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

The answer is the domestic private sector

Jim Hamilton used the Federal Reserve Flow of Funds data to present a question: who will buy “the additional $8 trillion in net new debt that would be issued over the next decade under the CBO’s alternative fiscal scenario.”

I thought that the analysis was curious and too “partial”. If one believes the deleveraging story, then domestic private saving is going to rise. The answer to his question seems pretty obvious…

Let’s say that consumption goes back back to the 1960’s-style 62% of GDP, then get ready for household Treasury accumulation. Spanning the decade of 1960, households held on average 30% of the Treasury’s liabilities.

A simple example illustrates my point. If the Treasury’s book doubles to $16.5 trillion, and the household share of Treasury holdings rises to 30% – as of Q1 2010 the stock of Treasuries outstanding was just about $8.3 trillion (see L.209 here) – then households will accumulate over $4 trillion of those new Treasuries. That’s just households, and holding all else equal (like financial funds and businesses).

So the answer is: the domestic private sector.

Rebecca Wilder

Relative employment is shifting

Today Statistics Canada released impressive June employment figures from its Labour Force Survey (LFS). In case you missed it, the April gains, +109,000 new jobs, set a record. And the June gains, +93,000, were nearly as spectacular. (Note: the unemployment rate for Canada in the chart to the left is through May, not June)

Canada’s labor market bounced back fully and then some. Spanning May 2008, when job loss became the norm as the global credit crunch started to take hold, to December 2009, 259k jobs were lost. However, this year through June 2010, the labour market added back 308k jobs, which is +50k new jobs during the expansion or roughly +500k in “US”.

I’m afraid that the US labour market is a far different story. To regain employment lost since June 2008, 6.9 MILLION jobs need to be added back to the employment figures of the current population survey.

I digress. Every time I hear the Canadian statistics, I immediately multiply the statistic by 10 to control for the population differential; thus, +109,000 new jobs in Canada would be equivalent to roughly +1,090,000 in the US, all else equal. In translating the job gains into “U.S”, I understand the magnitude with more clarity – not very different form learning a new language by translating the words in your head.

Is +50k Canadian still equivalent (roughly) to +500k US? The short answer is pretty much – the 2009 US/CAN relative population was just over 9; but in thinking about relative population figures, I stumbled upon a rather remarkable relative employment figure between the US and Canada. The Canadian employment picture has become much much brighter than that in the US over the last decade.

The chart illustrates US employment relative to that in Canada, Germany, and Japan (Germany and Japan are there for comparison). As you can see, employment in the US relative to our neighbor to the North has dropped markedly. There is a secular downward trend in US employment relative to that in Canada.

And it’s not just a population issue. On a population-adjusted basis, the employment figures in Germany, Canada, and Japan are trending upward relative to that in the US – and for Canada, this is a secular trend rather than a cyclical phenomenon.

The US employment picture is fading compared to other developed nations. And remember, Japan and Germany saw near-zero annual population growth spanning the years 2000-2009.

Rebecca Wilder

Crib notes for G7 unemployment rates

Unemployment rates across the G7 illustrate a broad-based labor recovery. Fantastic – now let’s get to the underlying stories.

(Note: The US is the first to release the June 2010 figures. All other unemployment rates, except for the UK, are current as of May 2010.)

Germany, France, and Italy: Germany’s labor market is ostensibly improving, as the unemployment rate continues its descent. However, don’t be fooled by these statistics: the German government is subsidizing firms to drop hours in lieu of outright layoffs.

And across the Eurozone, fiscal tightening will drive unemployment rates up; look at what fiscal austerity got Ireland.

The United States: Spencer, as usual, gives his insightful take on the US employment release: not good. The real problem is that the US private sector is sitting on an iceberg of debt; and the only way to avoid the economic pain of large-scale default is by dropping leverage via nominal income (wages) growth.

Workers have NO pricing power. How can they when the employment to population ratio dropped 0.2% to 58.5% in June? Note that 58.5% is consistent with a 1970’s-1980’s style labor force with fewer females working. Wages are going nowhere until the labor market improves substantially, and the private sector can’t do it atop the iceberg of debt. We need the government’s help there.

UK: The pace of the labor market deterioration is slowing (not evident in the unemployment rate, which dates to just March, but more evident in the claimant count). However, the unemployment rate is expected to rise as the government’s self-imposed austerity measures are put into play. Furthermore, look for weakening labor conditions to push further default amid big household leverage.

Canada: The labor market is strong as illustrated by the marked improvement in the employment figures. Expansionary policy was very likely too expansionary, and the Bank of Canada has initiated its tightening cycle. The economy is hot right now.

Update: A reader notes that April GDP was released a couple of days before this article published. Indeed the economy posted 0% economic gain in April – not hot over the month. However, the jobs picture remains solid on a month to month basis, as May 2010 employment gains were +25,000 and all (in net) in the “full time” category. Being a small-open economy, much of Canada’s economic outlook depends on external factors, especially the outlook of the US economy.

Japan: The labor market is weak, as most industries posted job losses in May 2010 (access Japanese labor data here).

Rebecca Wilder

Yield curves in Japan and the US: similar but not the same

Andy Harless presents the case for a double dip (second recession) – I would re-order #1 and #2 on that list – and that for a sustained recovery. #6 of Andy’s case for a sustained recovery (he calls it Case Against a Second Dip) caught my attention, pointing me to an earlier Paul Krugman article about positively-sloped yield curves in a zero-bound policy environment.

In a related article, Krugman argues that a current policy of near-zero short-term rates precludes the lowering further of future short-term rates. Therefore, the steep yield curve reiterates that rates have nowhere to go but up rather than that the economy is expected to improve.

Reasonable; but it was Krugman’s comparison to policy during Japan’s lost decade that got the mental wheels rolling:

Indeed, if we look at Japan we find that the yield curve was positively sloped all the way through the lost decade. In 1999-2000, with the zero interest rate policy in effect, long rates averaged about 1.75 percent, not too far below current rates in the United States.

In my view, current Fed policy is generally more credible than policy undertaken by the Bank of Japan in the early 2000’s. The fed funds target has been near-zero since December 2008; and the new reserve base (liquidity) peaked quickly since the onset of QE and has since remained in the banking system.

Therefore, it would stand to reason that as long as policy remains consistent and big (the latter on the fiscal side is the problem right now), the US yield curve can, in my view, be interpreted as an auspicious sign – all else equal, as they say – as compared to the positively-sloped one in Japan.

Monetary policy in Japan: 1998 – 2006

The Bank of Japan has a solid history of rescinding their own policy efforts. They did it earlier this year; but more importantly their policy announcements spanning the years 1999 to 2006 have on occasion been rather deceiving. Notice that the 2-10 yield curve never became inverted.

The shortened version of the timeline (illustrated in the chart above):

  • From Bernanke, Reinhart, and Sack (2004): “In April 1999, describing the stance of monetary policy as “super super expansionary,” then-Governor Hayami announced that the BOJ would keep the policy rate at zero “until deflationary concerns are dispelled,” with the latter phrase clearly indicating that the policy commitment was conditional.”
  • In August 2000, The BoJ raises the overnight call rate to 0.25%, up from near-zero.
  • In February 2001 the BoJ lowers the overnight call rate to 0.15%.
  • In March 2001, the BoJ announces its quantitative easing strategy, initially targeting current account balances (essentially reserves) at 5 trillion yen and lowered the overnight call rate target to near-zero.
  • Until 2004, the BoJ raises the current account reserve target several times until it peaks at 30-35 trillion yen.
  • In March 2006, the BoJ exits QE.

I concur with Paul Krugman, that the deflation threat is very very real. I do not think that it is completely fair to compare the current US yield curve to that to early 2000’s Japan.

To be sure, the likelihood of rates rising is the only possibility built into the US yield curve right now (no possibility of lower rates); but since the Fed is relatively more credible and consistent, the probability of rates rising is much higher compared to that in early 2000’s Japan.

And the current US curve is steep! The chart below compares the dynamics of the 2-10 yield curve in Japan from its low in 1998 through 2006 to that in the US from its low in 2007 through June 24, 2010.

Rebecca Wilder

Reference for paper in final chart: Luc Laeven and Fabian Valencia (2008), Systemic Banking Crises: A New Database, IMF Working Paper WP/08/224.

Another blow to the US labor force

The Senate voted down the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act of 2010, 57 to 41 (see an earlier version of the CBO’s estimate here for a breakdown of the Bill). The emergency extensions to weekly unemployment benefits will now expire, leaving many without government support as the labor market improves at snail speed.

Those who support the Bill claim that benefits prop up consumer spending. It is true, that unemployment benefits payments are more likely to be spent rather than saved. However, the latest version of the Bill allocated about $35 billion to benefits, just 0.34% of consumer spending in Q1 2010. Consequently, the direct impact on consumer spending of extending the benefits would have been small. (The provisions of the Bill in full would have quickened the recovery, according to David Resler at Nomura.)

Those who oppose the Bill claim that extending the benefits only increases the duration of unemployment – in May 2010 median duration was 23.2 weeks, its highest level since 1967. This is a weak argument when 7.4 million jobs, near 6% of the current payroll, have been lost since the onset of the recession (this is a cumulative number, which includes the gains since January 2010). The bulk of the unemployed would likely jump at an opportunity to work rather than live on benefits.

One way or another the government will plug the hole that is private spending. And the government will find this out the easy way (expansionary fiscal policy) or the hard way (perpetual deficits that result from weak private-sector tax revenue). Apparently it’s going to be the hard way.

At 9.7% unemployment, isn’t it obvious that Congress is not “spending” enough?

The chart illustrates the Nairu-implied level of unemployment (NAIRU, or the nonaccelerating inflation rate of unemployment) versus the measured rate of unemployment. The concept of NAIRU is limiting in that it inherently binds fiscal policy and is a theoretical notion at best; but it does present a baseline for comparison. The Nairu-implied level of unemployment is simply the CBO’s estimate of NAIRU multiplied by the current labor force. Let’s call points when the current level of unemployment is above the NAIRU-implied level as cyclical surplus of workers.

According to this measure of worker surplus, the state of the labor market is obvious: depressed. The NAIRU-implied level of unemployment is half of that currently measured by the BLS with a record wedge between the two. Furthermore, the cyclical surplus of workers in ’82-’83 – the last time the unemployment rate peaked above 10% – was relatively mild compared to current conditions.

By failing to pass this Bill, the Senate reiterated its unwillingness to support the US labor market. Of course benefits are not the answer – we need a comprehensive jobs Bill to mitigate the consequences of such a depressed labor market. (There was a good article on the longer term unemployment problem at the Curious Capitalist some months back.)

Rebecca Wilder

The hourless recovery

There was an interesting blog post over at the Macroblog (Atlanta Fed) regarding productivity. John Robertson and Pedro Silos highlight the contributions to GDP growth from various factors, including productivity and employment. One of their findings:

As this chart shows, relatively high labor productivity growth during a recession is not a phenomenon isolated to the 2007–09 and 2001 recessions (for present purposes, the end of the most recent recession is identified with the trough in GDP in the second quarter of 2009). All recessions from WWII through 1970 also featured sizable growth in labor productivity.

The article focuses on the contribution of productivity gains to GDP growth during a recession and the early stages of the recovery. The authors do not comment on, however, a very interesting bit of their story: the “hourless” recovery. Lockhart speaks of this curtly in his speech – the focus of the macroblog article:

Current data on the use of part-time workers suggest that businesses have some scope to increase hours without hiring new full-time employees.

The precipitous drop in hours worked has differentiated this labor downturn from previous cycles (papers here and here). According to the BLS Q1 2010 productivity report, the recovery of the 2007-2009 recession has so far been “hourless”, which is consistent with the previous two cycles.

The chart illustrates the contributions to output growth from hours and productivity for the the first three quarters of recovery spanning the last six recessions. Note: the current recession has not officially been dated as having ended, but June or July 2009 is the “whisper” talk for now. I will simply call Q3 2009 as the onset of the recovery, since GDP grew that quarter.

The “hourless recovery” is underway: a cumulative 3.3% of output has been generated over the last three quarters (using the BLS productivity report) via a 0.9% drop in aggregate hours. I argued last year that adding back hours cannot generate sufficient output growth for sustainable “recovery”; however, productivity growth has been strong enough that the productive hours cycle has not even begun.

It’s likely that the large service sector is the drag that is driving the “hourless” recovery because manufacturing hours are red hot.

(The weekly hours series are indexed to 100 for comparison.)

The chart illustrates average weekly hours of production and nonsupervisory workers in manufacturing and private industry payroll. Manufacturing weekly hours, 41.5 hours per week in May 2010, recovered 5% off the low of 39.4 hours in March 2009. Furthermore, May 2010 set a ten year record, breaking past levels not seen since July 2000 (not shown in chart but you can see it here). In contrast, total private weekly hours remain below pre-recession levels, just 1.5% off of the June 2009 low, 33.0 hours.

The BLS breaks down average weekly hours for all workers by industry since 2006. The service sector is the lion’s share of the private payroll (~85%). Of the service sector payroll, 68% remains short of pre-recession weekly hours worked: trade, transportation, and utilities, professional and business services, and education and health services.

Adding hours still won’t provide a large growth impetus, as I argued here; however, the service industry has yet to see the burst in hours like in manufacturing. As such, I agree with the overall conclusions of the Robertson and Silos article:

Hence, it will probably take awhile to see how President Lockhart’s forecast of continued modest employment growth pans out.

Rebecca Wilder

It’s not hard to understand why Asia’s worried about Europe

On the forefront of the Chinese economic releases this week was the trade data, where headlines shouted +48.5% Y/Y export growth in May. This report didn’t go unnoticed in Washington, as renewed obsessions with the Chinese peg against the US dollar fired up again.

But the Chinese release overshadowed the Philippines April trade report, which in my view, illustrates more transparently the slowdown in external demand that is likely underway across the region. In the Philippines merchandise exports increased 27.4% over the year in April, which was half the rate of the Bloomberg consensus and that in March, 42.7% and 43.8%, respectively.

A negative export growth trend has been established – explicitly in the Philippines and likely going forward in China (see Goldman Sachs report below). And these countries have strong trade ties with Europe – the Eurozone was 15% of 2009 world GDP (PPP value) according to the IMF.

Therefore, recent nominal appreciation of the Philippine peso and Chinese yuan against the euro, and expected real appreciation – Europe’s self-imposed economic contraction stemming from harsh fiscal austerity measures will drag prices downward – may very well hamper the economic recovery for key Asian economies via the export channel.

Export growth in the Philippines has been slowing to top trading partners.

The chart illustrates the contribution to overall export growth from the Philippines six largest trading partners – together these countries account for roughly 50% of total exports. The contributions to the Philippines export income growth has been slowing or flat for some time to China, Singapore, and Germany. Slightly more worrisome is the Netherlands contribution having turned negative for two consecutive months.

The Netherlands and Germany account for roughly 13% of total export demand from the Philippines. The euro has depreciated 8% against the Philippine peso since April 2010 (through June 11 and see chart below), and the lagged effects of the nominal depreciation will continue to pass through to exports.

In China, though, a resurgence of export growth among its top trading partners bucks the trend seen in the Philippines.

The chart illustrates the contribution to overall export growth from China’s six largest trading partners – again, these countries jointly demand roughly 50% of total Chinese exports. China’s May report was indeed strong: the US added a large +8.3pps to overall Chinese export growth in May, and Hong Kong contributed another robust +6.2pps of growth. In contrast to the Philippines April numbers, The Netherlands contribution to Chinese export growth remained strong, contributing 1.5pps in May.

Chinese exports are quite volatile in the beginning of the year. I suspect that Yu Song and Helen Qiao at Goldman Sachs are right, that export growth will initiate its trend downward starting in June:

“We believe the very strong exports growth in May is likely to be a temporary phenomenon, much like the very weak exports data recorded in March, and expect June data to show a visible normalisation,” said Yu Song and Helen Qiao at Goldman Sachs.

In their Goldman report (no link) Yu Song and Helen Qiao argued that the Chinese numbers remain clouded by the following distortions:

  • “The exports acceleration was likely to be partially induced by a potential cut to the export VAT rebate for some commodity exports: There have been a number of domestic news reports that this might happen soon as a part of the broader policy package to reduce pollution and energy consumption.
  • But it probably also reflected changes in the domestic economy: Our proprietary GS Commodity Price Index (GSPCC) (Bloomberg ticker: ALLX GSCP) suggest that the domestic prices of main commodities have been mostly trending down in May which might have encouraged more exports in this area.
  • Strong export activities might also be impacted by the Lunar New Year effects as many exporters resumed production after taking time off during the holiday season which often last for weeks. [although they say this cannot be validated until a further breakdown becomes available later this month].”

The recent nominal depreciation of the euro against the Chinese yuan and the Philippine peso, 11% and 8%, respectively, since April 1 2010, will pass through to both Chinese and Philippine exports at a lag. And further real depreciation – the nominal exchange rate adjusted for relative prices of goods and services – of the euro against the yuan and the peso is almost certain. Europe’s self-imposed fiscal austerity measures will crimp economic growth and deflation is bound to take over across Europe and relative to Asia.

As such, recent external shocks from Europe will likely show up Chinese and Philippine trade data in coming months. Doesn’t look good for Asia, especially for those economies like the Philippines and China for which exports provide a robust growth impetus.

We’re nowhere NEAR out of the woods yet.

Rebecca Wilder

The United Kingdom Draws the Wrong Lessons from Canada

by Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Braintruster Marshall Auerback at the New Deal 2.0

For once, Canada is making the news for the wrong reasons. The United Kingdom has braced the country for cuts in government spending up to 20 percent as the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition lays the groundwork for an austerity program to last the whole parliament. Their inspiration? According to The Telegraph, Prime Minister David Cameron’s administration hopes to draw lessons from the experiences of the Canadian Government of the 1990s. Before too much damage is done, we suggest they’d better re-read the history books a bit more closely.

The standard narrative of the Canadian experience in the 1990s is this: in 1993, Canada’s budget deficit and debt-to-GDP ratios were the second highest amongst the G7 countries, after Italy’s, and the US financial press was unfavorably comparing Canada to Mexico. That year, with the IMF supposedly lurking at the door, the Liberal Government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and his Finance Minister, Paul Martin, laid out a goal to halve the budget deficit to three percent by 1998, with an unannounced goal of a zero deficit by 2000. Martin began cutting costs significantly in 1994, chopping 10 percent from department budgets and converting a deficit equal to nearly 7 percent of gross domestic product into a surplus by 1997. By 1998, the deficit was eliminated and overall debt was dropping quickly, amidst a rapidly growing economy.

Success, correct? Certainly, this narrative has largely gone unchallenged (even in Canada). It has metamorphosed into received wisdom and has been used by many to justify a renewed assault on the welfare state. It is argued that the impact of Chretien government’s cuts in public spending allowed Canada to get through the Asian crisis with little damage and to go on to become one of the strongest Western economies.

And this is the lesson drawn by the British government. Hence, the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who yesterday announced an unprecedented four-year spending review. According to Osborne, every Cabinet minister will have to justify, in front of a panel of colleagues, every pound they spend. He said the task ahead represented “the great national challenge of our generation” and that after years of waste, debt and irresponsibility it was time to bring public spending under control, guided by the principle that people should ask “what needs to be done by government and what we can afford to do”.

The Canadian experience certainly makes for an interesting story, although we suspect that the IMF threat was significantly overstated. In 1995, Canada had a debt to GDP ratio that was around half of that of Italy and Belgium. Yet curiously, those countries were never deemed to be ready-made victims for the Fund’s Little Shop of Horrors, even as Canada was supposedly threatened with the prospect of becoming a ward of the IMF a la the United Kingdom in 1976. In truth, the IMF threat represented yet another in a series of manufactured crises that enabled longstanding opponents of government spending to muscle through budget cuts in vital and politically popular social programs.

The reality is somewhat more complex, as Professor Mario Seccareccia of the University of Ottawa has noted in a paper entitled, Whose Canada? Continental Integration, Fortress North America, and the Corporate Agenda (pp. 234-58). In the paper, Seccareccia noted the real reasons for the “success” of the Chretien/Martin austerity programs:

1. High growth in the US, Canada’s largest trading partner, a sharply declining Canadian dollar (which fell as low as .62 cents against the greenback), and the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), all of which combined to push the export sector’s share of Canadian GDP to 45% by 2000 (now about 33%), and
2. An expansionary monetary policy which did significantly stimulate consumer spending, and which was sustained until the financial crisis.

The turnaround emerged despite the fact that investment remained weak relative to historic economic recoveries. But the massive turn in the country’s external sector was largely made possible through a revival of growth in the US (Canada’s largest trading partner). The stock market boom in the US, the high tech bubble, and the beginnings of the American real estate boom created huge demand for Canadian exports, which largely drove Canada’s recovery. (All of which were fueled by huge increases in US private debt growth, another malign effect of the Clinton budget surpluses.) If anything, this vast improvement in Canada’s external account largely offset the deflationary impact of the fiscal austerity which, in any case, likely impeded, rather than facilitated, economic recovery, given the slashing of employment insurance and social welfare benefits.

The other byproduct of this Canadian “budget miracle” was the increasing indebtedness of the Canadian private sector, a phenomenon mirrored in the US by the Clinton Administration, which repeatedly recorded budget surpluses in the late 1990s. Again, this is no surprise to those of us who adopt the financial balances approach, but it does give a fuller (and less flattering) picture of the ultimate impacts of eliminating Canadian “fiscal profligacy”.

The chart above highlights the importance of Canada’s restrictive fiscal policy in pushing the household sector balances increasingly into the red until the financial crisis of 2008 (also accompanied by a massive increase in the Canadian budget deficit, which almost certainly cushioned the impact of the crisis in Canada).

In any event, Canada’s export boom of the 1990s is a miracle that could certainly not be repeated today, given the decline in global economic growth, and the extent to which the ailing manufacturing exports sector is now being hammered by the so-called “Dutch disease” as a consequence of the Canadian dollar’s relative strength.

By the same token, the United Kingdom would hardly do any better today, given global recessionary pressures and the corresponding implosion of its largest export markets in Europe and the US. If Prime Minister David Cameron is indeed preparing Britons for a Canadian-style attack on the deficit, he is acting on the basis of profoundly misguided historical information. Canada’s growth was largely stock market bubble-driven, so both the US budget surpluses and the Canadian miracle were based on a one-off fluke. From the sector balances approach, we know that unless you get something like one of the biggest bubbles of all time in your own economy or in a major trading partner’s, don’t count on recovery in the face of fiscal retrenchment. The UK government’s current monomaniacal fixation on deficits and its simplistic reading of Canadian history will do nothing more than cut back on vital stimulus that has cushioned the UK from a far greater disaster, all to satisfy the loons in the conservative press and some threatening types in ratings agencies . Not only would a Canadian-style fiscal assault be a nonsensical short-run strategy, given the debt levels the UK private sector is carrying at present, it would not be a sustainable growth policy in the medium-term. Eventually, the private balance sheets would become too fragile and households would attempt to increase saving even further. This would reduce aggregate demand further and income adjustments would force the public balance into an even larger deficit and set the deficit hawks toward cutting government spending with an even greater sense of urgency. The Canadian experience teaches us very little. There is never a case for fiscal austerity in periods of cyclical weakness unless you can recreate the conditions of a financial bubble. But aren’t we paying the price for that today?

Posted with author’s permission from the New Deal 2.0.

China’s not the answer for the Eurozone

by Rebecca

“Go long whatever Chinese consumers buy and go short Chinese capital spending (construction) plays. Consistently, go long tech/short material stocks.”

That is the first sentence of a BCA Research report’s executive summary on China equity strategy (link not available). Rather than a global equity strategy, I’d like to put this into an economic growth context via trade…and with Europe.

Go long Eurozone economies selling to China? Is China the panacea for Eurozone growth? Short answer is no, but we’ll attend to that later. Even if the euro wasn’t selling off against the majors, China’s domestic demand is robust and export income is flowing into the Eurozone – but to where?

The chart below illustrates the dynamics of annual export growth to China for the top 6 countries of the Eurozone measured by GDP in 2009: Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, and Belgium. Presumably, the bulk of China’s export demand would flow to these countries.

Since the Eurozone’s annual export growth to China bottomed out in May 2009, many of the Eurozone economies (some not shown in chart) have registered, on average, double-digit monthly export growth to China: Belgium 49% Y/Y, Germany 25%, Spain 16%, Greece 19%, Ireland 22%, Netherlands 39%, and Portugal 49%. Only Finland saw its monthly average export income drop over the same period, -10% Y/Y.

(A note of clarification: the statistics in the chart are monthly Y/Y growth rates, while the statistics in the paragraph above represent the average monthly Y/Y growth rate spanning the period May 2009 to March 2010. All of this data can be downloaded from Eurostat, EU27 Trade since 1995 by CN8).

But 75% of the Eurozone’s exports to China flow from just three countries: Germany, 54%, France, 11%, and Italy 10% (average Jan 2009 – Feb 2010 and see table below). This makes sense, given that Germany, France, and Italy are the three largest countries in the Eurozone.

However, compared to the size of their economies, Belgium and Germany are the true beneficiaries of China’s external demand, not Spain, France, nor Italy. And this trade data is truncated before the record decline of the euro.

The table above relates each country’s share of total Eurozone exports to China to its share of Eurozone GDP. I’d say that Belgium is doing quite well compared to its larger neighbors, +2.5% spread on a 3.8% share base. But Germany’s out of this world, 26.9% spread on a 26.8% share base. Spain, France, and Italy are faring poorly, as their spreads are wide and negative.

China appears to be the panacea for just a handful of countries, most notably Germany and Belgium. But alas, it’s no panacea for the Eurozone, not even for Germany. Unfortunately, the Eurozone’s fragile developed colleagues, the US and UK, are.

The shares illustrated in the chart are calculated for year 2009.

Markets anxiously await China’s every move; but according to the April 2010 IMF World Economic Outlook, China ran the largest current account surplus across the IMF member countries – $284 bn in 2008 – the 20th largest as a share of GDP. That kind of saving is NOT going to get the global economy back on its feet in full very quickly. China is not the answer for Europe.

The Eurozone, in particular, is paying close attention to non-Eurozone (16 countries adopted the euro as their currency) growth alternatives. I leave you with an excerpt from a nice FT article on Europe’s true woes – fiscal austerity measures – featuring the research of Wynne Godley and Rob Parenteau:

Many years ago, he [Wynne Godley] also criticised the institutional arrangements of the European Monetary Union. Writing in The Observer in August 1997, he noted that members of the eurozone were not only giving up their currencies but also their fiscal freedom. Within the union, a government could no longer draw cheques on its own central bank but must borrow in the open market. “This may prove excessively expensive or even impossible,” he warned.

He went on to caution that without a common European budget, there was a danger that “the budgetary restraint to which governments are individually committed will impart a disinflationary bias that locks Europe as a whole into a depression that it is powerless to lift”.

China is not the answer: not for Europe; not for the US; and not for the UK.


Marshall Auerback is a Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Braintruster at the New Deal 2.0.

By Marshall Auerback

To paraphrase Shakespeare, things are indeed rotten in the State of Denmark (and Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and almost everywhere else in the euro zone). An entire continent appears determined to commit collective hara kiri, whilst the rest of the world is encouraged to draw precisely the wrong kinds of lessons from Europe’s self-imposed economic meltdown. So-called respectable policy makers continue to legitimize the continent’s fully-fledged embrace of austerity on the allegedly respectable grounds of “fiscal sustainability”.

The latest to pronounce on this matter is the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King. This is a particularly sad, as the BOE – the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street – has actually played a uniquely constructive role amongst central banks in the area of financial services reform proposals. King, and his associate, Andrew Haldane, Executive Director for Financial Stability at the Bank of England, have been outspoken critics of “too big to fail” banks, and the asymmetric nature of banker compensation (“heads I win, tails the taxpayer loses”). This stands in marked contrast to America’s feckless triumvirate of Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and Ben Bernanke, none of whom appears to have encountered a banker’s bonus that they didn’t like.

But when it comes to matters of “fiscal sustainability” King sounds no better than a court jester (or, at the very least, a member of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform). In an interview with The Telegraph, the Bank of England Governor suggests that the US and UK – both sovereign issuers of their own currency – must deal with the challenges posed by their own fiscal deficits, lest a Greece scenario be far behind:

“It is absolutely vital, absolutely vital, for governments to get on top of this problem. We cannot afford to allow concerns about sovereign debt to spread into a wider crisis dealing with sovereign debt. Dealing with a banking crisis was bad enough. This would be worse.”

“A wider crisis dealing with sovereign debt”? Anybody’s internal BS detector ought to be flashing red when a policy maker makes sweeping statements like this. The Bank of England Governor substantially undermines his own credibility by failing to make 3 key distinctions:

  1. There is a fundamental difference between debt held by the government and debt held in the non-government sector. All debt is not created equal. Private debt has to be serviced using the currency that the state issues.
  2. Likewise, deficit critics, such as King, obfuscate reality when they fail to highlight the differences between the monetary arrangements of sovereign and non-sovereign nations, the latter facing a constraint comparable to private debt.
  3. Related to point 2, there is a fundamental difference between public debt held in the currency of the sovereign government holding the debt and public debt held in a foreign currency. A government can never go insolvent in its own currency. If it is insolvent as a consequence of holdings of foreign debt then it should default and renegotiate the debt in its own currency. In those cases, the debtor has the power not the creditor.

Functionally, the euro dilemma is somewhat akin to the Latin American dilemma, such as countries like Argentina regularly experienced. The nations of the European Monetary Union have given up their monetary sovereignty by giving up their national currencies, and adopting a supranational one. By divorcing fiscal and monetary authorities, they have relinquished their public sector’s capacity to provide high levels of employment and output. Non-sovereign countries are limited in their ability to spend by taxation and bond revenues and this applies perfectly well to Greece, Portugal and even countries like Germany and France. Deficit spending in effect requires borrowing in a “foreign currency”, according to the dictates of private markets and the nation states are externally constrained.

King implicitly recognizes this fact, as he acknowledges the central design flaw at the heart of the European Monetary Union – “within the Euro Area it’s become very clear that there is a need for a fiscal union to make the Monetary Union work.”

This is undoubtedly correct: To eliminate this structural problem, the countries of the EMU must either leave the euro zone, or establish a supranational fiscal entity which can fulfill the role of a sovereign government to deficit spend and fill a declining private sector output gap. Otherwise, the euro zone nations remain trapped – forced to forgo spending to repay debt and service their interest payments via a market based system of finance.

But King then inexplicably extrapolates the problems of the euro zone which stem from this uniquely Euro design flaw and exploits it to support a neo-liberal philosophy fundamentally antithetical to fiscal freedom and full employment.

The Bank of England Governor – and others of his ilk – are misguided and disingenuous when they seek to draw broader conclusions from this uniquely euro zone related crisis. Think about Japan – they have had years of deflationary environments with rising public debt obligations and relatively large deficits to GDP. Have they defaulted? Have they even once struggled to pay the interest and settlement on maturity? Of course not, even when they experienced debt downgrades from the major ratings agencies throughout the 1990s.

Retaining the current bifurcated monetary/fiscal structure of the euro zone does leave the individual countries within the EMU in the death throes of debt deflation, barring a relaxation of the self-imposed fiscal constraints, or a substantial fall in the value of the euro (which will facilitate growth via the export sector, at the cost of significantly damaging America’s own export sector). This week’s €750bn rescue package will buy time, but will not address the insolvency at the core of the problem, and may well exacerbate it, given that the funding is predicated on the maintenance of a harsh austerity regime.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s Socialist prime minister, angered his trade union allies but cheered financial markets on Wednesday when he announced a surprise 5 per cent cut in civil service pay to accelerate cuts to the budget deficit.

The austerity drive – echoing moves by Ireland and Greece – followed intense pressure from Spain’s European neighbors, the International Monetary Fund on the spurious grounds that such cuts would establish “credibility” with the markets. Well, that wasn’t exactly a winning formula for success when tried before in East Asia during the 1997/98 financial crisis, and it is unlikely to be so again this time.

Indeed, in the current context, the European authorities are simply trying to localize the income deflation in the “PIIGS” through strong orchestrated IMF-style fiscal austerity, while seeking to prevent a strong downward spiral of the euro. But the contradiction in this policy is that a deflation in the “PIIGS” will simply spread to the other members of the euro zone with an effect essentially analogous to that of a competitive devaluation internationally.

The European Union is the largest economic bloc in the world right now. This is why it is so critical that Europeans get out of the EMU straightjacket and allow government deficit spending to do its job. Anything else will entail a deflationary trap, no matter how the euro zone’s policy makers initially try to localize the deflation. And the deflation is almost certain to spread outward, if sovereign states such as the US or UK absorb the wrong lessons from Greece, as Mr., King and his fellow deficit-phobes in the US are aggressively advocating.

There are two direct contagion vectors off the fiscal retrenchment being imposed on the periphery countries of the euro zone.

First, to the banking systems of the periphery and the core nations, as private loan defaults spread on domestic private income deflation induced by the fiscal retrenchment. Second, to the core nations that export to the PIIGS and run export led growth strategies. So 30-40% of Germany’s exports go to Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain directly, another 30% to the rest of Europe.

These are far from trivial feedback loops, and of course, the third contagion vector is to rest of world growth as domestic private income deflation combined with a maxi euro devaluation means exporters to the euro zone, and competitors with euro zone firms in global tradable product markets, are going to see top line revenue growth dry up before year end.

Let’s repeat this for the 100th time: the US government, the Japanese Government, or the UK government, amongst others, do NOT face a Greek style constraint – they can just credit bank accounts for interest and repayment in the same fashion as if they were buying some helmets for the military or some pencils for a government school. True, individual American states do face a fiscal crisis (much like the EMU nations) as users of the dollar, which is why some 48 out of 50 now face fiscal crises (a problem that could easily be alleviated were the US Federal Government to undertake a comprehensive system of revenue sharing on a per capita basis with the various individual states). But, if any “lesson” is to be learned from Greece, Ireland, or any other euro zone nation, it is not the one that Mr. King is seeking to impart. Rather, it is the futility of imposing arbitrary limits on fiscal policy devoid of economic context. Unfortunately, few are recognizing the latter point. The prevailing “lesson” being drawn from the Greek experience, therefore, will almost certainly lead the US, and the UK, to the same miserable economic outcome along with higher deficits in the process. As they say in Europe, “Finanzkapital uber alles”.