Perspectives

Perspectives

    Perspectives - 09 April 2021
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    In many countries the number of new Covid-19 cases has begun rising again, forcing governments to maintain or tighten health restrictions. This is the case for the Eurozone, among others, where a true rebound in growth and demand has been postponed yet again. The timing of the recovery will depend essentially on the effectiveness of restrictive measures and the acceleration of vaccination campaigns, but also on spillovers effects with some of its trading partners whose economies are picking up more rapidly. The United States is one such country thanks to its successful vaccination campaign and the enormous recovery plan that has just been launched. America’s influence is not limited to providing greater opportunities for European exporters. The upturn in US bond yields has partially carried over to long-term rates in the Eurozone, pushing them higher. This trend largely reflects higher inflation expectations, although the Federal Reserve is convinced that the surge in inflation will be short-lived. Companies and households should welcome the bond markets’ jitters, which clearly signal the sentiment that the economy really is improving. 
    The US economy has taken off. Bolstered by the easing of the Covid-19 pandemic as much as by unprecedented fiscal support, GDP will soar by at least 6% in 2021, surpassing the pre-crisis level of 2019. Inflation will accelerate and temporarily overshoot the Federal Reserve’s 2% target. Nonetheless, the central bank will not deviate from its accommodating stance. The Fed’s top priority is  employment, which continues to bear the scars of the crisis and has a long way to go before making up for all of the lost ground. As a result, monetary conditions will remain accommodating, both for the economy and the markets, even at the risk of encouraging some excessive behaviour.
    At the end of the annual “Two Sessions”, China’s major political event, Beijing announced its economic targets for 2021 as well as the priorities of its new five-year plan. By setting this year’s real GDP growth target at simply “more than 6%”, which is lower than forecasts, the authorities are signalling that the economic recovery following the Covid-19 crisis is no longer the main focus of concern. In the short term, they will continue to cautiously tighten monetary policy and gradually scale back fiscal support measures. Above all, the authorities have affirmed their medium-term development strategy, which aims to boost innovation and drastically expand China’s technological independence.
    As in other countries the world round, Japan reported a record-breaking recession in 2020 and the lack of consumer confidence, stifling domestic demand, could slow the dynamics of its economic recovery. Japan’s vaccination campaign has been relatively slow, notably compared to the United States, but the country was not hit as hard by the pandemic as other countries. Faced with expectations of sluggish demand, Japanese companies will continue to be reticent about making investment decisions. This outlook could undermine Japan’s already weakened growth potential. Tighter financing conditions would be especially harmful, and the Bank of Japan will remain vigilant in the current environment of rising interest rates.
    The pandemic continues to spread rapidly within the Eurozone member states, and many uncertainties remain. Yet the most recent economic data are encouraging. Far from claiming victory, these signals nonetheless raise expectations of an accelerated economic recovery as of H2 2021. The greatest hope lies in the successful rollout of vaccination campaigns among national populations. The authorities will remain at the bedside of an ailing Eurozone economy, ready to help through public policies while trying to avoid any tightening moves that might hamper the recovery process. In terms of monetary policy, for example, Christine Lagarde announced that the ECB would step up the pace of securities purchases, which means that financing conditions are being closely monitored.
    After a difficult start of the year, business cycle indicators improved markedly in March on the hope that the worst of the Covid-19 crisis is behind us. GDP is projected to reach the pre-Covid-19 level by the end of 2022. Many of the government support measures will remain in place this year. Fiscal policy for 2022 will depend on the outcome of the general election in September. After a significant weakening of the Christian-Democrats in the polls, a coalition between Greens, social-democrats, and liberals cannot be excluded. The business sector has been severely weakened during the crisis, but this is unlikely to have long-term consequences.
    Contrary to what we were led to expect in late 2020, the discovery of vaccines did not end the stop-and-go nature of the recovery. In early 2021, due to the emergence of variants and the slow pace of the vaccination campaign, the exit from the crisis continues to follow a jagged trajectory. The light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be getting closer (Q4 2020 GDP did not decline as sharply as feared; a technical recession was apparently avoided in Q1 2021, with feeble but positive growth) but now it is fading again (the rebound has been pushed back until Q3, with Q2 growth verging on zero, and it could even slip into negative territory). The strong upturn in March confidence surveys is good but fleeting news, because it does not integrate the recent series of tightening of lockdown measures. We should expect a relapse in April before a turnaround in May, which we hope will be sustainable this time, thanks to the acceleration of vaccinations and support from the policy mix. The expected rebound in H2 would lift growth to an average annual rate of 6.1% in 2021, followed by 4.4% in 2022.
    In 2020, real GDP fell by 8.9%, with almost 2.5 million of full-time equivalent jobs lost. The decline in consumption was the main driver of the recession, accounting for three fourths of the economic downturn. Stagnating incomes and the lack of confidence increased households’ propensity to save. The services sector was the most severely affected by the crisis, with value added declining by 8.1%, while manufacturing benefitted from the moderate recovery of exports. The problems raised by the pandemic combined with -and worsened- structural issues that had been slowing down the country’s economic growth up to now. In the years to come it will be hard to implement a solid growth pattern without decisive interventions that would foster innovation and productivity.
    Economic growth remains extremely fragile in early 2021. In addition to the Covid-19 pandemic, Spain was hit by Storm Filomena in early January, which has had a direct negative impact, notably on consumption: both automobile and retail sales plummeted this winter. We now expect GDP growth to be flat in Q1. Even so, the economy could rebound strongly either this spring or more certainly by summer, although we cannot completely rule out the downside risks associated with the UK variant and a possible fourth wave of the coronavirus in Spain. We are forecasting real GDP growth of 5.9% in 2021 and 5.6% in 2022, following a record contraction of 10.8% in 2020.
    Thanks to healthy government finances and a light lockdown strategy, the Netherlands weathered the crisis better than the surrounding countries. Nevertheless, the economy was in a mild recession in Q1 2021. Economic sentiment indicators point to rapid recovery in the second half of the year. Despite the clear victory of the outgoing government at the general election in March, the formation of a new coalition is in turmoil. Doubt has increased whether Mark Rutte can lead his fourth government in succession. The main task of the coalition is to put a recovery programme on the rails.
    The Belgian economy shrunk by 6.3% in 2020. This amounts to the biggest post-war decline on record. A better-than-expected fourth quarter pushed the final numbers up somewhat and will have a positive effect on the yearly growth rate for the whole of 2021, which we see at 3.7%. Consumption suffered during the second lockdown at year’s end and is expected to dip again in April, as the government reinstated shopping on appointment only and instructed schools to extend the Easter holiday break. Unemployment increased significantly but less than was feared and the long-anticipated wave of bankruptcies hasn’t quite materialised so far. Tough choices lie ahead for the multi-party government, which should also focus on reining in its budget deficit in the years to come.
    Portugal was one of the European countries hit hardest by the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic this winter. The government reinstated a “strict” lockdown that drastically reduced the spread of the virus. A very gradual reopening plan was launched on 15 March and will end on 3 May. Hopes for a solid economic recovery hinge on the vaccination campaign currently underway, but like elsewhere in the European Union, it is progressing at a slow pace. The success of the UK vaccination programme nonetheless raises promising prospects for the recovery of Portugal’s tourism sector, which is highly dependent on British tourists. Real GDP could rebound by as much as 5-5.5% in 2021, after contracting by 7.6% in 2020.
    Gambling has risks, but sometimes you win big. No stranger to risky gambles (Brexit, herd immunity to Covid-19…) the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, can now claim that one of his wagers – betting early and big on vaccines – has allowed his country to be amongst the first to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Having been in strict lockdown since the beginning of the year, and whilst also suffering from a collapse in trade with the European Union, the economy now seems to have touched bottom; economic surveys and mobility reports promise better days ahead. Both fiscal and monetary policy will help support the recovery, before thoughts move to addressing the deficit, with the first turn of the screw expected in 2023.
    After a second, particularly long and severe wave of Covid 19 in late 2020, Sweden has been dealing with a third wave of the pandemic since mid-February. Although the vaccination campaign is unfolding satisfactorily, the resurgence of the pandemic risks pushing back the expected profile of the recovery. Monetary and fiscal policy will remain accommodating as long as necessary.
    With relatively few deaths and only a mild decline in GDP in 2020, Denmark has been fairly resilient in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. To counter a second wave of the virus, more restrictive health measures had to be introduced in early 2021, which will push back the timing of the recovery, albeit without jeopardising it. With its vaccination campaign unfolding smoothly and the extension of fiscal support measures, the country is well positioned to exit the crisis. To better control the krone’s peg to the euro, Denmark’s central bank has made major adjustments to its monetary policy.
    Perspectives - 17 December 2020
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    Until the very end, 2020 has been a difficult year, to say the least. However, there are reasons to be cautiously hopeful about the economy in 2021. Vaccination should reduce the uncertainty about the economic outlook. Ongoing fiscal and monetary support is also important. However, more than ever, caution is necessary in making forecasts. Reaching herd immunity may take longer than expected and some of the economic consequences of the pandemic may only manifest themselves over time.
    The 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden, will face a difficult mandate. At the time of his inauguration on 20 January 2021, he will inherit a sluggish economy, as the Covid-19 pandemic continued to worsen with a human toll of tragic proportions. Looking beyond the health crisis, the new Democratic administration will have to act on political and social stages that have never seemed so antagonistic at the dawn of a new decade. With his reputation as a man of dialogue, Joe Biden will need all of his long political experience and skills in the art of compromise to try to heal America’s divisions.
    Economic activity has rebounded rapidly since March and has gradually spread from industry to services. Infrastructure and real estate projects continue to drive investment, but it has also begun to strengthen in the manufacturing sector as well, encouraged by solid export performance. Lastly, private consumption is still lagging, but yet has picked up vigorously since the summer. Whereas fiscal policy should continue to be growth-supportive in the short term, the monetary authorities are expected to adjust their priorities and return their focus on controlling financial risks. Credit conditions should be tightened slowly, especially via the introduction of new prudential rules. Corporate defaults are likely to increase alongside efforts to clean up the financial sector.
    As in other economies across the globe, Japan will report a record-breaking recession in 2020. The path to a full economic recovery will be probably longer because growth would remain very subdued. According to our forecast, Japanese GDP will not return to pre-crisis levels before the end of 2022. Domestic demand remains sluggish due to corporate investment, although household consumption seems to be picking up again. For the moment, Japanese exports are benefiting from China’s robust economic rebound. Fiscal policy, the front line of defence, will continue to receive support from the Bank of Japan’s monetary policy. There are also talks of a new fiscal package.
    The resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic halted the Eurozone’s economic recovery. It looks like year-end 2020 will be harder than expected due to new social distancing measures and lockdown restrictions set up in most of the member states. Industrial output remains low compared to pre-crisis levels and companies in the tradeable services sector continue to be at the forefront of restrictions. As to the first half of 2021, uncertainty is still high. Faced with this environment, the European Central Bank (ECB) is expected to announce new monetary stimulus measures following its 10 December meeting as fiscal support measures are gradually reduced.
    The second lockdown interrupted an already stalling recovery. However, the business climate is likely to improve soon on the expectation that several vaccines might soon be available. Inflation is currently in negative territory because of the VAT cut, but will soon turn positive again once the measure expires on 1 January 2021. Because of the second lockdown, the 2021 budget will show a larger deficit than assumed in September, EUR180 bn or 5.2% of GDP. In Q2, the household savings rate rose to 20.1%, a new historical high. Once the pandemic is over, the savings rate could drop considerably if consumers catch up on postponed purchases. 
    The huge recessionary shock in H1 was followed by an equally spectacular rebound of economic activity in Q3, with an 18.7% jump in real GDP, although it will remain short-lived. The recovery has turned out to be W-shaped: GDP is expected to fall again in Q4 because of lockdown measures reintroduced on 30 October to tackle the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic. However, the second V should be less pronounced than the first: the decline should be smaller because the lockdown measures are less stringent, and the rebound should also be smaller because restrictions will remain in place and the economy is weakened. There is still a long way to go, but the arrival of vaccines means that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The first positive effects of the France Relance plan should also underpin growth, possibly taking GDP back to its pre-crisis level in 2022.
    Following an impressive decline in the first half of 2020, the Italian economy rebounded over the summer. Value added rose strongly in construction and manufacturing, while the recovery in the services sector was less substantial. Favourable indications also come from house prices invalidating the darkest scenario depicted at the beginning of the pandemic. To contain the second wave of infections, the Italian Government has taken restrictive measures, with negative effects on activity. The economy is expected to decline in Q4 again. This contraction should be less significant than in the first half of the year, with only a moderate impact on 2020 growth, while the carry- over in 2021 should be more sizeable.
    Forecasts made at the start of the year will probably turn out to be accurate. Spain is set to be the Eurozone’s economy hardest hit by the Covid-19 epidemic. We forecast GDP to shrink by 11.8% in 2020 before rebounding by 7.0% in 2021. The social situation has worsened again this year, forcing the government to introduce new large-scale welfare benefits (e.g. minimum living income), which will be reinforced in 2021. Spain’s huge €140 billion stimulus plan will support the recovery, should raise the country’s potential growth and create jobs. But the structural budget deficit is widening. Once the Covid-19 crisis is over and the recovery underway, Brussels will intensify the pressure on the Government to speed up certain key reforms, and in particular regarding the country’s pension system.
    We expect the Belgian economy to lose 7.2% of its size this year, followed by a 3.8% increase next year. After a strong recovery in the third quarter, private consumption is expected to decline again at the end of this year, but not as much as during the first lockdown. So far, structural damages seem to have been mainly avoided, with bankruptcies close to their normal level and unemployment rates stable since the beginning of the year. Government support measures have no doubt played a crucial role in this but once these measures are discontinued, some long term scarring will take place.
    The government decreed a second lockdown in November due to the rapid rise in Covid-19 infections. Business indicators point to a fall in activity. Thanks to the short-time work scheme, unemployment has only risen moderately. Moreover, inflation has remained at a relative high level compared to other eurozone countries. In 2021, fiscal policy remains very accommodative and the deficit might only shrink to 6.3% of GDP. The economy is projected to rebound by 3.5% in 2021 compared with a slump in 2020 (-7.5%). A major downside risk is the increased indebtedness of the non-financial corporate sector. 
    In Q2 2020, Finland stood out from the rest of Europe as the country that reported the smallest decline in GDP – “only” –4.4%. Yet the ensuing recovery was less vigorous than for its EU neighbours, and Finland will surely continue to underperform in the months ahead. Even so, the Finnish economy is still one of the most resilient in Europe, thanks notably to the relatively feeble spread of the virus and robust support from the fiscal and monetary authorities.
    Greece’s economic recovery will be fraught with uncertainty in 2021. The Covid-19 hit to activity could last longer in the tourism industry – a key sector for the country – than in other sectors. The decline in tourist inflows in summer 2020 has limited significantly the rebound in Q3 GDP, which was much weaker than in other European countries. Some confidence indicators, particularly regarding the unemployment outlook, have worsened during the autumn. The conservative government plans to use the large amounts of money allocated by the European recovery fund to finance its stimulus plan, details of which will be finalised early next year. Despite that, public debt is likely to remain above 200% of GDP by the end of 2021, which is very worrying from a long-run perspective.
    The record fall in UK GDP in the second quarter gave way to unprecedented growth in the third, and the news that an effective vaccine against Covid-19 will soon be widely available suggests that the economy could start its definitive recovery in 2021. However, the UK is not out of the woods yet. Given that a second national lockdown was introduced in England in November, there is little doubt that economic activity will drop again in the fourth quarter. Moreover, the strength of the recovery is, because of Brexit, more uncertain than elsewhere. This not only because of the UK’s decision to leave the EU’s single market and customs union, but also due to continued uncertainty over whether a free-trade agreement will be found. 
    Since March 2020, Sweden has adopted a more relaxed approach to the COVID19 outbreak as no lockdown has been imposed to the population. However, the recent pick up in new infections could slow the recovery down in Q4 2020. Pervasive uncertainty will continue to hamper exports and corporate investment, while household consumption is fuelling the economic recovery. In 2021, the Riksbank will maintain and expand its vast asset purchasing programme. New expansionist measures are expected to bolster an already accommodating fiscal policy. 
    Norway was not hit as hard by the Covid-19 pandemic as most its European neighbours. Moreover, the economy has been able to count on considerable support from the fiscal and monetary authorities. In its draft budget for 2021, presented in October, the government has pledged to maintain an expansionist policy, even if spending will logically not be as high as in 2020. What’s more, faced with an upturn in Covid-19 cases and tighter restriction measures, the central bank has adopted a more conciliatory tone. 
    The Danish economy has quickly rebounded after the reopening of the borders but a complete catch-up will take time since the resurgence of the Coronavirus epidemic keeps the country’s economic situation uncertain. Services exports were hard hit by the crisis in 2020, but are offset by a surge in Danish household consumption, supported by government measures. Fiscal policy should remain accommodative in 2021 and the Central Bank of Denmark will continue to defend its peg with the euro.

On the Same Theme

Serendipity lost? Working from home and innovation 5/17/2021
Working from home is expected to have a positive impact on the level of productivity but will it also influence its growth rate? The answer largely depends on what happens to innovation. Interaction between people is key for idea generation and the exchange of information. Formal interaction can be easily organized using a variety of software applications but informal interaction is a bigger challenge. To make sure that serendipity within and amongst teams – given its importance for a culture of innovation – is maintained, a combination of working from home and onsite seems to be recommended. 
Covid-19 : Fall in number of new cases worldwide 5/17/2021
According to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University, 5.5 million new Covid-19 cases were recorded around the world in the week of 4-10 May, a 12.5% drop from the previous week. This fall was seen in Europe (-16.5%), Asia (excluding India, -14.5%) and the Americas (-6.3%).
PMI:Rising price pressures 5/10/2021
Sentiment in the manufacturing sector improved further at the global level, driven by better numbers in the majority of advanced economies – where very high levels have been reached – whereas the picture is mixed in emerging countries. Nevertheless, in this part of the world as well, the PMIs are above the 50.0 mark, with the exception of Mexico.
Covid-19: India reaches more than 20 million cases 5/10/2021
The situation in India continues to deteriorate with 382,146 new Covid-19 cases reported on 4 May alone, which has lifted the total to more than 20 million cases since the beginning of the pandemic. In Asia (excluding India), Europe and the Americas, the number of new cases continues to decline.
Working from home and labour productivity 5/3/2021
One of the lasting consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic will be the way we work with more time spent on working from home compared to the pre-pandemic situation. Clearly, the possibility to do so depends to a large extent on the industry, the nature of the job but also the country. These developments would have profound implications on where people decide to live, the role of cities, the need for office space, the use of means of transport, the needs in terms of IT infrastructure (high-speed internet), etc. A priori, one would expect a positive impact on productivity, in particular due to increased worker satisfaction and efficiency. Based on recent surveys, that is also what companies seem to expect. However, empirical research shows that the impact on productivity largely depends on factors such as the IT infrastructure, employee preferences and the way it is introduced and accompanied by company management.
Record new infection numbers globally 5/3/2021
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to set records, with 825,721 new infections recorded on 28 April alone. Much of this surge has occurred in India, where there were 349,378 new cases, or 42% of the global total, whilst in the rest of Asia, Europe and the Americas we have seen a fall in the number of new cases over the past few days.
Retail and leisure footfall is improving 4/26/2021
In the retail and leisure sectors, which are still hit by health restrictions, footfall improved in developed countries during the week of 9-16 April compared to the previous week, especially in the UK, which reported a big improvement in footfall (from -51% to -34% compared to the baseline*). This can be attributed to the reopening of bars and restaurants on 12 April. Footfall also improved in Italy (-51% to -40%), Germany (-47% to -40%) and Belgium (-43% to -38%). In France, footfall increased very slightly and is still the lowest in Europe (chart 3). 
How to spend it? Shifting consumption patterns and Covid-19 4/19/2021
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. 
Uncertainty: Trending lower 4/19/2021
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.
Retail and leisure footfall declines in Europe 4/19/2021
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. 

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