Below is an article from The Economist that focuses on stagnation in the euro-zone economy. I have put together a worksheet on the passage that you may find useful.
THIS week’s figures for the euro-zone economy were dispiriting by any measure. An already feeble and faltering recovery has stumbled. Output across the euro area was flat in the second quarter. That followed a poor start to the year when the single-currency club managed to grow by just 0.2% (0.8% at an annual rate).
There were some bright spots in the bulletin of misery. Both the Dutch and Portuguese economies, which had contracted in the first quarter, rebounded, growing by 0.5% and 0.6% respectively. Spanish growth picked up from 0.4% in the first quarter to 0.6% in the second. But these perky performances were overshadowed by the poor figures recorded in the three biggest economies. Italy, the third largest, had already reported a decline of 0.2%, pushing it into a triple-dip recession. France, the second biggest, continued to stagnate. But the real blow came from Germany, the powerhouse of the euro zone, where output slipped by 0.2%.
The setback may reflect some temporary factors, as workers took extra time off after public holidays. German output was also depressed by a fall in construction, some of which had been brought forward to the first quarter thanks to warm weather. This effect should also be temporary. However, the tensions between Europe and Russia over Ukraine and the resulting sanctions may adversely affect German growth in the coming months.
The new GDP figures are yet more evidence that the euro-zone economy is in a bad way, not least since it has come to rely so heavily upon Germany, which had grown by 0.7% in the first quarter. It is not only that growth is evaporating; inflation is also extraordinarily low. In July it was only 0.4%, far below the target of just below 2% set by the European Central Bank (ECB). Consistently low inflation has prompted fears that Europe will soon slide into deflation. Prices are already falling in Spain and three other euro-zone countries.
Deflation would be particularly grave for the euro area because both private and public debt is so high in many of the 18 countries that share the single currency. Even if inflation is positive but stays low it hurts debtors, as their incomes rise more slowly than they expected when they borrowed. If deflation were to set in, the effects would be worse still: when prices and wages fall, debts, which do not shrink, become harder to repay.
The poor GDP figures will intensify pressure on the ECB to do more. Already in June it lowered its main borrowing rate to just 0.15% and became the first big central bank to introduce negative interest rates, in effect charging banks for deposits they leave with it. That has helped bring short-term, wholesale interest rates close to zero and has also weakened the euro. Both these effects will help to bolster the economy and restore growth.
As well as these interest-rate cuts, the ECB announced that it would lend copiously to banks for as long as four years, as long as they pledged to improve their own lending performance to the private sector. The plan, which resembles the Bank of England’s “funding for lending” scheme, has some merit but may not boost lending as much as expected due to the feeble state of the banks. It will also take a long time to work its way through the economy.
The ECB’s critics say that this is not enough and urge the central bank to introduce quantitative easing—creating money to buy financial assets. The ECB is likely to hold off; it seems to consider QE as a weapon of last resort. For his part Mario Draghi, the central bank’s president, urges countries like Italy and France to get on with structural reforms that would improve their underlying growth potential. Patience on all sides is wearing thin.
Read the article from The Economist and answer the questions below:
a) What happened to the GDP figures for the euro-zone economy in the second quarter for 2014? (2)
b) What have been the surprises in the contributions of the six countries mentioned in the articles? (3)
c) Although the GDP figures are dispiriting there is the indication that this is a temporary problem. Explain (2)
d) Comment on the level of inflation in the euro-zone and the target set by the European Central Bank (ECB). (4)
e) Why is deflation particularly grave for the euro area? (4)
f) Explain negative interest rates. Why has this policy been implemented by the ECB? (4)
g) What have the ECB’s critics suggested they should do and explain how this policy works. (4)
Listening to “From Our Own Correspondent” on the BBC World Service I came across an interesting piece by Kate Adie on Global Trade. With the downturn in global trade the international transport industry has been very much affected. Those that have been associated with the distribution of goods get an early indication of the slowdown in global growth. The obvious indicators are: idle cranes, queues of merchant ships dwindle etc. But what about the speed of cargo ships and the length of ladders to climb aboard?
When the world economy was “steaming” ahead the captain of a merchant ship said that they cruised at 20 knots but when the economic crisis of 2008 arrived we slowed to 16 knots. A harbour pilot summed up the state of world trade by the length of the ladders that he climbs on the sides of ships.
A long climb up the ladder signifies that the ship is high in the water and exports are correspondingly low.
A short climb up the ladder signifies that the ship is low in the water and exports are correspondingly high.
The seafarers say that they take air to China before they load up with goods for the US.
The recent ‘Special Report’ in The Economist outlined the benefits of Poland’s membership of the EU to the agricultural sector. Agriculture is the biggest beneficiary and ironically farmers were some of the most committed opponents of EU entry. They suggested that only 600,000 of the country’s 2m farms would survive entry. But their mood changed when Polish agriculture received 40 billion in 2007-13 and another 42.4 billion from 2014 – 2020. From the EU funds farmers’ incomes have tripled since entry, with half of the money coming from direct cash payments, regardless of need. But the agricultural subsidies are a mixed blessing as it encourages inefficiency in the sector as half the farms that receive assistance are just subsistence plots, and 92% of them are less than 20 hectares. But Polish agriculture accounts for only 3.4% of GDP but 12.4% of employment. However the rural population makes up about 39% of the total so therefore farmers are an important political constituency. The graph below shows the impact of the price support system.
Here is a great infographic about the iPhone that I got from colleague David Parr. It shows the impact the iPhone has had on the global supply chain, jobs and the world in general. Some statistics from it are as follows:
1. To assemble 1 iPhone = 600 workers
2. 500,000 iPhones produced in 1 day (at peak)
3. 307,250 jobs have been created by Apple
4. 44% are sold in North, Central and South America. 9% are sold in Japan alone.
5. There are 330 manufacturing locations in China.
The graph from National Australia Bank below shows the components of Australian GDP March Quarter 2014. This is particularly useful when doing GDP Expenditure approach in Unit 5 of the A2 Cambridge course where you can breakdown the equation C+I+G+(X-M).
C = Private Consumption
I = Business Investment
G = Government Demand
(X-M) = Net Exports
Consumption is still the largest contributor to Australia’s GDP. Over the next couple of years GDP is expected to grow around 3% but key to meeting that target is a solid consumer sector. Household consumption growth in recent quarters has been solid, contributing 0.3 percentage points to growth in Q1 – only exports have contributed more to growth over the past year. However sustaining solid consumption growth in years ahead requires the labour market to improve and consumer confidence levels to recover from their recent lows.
Interesting graphic from the National Australia Bank showing productivity levels in Australia and the US. Labour productivity is a partial measure of overall productivity. The Australian Bureau of Statistics ABS also measures capital productivity and multi-factor productivity.
Labour productivity is calculated by the (ABS) as Gross Domestic Product per hour worked, and can be measured across various industry sectors or over the whole economy. The national Accounts, which show GDP per hour worked increased by 2.2 per cent in the year to June 2013. That compares to a 2 per cent increase in 2011-12, and a 0.4 per cent decline in 2010-11. The last time GDP per hour worked exceeded 2.2 per cent growth was in 2001-02 when it reached 3.6 per cent.
Brian Gaynor in the NZ Herald wrote a piece on the amount of debt in the New Zealand economy and the fact that the Reserve Bank needs some fresh ideas to stem the increasing trend. With the OCR increasing this week to 3.5% the disposable income of the floating mortgage holder will reduce and ultimately impact on their ability to spend – floating mortgages represent 33% of all mortgages in dollar terms. Although higher rates help those that have money in the bank however a lot of this is from overseas investors so interest payments leave the economy. Furthermore the elderly tend to have savings in banks but they are not seen as significant spenders. The higher interest rates also attract ‘hot money’ as NZ’s rates are higher than most other industrialised countries.
The amount of debt in the economy is a major concern especially when you consider how much is mortgage debt – see below. Also the fact that debt as % GDP is now 88.5% and 145% of disposable income – this is putting pressure on inflation not forgetting that people are living very much beyond their means.
The RBNZ is concerned with this debt and introduced restrictions on high loan-to-value residential mortgage lending. They see that there is too much emphasis on housing which is being fuelled by greater access to debt. One only has to look at the Irish property to see how things can wrong – house prices dropped 50% between 2007 and 2012.