MacroScope

An unpleasant surprise may lurk in euro zone GDP numbers

The euro zone economy may be doing far worse than most economists want to believe. That’s not good news for a central bank trying to rescue the single currency through a hotly-contested bond purchasing programme that has yet to get started.

The latest flash purchasing managers’ indexes, which cover thousands of euro zone companies, suggest the third quarter will mark the euro zone’s worst economic performance since the dark days of early 2009, according to Markit, which compiles them.

They predict the economy likely shrank by 0.6 percent in the quarter that finishes at the end of this month.

That’s far gloomier than the consensus 0.2 percent decline predicted in the last week’s Reuters poll of around 35 economists, and even more pessimistic than the poll’s lowest forecast of 0.5 percent.

Aside from some German resilience, there was an unexpectedly severe decline reported by French firms. Flash PMIs don’t cover Spain and Italy – those figures come out at the end of the month. But it’s a pretty sure bet there’s been a deterioration there since last month.

Draghi engineers August lull, but wait for September

Having not enjoyed a summer lull for a good few years, we might as well take advantage of this one which appears set to last for another couple of weeks yet (famous last words).

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s pledge to do whatever it takes to save the euro zone continues to underpin markets who view a litany of grim economic evidence as increasing the likelihood of further central bank action, not just from Europe but China and the United States too, thereby leaving them somewhat becalmed. (Remember the Greenspan put?)

The ECB chief’s intervention remains strictly in the realms of the rhetorical for now. The proof will come in September at the earliest – an ECB policy meeting in the first week is likely to set out the parameters as to how it might act to lower Spanish and Italian borrowing costs, a week later the German constitutional court rules on the viability of the euro zone’s permanent rescue fund, then euro zone finance ministers gather in Cyprus for a key meeting. Also in September, the troika of Greek lenders will return to decide whether Athens has done enough to secure its next bailout tranche.

A summer lull?

It seems foolish to hope for a summer lull given recent history but in euro zone debt crisis terms at least, the next week looks quieter unless the markets turn savage again.

That’s not to say things are getting better – Spain’s 10-year borrowing costs are still above the seven percent level which it cannot survive indefinitely — it’s just that things aren’t getting much worse at the moment. Certainly with the Spanish bank bailout signed off as far as it can be, there’s nothing on the policy front to shake things up for a while although the debt-laden region of Valencia’s call for help with its debt hardly inspires confidence that Madrid can get things back on track.

What there is next week is a welter of evidence coming up on the health, or lack of it, of the world economy.
Flash PMIs for the euro zone, France and Germany are swiftly followed by Germany’s Ifo sentiment survey and second quarter GDP figures from Britain. The Q2 U.S. growth figure also comes out on Wednesday as well as the Chinese PMI on Tuesday. The euro zone’s slide into recession is likely to be confirmed and of course Britain is already there and unlikely to clamber out despite government and central bank protestations that the country’s travails are all to do with the euro area.

Off the rails? Goldman lowers Q2 GDP ‘tracking’ estimate to 1.1 pct

Another round of bad news on the economy has prompted Goldman Sachs to shave another tenth of a percentage point off their already bleak second quarter U.S. GDP forecast.

The July Philadelphia Fed business activity index improved less than expected and remained “significantly negative,” pointing to a third month of contraction. Following news that June existing home sales were much weaker than forecast, Goldman Sachs economists lowered their Q2 GDP tracking estimate to 1.1 percent from 1.2 percent.

The 5.4 percent month-on-month decline in existing home sales in June, reported by the National Association of Realtors, was much weaker than the consensus expectation, the economists noted. The 4.37 million annualized rate of sales was also lower than expected despite upward revisions to the May sales figures.

Here come the downward U.S. GDP revisions again

It’s become an uncanny, almost seasonal pattern over the last few years: The economy perks up as a new year kicks into gear only to flail again by the time summer comes around.

It must be that time of year. A very weak U.S. retail sales report for June forced economists to again take an axe to their already meager forecasts for economic growth this year. Stephen Stanley at Pierpoint Securities, suggests the figures are beginning to dip dangerously close to contraction.

I have been near the bottom of the range of estimates on Q2 GDP for the last month or two and it seems like we are all chasing the data lower. Before today, I had about 1% for Q2 real GDP. The awful retail sales figures coupled with somewhat higher-than-expected inventories tally takes me down to +0.6%.

from Edward Hadas:

For growth, focus first on jobs

In the labour market, there is a fine line between inefficiency and wastefulness. “This place is so inefficient,” it is said, often with justification, especially in rich economies. “We could do everything we’re supposed to with a third fewer people.” Factories can be streamlined, high quality new equipment can save on labour, and offices are prone to the incubation of worthless bureaucracy.

It also said, sometimes by the same people, that “The unemployment situation is terrible. My young friends can’t get jobs and lots of not-so-old people I know are retiring early.” Such statements are also accurate. In many countries, the Lesser Depression has sharply worsened a longstanding problem of inadequate job creation. Spain’s official unemployment rate is 24 percent. Almost half of the young adults in Greece are jobless. And the employed portion of the working age population in the United States has fallen by three percentage points over the last four years.

Politicians and other leaders have watched the job destruction with something like horror. They shouldn’t have been surprised. The unending fight against inefficiency leads to a natural employment asymmetry. As technology advances, businesses and governments usually find it easier to cut than to add jobs. Some businesses can progressively expand headcount, but in tough times there are more employers looking for ways to use less labour.

Blame small government for U.S. GDP downer

Weak U.S. economic growth in the first quarter was driven in part by a pullback in business investment — but a sharp decline in government spending also played a role. Gross domestic product grew 2.2 percent, well short of the Reuters consensus forecast of 2.5 percent. Business spending fell 2.1 percent while government expenditures saw a 3 percent drop linked to lower defense spending. Consumer spending proved a bright spot in the report, climbing 2.9 percent. Still, there is concern that this too could fade because an unusually warm winter may have brought some spending forward.

Jay Feldman at Credit Suisse breaks down the numbers:

The big downside surprise from our vantage point was in federal government spending, which contracted 5.6% in the quarter (we expected an increase given the firmer readings in monthly Treasury data). Most of the shortfall was concentrated in defense (-8.1%). Combined with the ongoing contraction in state and local government output (-1.2%), the government sector overall shaved 0.6 percentage point from top line GDP.

Yet this pales in comparison to what might happen if Congress fails to break a budget logjam by the end of this year. If left unaddressed, the resulting spending cuts and expiring tax breaks — the dreaded fiscal cliff — could easily tip the world’s largest economy back into recession.

UK recession in charts

Britain’s economy slid into its second recession since the financial crisis after official data unexpectedly showed a fall in output in the first three months of 2012:

Starting real GDP at 100 in 2003 for the UK, U.S. and euro zone shows UK GDP flat since mid-2010 and well below the 2007 peak.

Survey data had been suggesting a stronger GDP number and perhaps points to upwards revisions to come.

Never mind the pain, feel the austerity

Austerity in the euro zone seems to be working — at least as far as the headline,  dry, soulless numbers of  budget balancing are concerned. Bailed out  Greece and Ireland have reported substantial improvements in last year’s profligacy performance.  Spain, while going in the wrong direction, at least has the satisfaction of being told it is not telling fibs.

We will get to the smoke and mirrors in a bit.

First Greece, the euro zone’s poster child for budget ill-discipline. The 2011 budget deficit to GDP ratio  – basically the annual overspend — came in at 9.1 percent. This may seem like a lot given the EU target is 3 percent, but it was down from 10.3 percent  a year earlier and from 15.6 percent the year before that. Furthermore, if you take out all the debt repayments costs that Athens has to make , you end up with only 2.4 percent (although in truth that is like pretending you don’t have a mortgage).

In Ireland, the craic was all about trouncing expectations. The deficit to GDP ratio for 2011 came in at 9.4 percent, which compared with an original 10.6 percent target and even a revised target just last December of 10.  1 percent. Everything is on track, Dublin reckons, to meet this year’s 8.6 percent.

Biggest indicator of the week: China GDP

It wasn’t very long ago that economic numbers out of Asia would barely register a blip on Wall Street’s radar screen. That’s not the case anymore. Commerzbank touts Chinese gross domestic product figures due out on Friday as the most important gauge of global economic health following last week’s disappointing U.S. employment report.

Writes economist Jörg Krämer in a research note:

China’s economy has continued to slow into 2012 largely on the back of deliberate policy measures. We expect growth of 8% year-on-year in Q1, down from 8.9% in the final quarter of 2011 (consensus 8.3%), which is consistent with our call for full-year growth of 7.5% in 2012.

Fixed investment in particular has slowed recently, to its weakest year-on-year rate since 2002 and will be the primary driver of the slowdown in GDP growth. Net exports also deteriorated in the quarter, with China recording a very large trade deficit of US$31bn in February.