Deficits, debt in The Monday Briefing
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The global economy has been slowing for some time. The question is whether we are heading for a soft landing or something worse.
Financial markets last week raised the odds on ‘something worse’. Investors sold riskier assets, including equities, for safe havens such as gold and government bonds. Markets were reacting to alarm signals from two of the world’s most important economic indicators.
First, the yield curve, a gauge of future growth prospects, inverted last week in the US and in the UK. The yield curve measures the gap between the interest rate, or yield, on ten-year government bonds and shorter-maturity debt. Central banks largely set short-term interest rates while long-term yields are driven by market expectations for growth and inflation. When ten-year rates fall below three-month rates, as they have done in the US and the UK, the curve inverts signalling that short rates are too high and growth prospects are weakening. The fact that each of the last seven US recessions were preceded by an inverted curve explains why the equity market took fright last week to the inversion of the yield curve.
At the beginning of this year equity markets were reeling from a sell-off driven by fears over global growth and rising US interest rates.
China’s growth rate has slowed in recent years. Its sustainable growth rate has almost halved, to around 6.0% in a decade or so.
By Western standards this is an unattainably rapid growth rate. It would enable China’s economy to double in size every 12 years. China is still a fast-growing country, and one that exercises growing authority on the world stage. From technology to overseas investment and geopolitical influence China increasingly matters.
To outsiders the British can seem slightly obsessed with house prices. Yet it is an asset that matters. Two-thirds of UK households are owner occupiers and 35% of household wealth is tied up in property.
Last year I was asked to give a presentation on the challenges facing Western policymakers. We ranged widely across a depressing set of subjects, from stagnating incomes to inequality, public sector austerity, job insecurity and the rise of populism.
Last month the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, issued a stark warning about the impact of climate change: “If…companies and industries fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist”. Mr Carney’s statement was co-signed by the chair of the Network for Greening the Financial System, a coalition of 36 central banks, including the People’s Bank of China. The Network helps central banks measure and mitigate the risks to the financial sector posed by climate change. Last month’s statement signals that climate change has well and truly arrived as an issue for central bankers.
Today’s Briefing summarises the findings of the latest Deloitte Survey of Chief Financial Officers which was released overnight. The full report is available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/finance/articles/deloitte-cfo-survey.html
There’s no doubt that growth in the West is slowing. The question is whether the slowdown could turn into a recession. Last month the US yield curve, a key gauge of future US growth, temporarily dipped into recessionary territory for the first time in ten years.
With Brexit uncertainty undimmed we start this week’s Briefing with a short recap on the economics of leaving the EU.
The consensus among economists is that the UK will grow by 1.3% this year and 1.5% next year. With activity slowing across the world, particularly in the euro area, and the UK scheduled to leave the EU, growth at these rates looks pretty respectable. Given the uncertainties facing the UK it’s perhaps surprising that its economy is expected to outpace Italy’s or Germany’s this year.
Last October the International Monetary Fund warned of the risk of another global financial crisis. The Fund sees a 60% rise in global indebtedness in the last ten years and the exposure of banks to illiquid assets as major risks.