Perspectives

Perspectives

    Perspectives - 06 October 2021
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    Recent data show business and consumer sentiment has peaked and real GDP growth is expected to slow down whilst remaining well above potential. A key factor in this respect is the self-reinforcing interaction between spending, company profits and employment, against a background of easy monetary and financial conditions. In using the popular metaphor, until recently, the economic sky looked quite blue but clouds have been gathering. The message of central banks should become a bit more hawkish, in the US, political disagreement influences the economic agenda of the Biden administration and China is going through a major adjustment phase. Most importantly, supply bottlenecks continue to weigh on growth whereas the jump in gas and energy prices is raising concerns that inflation might stay high for somewhat longer.
    On the whole, the US economy has recovered very quickly, albeit unequally, from the loss of business caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Exceptional Federal transfers have fuelled a spectacular rebound in private consumption, so much so that it is nearly overheating. Faced with a global parts shortage and hiring troubles, companies are having a hard time meeting demand. Prices have come under pressure. For the US Federal Reserve, the time has come to begin withdrawing monetary support. The debt ceiling has just been hit, and major budget bills remain in suspense until an agreement to raise the limit can be reached with the Republicans.
    The Chinese economy is in the midst of a period of major adjustments. They arose after Beijing tightened regulations in a variety of sectors, from housing to certain new technologies and activities linked to the societal challenges facing the country. The adjustments can also be attributed to the debt excess problem of some state-owned and private enterprises, and reflect the authorities’ determination to tighten their access to credit and to clean up practices in the financial sector. As a result, an increasing number of corporates is defaulting, and the troubles of the property developer Evergrande are symptomatic of the changes under way. For the authorities, the challenge is to maintain control over these events and to contain their negative impact on confidence in the financial system, on credit conditions for other economic agents and on economic growth.
    The economy is likely to rebound in Q4 as health restrictions are being eased. Moreover, despite supply chain disruptions, the manufacturing sector should profit from the worldwide recovery. The consumption boom is likely to peter out soon, as wages growth is to remain sluggish. The main domestic support will come from the government spending, backed up by Bank of Japan (BoJ) ’s yield curve control policy, and business investment thanks to improved profitability. Prime Minister Suga’s resignation, although welcomed by financial markets, has rekindled fears that Japan may return to the “revolving door” era, in which the country changes prime minister every year. 
    After rebounding vigorously in Q2 (+2.2% q/q), GDP growth is expected to maintain the same dynamic pace in Q3. Admittedly, supply-side constraints have just chipped away a few tenths of a percentage point of growth from our June forecast. September’s business climate surveys are showing more traces of these tensions, especially in industry, and in Germany in particular. Even so, the survey results are still holding at high levels. Growth in the Eurozone will get a boost from the monetary and fiscal accommodation, the freeing of forced savings built-up by households, the recovering job market and the need for investment. We expect 2022 growth to be slightly higher than in 2021 (5.2% and 5%, respectively, in annual average terms). However, the optimism of the big picture is somewhat tarnished by the simultaneous surge in inflation, even though a rather large part is only temporary. The ECB is expected to continue giving priority to growth. It will only make minimal efforts to begin normalising monetary policy by letting the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) expire in March 2022. Moreover, it should be offset by a larger and more flexible Asset Purchase Programme (APP). But the ECB is also signalling that is being vigilant about inflationary risks.
    After a strong recovery in Q2 and Q3, activity in the coming months could slow due to supply disruptions and sharp rising input prices. After his victory in the legislative elections, Olaf Scholz enters negotiations with the Greens and the liberals on forming a new coalition. The policies are likely to focus on protecting the environment and raising low wages. At the European level, the policies of the new coalition should not be very different from those of Angela Merkel.
    Despite April’s lockdown, French GDP rose strongly in Q2 2021, up 1.1% q/q. The lockdown’s negative impact was very mild, and the economy rebounded strongly in June. Q3 growth is expected to reach 2.2% q/q, on the one hand buoyed by Q2 strong momentum, but on the other hand curbed by the supply-side constraints at work. In business climate surveys, optimism still prevails, although it has been fading since June. In Q4, GDP growth is expected to virtually close the gap, covering the last percentage point before economic activity returns to 100% of pre-crisis levels. This would bring average annual growth to 6.3% in 2021. In 2022, GDP growth is expected to return to more normal levels although it will remain strong, bolstered by the fiscal impulse. In addition to the downside risk of the health situation and the inflation surge, there are new fears about the scope of China’s economic slowdown. Yet growth could also surprise on the upside thanks to the freeing of surplus household savings, the preservation of the financial health of companies, and fiscal stimulus measures.
    The economic recovery has gradually gained momentum, becoming increasingly more widespread for various components and sectors. The improvement in the overall scenario has boosted optimism among companies, supporting business investment. While manufacturing activity had begun to increase in H2 2020, the services sector benefited from an upswing in consumption in Q2, despite the still disappointing international tourism trends. A wind of surprising optimism continues to blow through the Italian real-estate market, driven mainly by home purchases by many families keen to improve their housing conditions. In Q2 2021, residential sales recorded +70% growth compared to Q2 2020, and +26.1% compared to Q2 2019.
    After the disappointing economic growth reported in H1 2021, Spain should record a robust rebound in activity in H2, assuming the health situation does not deteriorate. The inflow of tourists has picked up (but remains historically low) and employment has recovered. Yet inflationary risks are intensifying. With the surge in energy prices, the government was forced to take drastic measures to reduce the energy bill for households, which will weigh on public finances. Faced with a persistently uncertain environment, the government is bound to maintain an expansionist policy when it unveils its 2022 budget this fall, even though the health situation is more favourable for the moment thanks to the high level of vaccinations. The socialist government’s top priority will be to consolidate the economic recovery, notably by protecting household purchasing power in the face of rising energy costs.
    Following the gradual lifting of health restrictions, the economy rebounded strongly in Q2 and this dynamism continued in Q3. Despite the favourable economic climate and the satisfactory state of public finances, the political parties are still struggling to form a government even six months after the legislative elections. Nonetheless, the outlook remains bright, especially thanks to the rapid expansion of world trade.
    Belgian GDP increased by 1.7% in the second quarter. Consequently, quarterly GDP came within 2% of its pre-covid level. We expect full year growth to come in at 5.5% this year, slowing down to 3.0% in 2022. Increased government spending helped stave off worse outcomes for the labour market and Belgian firms, which resulted in a quick rebound in investment-related spending by all sectors. Private consumption is rebounding more gradually against a backdrop of GDP growth slowing down.
    Portugal’s vaccination campaign seems to be paying off. It is the country that has vaccinated the most people in Europe – and one of the most advanced in the world – with nearly 85% of the population fully vaccinated at the end of September. The number of Covid-19 cases has fallen sharply after a surge in June-July due to the spread of the Delta variant. Portugal’s economic recovery was slower than in most of the other European countries through Q2 2021, in part because it was hit by a more severe wave of the pandemic last winter. However, employment and housing activity have picked up strongly. As in several European countries, new risks have arisen as the pandemic wanes. Banking system risks must not be neglected: with a large share of loans currently under moratorium, the end of the Covid-19 crisis could be bumpy. 
    After paying a heavy toll to the Covid 19 pandemic, the UK is getting back on its feet. Now that more than 80% of the adult population has been vaccinated, the UK economy was able to reopen for business this summer and to operate almost normally despite the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. Just as the recovery is running up against supply-side constraints, the government of Boris Johnson is removing fiscal support measures as it proclaims the end of “whatever the cost”. Euphoric so far, the recovery should calm down somewhat by the end of the year. 
    Initially tempted to experiment with herd immunity to combat Covid-19, the Scandinavian country with the highest number of Covid-related deaths has largely converted to vaccinations, and the economy is on its way to returning to normal. Sweden is taking advantage of its specialisation in machinery and transport equipment, for which there is currently strong global demand. Dynamic exports are boosting corporate investment. As the Riksbank prepares to end its securities purchasing policy, the Swedish government is trying to avoid withdrawing its fiscal support too abruptly. 
    With relatively few Covid-19-related deaths, and after what proved to be a mild recession in 2020, Denmark is one of the countries that has pulled through the pandemic the best. Economic activity has already returned to pre-crisis levels, the cyclical environment was still going strong over the summer months, and the spread of the Delta variant did not pose much of a threat to a largely vaccinated population. The rapid economic recovery is already revealing a few tensions in terms of production capacity and employment. The central bank is not very alarmed and is expected to maintain the status quo, with negative money market rates. The government has begun to better target its subsidies. 
    Perspectives - 07 July 2021
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    The first half of the year has seen a broad-based improvement in business and consumer sentiment in advanced economies but elevated levels of business surveys reduce the likelihood of further significant increases. The third quarter is expected to see the peak in quarter-over-quarter GDP growth this year. Nevertheless, over the remainder of the forecast horizon – which runs until the end of next year – quarterly growth is expected to stay above potential. This favourable outlook for the real economy brings challenges for financial markets. Surprising to the upside in terms of earnings will become more difficult. Moreover, there is the question of the inflation outlook. For the time being, both the Federal Reserve and markets are relaxed about it but we should expect that over the coming months, the market sensitivity to growth and inflation data will be higher than normal in view of what they would imply for the Fed’s policy stance. 
    With GDP growth of nearly 7% this year, the US economy is in the midst of a spectacular but uneven recovery, erasing the losses generated by the pandemic, but also leaving numerous workers behind. Fuelled by rising commodity prices and surging consumption, inflation has reached a peak of 5%, the highest since 2008. Esteeming that this flare up will be short lived, the Federal Reserve (Fed) is being tolerant and will forego a preventative tightening of monetary policy. Its top priority is to see the recovery spread to all sectors of the economy and to restore full employment in the labour market.
    Economic growth rebounded very rapidly following the Covid-19 shock, but this rebound has also been characterised by mixed performances between sectors and between demand components. Growth of industrial production and exports accelerated vigorously until early 2021 and is now gradually returning to normal. Meanwhile, the services sector and private consumption were slower to rebound, and their recovery still proved to be fragile in Q2 2021. Consequently, the authorities are likely to be increasingly cautious about tightening economic policy. Even so, they should still give priority to slowing down domestic credit growth and adjusting the fiscal deficits.
    The Covid-19 pandemic did not hit the Japanese economy as hard as the other advanced countries. In 2020, GDP growth did not contract as much as in other places. Yet a slow vaccination roll out and the lack of confidence of various economic agents are straining the momentum of Japan’s recovery. After a strong performance in late 2020, the Japanese economy is lagging somewhat compared to the United States and Europe. Consumer confidence – a key ingredient for a robust economic recovery – is still low compared to pre-crisis levels. This atmosphere is dragging down private consumption and the dynamics of the tradeable services sector as well. The services industry is having a hard time swinging back into growth. In this persistently tough environment, inflation will continue to hold near 0%, far from the central bank’s 2% target. Monetary policy will remain accommodating and unchanged in 2021 and 2022, even though the Bank of Japan might allow long-term sovereign rates to rise to the upper range of 0.25%.
    The Eurozone economy is bouncing back. From a macroeconomic perspective, the region is closing the gap on the losses accumulated since spring 2020 more quickly than expected just a few months ago. Unless a new wave of the pandemic breaks out due to the spread of Covid-19 variants, Eurozone GDP should return to pre-crisis levels by the end of the year. Accelerated vaccination campaigns and the gradual lifting of health restrictions are reducing uncertainty and boosting the confidence of economic agents. Consumers, who have adapted to restrictive health measures, are playing a key role. Despite these favourable dynamics, public policies are remaining cautious. From a monetary perspective, the European Central Bank recently expressed some optimism concerning the Eurozone’s capacity to rebound, although for the moment it is refusing to begin tightening monetary policy. As to fiscal policy, investors welcomed the European Commission’s first bond issue to finance the Next Generation EU recovery plan.
    After a sharp contraction in Q1 2020, the economic climate improved significantly in Q2, as the domestic economy gradually opens up. In 2020, the government was very successful in limiting the impact of the coronavirus crisis for households and businesses. In 2021, the fiscal policy stance will remain very accommodative, and covid-19 support measures could amount to 3% of GDP. As the federal election takes place on 26 September, the budget for 2022 will be determined by the incoming government. Opinion polls point to a coalition between the CDU/CSU and the Greens, which should propel climate change to the top of the agenda. The economy is projected to grow robustly in 2021 and 2022. On the domestic side, the main engine of support is private consumption. The manufacturing sector should benefit from the EU’s Next Generation programme. The rapid recovery could rekindle inflationary pressures and the ECB’s monetary stance might become too loose for Germany. 
    Based on May and June business confidence surveys, the French economy has been rebounding more vigorously than expected from the third lockdown. We have raised our Q2 growth forecast, from near zero to near 1% QoQ. In Q3, the mechanistic rebound would bring growth to about 3% QoQ. Growth is expected to ebb thereafter as the catching-up effects dissipate, although it should remain high, bolstered by the fiscal impulse. The downside of the vigorous upsurge in demand is that it is squeezing the supply side, which is less responsive. The ensuing supply chain constraints, higher input prices and hiring difficulties are all sources of friction that must be monitored since they could hamper the recovery. GDP growth could average 6% in 2021 (an optimistic forecast that is a half point higher than the June 2021 consensus), and will remain strong at an estimated 4.6% in 2022. In our eyes, the economic risks are balanced: the unlocking of forced savings that have accumulated over the past year is an upside risk, while supply-side tensions and pricing pressures are downside risks. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has diminished significantly, the health risk has not completely disappeared given the rapid spread of variants. 
    At the beginning of 2021, the economic growth surprised on the upside. In Q1, real GDP rose by 0.1%. Private consumption declined, reflecting the disappointing evolution of income and a still high propensity to save, investment rose by almost 4%. The recovery turned out to be uneven, with industry and construction seeing a quicker rebound, while services continued to suffer. The economic growth is expected to strengthen in the coming months. The acceleration of the vaccination programme and a significant improvement in the health outlook have boosted optimism among consumers and businesses. In order to make the recovery long lasting, Italy has to improve the quality of human capital to balance the decline in productivity also due to an elderly work force. 
    Just when the lights seemed to be turning green on the health front, the spread of the Delta variant in Spain, as elsewhere in Europe, is a cause of concern. The risks remain currently under control and economic activity should record a significant upturn this summer. The easing of travel restrictions and the introduction of the European health pass since 25 June should allow the Spanish tourist industry to lift itself back up, which would have positive knock-on effects on consumption and employment. Even so, and despite the fact that growth is expected to bounce back strongly, to 6.0% in 2021, the Covid-19 will continue to leave its mark on Spain’s public finances. After a record year in 2020, the government deficit could remain at over 8% of GDP this year and remain elevated until 2022 at least. The European Commission’s approval of Spain’s recovery plan will, however, allow Madrid to receive the first round of European subsidies. Thus EUR9 billion in grants could be allocated in July, with a further EUR10 billion unlocked by the end of 2021.    
    The Belgian economy grew at an above-potential rate in the first quarter of this year, and looks to be on course to maintain this pace throughout the year. Full year growth is expected to come in at 5.1%. Private sector sentiment is strong and the labour market is emerging from the health crisis virtually unharmed, with the unemployment rate still hovering at around 5%. Public finances, largely responsible for the current strong situation through extensive support measures, need to be improved over the medium-term, as the government aims to capitalise on the recovery to fix other, more structural issues. 
    Although Finland was one of the European countries hit the least by the Covid-19 pandemic, its economic recovery was nonetheless pushed back by a third wave of contaminations in late winter 2020 and early spring 2021. The economy will rebound in the second half of this year, buoyed by consumption and the upturn in global trade. GDP growth should range between 2.5% and 3% in 2021 and 2022. Very concerned about the solidity of its public finances, the country saw its public debt swell by about 10 points of GDP last year while the deficit rose to 5.4% of GDP.
    The Greek economy is proving resilient, with the recovery through to Q1 2021 being faster than in most other Eurozone members. This has been driven primarily by the very significant increase in goods exports. The spread of the Delta variant in Europe represents a threat to the recovery in the tourism sector, which is essential to bolster growth and employment over the coming months. Pending this, the labour market shows continued fragility. The unemployment rate climbed to 16.3% in Q1, whilst the number of inactive workers jumped, partly due to the effect of rising numbers of workers on temporary unemployment. Creating employment and reducing the unemployment rate remains the country’s major challenge, but Greece should continue to benefit in the short and medium term from favourable financing conditions, notably thanks to the support of the ECB.
    No sooner had the divorce agreement with the European Union been signed than the UK started disputing its terms. On 16 March, the British government was formally notified by the European Union for breaches of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland and violation of the duty of good faith. The final outcome, which can include sanctions, is yet to be decided. The fact remains that Brexit, described as a “historic mistake” by the remaining 27 members of the EU, appears as nothing more or less than what it is: a clear break. Admittedly, it will not stop the UK economy from recovering. Having managed to avoid tariffs, become a convert to “whatever it takes“ and now being well on the way to winning out over Covid-19, the United Kingdom, like other countries, is enjoying euphoric economic conditions. Yet beyond the short term outlook, the benefits it could get from its decision to go its own way are still to be proved.
    The very accommodative policies implemented by the Federal Council and the Swiss National Bank have been very successful in limiting the economic consequences of the pandemic. In 2020, economic activity contracted by 3%. The latest business cycle indicators point to a strong rebound in the second half of the year. The recovery is broad-based. Private consumption will be one of the main engines of growth, as households will spend part of the savings accumulated during the crisis. The breakdown of the negotiations between the Swiss Confederation and the EU, and the possible introduction of a global minimum corporation tax rate are likely to undermine the country’s competitiveness in the medium term.  
    Largely spared by the Covid-19 pandemic, Norway reported one of the mildest recessions in Europe in 2020 (-2.5%). The economy is poised for a vigorous recovery in the second half, driven by the acceleration of global trade and the rebound in household consumption. In the light of these favourable prospects, and concerned about the acceleration in house prices, Norges Bank intends to begin raising its key rate gradually as of September, even though core inflation is low.

On the Same Theme

The risks associated with transitory but high inflation 10/18/2021
Although the significant increase in inflation in most advanced economies is expected to be transitory, it is necessary to focus on the potential consequences of inflation staying temporarily high for longer. Companies that hitherto have been reluctant to raise prices might do so after all, higher inflation could weigh on spending but also cause wage demands to grow, inflation expectations could drift higher, the market sensitivity to growth and inflation surprises would increase and there could be fears about a change in the reaction function of the central bank. In the coming months, investors and central banks will scrutinise data in parallel, but the former will react more quickly should inflation stay high.
Mobility: Footfall drops below pre-Covid levels in the main developed countries 10/18/2021
The number of new Covid-19 cases around the world dropped below the symbolic level of 3 million in the week of 7 to 13 October, representing a 7% fall on the previous week. This fall was shared across all regions other than Europe, where case numbers climbed for the third week in a row. This increase has mainly been focused on Eastern Europe, the UK and, more recently, Germany. Meanwhile vaccination campaigns have continued to gain ground.
Market timing, the zero lower bound and QE 10/11/2021
Successful market timing between equities and cash requires high skill levels. Very low official interest rates, through their impact on market rates, create a disincentive for doing market timing because they increase the break-even skill level. The same applies for quantitative easing. These considerations are important from a financial stability perspective. Growing investor reluctance to do market timing will probably lead to a decline in equity market volatility and an increase in equity valuations. The former provides a false sense of safety whereas the latter increases the sensitivity to negative news and hence increases the riskiness. 
PMIs: Activity stabilises but price pressures remain intense 10/11/2021
The world composite PMI hardly changed in September, despite a rather significant decline in the Eurozone, driven by Germany, Italy and Spain ; Japan and Russia edged higher. The world manufacturing PMI was unchanged in September. Supply chain disruptions and supply bottlenecks continue to weigh on activity levels.
Covid-19: The decline of new cases continues 10/11/2021
The number of daily new Covid-19 cases reported worldwide continues to decline. Meanwhile, there has been a recent drop in visits to retail and recreation facilities in France, Italy, Belgium, Japan and the UK, but continued increases in Germany, Spain and the USA. It is worth noting that in Belgium such visits are still at their pre-pandemic levels, despite recent falls.
Bad inflation clouds outlook 10/4/2021
When the pick-up in inflation during a growth upswing is driven by the demand side, inflation is considered to be good. However, inflation can also be bad. In that case, higher prices do not follow from e.g. higher wages due to a tight labour market. Bad inflation rather reflects supply-side shocks. This is, to some degree, the situation that is unfolding in the Eurozone and other economies due to the recent huge increase of oil and gas prices. Bad inflation weighs on households’ real disposable income and hence spending. The impact is expected to be larger for households at the lower end of the income distribution, considering that a bigger portion of their expenditures goes to fuel and in particular heating, and that they also have a lower savings rate.
Covid-19: the pace of vaccination slows 10/4/2021
The Covid-19 pandemic continued to ease for the fifth consecutive week, with new cases down by 10.3% between 23 and 29 September, relative to the previous week (chart 1). This represents the biggest fall in case numbers since the end of August 2021. As far as visits to retail and recreation facilities are concerned, we have recently seen weaker numbers in some euro area countries.  
Monetary desynchronisation: a headache to come? 9/27/2021
Monetary desynchronisation between the US and the Eurozone seems unavoidable due to a very different performance in terms of inflation. Whether this will complicate the ECB’s task of reaching its inflation target depends, in the short run, on the impact on financial conditions in the euro area. This influence will probably be small. In the medium run, when the US tightening cycle is well underway, US domestic demand growth will be slowing down, which will weigh on imports and hence Eurozone exports to the US. This would complicate matters for the ECB if by then, inflation has not yet reached its target. 
Uncertainty: indicators show diverging developments 9/27/2021
Our different uncertainty gauges are complementary, in terms of scope or methodology. Based on the latest readings, some divergence is developing. This probably reflects the role of supply disruption that is causing bottlenecks and, in certain countries, the rapid spreading of the Delta variant. 
International trade: demand pressure remains elevated 9/27/2021
Most indicators confirm that world demand for industrial goods is still going strong, suggesting an accentuation or at least the continuation of the supply-chain problems currently facing many companies. Production pressures are compounded by transport pressures, which were showing no signs of easing in early fall. 

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