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 higher for longer? The interplay between productivity, profit margins and pricing power

A complex interplay between unit labour costs, profit margins and pricing power will determine whether the current increase in inflation will be longer-lasting. Traditionally, in the early phase of a recovery, unit labour costs decline on the back of increased productivity. This should cushion the impact of higher input prices on profit margins. Subsequently, unit labour costs should increase but this does not imply that margins should decline. Given the strength of the growth acceleration, the fact that alternatives for meeting robust demand often do not exist and that going for market share makes no sense when faced with supply constraints, the conditions seem to be met for a rather significant transmission of higher input prices in producer output prices.

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Zone euro

Eurozone: peak growth momentum => peak in bond yields?

Historically, a very close correlation has been observed between cyclical peaks in German economic sentiment –which since the start of the euro more or less coincides with the peak in Eurozone economic sentiment- and the 10 year Bund yield. The latter tends to decline, once the peak in sentiment has been passed. Although other factors also play a role in the dynamics of long-term interest rates, the historical experience is important to keep in mind when assessing the outlook for bond yields.

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Uncomfortable inflation

Usually during recovery phases following a recession, it takes quite some time before inflationary pressures begin to appear. Yet the 2020 recession was atypical, and the recovery is proving to be just as unusual. Growth should receive abnormally strong support in the quarters ahead. What if price acceleration was not temporary, contrary to the reassuring comments of the Fed’s monetary policy committee members?

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Illustration Blog 21.20

Supply bottlenecks and the inflation outlook

In countries where restrictions on mobility are lifted, demand picks up suddenly, causing an imbalance with supply, which takes more time to react, in particular when value chains are long and complex. In recent months, companies have been reporting longer delivery lags and rising input costs, but the historical experience in the US and the euro area shows that the impact on inflation should be temporary and limited. Nevertheless, in bond markets, break-even inflation has increased significantly in recent months, reflecting investor worries about the risk of upside surprises to inflation. Should supply-side pressures ease in coming months, one would expect break-even inflation to decline as well.

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Illustration EcoTV mai 2021

US: back to the seventies?

In the debate on economic policy in the United States, some observers warn we may be back to the seventies. It was a period of severe shocks – move to floating exchange rates, two major oil crises –, high and accelerating inflation and an increased role for the State.

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US: which insights from the ‘great inflation’ of the 1970s?

The ‘great inflation’ of the 1970s had many causes. The policy objective of full employment had already led to high inflation by the end of the 1960s. Two oil shocks and the depreciation of the dollar caused additional increases. The key factor was monetary policy, which was not adapted to the circumstances. It reflected the view that the Fed did not have a mandate to tolerate the sizeable increase in unemployment that might have ensued from the aggressive tightening needed to bring inflation under control. In addition, inflation was considered to be a cost-push phenomenon that could be addressed with wage and price controls. Today’s situation is very different. The Federal Reserve is an independent central bank and inflation expectations are well-anchored. However, letting the economy run hot is reminiscent of the 1960s.  Should inflation be above target for too long, the Federal Reserve will need to have the courage to tighten policy sufficiently despite the potential cost to the economy.

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Illustration ITW Brexit BNPP Fortis

Brexit and its economic aftermath

How does doing trade with the United Kingdom look like in a post-Brexit world? A few months after the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK came into force on 1 January 2021, what is its impact on companies trade and the economy as a whole? What can Belgian corporates with interests in the UK expect in the future? My colleague Simon Gates and myself are sharing our insights in this video.

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Dépenses ménages

How to spend it? Shifting consumption patterns and Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on household expenditures. The volume has dropped and its composition has changed significantly. As restrictions are gradually lifted, services such as recreation, food services and accommodation, which have seen a big reduction in demand due to the restrictive measures, could thrive, to the detriment –at least relatively speaking- of spending on goods. For the strength of the early phases of the recovery, pent-up demand is an important factor. It plays a smaller role in the services sector, which could mean that countries with a larger services sector not only have suffered more from restrictive measures but could also face a bigger challenge during the recovery.

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EcoTV Avril 2021

Spring is in the air

Economic statistics for the first part of this year are better than expected, including in Japan and the euro area. Moreover, this development is broadening in terms of sectors. Looking at business surveys, there is a growing feeling of beginning to “see the light at the end of the tunnel”.

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Illustration édito EcoP

Growing certainty that there will be less uncertainty

In many countries the number of new Covid-19 cases has begun rising again, forcing governments to maintain or tighten health restrictions. This is the case for the Eurozone, among others, where a true rebound in growth and demand has been postponed yet again. The timing of the recovery will depend essentially on the effectiveness of restrictive measures and the acceleration of vaccination campaigns, but also on spillovers effects with some of its trading partners whose economies are picking up more rapidly. The United States is one such country thanks to its successful vaccination campaign and the enormous recovery plan that has just been launched. America’s influence is not limited to providing greater opportunities for European exporters. The upturn in US bond yields has partially carried over to long-term rates in the Eurozone, pushing them higher. This trend largely reflects higher inflation expectations, although the Federal Reserve is convinced that the surge in inflation will be short-lived. Companies and households should welcome the bond markets’ jitters, which clearly signal the sentiment that the economy really is improving.

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Printemps - bourgeons

Eurozone: green shoots of recovery

The emergence of spring mirrors the improvement in economic data in the euro zone. When looking at the recent flash PMIs, one cannot but be impressed by an improvement far bigger than what was expected by the consensus. The manufacturing PMIs are also reaching a very high level and sometimes historical levels. Services have also improved, however the level is still lower than the long-term average.

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After disconnecting, will money supply growth and inflation reconnect?

Since the Great Recession, the monetary base in several advanced economies has seen a considerable increase, driven by the creation of bank reserves at the central bank. Yet, contrary to what had been observed in previous decades, this has not been followed by a significant pick-up of inflation. Following the global financial crisis, the demand of the banking system for central bank reserves increased a lot. This was a reflection of the dire state of the economy and money markets as well as tighter liquidity requirements. Subsequently, quantitative easing caused an increase in reserves on the initiative of the central bank. Going forward, as the economy strengthens, money supply growth and inflation could reconnect on the back of an increase in money velocity or faster credit demand growth. Central banks have the tools to address this, if need be. Clearly, asset markets might be less relaxed about such a prospect.

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US: nail-biting about the near-term inflation outlook

In recent months, purchasing managers in the euro area and the US have reported a significant increase in input prices as well as longer delivery lags. They reflect the next stage of the disruptive impact of the pandemic with supply struggling to meet the pick-up in demand. According to an Atlanta Fed survey, firms experiencing the most intense disruption tend to be those with the highest expectation of future inflation. It remains to be seen whether this will convince them to raise prices. The Federal Reserve is relaxed about this but, nevertheless, there will be lot of nail-biting in the second half of the year as US inflation data are released in an economy that should be able to close its output gap quickly.

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Towards a pick-up in euro area inflation after all?

Euro area headline inflation has been in negative territory for several months and core inflation is stuck at a very low level. Unemployment is expected to rise further before starting to decline, so wage increases should remain limited. Does this mean that inflation is bound to remain low for a long time? Not necessarily.

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Eurozone inflation: more noise than signal

The preliminary estimation for euro area inflation surprised to the upside, with annual core inflation reaching 1.4% in January. Monthly inflation was negative however, at -0.5%. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation data have become very noisy and hence more difficult to interpret. Survey data show rising input prices and lengthening of delivery times, which could exert some upward pressure on inflation. These factors should dissipate during the course of the year. Given the economic slack, any lasting pick-up in inflation should be a very gradual process

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Towards a delayed eurozone recovery?

With the pace of vaccination roll-out, new infections in many countries and the emergence of variants, there is a risk that restrictions may need to be kept in place. This would induce a delay in the recovery. In the sectors impacted by the restrictions, the difficult times would last longer and could lead to bigger damage. Finally, an international comparison of the recovery pace could have an impact on capital flows and the euro, given that the eurozone is lagging behind.

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EcoTV 7 janvier

What difference will the pace of vaccination make for the economy?

The introduction of vaccines will enable the global economy to make the shift from a stuttering recovery, shaped by a series of lockdowns and their relaxations, towards a steadier growth trend. A key factor will be the gradual reduction in uncertainty, which will encourage households to spend and businesses to invest. The quicker we reach collective immunity, the stronger this economic momentum will be.

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Illustration édito 20.47

Economic outlook: the narratives of 2020

Narratives –the stories people tell about events- may influence behaviour. In future years, several narratives may very well be used when looking back at economic developments in 2020. Big, unanticipated shocks do happen. In terms of monetary policy, a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude prevails. This also applies increasingly to fiscal policy. In terms of financial markets, the dominant attitude towards risky assets is to buy rather than to say ‘bye bye’. With Next Generation EU, the European Union has again demonstrated that, under pressure, it can make big leaps forward. Finally, attention to sustainable growth has become ubiquitous. Some of these narratives provide comfort but several also come with a warning.

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