William De Vijlder

Group Chief Economist BNP Paribas

Japan: moving to yield curve slope control?

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GDP

Global growth slowdown intensifies

The slowdown of global growth has gathered pace, forcing the Federal Reserve to cut the federal funds rate on two occasions, whereas the ECB has announced a comprehensive easing package. Nevertheless, the slowdown is expected to continue. Uncertainty is pervasive. Companies question the true state of demand faced with slower growth, trade disputes, Brexit worries, geopolitical risk. Corporate investment suffers and may impact households via slower employment growth. The room to boost growth via monetary policy and, in many countries, fiscal policy has become limited, and this is another factor which could weigh on confidence. Surveys of US corporate executives point towards high concern about recession risk and the US yield curve inversion adds to the unease. However, the picture provided by a broad range of leading indicators is, at least for the time being, less bleak.

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Compass

US: from big growth scare to relief

The manufacturing purchasing managers’ index of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) has continued its decline in September, reaching 47.8%. The non-manufacturing ISM has registered a big drop of 3.8 percentage points and is now at 52.6% — a very low print for a non-recessionary period. Against this background, bond yields have declined significantly reflecting increasing worries about recession risk, rising expectations about additional Fed easing and a greater flight to safe havens. The labour market data for September however brought some relief. Nevertheless, we expect the Fed to continue to cut rates. US ISM manufacturing and non-manufacturing indices have both declined lately. In this context, the bond yields decline has intensified the fear of a recession. However, the good figures of the labour market data provided some relief.

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Berlin Government district

Germany: fiscal stimulus, hope versus reality

Germany is probably in a technical recession and recent data do not point to any improvement in the near term, quite to the contrary. Given the country’s considerable budget surplus, German business leaders are calling for fiscal stimulus. This echoes Mario Draghi’s plea in favour of budgetary expansion in countries with fiscal space. Simulations show that spillover effects to other eurozone countries would be small. Moreover, the implementation of a fiscal package requires long preparation and may be hampered by labour shortages.

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Decision

Fed and ECB: diverging approaches to monetary policy

The Federal Reserve and the ECB are in very different positions: the former has more room to ease policy and it is also closer to its policy targets. The ECB has limited remaining policy leeway but is confronted with an inflation shortfall versus its aim and a risk that this gap would increase, rather than narrow. These differences have led to diverging approaches in the conduct of and communication about monetary policy. The Fed is data-dependent and, except for the projections of the FOMC members, offers no guidance. The ECB is agnostic about the data and builds its communication around state-dependent forward guidance: policy tightening will be solely conditioned by meeting its target. The ECB stance reduces the sensitivity of financial markets to data surprises whereas the Fed stance increases it. This implies a risk of higher volatility in the US but also, via international spillovers, abroad.

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ECB

ECB: Mario Draghi passes the baton

Market expectations were elevated but the Governing Council did not disappoint. The comprehensive nature of the package, with the introduction of state-dependent forward guidance, take away the need to envisage additional measures in the foreseeable future. ECB watching has been narrowed to monitoring the gap between inflation and the ECB target. Given certain negative side effects of the current monetary mix, which are acknowledged by the Governing Council, fiscal policy, where leeway is available, is now requested to step up to the plate, so as to foster growth and speed up convergence of inflation to target. The policy baton has been passed

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Interrogations

Elevated uncertainty slows growth despite lower rates

Business surveys in the US paint a diverging picture: manufacturing is worsening significantly but services have picked up nicely. Taking a broader perspective, evidence is building of a slowing economy. Less dynamic growth can be observed in engines of growth of the world economy: China and India, although reasons differ. In Europe, Germany is probably already in a technical recession whereas France is resilient. Central banks are back in easing mode but the effectiveness will be hampered by elevated uncertainty, despite the announcement of a new round of trade negotiations between the US and China.

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US: the signal and the noise

US: the signal and the noise

Asset prices can play a useful role when assessing the economic outlook. The big drop in treasury yields during August has raised concern although a nowcast points to satisfactory third quarter growth in the US. This would mean that increased uncertainty about the trade dispute has caused a flight to safe havens and a decline in long term interest rates. Swings in the communication about the trade dispute cause swings in investor uncertainty and hence in risk premiums. This reduces the signal quality of asset prices, which may end up weighing on the real economy.

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ECB: committed to ease in September, but how much

ECB: committed to ease in September, but how much?

The Governing Council has tasked Eurosystem committees to examine its monetary policy options. Given the insistence on its determination to act, Thursday’s meeting outcome was basically a pre-announcement of easing in September. Being aware of the importance of maintaining the ECB’s inflation targeting credibility, Mario Draghi was very explicit in expressing his dissatisfaction with current inflation and its outlook, adding that a highly accomodative monetary policy is here to stay for a long period of time

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inflation definition

Eurozone: pockets of inflation in a low inflation world

Despite an increase in June, core inflation in the eurozone remains stubbornly low. The dispersion is significant between countries and between the expenditure components of the price index. Inflation is low for clothing and footwear, furnishings and household equipment, transport and communications. It is higher for housing-related items, restaurants and hotels, miscellaneous goods and services and recreation and culture. Non-energy industrial goods price inflation is very low. Should this continue, it would imply that the acceleration of inflation which is the ECB is pursuing by renewed policy easing, has to come from services. However, research shows that it takes more time for services prices to respond to monetary policy and economic activity. Monetary accomodation is here to stay.

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risks

Growth concerns on the rise

A sigh of relief followed the publication of first quarter GDP data. However since, growth concerns have picked up again on the back of a collection of new economic data but also — and perhaps more importantly — due to continued high uncertainty. The latter stems from concerns over the extent of the slowdown and its consequences in terms of economic risks. It also emanates from escalating tensions between the US and China over trade. The effects of this confrontation already show up in the Chinese data while in the US, mounting anecdotal evidence also point to its detrimental impact on business and the agricultural sector. The Federal Reserve has turned a corner and indicated that rate cuts are coming, much to the joy of the equity market. The ECB has also changed its message: with risks tilted to the downside and inflation going nowhere, it considers more easing is necessary.

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full employment

Monetary easing at full employment: how effective?

Fed Chairman Powell, in his address to Congress this week, has confirmed that easing is coming. In June, ECB President Draghi provided similar hints. This comes on the back of growing concerns regarding global growth and ultimately facing too low a level of inflation. Risks may be mounting, but, on the other hand, the unemployment rate is close to the natural rate. There are reasons to assume that monetary easing under full employment would be less effective than when the economy is marred in recession. Monetary easing could also raise concerns about financial stability, which, if unaddressed, could weigh on the ability of monetary policy to successfully boost inflation.

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monetary policy

Exogenous versus endogenous uncertainty and monetary policy

A high level of uncertainty can act as a drag on growth. Whether monetary easing will succeed in boosting growth will depend on the nature of uncertainty. Endogenous uncertainty follows from the normal development of the business cycle and rate cuts should succeed in reducing this uncertainty by boosting confidence of economic agents. Exogenous uncertainty is not driven by the business cycle but is triggered by other factors, such as, in the current environment, ongoing trade disputes. In this case, monetary policy effectiveness suffers and, despite rate cuts, the growth slowdown should continue until its root cause (exogenous uncertainty) is addressed.

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William De Vijlder - EcoTV Week - July 2019

United States: Much reason to celebrate?

This week saw two reasons to celebrate in the US. First, it’s 4th of July week and, second, we have started the 121th month of economic expansion, the longest in US history. The former is obviously a festive event, but turning to the economy, is there still reason to celebrate?

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William De Vijlder June 2019

Soft landings are difficult, even more so today

The Fed has turned the corner and is now looking towards moving into easing mode. Low inflation makes this possible, slowing growth and significant external headwinds make it a necessity. However, the track record of successful soft landings is poor. In the current environment, the challenge is considerable given already low rates in a very mature expansion. The biggest issue however is uncertainty with respect to trade.

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ecnomic slowdown

France and Germany: Very different cyclical slowdowns

The slowdown since the start of last year is of a different nature in France, where it has manifested itself in manufacturing and services, compared to Germany, where it is very much concentrated in the manufacturing sector. Recent data show a somewhat improving picture in France whereas in Germany signs of stabilisation remain tentative. Under the hypothesis that concerns about trade relations (US-China, US-Europe) and Brexit will not disappear anytime soon, it seems difficult to expect a significant improvement in the near term. France could however surprise positively on the back of the measures to support the purchasing power of households.

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bank

Central banks: synchronised swimming against the tide

ECB President Mario Draghi, speaking at Sintra, has raised expectations of renewed policy easing. The message from the FOMC meeting is that rate cuts are coming. This policy synchronisation reflects shared issues (inflation too low versus target) and shared concerns, the major being rising uncertainty. Should this continue, the effectiveness of monetary accomodation will suffer.

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US flags

US economy: on a slippery slope

Speaking before the Economic Club of New York recently, Richard Clarida, Vice-President of the Federal Reserve, drew a positive picture of the US economy. Over the past four quarters, real GDP growth has averaged 3.2%, while the unemployment rate verged on a 50-year low of 3.6%. Month after month, job creations are still going strong. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is projecting growth of about 2% for the next three years. Clearly, all seems to be going for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

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eurozone tagcloud2

Eurozone: when manufacturing sneezes, do services catch a cold?

According to Mario Draghi, a key question is how long the rest of the economy can remain insulated from the weakness in the manufacturing sector. Historically, the purchasing manager indices for manufacturing and services have been highly correlated, which can be partly attributed to the important role of services in the value chain of the manufacturing sector. The future resilience of the services sector in the eurozone will very much depend on what happens in Germany where the gap between the PMIs of the two sectors is abnormally high.

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William De Vijlder

About William De Vijlder

Group Chief
Economist
BNP Paribas
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