William De Vijlder

Group Chief Economist BNP Paribas

The bond and stock markets appear to be immune to inflationary risk – but are they?

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European Central Bank

High inflation, optionality and central bank patience

The ECB insists on the need for patience before considering a policy tightening, despite current elevated levels of inflation. It believes that inflation will decline next year and that a wage-price spiral is unlikely to develop. Moreover, inflation expectations remain well anchored. Demand in the euro area is suffering from the headwind created by the jump in energy prices. Reacting to this type of inflation by tightening monetary policy would create the risk of reducing demand even more. To avoid such an outcome, it makes sense for the central bank to wait for more information to arrive, thereby adopting a risk management approach of monetary policy. When policy leeway is limited, central banks, confronted with a high degree of uncertainty, will opt for a patient stance considering the potential cost of a policy mistake. The higher their credibility, the more they can be patient.

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Emploi

European area labour market bottlenecks: structural aspects

Companies in the euro area report record-high levels of labour shortages. These are partly cyclical in nature but structural factors also play a role. Last year’s annual investment survey of the European Investment Bank shows that the availability of staff with the right skills is the second most important factor weighing on long-term investment decisions in the EU. Structural labour shortages can weigh on potential GDP growth through its impact on capital formation, innovation and productivity. Economic and in particular education policy including vocational training and lifelong learning schemes will have to make sure that, going forward, the available skills, both in quantity and quality, fit the evolving needs.

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Euro area labour market bottlenecks: cyclical aspects

In the euro area, business surveys report record-high staff shortages. They represent a headwind to growth and raise the possibility of faster wage growth and a pick-up in inflation. Thus far, growth of negotiated wages has been subdued but, given its historical relationship with labour market bottlenecks, an acceleration seems likely. Despite the difficulties of companies in filling vacancies, labour market slack has remained above pre-pandemic levels. This situation should improve in the coming months but whether this eases labour market tensions depends on companies’ hiring intentions. Based on recent surveys, these should remain elevated.

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BCE

Deposit rate lift-off, markets and the ECB

Markets have been pricing in an early lift-off of the ECB’s deposit rate. The ECB argues that, considering its inflation outlook, this is not warranted. This difference in view could reflect a loss of central bank credibility. More likely is that market participants and the ECB disagree on the inflation outlook. Another explanation is that investors focus on the distribution of possible inflation outcomes and are concerned about the risks of inflation surprising to the upside.

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Weaker US household confidence, a source of concern?

A recent academic paper argues that, considering the significant recent decline of consumer expectations, the US could be entering recession. However, Covid-19 complicates the interpretation of household confidence data. Fluctuations in infections play a role and the recovery from last year’s recession as well as other factors have caused a jump in inflation. Given the historically high quits rate, the weakening in household sentiment probably reflects mounting concern about the impact of inflation on spending power. Something similar has been observed in the latest consumer confidence data for France.

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European Union

Reforming EU economic governance: the start of a marathon

The European Commission has relaunched a comprehensive review of the economic governance framework of the European Union. This initiative is necessary considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on public finances as well as the investment needs in the context of the green and digital transformation. The review process comes with several challenges: an agenda which is particularly broad, the inclusive nature of the debate, involving many stakeholders and, as far as fiscal governance is concerned, the necessity for EU member states to strike a balance between committing to policy discipline whilst keeping national fiscal policy leeway. Given the state of public finances in most EU countries, sensible fiscal rules are necessary to gradually create the much-needed fiscal room for manoeuvre.

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The risks associated with transitory but high inflation

Although the significant increase in inflation in most advanced economies is expected to be transitory, it is necessary to focus on the potential consequences of inflation staying temporarily high for longer. Companies that hitherto have been reluctant to raise prices might do so after all, higher inflation could weigh on spending but also cause wage demands to grow, inflation expectations could drift higher, the market sensitivity to growth and inflation surprises would increase and there could be fears about a change in the reaction function of the central bank. In the coming months, investors and central banks will scrutinise data in parallel, but the former will react more quickly should inflation stay high.

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EcoTVWeek - October 15 2021

Unease about the distribution of risks

Although the forecasts from the IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook paint a quite favourable picture, there is unease about the distribution of risks. Risks to real GDP growth are tilted to the downside, a key factor being new Covid-19 variants that could hit countries with low vaccination levels particularly hard. Growth would also suffer if the increase in energy prices were to continue. Inflation risks on the other hand are skewed to the upside. Supply-demand mismatches may last longer than expected and the energy shock could cause second round effects. As a consequence, there is great uncertainty about the inflation outlook. Central banks will need to be patient, waiting for inflation to trend down, but also vigilant and ready to act if necessary. Their messages will be followed closely by financial markets, which, until now, have reacted in a calm way to the increase in inflation.

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Illustration Edito 21.36

Market timing, the zero lower bound and QE

Successful market timing between equities and cash requires high skill levels. Very low official interest rates, through their impact on market rates, create a disincentive for doing market timing because they increase the break-even skill level. The same applies for quantitative easing. These considerations are important from a financial stability perspective. Growing investor reluctance to do market timing will probably lead to a decline in equity market volatility and an increase in equity valuations. The former provides a false sense of safety whereas the latter increases the sensitivity to negative news and hence increases the riskiness.

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Illustration Edito 21.36

Market timing, the zero lower bound and QE

Successful market timing between equities and cash requires high skill levels. Very low official interest rates, through their impact on market rates, create a disincentive for doing market timing because they increase the break-even skill level. The same applies for quantitative easing. These considerations are important from a financial stability perspective. Growing investor reluctance to do market timing will probably lead to a decline in equity market volatility and an increase in equity valuations. The former provides a false sense of safety whereas the latter increases the sensitivity to negative news and hence increases the riskiness. 

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Illustration blog EcoP Quarter 4 2021

Underlying strength, but gathering clouds

Recent data show business and consumer sentiment has peaked and real GDP growth is expected to slow down whilst
remaining well above potential. A key factor in this respect is the self-reinforcing interaction between spending, company
profits and employment, against a background of easy monetary and financial conditions. In using the popular metaphor,
until recently, the economic sky looked quite blue but clouds have been gathering. The message of central banks should
become a bit more hawkish, in the US, political disagreement influences the economic agenda of the Biden administration
and China is going through a major adjustment phase. Most importantly, supply bottlenecks continue to weigh on growth
whereas the jump in gas and energy prices is raising concerns that inflation might stay high for somewhat longer.

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Edito 21.35

Bad inflation clouds outlook

When the pick-up in inflation during a growth upswing is driven by the demand side, inflation is considered to be good. However, inflation can also be bad. In that case, higher prices do not follow from e.g. higher wages due to a tight labour market. Bad inflation rather reflects supply-side shocks. This is, to some degree, the situation that is unfolding in the Eurozone and other economies due to the recent huge increase of oil and gas prices. Bad inflation weighs on households’ real disposable income and hence spending. The impact is expected to be larger for households at the lower end of the income distribution, considering that a bigger portion of their expenditures goes to fuel and in particular heating, and that they also have a lower savings rate.

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Euro vs dollar

Monetary desynchronisation: a headache to come?

Monetary desynchronisation between the US and the Eurozone seems unavoidable due to a very different performance in terms of inflation. Whether this will complicate the ECB’s task of reaching its inflation target depends, in the short run, on the impact on financial conditions in the euro area. This influence will probably be small. In the medium run, when the US tightening cycle is well underway, US domestic demand growth will be slowing down, which will weigh on imports and hence Eurozone exports to the US. This would complicate matters for the ECB if by then, inflation has not yet reached its target.

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Banque centrale européenne

Eurozone: upside risks to inflation

Although they have eased recently, high Eurozone manufacturing price pressures are fuelling analysts’ concerns that inflation could stay high for longer. There is an impression that the ECB is increasingly sympathetic for this view. This is important in the run-up to the December meeting of the Governing Council. Whether supply bottlenecks and rising input prices will have a longer-lasting effect on inflation depends on the transmission to the rest of the economy. One would expect it to be higher under a combination of strong demand, low inventory levels and long supplier delivery times. This corresponds to the current situation in the sectors producing durable consumer goods, intermediate goods and investment goods. Perhaps, inflation could surprise to the upside after all in the near term.

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bce

ECB: accommodation with no end in sight

The new macroeconomic projections of the ECB staff provide sobering reading for savers hoping that, one day, the policy rate will be raised. It is clear that at the current juncture, certain conditions of the recently updated forward guidance on interest rates states are not met. Based on the latest ECB projections, it seems this would still be the case in 2023, even under the hypothesis of a mild scenario. The slow increase of underlying inflation would probably be considered as unsatisfactory. Savers can only hope that the interaction between growth and inflation will evolve or that the ECB projections turn out to be too cautious.

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Illustration article Agefi septembre 2021

The apparent and hidden cost of States’ lack of fiscal space

The sharp increase in public sector debt due to the pandemic was an inevitable consequence of the automatic fiscal stabilizers, on account of their role. This was suitable and even essential, given the key role of government measures to support economic agents and boost demand. Yet, this increase raises the issue of the future orientation of fiscal policy.

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Fed adapts forward guidance, will ECB do the same?

In the early phase of QE, financial markets perceive central bank forward guidance on asset purchases and on policy rates to be closely linked. This generates a mutual reinforcement of both instruments. At a later stage, there may be mounting concern that the signalling works in the other direction as well. Scaling back asset purchases could be interpreted as a signal that a rate hike will follow soon once the net purchases have ended. In the US, Jerome Powell has been very clear that tapering would not signal a change in the outlook for the federal funds rate. In the Eurozone, both types of guidance are explicitly linked. This may complicate the scaling back of asset purchases in view of the impact on rate expectations. On the occasion of the decision on the PEPP, it might be worth to consider revisiting the link between APP guidance and rate guidance.

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Vitesse croissance

Growth hits speed limit

Judging by recent survey data, it seems many advanced economies are hitting against their speed limit in terms of economic growth. This has several consequences. It creates upside risks to inflation, something which is acknowledged by the Federal Reserve and the ECB. Labour shortages can cause faster wage growth but they should also underpin consumer confidence and spending. Supply bottlenecks should boost company investments. However, when growth is at the speed limit, future economic volatility may increase. Finally, it also creates an analytical challenge in understanding whether softer business surveys are demand or supply driven.

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Dollar engrenage

US inflation: increasing discomfort

Annual inflation has reached 5.3% in the US in June. Its drivers are still very concentrated but there is concern that they will spread. Anecdotal evidence is accumulating that price pressures faced by companies are increasing. Price pressures as reported in the ISM survey send the same signal. Historically, they have been highly correlated with producer price inflation and consumer price inflation but the transmission depends on factors such as pricing power, competitive position, labour market bottlenecks, etc. The next several months will be crucial for the Federal Reserve and for financial markets, considering the Fed’s conviction that the inflation increase should be temporary. The bond market has bought into this view thus far but, going forward, its sensitivity to upside surprises to inflation should be higher than normal.

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Loading 2021

A global macro economic analysis after 18 months of pandemic

A conjunction of developments has led in the first semester of the 2021 to a global improvement in business and consumer sentiment in advanced economies. Vaccination campaigns gathered speed while the number of new infections declined. Monetary policy support also played a part as well as fiscal policy. International trade and capital flows created international spillover effects which led to a sizeable improvement in the assessment of export orders.

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William De Vijlder

Outlook for the second half of the year: it’s not over

A combination of positive developments has led in the first half of the year to a broad-based improvement in business and consumer sentiment in advanced economies: successful vaccination campaigns, a declining number of new infections, ongoing policy support and positive international spillover effects. Gradually, the ‘mechanical’ recovery in sectors which previously had suffered from restrictions is expected to lose steam. Supply bottlenecks and certain price increases may end up acting as a headwind. The growth cycle, despite a gradual slowdown, is far from over but neither is the fight against Covid-19. There is increasing concern that new variants would lead to precautionary behaviour, thereby weighing on certain spending categories. This concern has already triggered a significant decline in bond yields, despite concerns that in the US inflation might stay higher for longer. It also means that central bank policy guidance will be a key point of attention in the second half of the year.

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About William De Vijlder

Group Chief
Economist
BNP Paribas
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