trends, and is bound to remain very accommodating. Fiscal policy will be geared towards the ecological targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the Same Theme

An economic rebound accompanied by an alarming resurgence of Covid-19 7/8/2020
With 50,000 new cases reported daily – twice as many as at the beginning of June – and the number of hospitalisations on the rise, the Covid-19 pandemic is in the midst of an alarming resurgence in the United States. Granted the number of cases increases with the increase in testing, but this alone is not a sufficient explanation. The government’s response to the crisis is also to blame. In the European Union, where lockdown restrictions and business closures were implemented earlier and more systematically than in the United States, the situation seems to be better under control. Estimates of economic losses must be approached cautiously. The economy is rebounding on both sides of the Atlantic after reporting historically big contractions of about 10% in the second quarter. The business climate is also improving. But then what? Like the epidemic curves, growth trajectories could diverge and become more difficult to extrapolate.
US banks: leverage ratios under pressure 6/30/2020
The exceptional measures taken by the US authorities to bolster the liquidity of companies and markets in response to the Covid-19 crisis have resulted in a significant expansion of bank balance sheets. Since the financial crisis of 2007-2008, regulators have tightened balance sheet constraints significantly. Fearing that leverage requirements could damage banks’ ability to finance the economy and support the smooth functioning of financial markets, these have temporarily been relaxed. However, the Federal Reserve is unlikely to undergo a slimming regime that will scale back bank balance sheets for a number of years (and almost certainly not before the end of the period of relaxation of requirements). As a result, we cannot rule out the possibility that the leverage ratio constraint will return as quickly as it was removed.
Granting of government-backed loans is winding down 6/24/2020
In response to the crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, in April the US Congress set up the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a small business lending programme guaranteed by the Federal government with an overall budget of nearly USD 650 billion. Under certain conditions, the loans can be converted into subsidies within the limit of payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities paid during the 24 weeks after the loan was granted. The loans will be partially or completely forgiven on condition that employment and wages are maintained by the end of the year. At 22 June, 4.6 million SME had borrowed more than USD 515 billion under the programme, virtually all of which was borrowed as early as mid-May. Although drawing on confirmed credit lines stimulated the growth of bank loans through mid-April, since then the PPP programme has helped offset the contraction in commercial and industrial loans as well as consumer loans outstanding.
Widespread decline 6/12/2020
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 ...
The COVID-19 pandemic and the US equity market 5/18/2020
Fed Chair Powell’s comment about what would happen in case of a prolonged recession has weighed heavily on equity markets. Historically, recessions are accompanied by major equity market drawdowns. The year-to-date decline is more limited, which stands in stark contrast with the plunge of activity. Massive monetary and fiscal policy support  has led to a reassessment of the distribution of risks, which goes a long way in explaining the rebound of equity markets. The focus is now shifting to the outlook for corporate earnings, hence the importance of the debate on the shape of the recovery.
Accelerated fall 5/18/2020
In the USA, as elsewhere, the paralysis of activity caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the production of statistics, which have become harder to interpret. The rebound in hourly wages in April indicated by the “pulse” is a false signal and should be treated with caution: it can be explained by the collapse in hours worked, against which wages always show a certain inertia. Not only is the information gathered from companies incomplete, but there may well have been a lag between the shutdown of businesses and the stopping of wages [...]
The Fed: the global lender of last resort 4/30/2020
Pressure on dollar liquidity created an urgent need for action from the US Federal Reserve (the Fed). Assuming its role as the global lender of last resort - the consequence of its position as the issuer of the international trade and reserve currency - the Fed reactivated the permanent or temporary swap agreements that it established with 14 other central banks in 2008. In order to extend the reach of its dollar supply, the Fed has also created a repo facility for the central banks of countries that do not have dollar swap agreements. The high fees charged, however, will limit take-up, depriving the markets of what could be a significant calming influence.
The first effects of monetary policy measures on bank balance sheets 4/22/2020
The measures taken by the US Federal Reserve (Fed) since 15 March have already had a major impact on the balance sheets of commercial banks resident in the United States*. Their reserves held at the Central Bank have considerably increased following their role as intermediaries for the Fed’s securities purchases, emergency loans and liquidity swaps. As in 2008-2014, the Fed’s quantitative easing policy has also created a disconnect between growth in loans and growth in deposits on banks’ balance sheets. Since most of the Fed’s securities purchases have been from non-bank agents, customer deposits have grown more quickly than loans. Finally, as in 2008, a large proportion of dollar liquidity lent by the Fed to foreign central banks, then distributed to non-resident banks, has eventually been re-lent to resident banks, as shown by the increase in their net debts to affiliated entities located abroad (parent companies, subsidiaries or branches). * US banks and the US subsidiaries and branches of foreign banks.  
Signs of slumping 4/10/2020
Americans and the US economy, like many other countries, will pay a heavy price for the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the virus seemed to be slowing for a moment, it was spreading rapidly again as we went to press, with more than 30,000 new cases reported daily. The economy is beginning to show signs of slumping...
The liquidity positions of major US banks have not improved 3/11/2020
In the end, the US Federal Reserve (Fed) did not wait for the next corporation tax payment deadline in April before intervening in the money market. In an attempt to stave off the risk of pressures on the market as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, it increased the scale of its repo transactions on Monday 9 March. At the end of last week, demand for cash from primary dealers far outstripped what the Fed was offering. Although the Fed has injected nearly USD 480 billion in additional central bank money since mid-September, the liquidity position (immediately available cash) at major US banks has not improved. On the one hand, bank reserves with the Fed have increased by only USD 280 billion, due to the growth in the Treasury’s general account. On the other hand, the major banks have absorbed a large part of the collateral issued, either through outright purchases or indirectly through the forced retention of securities by their primary dealers.  

ABOUT US Three teams of economists (OECD countries research, emerging economies and country risk, banking economics) make up BNP Paribas Economic Research Department.
This website presents their analyses.
The website contains 2458 articles and 632 videos