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The resilience of the British economy in the post-referendum period has taken many by surprise. Some made rapid conclusions that ‘Brexit has had no effect on the economy'. To state this, however, is to voluntarily omit that Brexit has not yet occurred. We are still at the very beginning of the negotiation process, which started officially on 29 March. The main effects of the referendum result so far have been through foreign exchange.
Rudyard Kipling's cat is the wildest animal of the Wet Wild Woods, not because he refuses to respect the bargain negotiated – on the contrary, he respects it whatever happens – but because he respects only the bargain and refuses to submit to any other kind of pressure: man's boot-throwing or the dog's bite. He is the cat that walks by himself. Mario Draghi is ready to do "whatever it takes", "whatever the ECB must", "without any limit" to respect the bargain negotiated in the European Treaty: price stability.
US economic performance is likely to warrant further gradual increases in the federal funds rate. Chair Yellen reiterated her view that "waiting too long to remove accommodation would be unwise, potentially requiring the FOMC to eventually raise rates rapidly, which could risk disrupting financial markets and pushing the economy into recession."
The public deficit forecast for 2017 has been set at 2.7% of GDP (3.3% in 2016), with growth forecasts of 1.5% in 2016 and 2017 – slightly higher than the consensus. The public debt ratio is forecast to fall very slightly in 2016 already. The structural effort will again be significant and concentrated on public spending, whose growth in value terms has been markedly slowed. Our own deficit forecast is slightly higher that the government's, at 2.9% of GDP in 2017.
At a time when world trade is flagging – for reasons that are as much structural as cyclical – and when it is no longer a growth driver, households continue to be growth's chief pillar. They consume and they invest. Following a period of deleveraging, the improving labour market, the steady – if sluggish – rise in wages, positive wealth effects and low inflation – which is driving gains in purchasing power – constitute a series of fundamentals that, so far, is proving resilient.
Although the drivers do not all have the same power, they should nevertheless allow both the US and European economies to grow at a rate of 1.6% in 2016. That rate is respectively close to and much higher than those economies' potential growth rates of 1.6-1.7% in the US and 1% in the Eurozone. That said, we cannot see any recovery in productive investment, which is clearly not at the level we could have hoped for. It is also futile to hope for a sharp increase any time soon in what (in the olden days…) used to constitute a ‘growth engine'.
The ECB did not officially extend QE, but they clearly pointed towards a change in the modalities over the near-term ("tasked the relevant committee"); we see it as a step towards an official extension in October or in December this year, along with an easing of purchase modalities, probably a removal of the deposit rate floor.
Paradoxically, the six-month 'official' extension of QE is insignificant, despite amounting to EUR480bn: QE is already in open-ended mode and markets are already convinced that it will run beyond March 2017. As long as markets continue to expect the extension, the timing of its announcement matters little. President Mario Draghi will, we expect, point to the extension on Thursday to ensure this remains the case.
The ECB press conference has been in line with expectations: Mario Draghi only gave us a rendezvous in September, when the ECB will publish its new macroeconomic projection and when the consequences of Brexit on the Eurozone will be clearer. We agree with the ECB that the Eurozone does not need an acceleration of monetary easing and that the Brexit does not change things dramatically. We maintain our view that the ECB will extend QE by six months and that it will be announced in September. This extension will probably come with an easing of the purchase modalities to face the bonds scarcity.
In the current conditions, the ECB will face a shortage of bond before the end of this year. We think that Eurozone economic conditions will encourage the ECB to extend QE until at least September 2017, and the basic conclusion to that is that the ECB will have to change its PSPP. Several options are possible – and in reality the PSPP already has enough flexibility to address this shortage: the ‘substitute purchases'. However, while these substitutes appear sufficient to address the shortage of bonds from small countries, things may be more complex where Germany is concerned (and the Netherlands soon after). We do not think that the ECB will let the flexibilities come into force for Germany without making a formal decision about it, and we see the dropping of the capital key as highly complex politically. Scrapping the deposit rate limit appears to be a better option, even if it could push short-term sovereign rates way lower and then pose difficulties for money-market funds – beyond distorting the market further in unchartered waters.
The ECB's QE started in March 2015; 15 months later it was widened (inclusion of corporate bonds and sub-sovereign bonds), increased (to EUR80bn per month) and extended (until March 2017 or beyond if necessary). Other changes are possible, and we think that at the very least QE will be extended until September 2017 – or beyond.
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