The US economy’s worrying change of pace – My Monday column

Is the US economy’s current pace set to trigger major imbalances, disrupt the current cycle and spark off a significant downturn in economic activity?

The stockmarkets’ severe recent downturn reflects investors’ concerns on forthcoming trends for the global economy, and in particular the performances we can expect from the US. Firstly, they reacted to the change in stance from the Federal Reserve on forthcoming inflation trends, expected to converge towards the central bank’s target of 2% and stay there in the long term. Secondly, rising wages confirmed this idea of nominal pressure, even if the 2.9% gain announced in January’s figures was probably a result of the reduction in number of hours worked due to unusually cold weather conditions. Lastly, the handover at the Fed added another level of uncertainty. Janet Yellen did a good job of steering the US economy, will Jay Powell do the job equally well?
I have already written at length on these matters, and an article published on will provide details on the uncertainties surrounding Powell’s arrival to chair the Fed. However, looking beyond these factors, a number of other questions are being raised about the US economy.

The first question involves economic policy and the way fiscal and monetary policies can coordinate against a backdrop of full employment. This coordination has worked pretty well so far. The US economy nosedived in 2009 and both policy areas instantly loosened: it was vital that every effort be made to avoid a drastic chain of events that would end up creating higher unemployment and a long-term hit to the standard of living. This approach was successful and the country hit its cycle trough in the second quarter of 2009, moving into an upward phase that has lasted ever since. Monetary policy continued to accommodate, but fiscal policy became restrictive in 2011 and then converged to a sort of neutral situation to avoid hampering the economy. This policy combination drove the US into one of the longest periods of growth it has enjoyed since the Second World War: the pace of GDP growth was admittedly not as brisk as before, but it did not trigger any major imbalances, as reflected by an economy running on full employment and continued moderate inflation, remaining below the Fed’s target. Continue reading

US, Japan UK, France – What to keep in mind on Tuesday

Five points to keep in mind

Minutes of the Federal Reserve
The good thing with the minutes of the last meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Federal Reserve is that you can find what you want to find.
The main sentence to perceive this is the following “Members generally agreed that, before taking another step in removing monetary accommodation, it was prudent to accumulate more data in order to gauge the underlying momentum in the labor market and economic activity. A couple of members preferred also to wait for more evidence that inflation would rise to 2 percent on a sustained basis.Some other members anticipated that economic conditions would soon warrant taking another step in removing policy accommodation.(page 12)”
The first part tells that the FOMC is cautious but the end of the sentence tells that improvement in macrodata could lead to a new strategy.
The Fed is also very attentive to the international context forcing the US central bank to remain cautious “In addition, it was noted that the dollar is a principal reserve currency and that monetary transmission in the United States occurs through funding markets that are quite globally connected.(page 3)Continue reading

The importance of oil – My weekly Column

First graphA lower oil price will drive inflation rates down
With Iran back on the oil market, the price dropped below 30 dollars for a barrel. This could have an important impact on the inflation rate and therefore on monetary policy strategies in Europe and in the US.
The graph shows, for the Euro Area, the energy contribution to the inflation rate. It also shows the one year change of oil price (Brent) in euro. The two curves have consistent profiles.
With an oil price at 50 and the EURUSD exchange rate at 1.07 (red line), the oil price change is consistent with an energy contribution that could be close to 0 on average in 2016. It was a good hypothesis to put the price at 50. In that case, the headline inflation rate was able to converge to the core inflation rate. It was a comfortable situation for central bankers.
If on average, the oil price is 35 USD and 1.07 (green line), the contribution could be close to -0.6%. In that case, the inflation rate would be circa 0%. With 30 USD and 1.07 it would be probably negative.
These simple calculus show that the oil price trajectory will be important in 2016 (close to 30 or below?) and that there is no guarantee that inflation rates could converge to 2% in a finite time. Continue reading

France and Germany : running at different speeds

Are the dynamics of the French economy really very different from Germany? Recent history has proven that this is the case. Since the low point of the recession in 2009, Germany has effectively outpaced France in terms of performance. The German economy has expanded by 2.2% on an annualized basis, whereas business in France has grown only half as fast, by 1.1%. However, the opposite was true at the beginning of the 2000s.
The two economies are on an equal footing, over a reference period starting with the launch of the euro in Q1 1999. From this date until Q1 2014, French GDP grew 22.7%, whereas Germany increased by 21.8%
France and Germany function according to a different logic however. They are therefore on divergent trajectories. In order to rekindle growth, France is obliged to draw on internal demand, whereas Germany can count either on domestic demand, or on its trade with the rest of the world. The difference between the two economies therefore lies in their growth drivers. Continue reading

Just published last week – Three charts to characterize the Euro Area and allow to answer the question: Is Euro crisis over?

Three statistics that have been published in the week between May 12 and May 19 characterize the economic situation in the Euro Area. First it is the GDP growth number for the first quarter of 2013 then it is the external trade balance for March and then the detailed publication of the inflation rate for April.
With these three perceptions we can have an almost complete picture of the short term dynamic of the economy    . Continue reading