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.

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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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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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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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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clouds

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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