Perspectives

Perspectives

    Perspectives - 29 June 2022
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    The level of activity in the US and the euro area is very high but growth has already slowed down significantly and quarter over quarter growth should remain low for the remainder of the year. Worries about the cyclical outlook are on the rise due to a combination of elevated inflation, geopolitical uncertainty and monetary policy tightening. Survey data on input prices and delivery times have eased but the levels are still very high. Wage growth remains strong in the US and is picking up in the euro area, creating concern that inflation would decline more slowly than expected.  In addition, assessing the true state of demand has become very difficult. 
    Inflation’s unexpected rebound in May forced the Federal Reserve (Fed) to accelerate the normalisation of its monetary policy. In mid-June, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decided to raise the fed funds rate by 75 basis points (bp). At the same time, the Fed began to shrink its balance sheet through Quantitative Tightening (QT). For the moment, the US economy is holding up well, supported by robust fundamentals such as employment. Yet activity is beginning to slow under the impact of tighter lending conditions and deteriorating global economic prospects. The US economy will come under fierce pressure as it navigates towards a hard or soft landing.
    China’s economic activity contracted in April and May 2022 because of stringent mobility restrictions introduced in major industrial regions such as Shanghai. Since late May, restrictions have eased gradually and activity has started to rebound. As downside risks remain high, the authorities continue to ease their fiscal and monetary policies. While credit demand stays weak in spite of the decline in interest rates, the current global environment and the risk of capital outflows may constrain the central bank’s room for maneuver.
    Since early 2022, inflation has been rising, albeit moderately, for the first time since 2014, while growth contracted in Q1. The yen has depreciated sharply due to the Bank of Japan’s very accommodating monetary policy, which is out of step with the other major central banks, who have already begun to tighten their monetary policy. In June 2022, BoJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda still thought it was “necessary” to maintain a yield curve control policy to boost core inflation to a “stable and sustainable” level. Yet currency depreciation aggravates imported inflation and further erodes household purchasing power. A few weeks before the legislative elections of 25 July, the government is likely to reinforce measures to support household purchasing power.   
    Until May, Eurozone growth has been relatively resilient to the series of shocks that have swept the region, but its pace should slow more significantly in the months ahead. We cannot rule out the possibility of a recession, even though that is not our base case given the numerous sources of growth: post Covid-19 catch-up potential, surplus savings, investment needs and fiscal support measures. Our scenario appears to signal stagflation (inflation will be much higher than growth in 2022 and 2023), but with the big difference that the unemployment rate is not expected to rise much. The ECB is preparing to begin raising its key policy rates to counter the inflationary shock. We are looking for a cumulative 250bp increase in the deposit rate, bringing it to 2% by fall 2023.
    Germany is one of the Eurozone countries hit hardest by the Russia-Ukraine war, which is leading towards feeble growth prospects and high inflation. German GDP is expected to barely increase by 1.3% in 2022, compared to a Eurozone average of 2.5%. Average annual GDP growth will remain 0.9% below the year-end 2019 level. At the same time, inflation is expected to reach 8.1% in 2022, driven up by high energy prices. Between the minimum wage hike promised by the government and expected wage increases in many sectors, wage growth should accelerate strongly in 2022, but may  not be sufficient to offset the inflationary shock. 
    The French economy is stuck between three developments with different effects: an inflation shock that is denting consumer spending, a negative supply shock (supply constraints in industry) and the lifting of public health restrictions (benefiting growth as of the second quarter, having held it back in the first quarter). Government measures that have limited inflation were unable to prevent negative growth in the first quarter. However, the positive impact of the lifting of public health restrictions and a rebound in purchasing power should allow for a recovery towards positive growth in the third quarter (+0.3% q/q).
    In contrast to the previous recessions, the Italian economy has already recovered what it lost in 2020. The carry over for 2022 is 2.6%. In Q1 2022, real GDP rose by 0.1%, with an annual growth rate above 6%. Value added for construction continued to increase, while manufacturing declined and services stagnated. The economic recovery mainly reflects the robust evolution of investment, while private consumption declined, as Italian households remained extremely cautious. Imports rose strongly, bringing the current account balance into negative territory. The economic recovery in 2021 was less intense in the Southern regions than in the Centre-North, thereby widening the gap between the two areas. 
    After a weaker economic rebound than its European neighbours in 2021, Spain is expected to report solid growth of more than 4% in 2022. Despite the Ukraine war’s impact on inflation and purchasing power, the job market remains on an uptrend, with 186,000 jobs created in the first five months of the year. This dynamic should extend into the summer months with a stronger recovery in tourism, although current disruptions affecting the airlines in Europe could undermine this outlook. Moreover, inflation might not peak until later in the year, since price increases for food and household appliances are currently gaining traction. 
    With an energy mix comprised of nearly 90% fossil fuels, the Netherlands have been hit by the full brunt of the sharp rise in oil and gas prices since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war. As a result, the Netherlands has one of the highest inflation rates in Europe. Even so, household consumption is resilient, and the majority of companies esteem that business will remain vigorous in the months ahead. Thanks to this strong performance, the government has been able to focus on a limited series of support measures while continuing to reduce the debt of public administrations. Yet the Netherlands also faces another type of inflation that is just as alarming: house price inflation. With too few houses to cover all of the country’s needs, residential housing prices have soared 29% since year-end 2019.
    Belgian GDP grew by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2022, as inflation continues to reach new all-time highs. Consumer confidence took a hit at the start of the Russian invasion, with growth subsequently likely to have come to a standstill. Index-linking of wages as an income-protection mechanism should eventually soften the inflation-induced blow to private consumption, but the international competitiveness of Belgian firms will suffer as a result. Against a backdrop of rising interest rates, fiscal consolidation remains crucial.
    After surging above 10% this spring, inflation will be the main headwind hampering Greek GDP growth in 2022. Yet the economy has proven to be resilient so far. Unemployment has been at the lowest rate since 2010, and GDP has rebounded robustly since the end of lockdown measures in 2020. A recession is unlikely this year, especially since tourism is primed for a solid summer season. On 20 August 2022, Greece will officially exit the European Commission’s enhanced economic surveillance programme, which it entered in June 2018. In May, the country also repaid the last of the IMF loans (EUR 1.9 bn) contracted during the 2011 crisis. Eleven years later, Greece is taking another step towards the normalisation of its economic system.
    Inflation continues, driven by factors specific to the UK economy. On the one side, we have a labour market with full employment, favouring wage rises. On the other side, we find the UK economy’s exposure to the consequences of the invasion of Ukraine putting considerable pressure on energy prices. Despite increasing its policy rate early, and then building on this with a succession of further hikes, the Bank of England is struggling to control rising prices. The government has little choice but to intervene to bolster household purchasing power. The economy is already slowing, and there is a risk it will worsen.
    Denmark stands out for its vigorous economic recovery, which was much stronger than that  in the other European countries. The Danish economy quickly returned to pre-crisis levels and even exceeded its pre-pandemic growth trend. Industry is in full expansion thanks to its positioning in high value-added market segments. Yet this dynamic momentum is threatened in the short term by surging inflation and job market pressures. The central bank has not yet begun the process of normalising monetary policy, although it plans to tighten monetary conditions gradually and progressively in the near future.
    After being severely hit by the Omicron variant, economic activity picked up again as of February, and the recovery is expected to continue with growth reaching 4% in 2022. Through no fault of its own, Norway is one of the big winners of the Russia-Ukraine conflict thanks to a substantial increase in oil and gas revenues, which are expected to reach NOK 1,500 bn in 2022 (about EUR 143 bn). Although inflation is milder than in the other European countries, the Norwegian central bank has expressed its determination to tighten monetary conditions as much as necessary to break the inflationary momentum. To bring inflation within its target range, NorgesBank plans to gradually raise its key deposit rate to 2.5% by the end of 2023.
    Perspectives - 14 April 2022
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    The resilience of the global economy is tested by multiple shocks: rising Covid-19 infections in China, the war in Ukraine, the huge increase of several commodity prices, the prospect of aggressive monetary tightening in the US. The significant carry-over effect from last year is an element of support when assessing the outlook for annual growth this year. In addition, the drivers of final demand were supportive at the start of the year and in many cases still are. High inflation is weighing on consumer sentiment in the US and the Eurozone but fortunately, thus far, employment expectations of Eurozone companies remain at a very high level and in the US, the labour market remains very strong. It will play a fundamental role in shaping expectations about the growth and hence monetary policy outlook.
    With inflation soaring, the US Federal Reserve announced that it would accelerate the process of normalising its monetary policy. Held near the lower zero bound until March, the key policy rate should rise to roughly 2% or even higher by the end of the year. The Fed will also reduce the size of its balance sheet. Operating at full employment, the US economy seems to have recovered sufficiently from the health crisis to pass muster. Yet it is still sensitive to credit conditions and is not immunised against the impact of the war in Ukraine.
    After a strong start in 2022, China’s economic growth slowed in March. Headwinds are expected to persist in the very short term. Firstly, the rapid surge in the number of Covid-19 cases has led many regions to impose severe mobility restrictions. Secondly, the property market correction continues. Thirdly, producers and exporters will be affected by the impact of the war in Ukraine on commodity prices and world trade. The Chinese authorities are bound to accelerate the easing of economic policy.
    While the US Federal Reserve has begun raising its policy rate, the Bank of Japan continues to pursue a very accommodating monetary policy. The sharp depreciation of the yen leaves the BoJ less manoeuvring room to pursue its yield curve control policy. Some adjustments in its policy are expected. Economic support – both monetary and fiscal – will be maintained in 2022 in an environment that is especially tough for Japanese industrial companies, hard hit by global supply chain disruptions and the economic slowdown in China.
    The war in Ukraine compounds the ECB’s task of balancing the fight against inflationary risks with the need to support growth. At the monetary policy meeting on 10 March, inflation was the predominant concern and the central bank announced that net securities purchases under the Asset Purchase Programme (APP) would probably end in Q3. This paves the way for the first increase in the key deposit rate, although the timing of the move is still highly uncertain. The inflationary shock is spreading while growth faces ever greater threats. Even so, pre-existing cyclical momentum, excess savings, investment needs and fiscal support measures should all help ease the risk of stagflation.
    Of the Eurozone’s four major economies, Germany has the least positive growth outlook for 2022. Its economy is expected to grow by around 2% this year, whereas we are forecasting around 3% in Italy and France, and around 5% in Spain. Germany also has a lower Q4 2021 growth carry-over, greater exposure to the economic repercussions of the war in Ukraine, and pre-existing supply-chain problems in its manufacturing industry. The fall in the ifo index in March, particularly the business expectations component, illustrates well these headwinds, and this decline serves as a recession alert.  
    Inflation continued to rise in early 2022 to the point that it began to erode household confidence in March. These purchasing power problems foreshadow a decline in consumer spending. With fiscal support measures limiting the increase in inflation (by nearly 2 percentage points in April), growth is expected to remain slightly positive (0.3% in Q1 and 0.1% in Q2 according to our estimates).
    In Q4 2022, real GDP rose by 0.6%, after having increased by 2.7% and 2.5% in Q2 and Q3 respectively. This slowdown was widespread. Manufacturing stagnated and services suffered from the upsurge of Covid-19 cases. Uncertainty is fostered by inflation which turns out to be more persistent than expected. In March 2022, the consumer price index rose by 6.7% y/y. The deterioration of the economic environment has not affected the labour market yet. In the three months to February 2022, employment increased by 100,000 units almost completely recovering the pre-pandemic level. In the coming months, the economy is expected to benefit from the easing of social restrictions, while suffering from the negative impact of the international crisis, which is estimated to weigh on GDP growth both in Q1 and in Q2.
    Although Spain is not the European country with the highest “structural” exposure to the war in Ukraine, it has been hard hit by the energy price shock. Inflation will certainly exceed 10% year-on-year this spring. Higher petrol prices have triggered protests that have spread across the country, disrupting economic activity even though the impact on growth should be modest. Job creations were still resilient in Q1. Household confidence as well as business expectations of future orders both dropped sharply with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, which will have an impact the dynamics of hiring. The recovery of the tourism industry will partially offset the loss of consumer spending due to the erosion of household purchasing power in Spain.
    Belgian GDP grew by 0.5% in the fourth quarter of last year, full-year growth amounting to 6.1%. Having completed a full recovery to pre-covid levels faster than expected, a gradual slowdown from above-potential growth was our base case scenario, even though (energy-)prices continued their upward trajectory and labour market pressures built up. The war in Ukraine will further derail these prospects. As a consequence, we lower our outlook for growth by 1 pp and increase that for inflation by more than 2 pp.
    The large victory of António Costa’s Socialist party in February’s legislative elections provides some welcome political stability in the current economic environment. Even though the inflationary shock in Portugal is not as strong as in most of the European countries, and despite support measures introduced by the government, confidence surveys declined sharply in March. It remains to be seen how much this deterioration will alter hiring dynamics. So far, the job market is still on a positive trajectory, with an unemployment rate this winter close to the levels reported in the early 2000s.
    Sweden has bet heavily on renewable energy sources, a strategy that is now paying off at a time when oil and gas prices are soaring. Although accelerating, Sweden’s inflation rate is still one of the lowest in Europe, at a little more than 4%. For Swedish households, the resulting loss of purchasing power has been mild, and partially offset by government support measures. But that is not the biggest worry: by invading Ukraine, Russia has shifted Swedish public opinion and rekindled the debate about joining NATO.
    Thwarted since the beginning of the year by a strong surge in the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic recovery is now threatened by the repercussions of Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine. Given its geographic location, Finland is highly dependent on Russia for its energy imports, and its energy bill has already risen considerably. After reporting GDP growth of 3.3% in 2021, Finland is unlikely to meet the European Commission’s 2022 forecast of 3%.
    The time has passed for unlimited fiscal and monetary support in the UK, and priority is now being given to reducing deficits and lowering inflation. To counter the shock triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which promises to further increase the energy and food bills of UK households, the government’s measures to boost purchasing power seem to be rather mild so far. Consequently, we foresee a significant economic slowdown in 2022.

On the Same Theme

International trade barometer: trade pressures continue to abate 7/24/2022
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 OECD weekly tracker continues to show weakened activity in advanced economies 7/24/2022
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.
Covid-19: fourth consecutive week of rising infections 7/17/2022
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.
PMI: slowing growth, easing inflation tensions 7/11/2022
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.   
Economic uncertainty stabilises 7/4/2022
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. 
International trade: a few signs that tensions are easing 6/27/2022
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.
The worrisome cost of worrying about recession 6/12/2022
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.
OECD weekly indicator suggests slowing activity in advanced economies 6/12/2022
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.
PMI: resilience of employment data but new export orders continue to deteriorate 6/6/2022
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.
Covid-19 pandemic: the situation continues to improve in most regions of the world 6/6/2022
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).

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