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.

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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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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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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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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ECB by night

ECB: getting ready for more easing, but not in a hurry

The ECB has eased policy slightly, by extending its forward guidance on policy rates. On the other hand, the conditions on TLTRO III are slightly less generous than those on the previous operation. Importantly, a discussion has started within the Governing Council on how to react should the environment worsen. Understandably, given the eurozone fundamentals, the ECB is not yet in a hurry to react to the prolonged uncertainties. This is a matter of keeping its powder dry.

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eurozone tagcloud2

Eurozone: Mixed signals

Survey data released this week provide mixed signals with an improvement of consumer confidence, a weakening of the ifo business climate index in Germany and a stabilisation of the INSEE indicator in France. The IHS Markit PMIs show a stabilisation in recent months in manufacturing, at a subdued to low level, and in services, at a more satisfactory level. Several drivers of domestic demand remain supportive. Nevertheless, unease remains, mainly for reasons on which the eurozone has no control and where the risk of further tariff increases is top of the list.

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William De Vijlder May 2019

Policy uncertainty creates forecast uncertainty

On the surface, the recently released forecasts of the IMF, the European Commission and the OECD look satisfactory, without being great. Upon closer inspection, unease dominates for a number of reasons: developments in emerging markets, China’s slowdown, slowing world trade growth and, above all, risks and uncertainties (protectionism, Brexit). OECD simulations of the impact on growth show the importance of avoiding that these risks materialise.

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Trade

US: The import tariff boomerang

Import tariffs have a negative impact on the targeted country. Retaliation will in turn have negative consequences for the country which started the tariff hikes. Even in the absence of retaliation, there will be negative consequences. Household spending will suffer from a loss of spending power due to an increase in inflation following higher import prices and/or a switch to domestically produced goods. For the same reason, aggregate corporate profits may suffer. Companies may also cut back their investment because of increased uncertainty. Empirical research confirms these outcomes.

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GDP

United States: Strong growth but questions about quality

According to Jerome Powell, the fundamentals supporting the US economy remain solid. First quarter growth has been robust but underlying concerns about the quality of growth have emerged. Growth has benefitted from a drop in imports and rising inventory levels while residential investment acted as a drag. In the coming months, imports should rebound and inventories should witness a scale back. The onus will fall on consumer spending and corporate investment to neutralise the effects of these anticipated headwinds on growth.

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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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