Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Confidence Indicators Deteriorated Significantly This Week

by Rebecca Wilder

Confidence Indicators Deteriorated Significantly This Week
 
This week national confidence surveys rolled in with just one story: the economic infection in Europe is spreading. Business confidence indicators in France and Germany declined 1.1% and 1.6%, respectively, in the month of June. In Italy consumer confidence hit another record low since 1996 of 85.3 after falling 1.4% in June.

The National Bank of Belgium and Statistics Netherlands released their balance measures of consumer confidence. Both balances fell 2 points over the month of June. Notably, consumer confidence in the Netherlands is depressed, hitting a record low since 1986 at -40 in June.

These are highly credible indices with robust correlations with hard data like real retail sales and production. Given the precipitous decline in confidence, it’s hard to imagine how European economic sentiment will turn around without truly innovative policy action.


Rebecca Wilder

crossposted with The Wilder View…Economonitors

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Exchange rate pegs getting a new look?

This article at Voxeu reminded me that exchange rate pegs might come back in vogue. Voxeu has an article on the “trilemma” of ’emerging’ economies:

Do sterilised interventions allow countries a way around the fundamental trilemma of international finance by providing them with a means of systematically affecting exchange rates independent of their monetary policies? Japan, Switzerland, and China provide some lessons…

The fundamental trilemma of international finance maintains that a country cannot simultaneously peg an exchange rate, maintain an independent monetary policy, and permit free cross-border financial flows (Feenstra and Taylor 2008). At best, only two of the three are feasible.

Lifted from a note, Rebecca Wilder writes in an informal e-mail:

I found it rather difficult to read. But this idea of trilemma is not broadly applicable to developed markets except Switzerland – they did address that. I don’t know, the one thing that I do notice, is that the trade ‘imbalances’ are not really moving back into ‘balance’ neither in Europe nor globally. Thus, something’s gotta give at some point; I suspect that it’ll be exchange rate pegs.

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German Construction Is Looking a Bit ‘Bubbly’

by Rebecca Wilder

German Construction Is Looking a Bit ‘Bubbly’

Eurostat released its volume-adjusted estimate of construction for April (release here, .pdf). Over the month, Euro area construction declined 2.75% following a large 11.41% monthly increase in March. Across the countries that make monthly data available (8 countries total), Slovenia and Portugal saw the largest decline in April construction activity, -9.3% and -6.7%, respectively, while France was the only country to see an increase in construction, +2.3%. The trend is clearly down, as 3-month over 3-month Euro area construction declined 4.8% through April.

Germany is getting a bit bubbly as regards domestic construction. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that longer dated bunds (even the 10yr) are negative on a real ex-post basis, i.e., using historical measures of inflation.

Note: I re-scaled the volume-adjusted indices to 2001=100 to fully capture the bubble in countries like Spain – the bubble illustration wouldn’t be quite as obvious with Eurostat’s index to 2005. Furthermore, the chart illustrates the monthly construction, while some countries, like Greece or Ireland, for example, list construction solely on a quarterly basis. Eurostat simply estimates construction in these countries to produce the Euro area aggregate on a monthly basis.

Going forward, this construction data does give real-time evidence that the German economy is moving marginally toward domestic-led growth….or we’re seeing the outset of a bubble in German construction

crossposted with The Wilder View…Economonitors

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Euro Area Inflation: A Very Slow Burn

by Rebecca Wilder

Euro Area Inflation: A Very Slow Burn

Euro area consumer prices increased at a 2.4% annual pace in May, down 0.2 ppt from the 2.6% pace in April. Core inflation fell to 1.8% in May from 1.9% in April. Headline and core inflation peaked in the fourth quarter of 2011, and disinflation is underway.

Euro area price inflation is burning out but at a very slow pace.

The 0.6 ppt differential between headline and core inflation is explained by energy and unprocessed food prices. In May, the energy component in HICP (harmonized index of consumer prices) fell 1.4% over the month and posted a 7.3% pace compared to May 2011. Energy prices peaked in April 2012, but base effects will prop up headline inflation through early 2013 even if energy prices go unchanged over the near term. That means headline inflation could be sticky for some time above 2%. But core inflation is not.

President Draghi often speaks of the upward pressure on inflation stemming from tax hikes across the various fiscal austerity programs. Stripping out the tax effects (this data is provided by Eurostat), the theoretical inflation rates in Portugal and Italy are 1.8ppt and 0.8ppt, respectively, below the headline rate. The downward pressure on inflation may quicken through next year, as the effects of VAT and various tax hikes wear off across the region…barring a miraculously robust economic recovery, of course.

(Note: In the chart below, the black line represents 0% difference between headline inflation and tax-adjusted inflation. For orange triangles above the black line, headline inflation is above tax-adjusted inflation, i.e., taxes are boosting aggregate prices.)


Inflation takes time to build, so this disinflationary trend is unlikely to change anytime soon without significant policy accommodation.


Rebecca Wilder

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Euro Area ‘Hard Data’ Catching Up with the ‘Soft Data’ – Industrial Production

by Rebecca Wilder

Euro Area ‘Hard Data’ Catching Up with the ‘Soft Data’ – Industrial Production

Euro area industrial production (ex construction) declined 0.8% in the month of April. Across the major sectors, the largest decline occurred in capital goods; however, the trend in consumer and intermediate goods is worse than that of capital goods.

The regional divergence is clear, as the two-month trend in industrial production – I use the two month trend since this series is quite volatile month-to-month – is strongest in Luxembourg, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ireland, and weakest in the Netherlands, Spain, Estonia, and Greece.  (much more below the fold)

Another way to look at the divergence is to plot German production against the rest of Europe. It’s evident that Germany, with its large 35% weight in this index, is propping up the average. German industrial production is 10% above 2005 levels, while the Euro area ex Germany’s industrial production is 8% below levels in 2005. That’s an 18 ppt divergence.

Finally, a comparison to the US is illustrative. The US industrial sector is outperforming that in Europe, as production continues its positive trend with relatively easy fiscal and monetary policy accommodating the private sector’s desire to save. The US production base is 2% above that in 2005, while that in the euro area (including Germany) is 2% below.

In all, the euro area April industrial production release points to further divergence in growth prospects and a very weak start to the second quarter of 2012. The ‘hard data’ seems to be catching up with the weak ‘soft data’, like the PMIs (see Edward Hugh’s summary on the Euro area PMI).


Rebecca Wilder


crossposted with  The Wilder View…Economonitors

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The Italian Economy Is Sliding

by Rebecca Wilder

The Italian Economy Is Sliding

Today I.Stat released the breakdown of Q1 2012 real GDP for the Italian economy. Weak external demand plus a precipitous drop in private sector spending dragged the headline real gross domestic product (GDP) 0.8% over the quarter (3.2% at an annualized rate). The highlights are the following:

  • Gross fixed capital formation (investment net of inventory formation) fell 3.6% over the quarter, or 13.7% at an annualized rate. This was the fastest quarterly rate of decline since Q1 2009 when GFCF fell 5% over the quarter.
  • Private consumption dropped 1.0% over the quarter, or 3.9% at an annualized rate
  • Imports fell 3.6%, or 13.6% at an annualized rate
  • Exports fell 0.6%, or 2.2% at an annualized rate
  • The only positive contribution to domestic spending was government consumption, which increased 0.4% over the quarter, or 1.4% at an annualized rate.

Italy’s real GDP is only 1.1% higher than its lowest point during the recession (Q2 2009). Furthermore, gross fixed capital formation has dropped at an increasing rate for four consecutive quarters. Hope for stabilization eludes, as the current business confidence survey continues its decent – IStat manufacturing confidence was 86.2 in May, which was the second lowest level since the outset of the EMU and well below the 100 average since 2000. Broadly speaking, the economy is imploding.

Don’t pin your hopes on exports. The contribution of exports to real GDP growth has dropped for two consecutive quarters, bucking a trend of positive contribution since the middle of 2009. The only reason that the net export contribution was positive in Q1 was due to the +1% contribution coming from a sharp decline in imports. This cannot be sustained, as the crisis of confidence has begun.
(Note: In the chart below, if real import growth is positive, then the contribution is negative; and if the real import growth is negative, then the contribution is positive.)

This is a product of failed policy at the Euro area level, and something needs to be done to break the positive feedback loop.


Rebecca Wilder


crossposted with   The Wilder View…Economonitors

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Tax cuts for jobs. NOT! Another tax cut that is not paying out

First a qualification. I am basing the following on info I found on the net. If the info is wrong, then I stand corrected as to who is or is not paying but not as to what happens when a large entity does not pay. The specific city and company are used purely for example purpose because of familiarity. What follows could be any municipality with a similar size company calling it home.
 
Lately in the city of my flower shop the big talk is a $10 million deficit in the school department. It’s a funny story. See, the department hired a couple people and these people, along with the help of the city council and the school committee the budget numbers became not real. They budgeted $59 million but have spent $66.6 million. The total $10 million is a 2 year deficit. The funny part…we had a surplus. Though, where the surplus went to no one knows. The school committee insists there was no funny business and even voted down an investigation. So, if there was no funny business, then who gained and what did they gain by covering up a deficit? What benefit is there about lying about a deficit?
 
Of course, this is also a state funding issue. You see, the city has the typical city size problems that the surrounding town do not have. This article notes:
 
 
“The committee chair pointed out that Lincoln has a budget of $48 million to educate half the students Woonsocket teaches with a mere $59 million.
 
“And they don’t have the special needs we have. They don’t even have a quarter of the IEPs we deal with,” she said.”
 
 
On top of this, we’re one of those states that has been passing ALEX type legislation. In particular we passed the one that thinks it is smart of a state to set a cap on how much a municipality can raise taxes in any given year. The city notes that default is an option, but is currently begging the state legislature to allow a supplemental tax bill.

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ECB Rates Policy is Clogged in Key Periphery Markets

by Rebecca Wilder

ECB Rates Policy is Clogged in Key Periphery Markets

How the Euro area (EA) will grow, according to Mario Draghi:

The outlook for economic activity should be supported by foreign demand, the very low short-term interest rates in the euro area, and all the measures taken to foster the proper functioning of the euro area economy.

In this post, I address Draghi’s point that the ECB 1% refi rate will support economic activity through the lens of the mortgage market. Specifically, I find that the interest rate channel is clogged in the economies that are in most desperate need of lower rates: Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

Regarding ‘very low short-term interest rates’, what Draghi means is that the standard interest rate channel of monetary policy will stimulate domestic demand via increased spending by consumers and firms. If ECB policy is indeed passing through to retail credit (households and firms that borrow from banks to buy goods and services), then we should see evidence of this as falling interest rates to retail credit sectors, like those for consumer goods, home mortgage lending, loans for businesses, or even corporate credit rates to finance business investment.

In mortgage markets, the Euro area average borrowing rates are indeed falling. Banks started lowering mortgage borrowing rates, on average, in September 2011 in anticipation of ECB rate cuts that eventually occurred (again) in November 2011. Specifically, average Euro area mortgage rates are down roughly .25% since the local peak in August 2011.


But a closer look across mortgage markets shows a worrying trend for key periphery economies. The pass-through from ECB rate setting policy to mortgage borrowing costs is clogged in Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where mortgage rates have risen since the ECB cut the refi rate to 1%. Indeed, these are the economies that ‘need’ the stimulus to offset the fiscal consolidation.
Sure, mortgage rates are arguably low – but they’re not lower.

In Spain and Portugal, 91% and 99% of their respective new stock of mortgages sit on variable rate loans, so the pass through to the real economy should be rather quick IF mortgage rates declined (see Table below). True, Spain and Portugal are unlikely to experience any boom in real estate lending over the near term. However, had the ECB policy lowered mortgage rates, then disposable income would rise via lower monthly mortgage payments, thereby stimulating other sectors of the economy, all else equal.

In Italy, just 47% of the mortgage market is variable, so the immediate stimulus would be more muted compared to Spain and Portugal via disposable income. However, Italy didn’t experience a credit boom, so lending to firms and households could and should be warranted. But amid the fiscal consolidation and stressed debt markets, fewer borrowers are credit worthy AND mortgage rates have risen near 1% since EA mortgage rates peak on average in August 2011.

Core mortgage rates are falling, and this could create a positive stimulus for Spain, Portugal, and Italy down the road. But for now, the transmission mechanism, dropping the ECB refi rate to 1%, is not easing housing and mortgage financial conditions in those economies hit hardest by fiscal austerity.

Rebecca Wilder

Reference Table: reference for variable rate share of mortgage market

originally published at The Wilder View…Economonitors

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Euro area credit: did the ECB wait too long?

by Rebecca Wilder

Euro area credit: did the ECB wait too long?

The ECB released its February report on monetary developments in the Euro area. This is an important report, since it will highlight whether or not the ECB’s LTRO is ‘working’, rather if the new liquidity is passing through to the real economy via new lending. On balance, it’s probably too early to tell, since there are long lags in monetary policy – however, early signs are not good for the real economy.

Ostensibly, the ECB LTRO did its job, as interbank credit has re-emerged in aggregate. Repo credit increased 4.2% over the year in February – this followed an 11.5% annual surge in January. Furthermore, short-term debt holdings jumped at a 21.3% annual pace. Banks and sovereigns have seen relief in the short-term credit markets, a product of long-term funding from the ECB.

But credit availability to the broader economy is more challenged. The chart below illustrates the working-day and seasonally adjusted lending by Monetary Financial Institutions (MFIs) to the household and non-financial corporate sectors. I use the 3-month/3-month average growth rate to illustrate the credit impetus over the LTRO period. In the three months ending in February, household lending fell 0.18% compared to the average spanning September through November 2011. The drop in quarterly lending did slow, but remains in decline. Loans to non-financial corporations fell a larger 0.82% in the three months ending in February. For non-financial corporations, the pace of decline quickened since the three months ending in January.


Across the Euro area, the charts below illustrate the contribution to annual growth in Euro area credit across the 17 EMU economies by sector: household (and nonprofit) and non-financial corporate. The usual suspects are seeing large declines in household and non-financial corporate lending, including Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland. France is the bright spot across both sectors, contributing a large share (multiples of its GDP share) to household and non-financial corporate lending.
Chart Note: the Charts below illustrate the country-level contributions to the annual growth rate of Euro area Household and non-financial corporate loans in February 2012.


Household lending The contribution to annual EA credit growth from Irish households (consumer plus mortgages) has been negative for 40 consecutive months, or 13 consecutive months in Spain. Portuguese household loans dragged annual EA loan growth consecutively since September. The credit impetus is very negative in consumer and mortgage lending for these economies. A positive point is that German consumers are borrowing for credit consumption and home buying. German household lending contributed 0.32% to annual EA loan growth in February – this compares favorably to the 0.17% average contribution spanning 2004-2006.

Non-financial corporate lending By this metric the Spanish business sector is effectively imploding, as Spanish non-financial corporate lending dragged the pace of annual EA lending by 1.1% in February. The contribution from Spanish corporate lending has been negative for 32 months, and the pace of contraction has picked up some speed since September 2011 on an annual contribution basis.

The credit impetus remains reasonably strong in the core countries, at least on a Y/Y basis (with stark exception of the Dutch household sector). And to some extent, the drop-off in credit to the periphery was to be expected. However, with the domestic drag in periphery credit markets already underway, and limited upside potential to global demand for exports, one questions whether or not the the ECB waited too long (given the long lags in monetary policy).

Megan Greene highlights the risks to the Euro area. With these risks in mind, restrictive fiscal policy amid deteriorating labor markets makes the Euro area extremely vulnerable to external shocks.
Statistical reference: the Euro area aggregate statistical data links can be found here. The country level data can be found in the statistical warehouse tree here.

originally published at

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Panel Discussion with: Krugman, Sachs, Phelps, Soros

Just wanted to let everyone know about a presentation that aired on Cspan’s Book TV.  It is a 2 hour panel discussion titles: Global Economy: Crisis Without End.  It was held 2/17/12.   Click hereto bring up the show.
 
What I found most interesting was the different perspectives between Krugman and Sachs. I’m not sure, but I don’t think either realized they were talking about the “crisis” from 2 different perspectives which leads to 2 different answers to what needs to be done. Thus, they come across as if the other is wrong, when in my opinion, they are both correct. Krugman says we need to do more now. Yes we do. Sach’s says we need to take the long view and start changing the direction we are going, namely calling for higher revenue raising by the government to be spent on the nation’s infrastructure, and he did not just mean physical infrastructure. I guess you would say he was calling for the government folks to get real about raising capital and then doing capital expenditures. Not exactly the thinking I would have expected from Sach’s considering his start in economic life: Shock Therapy.
 
Maybe I was just seeing the difference in Keynes vs Neoclassic Econ meets Bono?  So as much as Sach’s appears to be calling for the correct long term solution, I don’t trust him as the one to lead the charge.
 
It was a very good discussion and there is more there than what I have keyed on.

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