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.

Dette

The stairway of public indebtedness

For a large sample of developed economies, government debt as a percentage of GDP has been on a rising trend over the past 40 years. High public sector debt weakens the resilience of the economy to cope with interest rate and growth shocks.This calls for embarking, at some point in time, on a fiscal consolidation. Clearly, now is not the time. The economy is still recovering from the Covid-19 shock and the outlook remains highly uncertain. Nor is there any urgency, considering the very low interest rates. However, the absence of urgency in the near term should not make us forget about the necessity to act at a later stage. Otherwise, the resilience of the economy would weaken further. It would also represent a bet that in every downturn, central bank QE will come to the rescue.

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Economic growth

Will companies use better cash flows to invest?

A key question in assessing the pace of the recovery in coming quarters is what will happen to corporate investment. Financial analysts are expecting profits of US companies to increase. If confirmed, we can expect better cash flows which, based on historical relationships, should lead, with some delay, to a rise in capital formation by companies. However, there is a possibility that companies which have seen a pandemic-induced rise in indebtedness would prefer to use their extra cash to pay back debt. Cash flow uncertainty is another factor that could weigh on the willingness to invest.

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Bloomberg Interview 20200929

William De Vijlder’s interview on Bloomberg TV – September 29, 2020

In his interview on “Bloomberg Markets: European Open”, William De Vijlder, Chief Economist at BNP Paribas, gives his view on ECB’s leeway on growth and inflation against the background of the pandemic-induced recession. The strenghtening of euro, fiscal dominance as well as uncertainty (surrounding notably the next American election) will also be discussed.

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Incertitude

Looking beyond the second quarter GDP numbers

Unsurprisingly, this week’s GDP numbers for the second quarter were exceptionally bad. The third quarter should see strong quarterly growth, if only because of a powerful base effect. It also leaves room for disappointment however, should the growth momentum start to slip over the summer. In the US, this already seems to be the case. In the euro area, business surveys continue to improve and the employment expectations indicator sees a marked increase. Households are not convinced however and their unemployment expectations have remained broadly stable.

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Illustration EcoTV Week du 31/07

The euro area economy: doing better

Survey data for the euro area continue to improve. The flash purchasing managers’ indices for July have passed the 50 hurdle in manufacturing and services as well as for the composite index, implying activity is expanding again. In addition, export orders are improving. Although companies feel more confident than the month before, the level of confidence is still rather low compared to historical averages. This is illustrated in the latest data for German and French business sentiment: better but starting from a low level. Caution continues to prevail, which shows up very clearly in the employment component of the business surveys. A lot has to do with the concern about how the pandemic will evolve. Against this background, the fiscal stimulus at the national and EU level will be more than welcome.

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Cogs economic recovery

What comes after the mechanical rebound?

The easing of lockdown measures has caused a significant improvement in business sentiment and a mechanical rebound in activity and demand. In the near term, the narrowing of the gap between observed and normal activity levels should gradually lead to less spectacular growth numbers. These are underpinned by pent-up demand, monetary and fiscal policy support and the possibility for households to use the extra-savings accumulated during the lockdown. A lot will depend however on how uncertainty evolves. The health situation is not under control in certain countries and there are concerns about the risk of a flare-up. Households face income uncertainty due to bleak labour market prospects. Against this background, companies may tune down their investment plans.

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Change

COVID-19 AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Due to the externalities of economic activity, the lockdown has had a considerable impact, not only on the economy but also on the environment. In a post-lockdown world, the question is how and to what extent the experience of the pandemic will influence the environment in the years to come. Covid-19 may make people more health-focused, including how the environment influences one’s health. This may change behaviour in terms of mobility and spending. It may also cause an increase in the allocation to sustainable investments, which in turn could influence corporate strategies. Changes in
global value chains can also have an environmental impact. For fiscal policy, there is an opportunity of meeting the short-term goal of boosting the post-pandemic recovery by making investments that contribute to reaching the goals related to climate change and the environment.

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Illustration Edito 20.27

EUROZONE: A GROWTH SPURT OR MARATHON?

The recession of 2020 is unique in nature and, in recent history, in depth. It should be followed by an equally unique recovery. The first phase should be particularly strong and driven by the easing of lockdown measures. Thereafter, growth should be essentially demand-driven. The lockdown-induced drop in demand led to forced savings. Tapping into these excess savings should provide a considerable boost to consumption. However, a significant deterioration in the employment outlook would mean that the forced savings during the lockdown would morph into precautionary savings, implying growth disappointments and a negative feedback loop.

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Webcast 3 July 2020

How to prepare for the second half of 2020 and beyond

Geert Lippens, CEO BNP Paribas The Netherlands and William de Vijlder, Group Chief Economist of BNP Paribas, discuss the V,U or W shape, balance sheet repair, zombification of companies, what changes might last, what changes might be temporary, how to read the macro and geopolitical signs, about kicking the can down the road in Europe and how COVID-19 might help to accelerate BNP Paribas’s mission for a sustainable future.

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Household consumption

How to spend it? Vouchers versus VAT cuts

The bleak outlook for the labour market implies there is a strong case for measures to boost consumer spending in order to keep the recovery on track. A host of instruments can be considered: vouchers, VAT rate cuts, income tax cuts, tax credits, negative income taxes. Amongst these, a voucher programme offers many advantages given the possibility for fine-tuning the target group, the final beneficiaries, the type of spending and the regional dimension. However, it comes with considerable administrative costs.

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Longue vue

Boomerang economics

Corporate sentiment has jumped following the easing of Covid-19 related restrictions. There is a risk of excessive enthusiasm because better business expectations do not tell us where we are in terms of the level of activity and demand. The current phase of the rebound is mechanical. It shows that the supply side starts to function again. The real question however is what happens to the demand side in the coming quarters. Companies and households are confronted with limited visibility, so caution will prevail.

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Stormy sky

The long shadow of unemployment

Recent economic data have improved on the back of the easing of lockdowns. This may create a feeling of false comfort. The effects of the severity of the crisis will make themselves felt well into the future. A key factor is the rise in unemployment and in unemployment expectations. Both weigh on household spending, due to related income losses and increased precautionary savings. The major national central banks of the Eurosystem expect unemployment to increase in 2021, despite the economic recovery. When visibility remains limited and the pressure on profits high, many companies have no other option than to reduce their labour force.

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Bilan - Illustration edito 20.23

European Union: corporate leverage as a headwind during the recovery

One of the longer-lasting consequences of this crisis is a forced increase in corporate gearing. A high level of corporate leverage can act as a drag on growth. Research shows that firms with higher leverage invest less than others. This reduces the effectiveness of monetary accommodation. Highly indebted companies may also suffer a lasting loss in competitiveness vis-à-vis their better capitalised competitors. It implies that policies aimed at recapitalising companies should have lasting favourable effects on growth.

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European Commission

EU: after an ambitious proposal, preparing for difficult negotiations

The European Commission is proposing a comprehensive plan to support growth and achieve the EU ambitions in terms of climate policy and digital strategy. Such an effort is necessary in order to avoid that the current crisis would increase the economic divergence between member states. Such a development would weaken the functioning of the Single Market and weigh on long-term growth. The Commission proposes a combination of grants and loans at favourable terms, funded by debt issued directly by the EU. Given the resistance of certain countries to grants, negotiations on the proposal will be tough.

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Economy

The COVID-19 recession: this time is really different

Across time and countries, financial crises and, more broadly, recessions and recoveries, have had much in common. Recessions predominantly impact the demand side whereas the influence on the supply side is more limited. This time is different. The pandemic-induced recession will have a longer lasting influence on the allocation of household expenditures, if not on the level of spending.  More than a normal recession, it will also have major repercussions on the supply side, through changes in global value chains, working from home or the disruption of the economics of businesses which are confronted with a forced capacity reduction on social distancing grounds.

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