MacroScope

from Jeremy Gaunt:

The rule of three

It is beginning to look like financial markets cannot handle more than three risks. First we have, as MacroScope reported earlier,  Barclays Wealth worrying about U.S. consumers, euro zone debt and Asian overheating.

Now comes Jim O'Neill and his economic team at Goldman Sachs, with three slightly different notions about risks in the second half, this time in the form of questions. To whit:

1) How deep will the U.S. economic slowdown be and what will  the policy response be? (That's two questions, actually, but let's not nitpick).

2) How much decoupling is possible between the U.S. economy and others, notably China?

3) Will sovereign and systemic risks intensify again or settle?

For what it is worth, Goldman reckons none of the three should be too damaging:

"Our own forecasts envisage a period of some muddiness in the near-term that ultimately resolves towards a more positive global view. But given the fragilities in the system, we will be watching our various proprietary tooks ... and trying to stay open-minded."

UK GDP: Should have gone to Specsavers?

twice as fast as expected in the second quarter of this year propelled by a sharp pick-up in services and the biggest rise in construction in almost 50 years.

Markets are getting used to volatile swings in economic data since the financial crisis set in three years ago. But UK GDP figures for Q2 were so eye-poppingly strong they caused confusion on trading floors.   

 

“Should have gone to Specsavers??” wrote Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec, referring to British television commercials lampooning myopic citizens who desperately need a new pair of corrective lenses.

 

“Perhaps critics will suggest that the ONS has got it wrong again, but traders’ initial suggestions, calling into question the accuracy of the newswire reports — and this author’s eyesight — proved to be misplaced,” wrote Shaw.

What are the risks to growth?

Mike Dicks, chief economist and blogger at Barclays Wealth, has identified what he sees as the three biggest problems facing the global economy, and conveniently found that they are linked with three separate regions.

First, there is the risk that U.S., t consumers won’t increase spending. Dicks notes that the increase in U.S. consumption has been “extremely moderate” and far less than after previous recessions. His firm has lowered is U.S. GDP forecast for 2011 to 2.7 percent from a bit over 3 percent.

Next comes the euro zone. While the wealth manager is not looking for any immediate collapse in EMU, Dicks reckons that without the ability to devalue, Greece and other struggling countries won’t see any great improvement in competitiveness. Germany, in the meantime, has sped up plans to cut its own deficit.  It leaves the Barclays Wealth’s euro zone GDP forecast at just 1 percent for next year.

from Global Investing:

What fund managers think

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch's monthly poll of around 200 fund managers had a few nuggets in the June version, aside from the usual mood-taking.

Gold is too expensive.  A net 27 percent of respondent thought it overvalued, up from 13 percent in May. Then again, the respondents to this poll have reckoned gold is too pricey since September 2009.

The fall in the euro should be tailing off. A net 14 percent reckon the single currency is still overvalued, but that is way down from the net 45 percent who thought so in the May poll.

Spend Save Man Woman

Far from being lauded as a virtue, China’s high savings rate has been blamed for the economic imbalances underlying the global financial crisis. The criticism being that the Chinese spend too little and rely too much on exporting to Western consumers.

The IMF and World Bank have long called for Beijing to ramp up social spending so its citizens will feel less need to save for a rainy day and instead consume more.

But in their intriguingly named paper,  ‘A Sexually Unbalanced Model of Current Account Imbalances‘, New York-based researchers Du Qingyuan and Wei Shang-Jin suggest China’s gender imbalance could also be a significant factor in the persistence of its high savings rate. spendsavemanwoman

Watch price of booze for inflation tips, says Cleveland Fed

What do the price of infants’ clothing and alcohol have in common? They are “sticky prices” that rarely change.

Federal Reserve researchers Michael Bryan and Brent Meyer say these sticky prices may be a better indicator for where inflation is heading.

“While a sticky price may not be as responsive to economic conditions as a flexible price, it may do a better job of incorporating inflation expectations. Since price setters understand that it will be costly to change prices, they will want their price decisions to account for inflation over the periods between their infrequent price changes,” the researchers wrote in a study published on the Cleveland Fed’s website.

Germany 1919, Greece 2010

Greece’s decision to ask for help from its European Union partners and the International Monetary Fund has triggered a new wave of notes on where the country’s debt crisis stands and what will happen next. For the most part, they have managed to avoid groan-inducing headlines referencing marathons, tragedies, Hellas having no fury or even Big Fat Greek Defaults.

Perhaps this is because the latest reports are pointed. They focus on the need to solve the Greek debt crisis before it spreads to bring down others and even shake Europe’s monetary framework loose.

Barclays Capital reckons the 45 billion euros or so of aid Greece is being promised is a drop in the bucket and that twice that will be needed in a multi-year package. JPMorgan Asset Management, meanwhile, says that to bring its 130 percent debt to GDP ratio under control Greece will need the largest three-year fiscal adjustment in recent history.

Inflation expectations: It depends on how you ask

How high or low are the public’s expectations for future inflation? It depends on how you ask the question, according to New York Fed research.
The closely-watched Michigan Survey of Consumers asks questions about “prices in general” to measure expected and perceived inflation.
But New York Fed researchers found survey questions that use the word ‘prices’ instead of ‘inflation rate’  “may bias expectations upwards.”
Responses to questions about “prices in general,” were significantly higher than responses for “the rate of inflation” when asking for expectations of the next 12 months, they found.
Why?  Questions that used the word ‘prices’  “focused respondents relatively more on personal price experiences and elicited expectations that were more strongly correlate to the expected price increases for food and transportation,” the researchers wrote.
The Federal Reserve keeps a close eye on inflation expectations, as they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Read the full report here

Political economy and the euro

The reality of  ‘political economy’  is something that irritates many economists – the ”purists”, if you like. The political element is impossible to model;  it often flies in the face of  textbook economics;  and democratic decision-making and backroom horse trading can be notoriously difficult to predict and painfully slow.  And political economy is all pervasive in 2010 – Barack Obama’s proposals to rein in the banks is rooted in public outrage; reading China’s monetary and currency policies is like Kremlinology; capital curbs being introduced in Brazil and elsewhere aim to prevent market overshoot; and British budgetary policies are becoming the political football ahead of this spring’s UK election. The list is long, the outcomes uncertain, the market risk high.

But nowhere is this more apparent than in well-worn arguments over the validity and future of Europe’s single currency — the new milennium’s posterchild for political economy.

For many, the euro simply should never have happened –  it thumbed a nose at the belief that all things good come from free financial markets; it removed monetary safety valves for member countries out of sync with their bigger neighbours and put the cart before the horse with monetary union ahead of fiscal policy integration. But the sheer political determination to finish the European’s single market project, stop beggar-thy-neighbour currency devaluations and face down erratic currency trading meant the  currency was born and has thrived for 11 years.