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.

Stormy sky

The long shadow of unemployment

Recent economic data have improved on the back of the easing of lockdowns. This may create a feeling of false comfort. The effects of the severity of the crisis will make themselves felt well into the future. A key factor is the rise in unemployment and in unemployment expectations. Both weigh on household spending, due to related income losses and increased precautionary savings. The major national central banks of the Eurosystem expect unemployment to increase in 2021, despite the economic recovery. When visibility remains limited and the pressure on profits high, many companies have no other option than to reduce their labour force.

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Bilan - Illustration edito 20.23

European Union: corporate leverage as a headwind during the recovery

One of the longer-lasting consequences of this crisis is a forced increase in corporate gearing. A high level of corporate leverage can act as a drag on growth. Research shows that firms with higher leverage invest less than others. This reduces the effectiveness of monetary accommodation. Highly indebted companies may also suffer a lasting loss in competitiveness vis-à-vis their better capitalised competitors. It implies that policies aimed at recapitalising companies should have lasting favourable effects on growth.

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European Commission

EU: after an ambitious proposal, preparing for difficult negotiations

The European Commission is proposing a comprehensive plan to support growth and achieve the EU ambitions in terms of climate policy and digital strategy. Such an effort is necessary in order to avoid that the current crisis would increase the economic divergence between member states. Such a development would weaken the functioning of the Single Market and weigh on long-term growth. The Commission proposes a combination of grants and loans at favourable terms, funded by debt issued directly by the EU. Given the resistance of certain countries to grants, negotiations on the proposal will be tough.

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Economy

The COVID-19 recession: this time is really different

Across time and countries, financial crises and, more broadly, recessions and recoveries, have had much in common. Recessions predominantly impact the demand side whereas the influence on the supply side is more limited. This time is different. The pandemic-induced recession will have a longer lasting influence on the allocation of household expenditures, if not on the level of spending.  More than a normal recession, it will also have major repercussions on the supply side, through changes in global value chains, working from home or the disruption of the economics of businesses which are confronted with a forced capacity reduction on social distancing grounds.

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Commerce international

The Covid-19 pandemic: stress testing the supply side

The COVID-19 pandemic shows that the supply side warrants greater attention when conducting macroeconomic analyses. Very long global value chains may be optimal from a cost and price perspective, but operationally may be very complex and, in particular, fragile. A more resilient supply side comes with a cost, both at the micro and macro level. Solving this trade-off in a market economy is difficult, which, to some degree, leaves a role for public policy.

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Coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic and the labour market

In March, the employment component of the purchasing managers indices for the eurozone declined, whereas in the US, initial jobless claims skyrocketed. Companies need flexibility to manage their cost base but households suffering from an unemployment-related income loss would act as a headwind to the recovery. In the US, the Federal government will top up unemployment benefits, which vary from state to state. In Europe, short-time work schemes allow employers to adapt their workforce without having recourse to costly lay-offs.

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Covid_19

Drop in data confirms need for strong policy reaction

The measures to stop the spreading of the pandemic have a profound impact on the economy which increasingly shows up in the economic data.Record declines in business sentiment illustrate the necessity of the forceful policy measures which have already been taken.The lifting of the lockdowns will, mechanistically, trigger a rebound in activity but additional stimulus will probably be needed to maintain the momentum.

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Effet domino

The coronavirus: international propagation and tail risks

The international propagation of the coronavirus forces a rethink of the consequences for the global economy. Coming after the outbreak in China, the marginal impact on the global economy of the spreading of the epidemic should, a priori, be rather limited. Yet, financial markets have reacted very negatively. This jump in risk aversion reflects concern that the economic consequences may have been underestimated thus far as well as increased focus on tail risk. This ‘financial accelerator’ phenomenon may in turn contribute to the worsening of the growth outlook.

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The coronavirus: putting a number on the economic consequences

Putting a number on the consequences of the coronavirus is a huge challenge. On some of the topics we have a satisfactory level of visibility of the order of magnitude: international spillover effects of the demand shock, repercussions of the global increase in uncertainty. The visibility is much lower concerning the effects of the supply disruption. This is even more the case for the impact on China. In the near term, data surprises –the difference between the consensus forecast and the outcome- should be higher than normal. However, provided that the peak of the epidemic is reached quickly, visibility should improve quickly and hence support confidence.

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Economic growth

The coronavirus and the profile for global growth in 2020: V, U or L?

From an economic perspective, the coronavirus epidemic represents a combination of a demand, a supply and an uncertainty shock. The weight of China in world economy, its contribution to global GDP growth and its role in global value chains imply that the international repercussions are more far-reaching than during the SARS crisis in 2003.We have to brace for poor data in February and March, so the real test is whether April sees a pick-up in business surveys. Absence thereof would fuel concerns that the impact is more lasting in nature which would put us in a U-type scenario. An L-type scenario looks unlikely as yet whereas a V-type recovery would supposes a swift decline in new cases.

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Analyse données économiques

Global: how many swallows make a spring?

Recent survey data have picked up, in particular in the manufacturing sector and in terms of export orders. The European Commission noted a marked increase of economic sentiment in the European Union, the eurozone, Germany and France in January, after substantial weakness in Q4. Although economists expect a pick-up in growth in the US as the year progresses, the dispersion is very wide. This means that the median forecast will inspire less confidence than if the level of disagreement amongst forecasters would be lower.

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Import Export

The US-China trade: few reasons to be cheerful

The US-China trade deal has brought relief. It avoids new tariff increases by the US with the risk of further escalation. The deal should be welcomed in China, given its ongoing growth slowdown, but also in the US where companies had increasingly expressed their concern about the trade confrontation. The rest of the world will monitor closely the extent of trade diversion which could follow from the agreement. Attention will now shift to the phase 2 negotiations, which could very well mean that trade uncertainty will intensify at some stage.

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Economie mondiale

2019: a difficult year, ending on a hopeful note

2019 has been dominated by uncertainty, in particular about trade tensions and hard Brexit risk, as well as mounting concern about the slowdown of the global economy. This has led to additional policy easing by the ECB whereas the Federal Reserve has reversed course by cutting the federal funds rate on several occasions. This has further reduced the remaining policy leeway of central banks, a subject that will be analysed in the context of the strategic reviews by the Fed and the ECB. It has also led to increased calls for fiscal stimulus. Equity markets have delivered surprisingly strong returns with investors preferring to look at the role of lower interest rates, rather than at the weakening of the profits outlook. The year ended on a hopeful note with the improvement of certain business surveys.

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Global economy

Global economy: stabilisation, stability, opacity

Based on business surveys, the cyclical environment, globally, seems to have stabilised. A similar picture emerges for the eurozone and China, whereas in the US it is mixed. ‘Stability’ characterises the monetary policy outlook. After the announcements in September, the ECB can afford to wait before making a judgment of the effectiveness of its policy stance. For the Federal Reserve, it seems that the bar for envisaging a change in the federal funds rate is high, even more so when it’s about considering a rate hike. Stabilisation of economic data and a stable, very accommodative monetary stance provide reasons for being hopeful, but this supposes that uncertainty doesn’t increase again. In this respect, unfortunately, the situation remains very opaque. Shifting to a higher gear in terms of growth then becomes more complex.

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Eurozone

Eurozone: which role for automatic fiscal stabilisers?

Automatic fiscal stabilisers help cushion the impact of economic shocks on GDP via changes in government revenues (because of progressive taxes) and expenditures (unemployment insurance). The limited remaining monetary policy leeway in the eurozone is fueling interest in the effectiveness of the automatic stabilisers. European Commission research confirms that, to some degree, automatic stabilisers iron out the impact of negative shocks on GDP. Whether that is enough is another matter. It warrants a debate on the role of discretionary fiscal policy in case of a recession.

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