William De Vijlder

Group Chief Economist BNP Paribas

ECB: easing of inflation raises pressure

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global economy

Lingering concerns despite hopeful signs

Recent data in China and the eurozone point towards a stabilisation of growth and have been met with relief. Although the US economy is slowing, growth should remain at a satisfactory level in the near term. Yet there are lingering concerns about the underlying strength of the global economy. The IMF has again scaled down its forecasts and only expects a modest growth pickup later this year. The flattening of the US yield curve fuels worries that growth will disappoint. The Fed insists it is confident about the outlook and patient in setting its policy. Markets have welcomed this accommodative message. Yet the signals sent by equity and bond markets about future growth are quite different. It only adds to the list of concerns.

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US

US: Three different messages from Washington DC

President Trump has argued that the US economy would get a boost if the Federal Reserve were to cut rates. The minutes of the FOMC show the members are confident about the growth outlook. The outlook for inflation, against a background of global uncertainties, allows them to be patient in terms of policy. The IMF in its latest Global Financial Stability Report expresses concern about how high debt levels weigh on the resilience when faced with significantly slower growth or higher borrowing costs. This implies that Fed policy will not only be confidently patient but also patiently vigilant.

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Global economy

Global economy: Starting to look a bit better

Strong job creation in March in the US has brought relief after the disappointing data the month before. The Chinese manufacturing indices have rebounded and crossed the 50 level. In the eurozone, the pressure on the manufacturing sector continues but the services PMI has improved. Retail sales have beaten expectations. For the manufacturing sector, a lot will depend on how uncertainty evolves. In this respect there are hopeful signs. The likelihood that an agreement will be reached between the US and China has increased whereas in the UK, cross-party negotiations seek to avoid a hard Brexit.

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euros

Eurozone growth: Some hopeful signs

After last week’s poor flash PMIs, data published this week show a mixed picture. The European Commission’s Economic Sentiment Index continues to decline in a large number of countries and for the eurozone as a whole as well. IFO data for Germany show an improvement in the overall climate though manufacturing continues to go down. INSEE data for France show a stabilisation or even some modest improvement. All in all there are some hopeful signs but it would be premature to conclude that the growth slowdown is about to end. April data will be particularly important

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Fed

US: Discomforting dots

The growth projections of the FOMC members have been revised downwards and the unemployment projection has seen an upward revision. The projections for the federal funds rate (the “dots”) have dropped 50 basis points. The Fed chairman considers the outlook to remain favourable, adding that it is a great time to be patient. Markets are less upbeat. They interpret patience as an underlying concern about downside risks and price a rate cut in the course of next year. We expect the policy rate to stay at its current level, this year and next.

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yuan

China: towards a stabilisation of growth? Not yet.

The plethora of data released this week didn’t remove concern about the Chinese growth slowdown. Lunar holiday bias and the recent fiscal stimulus measures imply it is too early to draw firm conclusions. The matter is important for the global economy given China’s weight. It is also important for key exporters to China such as Germany. Against this background, reaching a trade agreement with the US becomes key.

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dollar

Federal Reserve: Monetary policy self-assessment

The Federal Reserve will conduct a review of its monetary policy framework and the conclusions will be made public in the first half of 2020. Three questions will be addressed: should the monetary policy stance take into account past misses of the inflation objective? Are the tools adequate? How can communication be improved? The initiative should be welcomed because it shows the Fed’s efforts for being ready when the next recession hits. Facing similar challenges, the ECB is likely to be interested in the outcome of the Fed research.

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graphique economie

Sentiment measures offer mixed picture

The latest survey data show a very mixed picture. In the manufacturing sector, China saw some signs of stabilisation, whereas Japan experienced a deterioration. In Germany, manufacturing remains under pressure. The picture in the eurozone is quite diverse, depending on the country and the sector.Looking at the broadest survey indicator for the eurozone, one observes a stabilisation. Whether this will be confirmed depends to a large degree on developments in China and on the well-known sources of uncertainty (trade, Brexit).

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chinese dragoon

Europe: China exposure and export sentiment

Considering its considerable weight in world GDP, slower growth in China causes spillover effects. Over the past 12 months, countries which are more exposed to China in terms of exports have seen a bigger drop in their new export order assessment. In Germany there is a close correlation between the Chinese purchasing managers index and the assessment of exports in the PMI. This shows that Germany and, by extension, Europe as a whole should hope that recent Chinese growth support measures will be successful.

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global trade

Foreign versus domestic drivers of weaker sentiment

Since early 2018, based on the purchasing manager indices, a large number of countries have witnessed a decline in the assessment of new export orders which was bigger than the decline of the general climate in manufacturing. This suggests a dominance of foreign demand shocks, rather than domestic shocks, in explaining slower overall growth. The drop in new export orders echoes the significant slowdown in world trade growth. This is probably related to slower Chinese growth and, in many countries, slower growth in capital expenditures, which have a higher import content than consumption. Trade-related uncertainty may also play a role.

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vague

The risk of drowning in a wave of sentiment

Business confidence surveys play a key role in economic analysis. They measure the “waves of sentiment” on which economic players use to surf. But when will we reach the trough of the wave that just peaked about 12 months ago ?

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euro

Eurozone: what does weakening sentiment tell us about growth?

The European Commission now expects 1.3% growth for the eurozone this year, down from 1.9% in its previous forecast. This downward adjustment doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the declining trend of several survey indicators. The recent performance of these indicators in tracking GDP growth is mixed, which makes the assessment of the current growth momentum challenging.

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decision

US: Fed turning a corner, but into which direction?

Although US growth remains strong, global headwinds, softer survey data and tighter financial conditions have put the FOMC in risk management mode. Policy remains data dependent, but a patient stance will be adopted before deciding on the next move in monetary policy Inflation, which remains well under control, facilitates this wait-and-see attitude. Markets are now pricing in a policy easing in the course of 2020. More than anything else, this shows to which extent uncertainty has taken its toll on confidence.

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green finance

When environmental, trade and social policies meet

The recent “economists’ statement on carbon dividends” offers important policy prescriptions for the US to address global warming. It explicitly refers to the need for a border carbon adjustment system so as to maintain competitiveness versus countries that would not have introduced a carbon tax. The authors recommend that the carbon tax proceeds be equally distributed to US citizens It could be envisaged to use these proceeds in a way which takes into account the distributional aspects of environmental taxes whilst promoting energy efficiency investments.

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Brexit

United Kingdom: Brexit, the cost of uncertainty

Market reaction suggests that the parliamentary vote, with a wide majority, against the Brexit deal which had been negotiated with Europe, has reduced the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. Whether this feeling of relief lasts will depend on how the discussions on possible outcomes evolve. The economic headwind which comes with this prolonged uncertainty, for the UK but also for the companies in the EU which trade with the UK, will not go away soon.

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Photo de William De Vijlder

Brexit: after the vote

As widely expected by markets and political commentators, Prime Minister’s May Brexit deal was defeated in parliament last Tuesday. She then survived a no confidence vote and has to present her plan B to parliament on Monday. The challenge is huge. Having lost with a wide margin would indicate that the Brexit deal needs more profound changes but Brussels has made it clear on many occasions that the deal is not up for negotiation. We’re in a situation of “more uncertainty for longer” with a negative impact on business confidence in the UK but also in the EU as a whole.

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William De Vijlder

About William De Vijlder

Group Chief
Economist
BNP Paribas
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