MacroScope

Mixed evidence from Germany

German trade data, already out, showed both exports and imports rose more than expected in April – up a sharp 2.3 and 1.9 percent respectively. That suggests that its fabled industrial base is in reasonable shape but also that domestic demand is holding up, possibly helped by some above-inflation pay deals. The figures represent a significant bounce from the first quarter when Europe’s largest economy just managed to eke out some growth.

Let’s not get carried away, though. Germany’s PMI survey earlier this week showed a slight decline in export orders in May and the Bundesbank has just released its latest set of economic forecasts, cutting its 2013 growth forecast to 0.3 percent, adding that risks are largely skewed to the downside. It expects a healthy bounce in growth in the second quarter then a marked throttling back.

Trade figures from France, Britain and Portugal give an opportunity to see if there is any “rebalancing” going on within Europe – the argument being that the euro zone in particular can only thrive if Germany’s massive surpluses shrink a little just as the high debt countries try to pare their deficits. That requires Europe’s largest economy to buy a little more from its currency area peers. The German data showed imports from states in the single currency bloc up 5.4 percent year-on-year in April so maybe there are glimmers of movement.

German industrial output, due later this morning, will be another important snapshot after industry orders dropped sharply in April. Elsewhere, Spanish industry output data, which showed the slowest fall in 19 months in March, will indicate whether a deep recession is close to hitting bottom. Spain has enacted painful cuts and reforms but the resultant easing of its labour laws has helped its export base, and inward investment, pick up.

In summary, we clearly need a German trunk pulling together all the various strands and it may well be we could take a look at euro zone imbalances via the trade data too, maybe centred on Paris.

Not again, please! Brazil and India more vulnerable now to another crisis

After bad economic news from Germany, China and the United States over the past few weeks, here are two more. Brazil and India, two of the world’s largest emerging economies, are increasingly vulnerable to another crisis or to the eventual end of the ultra-loose monetary policies in developed economies after five years of a severe global slowdown.

Weak demand for Brazil’s exports and the voracious appetite of local consumers for imported goods widened the country’s current account deficit to 2.93 percent of GDP in the 12 months through March, the widest gap in nearly eleven years. In dollar terms, that amounts to $67 billion.

To help fund this gap, Brazil could at first loosen the currency controls adopted in the past few years and let more dollars in. But if the dollar flows change too swiftly, Brazil would find itself with three other options: curb spending by growing less, allow a decline in the foreign exchange rate at the risk of fueling inflation, or burn part of its international reserves – which are large, at $377 billion, but not infinite.

The fading strength of U.S. exports

U.S. exports posted their biggest drop in nearly four years in October, pushing the U.S. trade deficit higher despite a decline in imports to their lowest level in 1-1/2 years.

The data reveal that U.S. exports of goods and services have now decelerated to a year-on-year growth rate of just 1 percent compared with 2.8 percent in the third quarter of 2012 and 11.5 percent last year at this time, writes Deutsche Bank Securities chief U.S. economist Joseph LaVorgna in a research note.

We are concerned by this export trend, not only in October, but over the past several months, because exports have contributed an outsized share to economic growth in the current cycle. If exports fade away as an economic driver in the near-to-medium term, other domestic engines will need to accelerate in order to pick up the economic slack and maintain growth near 2.0-2.5 percent. We think this is possible if fiscal cliff concerns are adequately addressed. The domestic offset will come from continued recovery in the housing sector, as well as pent-up demand from households and businesses.

Revving down

It used to be the low-end stuff like shoes, clothes and furniture that displaced American manufacturing, then cars and consumer electronics.  A new report by Alan Tonelson, a researcher at the U.S. Business and Industry Council which represents 1,500 American companies, now shows that high-end U.S. industry is facing ever tougher foreign competition in its own backyard.

Tonelson has crunched the numbers since 1997 on high-value, advanced manufacturing – the crown jewel of American industry that is capital intensive and depends on technological superiority such as turbines, pharmaceuticals and electrical engineering. He finds that imported products had captured 38 percent of the $1.63 trillion U.S. market for advanced manufactured products by 2010, up from 24.5 percent when the government started collected the data in 1997.  Only six U.S.-based advanced manufacturers have gained market share in the United States in the 13-year period.  Sectors that are more than 50 percent dominated by foreign producers have risen from eight in 1997 to 32 by 2010, he said.

The high-value core of America’s domestic manufacturing sector is suffering chronic and significant weaknesses. They strongly indicate that advanced U.S.-based manufacturing industries as a whole are failing a basic test of competitiveness – thriving in a market that is not only the world’s largest single market for such goods, but the market that they should know far better than their overseas counterparts.