Global Economic Outlook

Below is a look at economic conditions in leading global economies. Unemployment is surprising low and with the rise in the cost of living (see inflation figures) this should put pressure on wages. The unemployment rate within the OECD area fell to 5.2% in February, the first time it has fallen below the pre-pandemic unemployment rate (which was recorded in February 2020). The unemployment rate within the OCED had peaked at 8.8% in April 2020.

Inflation, Unemployment and Interest Rates
Annual inflation within the OECD area rose to 8.8% in March 2022, its highest annual increase since 1988. Energy prices have risen by over a third during the past year, while food prices have risen by ten percent within the OECD area. Most central banks have already commenced a tightening programme with the on-going threat of inflation. The Australian Reserve Bank commenced tightening their cash rate in early May, increasing the cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.35%. It is expected that the RBNZ will increase the OCR by 50 basis points next week.

Outlook
If you look at conditions in the major economies you find the following:

  • China – limited growth potential with severe lockdowns
  • USA – higher interest rates could lead to a bust scenario
  • Euro Zone – cost of living crisis
  • Emerging markets – food crisis / famines.

With the indicators looking at recessionary conditions the best news for the global economy would be a withdrawal from Ukraine by Russian troops and an end to a zero-Covid strategy in China. These actions should reduce food and energy prices and therefore save government spending on raising benefits and subsidising food and energy. Economists are fairly optimistic that we will avoid a recession in 2022 as they still have the tools to stimulate if things get worse. However with no end in sight for the Ukraine conflict and interest rates on the rise a recession is on the cards.

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on Inflation and Unemployment. Immediate feedback and tracked results allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

Brexit and the EU explained

No doubt you are aware of the what is happening in the UK with regard to leaving the European Union – Brexit. Below is a very informative video from CNBC which explains the history of the UK when it entered the EEC (as it was formerly known) in 1973 under Ted Heath’s government to today where there is chaos as to the process of leaving the EU.

Why Ireland wants a Brexit with a hard border?

Below is a funny clip by Seamus O’Rouke that was on RTE Radio 1 (Irish National Broadcaster). He has his own unique reflections on the benefits of having a hard border for the people of Leitrim.

The introduction of a hard border would have massive implications for business and personal travel between Northern Ireland. There has been an understanding between Britain and Ireland for decades that has led to this de facto agreement which has served both countries well for years. The other option is for the current situation to endure soft border, whereby vehicles, goods and people can freely pass through a porous border.

A hard border would see the reintroduction of cameras at checkpoints, and all vehicles being stopped as they approach the numerous crossing points. As it stands, there is complete freedom of movement between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The border is barely recognised, with minor road markings being the only sign that you are moving between nation states.

Seamus O’Rouke tends to disagree with the soft border.

Brexit and New Zealand’s trade with the UK and the EU

The impact of Brexit on New Zealand depends on what kind of exit agreements are reached between the UK and the European Union. The published provisional deal includes a transition period which runs until the end of 2020. During this time, existing trade conditions for third parties (such as New Zealand) will continue. Below are tables showing the trade relationship between New Zealand and both the EU and the UK. The benefits of two way trade with the EU outweigh those of the UK – US$23,273m against that of the US$5,640m

March 2018 – New Zealand’s total trade balance was a surplus of $4.0 billion in the year – this surplus is up $1.3 billion from the trade surplus in the year ended March 2017.
Total exports of goods and services were $78.0 billion, while total imports were $73.9 billion.

China ($15.3 billion) and Australia ($13.9 billion) were the top export destinations.
The European Union ($13.4 billion) and Australia ($12.1 billion) were the top import sources.

Dairy products and logs to China were New Zealand’s top two export commodities by destination, earning $4.0 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively. This was followed closely by spending by visitors from the European Union ($2.2 billion) and Australia ($2.1 billion).

New Zealand’s negotiations

New Zealand is in negotiations with the UK over a FTA. According to New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade NZ wants the following from a FTA:

  • Removing tariffs and other barriers that restrict the free flow of goods between our two countries
  • Making it easier for traders of all sizes to do business in the UK, including services exporters
    Strengthening  cooperation and dialogue with the UK in a variety of trade and economic fields
  • Reflecting our goals including progress on gender equality,  indigenous rights,  climate change, and improved environmental outcomes.
  • Some key areas in which we will be seeking even closer cooperation with the UK under the FTA include:
  • High quality primary sector and goods access to the UK’s market, such as for meat, mechanical machinery and equipment, fruit, pharmaceuticals, forestry, dairy and wine
  • Helpful conditions for investment and services providers who operate between the two countries
  • Commitments on progressive trade issues including environmental and labour protections, indigenous rights and gender equality.

Sources:

  • Parliamentary Library Monthly Economic Review – December 2018.
  • New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

https://www.mfat.govt.nz/en/about-us/work-with-us/vacancies/

 

 

Eurozone growth faster than US but not in good shape for the long-term.

According to the OECD the rate of growth in the eurozone has surpassed that of the US, UK and Japan and has surprised many with its resilience. However is the EU in a position of strength to cope with the challenges of another recession? The Economist ‘Free Exchange’ looked into this issue and identified some shortcomings. The crisis in the EU was severe and the impact financially was was around €1.4trn as this would have been the amount of GDP lost since 2007, assuming that most economies grow at 2% per year.

The damage was compounded by the fact that the EU’s monetary policy which has 3 main weaknesses:

1. Within the EU the printing of money is centralised through the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Therefore countries who wanted to print more money to bail themselves out and stimulate the economy could no longer do it. Furthermore as there is no central fiscal budget it meant that individual countries were responsible for their own fiscal solvency. So if they ran up big deficits the risk of default was great and made markets react negatively to any concerning news on a country’s fiscal prudence. In reacting to this scenario the ECB said, as a last resort, that it would step in and buy government bonds to help ailing economies. On this news bond yields dropped as the ECB has brought about some stability.

2. In 2014 the EU was still struggling but was constrained by its inflation mandate. When economies go through major economic downturns they loosen monetary and fiscal policy – cut interest rates and increase government spending respectively to make up for the lost private spending. Although the ECB cut interest rates to 0% and government increased spending there was the problem of its mandate. The ECB was curbed by the 2% inflation ceiling unlike the 2% target for most other countries and by the fact that its strongest economy, Germany, was paranoid about inflation – memories of the post-war hyperinflation years. Only with the threat of deflation did stimulatory asset purchases start to happen.

3. This is the mismatch between the scope of its economic institutions and its political ones. No European institution enjoys the democratic legitimacy of a national government. The crisis meant greater reform in the financial sector but also led to increased authority of unelected institutions like the ECB. The frustration has been that countries in the eurozone have suffered significant amounts of pain by unaccountable European politicians. Countries don’t want to lose their sovereignty but it seems that any further integration is a catalyst to its demise.

The return to improving growth levels has been brought about by increasing export volumes – with a weaker euro. With consumer spending and investment on the decline foreign consumers have been the saviour of the EU. However this is dependent on global growth which cannot last forever and the euro area needs to be prepared politically to get through the next recession.

Source: The Economist – Free Exchange – The second chance. 2nd December 2017

The Exchange Rate Mechanism and the Bank of England

I was teaching managed exchange rates with my AS Level class and couldn’t get away from the events in Britain on the 16th September 1992 – known as Black Wednesday. On this day the British government were forced to pull the pound from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).

Background

The Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) was the central part of the European Monetary System (EMS) and its purpose was to provide a zone of monetary stability – the ERM was like an imaginary rope (see below), preventing the value of currencies from soaring too high or falling too low in realtion to one another.

It consisted of a currency band with a ‘Ceiling’ and a ‘Floor’ through which currencies cannot (or should not) pass and a central line to which they should aspire. The idea is to achieve the mutual benefits of stabel currencies by mutual assistance in difficult times. Participating countries were permitted a variation of +/- 2.25% although the Italian Lira and the Spanish Peseta had a 6% band because of their volatility. When this margin is reached the two central banks concerned must intervene to keep within the permitted variation. The UK persistently refused to join the ERM, but under political pressure from other members agreed to join “when the time is right”. The Chancellor decided that this time had come in the middle of October 1990. The UK pound was given a 6% variation

Black Wednesday

Although it stood apart from European currencies, the British pound had shadowed the German mark (DM) in the period leading up to the 1990s. Unfortunately, Britain at the time had low interest rates and high inflation and they entered the ERM with the express desire to keep its currency above 2.7 DM to the pound. This was fundamentally unsound because Britain’s inflation rate was many times that of Germany’s.

Compounding the underlying problems inherent in the pound’s inclusion into the ERM was the economic strain of reunification that Germany found itself under, which put pressure on the mark as the core currency for the ERM. Speculators began to eye the ERM and wondered how long fixed exchange rates could fight natural market forces. Britain upped its interest rates to 15% (5% in one day) to attract people to the pound, but speculators, George Soros among them, began heavy shorting* of the currency. Spotting the writing on the wall, by leveraging the value of his fund, George Soros was able to take a $10 billion short position on the pound, which earned him US$1 billion. This trade is considered one of the greatest trades of all time.

* In finance, short selling is the practice of selling assets, usually securities, that have been borrowed from a third party (usually a broker) with the intention of buying identical assets back at a later date to return to that third party. The short seller hopes to profit from a decline in the price of the assets between the sale and the repurchase, as the seller will pay less to buy the assets than it received on selling them. Wikipedia.

Brexit and trade – UK can learn from New Zealand’s experience

With the departure of the UK from the EU there have been many questions asked about the future of UK trade. No longer having the free access to EU markets both with imports and exports does mean increasing costs for consumer and producer.

New Zealand’s Experience

A similar situation arose in 1973 when the UK joined the then called European Economic Community (EEC). As part of the Commonwealth New Zealand had relied on the UK market for many years but after 1973 50% of New Zealand exports had to find a new destination. However with the impending loss of export revenue New Zealand had to make significant changes to its trade policy. In 1973 the EEC took 25% of New Zealand exports and today takes only 3%. Add to this the oil crisis years of 1973 (400% increase) and 1979 (200% increase) and protectionist policies in other countries and the New Zealand economy was really up against it.

What did New Zealand do?

1. It negotiated a transitional deal in 1971 with agreed quotas for New Zealand butter, cheese and lamb over a five-year period, which helped to ease the shift away from Britain.

2. New Zealand was very active in signing trade deals of which Closer Economic Relations with Australia was the most important in 1983. The other significant free trade deal was with China in 2008. Below is a list of New Zealand’s current free trade deals and a graph showing the changing pattern of New Zealand trade:

NZ Free trade Deals

NZ exports goods 1960-2015.png

With brexit around the corner it will be imperative that the UK starts to develop trade links with non-EU countries of which New Zealand might be one. The UK is the second largest foreign investor in New Zealand and its fifth largest bilateral trading partner.

Brexit Result – what does it mean for New Zealand, the RBNZ, Gold and Sterling?

The impact of Brexit on the New Zealand economy should be limited when you consider the following statistics:

  • 3.5% of total exports from NZ go to the UK – mainly sheep and wine.
  • 2.7% of total imports from the UK to NZ – mainly transport goods
  • 6.7% of all short-term visitor arrivals come from the UK

When the UK joined the EEC (as it was then know as) in 1973 there was a major shift away from trade with the Commonwealth. However New Zealand has been able to move away from the traditional dependency of the Commonwealth to become increasingly integrated to the Asia Pacific region.

Reserve Bank of New Zealand

The RBNZ is a good position even with a record low OCR of 2.25% which paradoxically is among the highest in the developed world. By not being aggressive with OCR cuts the RBNZ has the ammunition to stimulate aggregate demand further which is in contrast to the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan who are in negative territory. With the turmoil in Europe over Brexit the US Fed will most likely hold off on a rate hike to ease the pressure on markets – it may even cut the US Fed rate.

Gold and Sterling – US$ rate

The graph below shows the reaction to the Brexit – GBP drops significantly against the US$ and gold, as a safe investment, appreciates in value. The uncertainty that surrounds Brexit saw more investors buy gold, which rose to about $1,315 an ounce on June 24th, up by 4.7% on the previous day. This was the largest increase since the global financial crisis in 2008. The rise was in stark contrast to the plunging pound, which tumbled to its lowest level in 30 years.

 

Brexit - Gold USD

Below is video from the FT looking at Five Consequences of the UK’s exit form the EU.

FT Pub Quiz – What has the EU ever done for us?

Remember the line in Monty Python movie ‘Life of Brian’, ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ This can be applied to the question of a British exit from the EU – ‘What has the EU ever done for us?’ Below is an informative video clip from the FT with a bit of humour. The questions in the Pub Quiz are:

  1. Which country I am describing in the year it joined the EU? Is the poorest European nation – incomes slipping behind its European competitors by £185 per year. Regular power cuts.
  2. In 2015 who was richer? The average person in German, France and Italy or England, Scotland and Wales?
  3. What caused Britain’s improved performance?
  4. How has Britain’s membership of the EU improved economic performance?
  5. Has the EU made Britain richer?

Basically the answers suggest that EU membership has been very beneficial to the British economy.

 

When not to put your money in the bank.

Negative interest ratesIt seems that in Europe negative interest rates are common place. Below are the current rates of some central banks:

European Central Bank -0.3%
Swiss National Bank -0.75%;
Danish Central bank -0.75%
Swedish Central Bank -1.1%

Why are they in negative territory?
For all these countries it is the the exchange rate against the Euro that is important. Negative interest rates weaken a country’s currency and make imports more expensive and exports cheaper. Furthermore central banks could be trying to prevent a slide into deflation, or a spiral of falling prices that could derail the recovery.

In theory, interest rates below zero should reduce borrowing costs for companies and households, driving demand for loans. In practice, there’s a risk that the policy might do more harm than good. If banks make more customers pay to hold their money, cash may go under the mattress instead. Janet Yellen, the U.S. Federal Reserve chair, said at her confirmation hearing in November 2013 that even a deposit rate that’s positive but close to zero could disrupt the money markets that help fund financial institutions. Two years later, she said that a change in economic circumstances could put negative rates “on the table” in the U.S., and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said he could now cut the benchmark rate below the current 0.5 percent if necessary. Deutsche Bank economists note that negative rates haven’t sparked the bank runs or cash hoarding some had feared, in part because banks haven’t passed them on to their customers. But there’s still a worry that when banks absorb the cost themselves, it squeezes the profit margin between their lending and deposit rates, and might make them even less willing to lend. Ever-lower rates also fuel concern that countries are engaged in a currency war of competitive devaluations. Source: Bloomberg

Greece – the problems started with the euro-entry exam in 2000

When Greece went through euro-zone entry exam in 2000 it is said that it cheated on its deficit figures. Greece was able to enter the currency bloc after claiming its deficit was less than 1% of GDP, well within the bloc’s 3% threshold. EU reports have since revealed Greece’s budget hasn’t been within the 3% limit a single year since its accession. Below is a video from RealNews which explains the background to the present crisis. Worth a look

What would happen if there was a Grexit?

The Greeks vote on Sunday whether to accept a June 25 offer from the International Monetary Fund, European Union and the European Central Bank (collectively known as “the Troika”) to provide Greece with desperately needed bailout money. In exchange, the Troika demanded that Greece implement a list of tax increases, spending cuts, and economic reforms. If there is a no vote then there could be the following scenario.

Negatives
* Overnight the Greek authorities would have to circulate a new currency (most likely the Drachma)
* The Drachma would depreciate against the Euro – according to some analysts this would increase Greek debt from the current level of 175% to 230% of GDP.
* Interest rates would increase causing businesses to go bankrupt – some have indicated that this would be around 50% of businesses
* The risk of a run on the banks would mean that the monetary authorities would have to introduce controls on money flows – especially abroad.
* Social unrest would no doubt escalate in the short-term and many Greeks will leave the country (if they can afford it).
* The Greek government would find it difficult to raise funds from overseas as investors become more prudent and see Greek bonds as an even bigger risk than before.
* A devaluation will would do nothing to change Greece’s structural problems.
* The euro will lose credibility in the long run and its weaker members will be exposed to bank runs which will ultimately extinguish any chance of a recovery.

Positives
* A weaker currency would make Greek exports a lot cheaper and may resurrect the textile industry that collapsed a few years ago.
* However the biggest benefit would be the tourism industry where holidays would become very cheap relative to similar destinations in Europe.
* The Greek government could keep printing money to finance the promises made Alexis Tsipras’ government – maybe an inflationary threat.
* Interest rates would no longer be determined by the ECB and a more expansionary monetary policy could be implemented by Greek authorities to tackle the downturn.

We’ve been here before as Jeff Sachs mentioned in his piece from Project Syndicate.

Almost a century ago, at World War I’s end, John Maynard Keynes offered a warning that holds great relevance today. Then, as now, creditor countries (mainly the US) were demanding that deeply indebted countries make good on their debts. Keynes knew that a tragedy was in the making.

“Will the discontented peoples of Europe be willing for a generation to come so to order their lives that an appreciable part of their daily produce may be available to meet a foreign payment?” he asked in The Economic Consequences of the Peace. “In short, I do not believe that any of these tributes will continue to be paid, at the best, for more than a few years.”

The Greek government is right to have drawn the line. It has a responsibility to its citizens. The real choice, after all, lies not with Greece, but with Europe.

Below is a chart from Bloomberg Business explaining the outcomes.
Greek referendum

Greek Crisis – A game of chicken

Chicken gameThe negotiations between Greece and the Eurozone financial chiefs represent a typical game of ‘Chicken’. Chicken readily translates into an abstract game. Strictly speaking game theory’s chicken dilemma occurs at the last possible moment of a game of highway chicken. Each driver has calculated his reaction time and his car’s turning radius, which is assumed to be the same in both cars. There comes a time when each driver must decide to either swerve or keep going straight towards the other car. This decision is irrevocable and must be made in ignorance of the other driver’s decision. There is no time for one driver’s last-minute decision to influence the other driver’s decision. In its simulations, life or death simplicity, chicken is one of the purest examples of John von Neumann’s concept of a game. The way players rank outcomes in highway chicken is obvious. The worst scenario is for both players not to swerve – they crash and both are killed. The best thing that can happen is for you to keep driving straight letting the other driver swerving. The cooperative outcome is not so bad as both drivers are still alive although no one can call the other chicken.

As in the game of Chicken, both Greece and the Eurozone have the option to make concessions (Swerve) or hold firm in negotiations (Drive Straight). As with most negotiations, the best outcome for a party is to stand their ground while the other party makes the concessions. However, as both parties want this outcome, this raises the possibility of both sides holding firm and no settlement being reached. In the Greek-Eurozone crisis, this would mean a Greek default and the associated consequences that would ensue for the rest of the Eurozone.

Fortunately there is a third outcome that can prevail in Chicken – both parties can swerve their car at the same time. If both sides are willing to make concessions, then the second best outcome in this game can be attained for everyone. This co-operative outcome could be reached if the Eurozone extended further concessions to Greece, while Greece made binding promises to implement meaningful reforms to get their economy back on track.

However this is unlikely as each player achieves their best outcome by doing the opposite of their opponent. For example, if Greece believes the Eurozone will make concessions, it will achieve the best outcome by standing firm; if it believes the Eurozone will stand firm in negotiations, it’s best option is to make concessions to avoid the dire consequences of a full-blown default.

Chicken - Greece Germany

From the beginning of June until the end of December Greece needs to find another EUR28bn in total. After that point repayments drop off – one reason why Greece’s creditors are keen to ensure new reforms are enacted ASAP.
The inference however is clear: Greece won’t make it that far without a new deal. Greece is waiting on further funding from the IMF and the ECB (EUR 7.2bn) in order to meet some of these payments, but with both sides digging in, it isn’t a given that Greece will receive the funds. See graph below.

Greece repayments

Sources: NAB Australian Markets Weekly, Christoph Schumacher Massey University, Open Economy – Open minded Economics, Prisoner’s Dilemma – William Poundstone

Greece’s problem is insolvency not liquidity shortfall.

This is an interesting video clip from the RT Network featuring Max Keiser. Everyone knows Greece is insolvent but no-one has ever stated it officially. Some have suggested that the issue is a liquidity shortfall and lending it more money will help Greece meet its current debt service obligations and fund structural reforms that will lead to renewed growth and increased income, enabling to meet its obligations in the future. However Yanis Varoufakis, current Finance Minister of Greece, disagrese with this interpretation. He believes that Greece will never recover. The bailout programme locks it into a debt deflationary spiral which simultaneously reduces its income and increases its debt burden. Continuing to accept more loans in order to meet debt service obligations only makes matters worse.

Euro Zone’s Divergent Economies and Monetary Policy

I got this image from The Economist and used it for a recent A2 Test on Macro-Economic conflicts. Recently the OECD and the IMF have urged the European Central Bank (ECB) to cut the bank’s main lending rate from the already low 0.25% to zero. How might this effect countries in the Euro-area? It will tend to impact euro zone countries differently because of where they are in the business cycle. If you look at the unemployment and inflation figures from the graph you see the following:

Unemployment
Austria 4.9%, Germany 5.1%, well below the EU average of 11.8%.
Spain 25.3% and Greece 26.7% very high unemployment.

Some countries have had unemployment dropped significantly during the period –
Latvia approx. 22% to 11.6
Estonia approx.. 18% to 7.8%

Inflation
Highest rate Malta &Austria 1.4%, Finland 1.3%
Lowest – Greece -1.5%, Cyprus -0.9%

Euro divergent economies

The loss of monetary sovereignty has its problems

Reducing the interest to zero is an expansionary monetary policy which is a tool to increase aggregate demand, economic growth and employment. Monetary Policy, which is determined by the ECB, will have different effects in different countries. The ECB responds to aggregate levels of inflation and unemployment, not individual country levels – Unemployment is 11.8% and Inflation is 0.5%. Therefore it is a one size fits all policy. However some member states maybe experiencing rising levels of inflation and lower levels of unemployment whilst others might be the opposite – falling levels of inflation and higher levels of unemployment.

Assume an EU member experiences an asymmetric shock. It will have a different inflation and unemployment rate than the rest of the EU. With the ECB setting a common interest rate for the whole area, countries have lost an important part of their monetary policy. This is a major problem if a countries economy is at a different stage in the business cycle. For instance in 2014, Austria and Germany are growing with falling unemployment and a further lowering of interest rates may not be the best option for them. This is in comparison to other countries who need lower interest rates and a more stimulatory environment. With low interest rates and falling unemployment, Austria and Germany could experience inflation levels above the 2% target of the ECB and also a tight labour market which could put pressure on prices. Furthermore a lower interest rate affects those who want to save money in those countries.

At the other end of the spectrum Slovakia, Portugal, Cyprus, Spain and Greece are experiencing deflation and very high levels of unemployment. They therefore require more stimulus through lower interest rates to try and boost growth and employment and get out of the dangerous deflationary cycle.

Other countries with low inflation and high levels of unemployment will benefit from the cut in interest rates – Ireland has had unemployment fall from approx. 15% to 11.8% and an inflation rate of 0.3%. Therefore monetary stimulus is warranted. However the interest rate whether expansionary, neutral, or contractionary is unique to where each country is in the business cycle. The loss of monetary sovereignty clearly poses problems for members states whose economy is out of line with the euro zone norm.