William De Vijlder

Group Chief Economist BNP Paribas

Economic cycle

How are growth, inflation and employment trends evolving in a given country or region? William De Vijlder examines the cyclical fluctuations of an economy in crisis, expansion, recession and recovery phases as part of a cyclical analysis.


2019: growth outlook clouded by uncertainty

We started 2018 under a clear blue sky and finished the year under clouds of uncertainty. We started the year wondering how good it could get. After all, eurozone survey data showed an almost exuberant atmosphere. We finished the year wondering what could see sentiment make a turn for the better: when dovish guidance by the Federal Reserve at its December meeting causes a decline in Wall Street, it is clear that investors are in the grip of growth fears. In that environment, ebbing concerns about further rate hikes are of no avail. Sentiment tends to evolve gradually, which implies that at least in the early part of 2019, ‘uncertainty’ will be a frequently used word in describing the economic environment.

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United States: The big growth scare

The big correction of US equity markets since the end of September reflects increased investor concern about the growth outlook. The data for the 4th quarter nevertheless point towards ongoing sustained growth. Data released since the start of the year provide conflicting signals with a big decline in the ISM manufacturing index and a strong increase in non-farm payrolls. Uncertainty about US-Chinese trade remains a key factor weighing on business sentiment.

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Global economy: In the grip of growth fears

The new projections of the FOMC show a downward revision to growth in 2019, a slower pace of Fed tightening and a lower cyclical peak level of the federal funds rate. Lower bond yields, a weaker dollar and a global decline in equity markets show that investors are in the grip of a growth scare. This is also echoed in a survey of US CFOs but this is at odds with the outlook for the drivers of economic growth. Growth worries probably reflect a focus on tail risk (rather than on the mean forecast) which may be explained by rising uncertainty.

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The decline of commodity prices: A matter of concern?

Oil and metals prices are down significantly this year. For oil this seems to be predominantly driven by supply factors. The decline of metal prices probably reflects the softening of global growth. There is a clear negative relationship between oil price changes and subsequent US real GDP growth. US growth is expected to face a number of headwinds in 2019 but the decline of the price of oil should act as a tailwind.

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Australian flag

Australia: Recession, a distant memory

Australia has seen 27 years without a recession and IMF and OECD forecasts show ongoing growth in coming years. Population growth, productivity growth, commodity exports to China and other fast growing Asian economies have played an important role together with policy aimed at enhancing economic flexibility. The floating exchange rate has been an important countercyclical and hence stabilising factor. The housing boom has become a source of concern from a financial stability perspective with recent prudential measures allowing for a “positive correction”.

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Eurozone: Cooler sentiment

Sentiment indicators continue their softening trend and the flash estimate points towards weak third quarter GDP growth. Yet drivers of final demand continue to point towards ongoing good growth in the upcoming quarters. Data in the coming weeks as well as developments concerning Brexit and US trade policy will be key to confirm or tune down this assessment.

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Don’t mention the R word

People update their expectations more quickly when media coverage of a given economic topic becomes more intense. The change in the outlook is more important than today’s cyclical environment. Monitoring media coverage of economic slowdown risk will become particularly relevant against the background of a loss of momentum in survey data.

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Global economy

Softer growth amid increased uncertainty

Growth has eased during the course of this year with the US being the major exception largely thanks to fiscal stimulus. The ensuing cyclical desynchronization has caused a broad-based appreciation of the US dollar, in particular versus emerging currencies. In some cases (Argentina, Turkey), the depreciation has been considerable due to country-specific developments. Global growth should continue to ease further next year and lead to a certain resynchronization: the impact of the US fiscal boost will wane, Fed tightening should start to have an effect and corporate investment is expected to slow, which in turn should weigh on world trade growth. Even in the absence of additional tariff increases, fears of more tit-for-tat measures could sap business confidence.

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Ten years after: The uncomfortable new normal

Ten years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, assessing to what extent major economies have fully recovered from the ensuing global financial crisis and the Great Recession very much depends on the perspective which is chosen. A mixed picture emerges: in most countries per capita real GDP is higher than before the crisis. But public sector debt hasn’t declined and growth has been slow, despite the expansionary policy stance. Policy rates are still (very) low and central bank balance sheets are vastly bigger. Policy leeway hasn’t been restored which implies that thinking about how to address the next downturn should be high on the agenda.

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Secteur manufacturier

Global economy: Decline of manufacturing sentiment slows down

Since the end of 2017, most countries have witnessed a decline of the Markit PMI index for the manufacturing sector. The pace of decline is slowing however in the past 3 months compared to the previous 3 months. This and the still high level of the index in many countries point towards an ongoing satisfactory growth pace.

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Picture William De Vijlder

EcoTV Week – 07/20/2018 – The psychology of protectionism

Corporate America is increasingly confronted with the consequences of tariff increases and is concerned that more is to come. This is a reminder that protectionism influences the economy not only directly via prices or changes in supply and demand but also indirectly because of increased uncertainty.

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question mark

Emerging ambiguities

Economic prospects have become more uncertain since the beginning of the year. Will the Federal Reserve be more aggressive faced with a US economy operating at full cruising speed? Does the flattening of the yield curve foreshadow a more-severe-than-expected slowdown in 2019? What will be the consequences of higher tariffs? These ambiguities have emerged at the same time as various pressures in the emerging countries.

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blue sky

Guarded confidence

Growth assumptions for the world economy remain at a high level in 2018 underpinned by a powerful combination of job creation, rising company profits and easy access to financing. Yet sources of concern have multiplied and others have become far more intense, leading to a sentiment of increased uncertainty. This is predominantly related to politics and economic policy, which leaves room for positive surprises, but if nothing changes, it could also result in ever stronger headwinds for consumer spending, business investment and international trade

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The US yield curve: be careful what you wish for

The flattening of the US treasury curve has received a lot of attention as of late because historically recessions have been preceded by an inversion of the yield curve. A rather flat curve does not imply that a recession is imminent. However, historically once the yield curve starts to steepen after having flattened or inverted, a recession follows quite soon thereafter. Rather than focussing on the slope of the curve, one should wonder when the Fed will stop tightening.

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The transformation of uncertainty

Since the beginning of the year the financial markets and the global economy have reacted to various sources which is inherent, at least in part, in a market economy. We must constantly ask ourselves where the next bit of bad news might spring from, and also keep in mind that better visibility in one area is a reminder to search for other sources of uncertainty elsewhere.

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