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.

Incertitude

What if the road to Covid-19 immunity is longer than expected?

The prospect of the deployment of a Covid-19 vaccine has raised expectations that the stop-start cycle seen this year will make way for a lasting economic recovery in 2021. There is concern however that bringing the pandemic under control could take more time than is currently assumed in economic projections. Under such a scenario, worries about possible new restrictions would remain elevated, although one can assume that, because of vaccination, these measures would be less strict than before and more local.Nevertheless, in the more exposed sectors, investment and employment could be clear victims.

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Inflation

Pent-up demand to trigger inflation pick-up

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a decline in inflation and, in most euro area countries, an increase in the inflation dispersion between sectors. It will take considerable time until activity has been restored sufficiently to generate labour market bottlenecks, which –in the absence of exogenous shocks- are a necessary condition to see a broad-based and lasting increase in inflation. This suggests that for the coming years, we should expect inflation to fluctuate around a slowly rising trend. In the course of 2021, the unleashing of pent-up demand –under the assumption that a vaccine is sufficiently widely deployed- could cause a temporary pick-up in inflation. In this respect, a decline in the price elasticity of demand will play a key role.

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Blog édito 20.42

Announcement of vaccine cuts tail risk

The announcement that a Covid-19 vaccine that is under development is highly effective caused major reactions in financial markets, reflecting a feeling that the growth outlook has changed. The prospect of a vaccine offers hope that in the medium run activity will normalise, but the positive impact on growth will take time to materialise. Clearly, the view that better times are ahead of us very much depends on the horizon one takes. However, decisions of households and businesses not only depend on expected growth of income and profits but also on the distribution around the growth forecast. The prospect of a vaccine reduces the probability of very negative outcomes and this reduction in uncertainty should eventually contribute to a pick-up in growth.

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Illustration blog EcoTV du 13/11/2020

The stop-go recovery

After a mechanical and spectacular recovery in economic activity during the third quarter, there seems to be a real risk that the euro zone will see the recovery come to an abrupt halt in the final quarter of the year. This will be due to the sharp rise in the number of new coronavirus cases, the measures taken to restrict the spread of the disease and the general feeling of uncertainty that will hold back spending. This said, we can already look forward to the impetus to recovery from a relaxation of these measures once the number of new cases has been brought back under control. We are therefore living in a stop-start economy, with strong acceleration alternating with brutal slowdowns. Such an environment, with its lack of visibility beyond the short term, is depressing the propensity of businesses to invest. Households may also delay spending on large-ticket items. Monetary and, to an even greater extent, fiscal support will thus remain crucial. Spillover effects from the rest of the world will also play a key role. In this context, one thinks of China and of the USA, where a new stimulus package is being drawn up.

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Crise + Covid 19

The stop-start recovery

Activity was already slowing before the new lockdown measures and the latter will act as an additional brake. We are living in a stop-start economy. The contraction of activity should be more limited than in March-April. The measures are less strict for economic activity, businesses are better prepared and exports should benefit from a more dynamic business environment, in particular in Asia, compared to what happened in spring. The stop-start recovery should also have negative consequences that go beyond the near term. Uncertainty may last for longer which entails increased risk of bigger scars like a rise in long-term unemployment or corporate bankruptcies. It may intensify disinflationary forces and increases the burden on public finances. It will also take more time until the pre-pandemic activity level will be reached.

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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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