William De Vijlder

Group Chief Economist BNP Paribas

Eurozone: QE and market instability risks

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Eurozone

Eurozone: which role for automatic fiscal stabilisers?

Automatic fiscal stabilisers help cushion the impact of economic shocks on GDP via changes in government revenues (because of progressive taxes) and expenditures (unemployment insurance). The limited remaining monetary policy leeway in the eurozone is fueling interest in the effectiveness of the automatic stabilisers. European Commission research confirms that, to some degree, automatic stabilisers iron out the impact of negative shocks on GDP. Whether that is enough is another matter. It warrants a debate on the role of discretionary fiscal policy in case of a recession.

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Financial Markets

What drives the recent rise in bond yields and equity markets?

In recent weeks, equity markets performed well. Focussing on the US, it is hard to argue that this reflects an improvement in the earnings outlook or a perspective of more rate cuts than hitherto expected. This would imply that a decline in the required risk premium was the key driver. US treasury yields also increased significantly, which probably reflects to a large degree an increase in the term premium. The decline in the equity risk premium and the increase in the bond term premium were driven by a common factor, namely a reduction in economic tail risk on the back of progress in the trade negotiations between the US and China and a stabilisation of certain survey data.
The reduced likelihood of very negative economic developments, which has boosted equity markets, has also reduced the attraction of bonds as a hedge against equity risk. As a consequence, bond yields have moved up in sync with equity markets.

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Stability

Business sentiment stabilises, but at a low level

Recent business surveys such as the purchasing managers’ indices, point towards a broad-based stabilisation in October. This is a welcome development after a prolonged downward trend. However, in a historical perspective, the recent readings are low or, looking at the manufacturing sector, very low. This points to an ongoing subdued growth environment. Going forward, a sideways movement of these surveys should increase the likelihood of a growth acceleration: when the frequency of bad news drops, confidence should eventually rebound, fuelling spending, all the more so given the very accommodative financial and monetary conditions.

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Halloween, fear and the economy

Do fluctuations in uncertainty have a symmetric or asymmetric effect on the economy? The question is important considering that since last year, uncertainty has been acting as a headwind to global growth. Moreover, recent news about the US-China trade negotiations and Brexit have raised hope that uncertainty may have peaked and that growth in activity could accelerate. Empirical research shows that an increase in uncertainty has a bigger effect on the economy than a decline, in particular in a subdued growth environment. This would suggest that, should the decline in uncertainty be confirmed, the pick-up in growth would be very gradual.

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question mark

Uncertainty: peaking or just migrating?

The US-China trade conflict and Brexit have been acting as a headwind for growth for a considerable time now. Recent developments have raised expectations that these sources of uncertainty may have peaked. Should it turn out to be the case, this could spur spending by unleashing pent-up demand by companies or households. However, in an environment of slowing global growth and, quoting the IMF, a precarious outlook for next year, we probably will see a more limited reaction, with other sources of concern taking over from the previous ones: uncertainty make have peaked in certain areas, but is likely to migrate to other

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IMF

IMF: idiosyncratic recoveries to drive modest growth pick-up

According to the IMF’s chief economist, the growth outlook is precarious. Although the Fund expects somewhat of a pick-up of growth next year, this is driven by a small group of emerging and developing economies which are currently under stress or underperforming. The modest growth acceleration reflects country-specific factors, rather than the expectation of a broad-based improvement. In the US, the growth slowdown is expected to continue well beyond 2020 and Chinese growth is projected to decline to 5.8% next year. Against this background, the projected slight pick-up in the eurozone, driven by Germany and Italy, and which supposes that external demand regains some momentum, looks challenging.

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Japon Mont Fuji

Japan: moving to yield curve slope control?

The Japanese government bond yield curve has been flattening in recent months, with very long maturities coming dangerously close to 0%. This is creating concerns amongst institutional investors with long-dated liabilities (insurance companies, pension funds). Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda has argued that an excessive decline in super-long-term interest rates could negatively impact economic activity
This has raised expectations that the central bank could shift to a policy of controlling the slope as well as the level of the yield curve. This could influence bond yields abroad. In the eurozone it would intensify the debate about the impact of ECB policy on pension funds and insurers.

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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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William De Vijlder

About William De Vijlder

Group Chief
Economist
BNP Paribas
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