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Global Slow Down - Economics Weekly

Global Slow Down - Economics Weekly

Global Economics Weekly Brief

Most parents will be familiar with the anguished cry of “it wasn’t my fault”. And if they could speak, both the US and UK economies would probably be making it. Both had a lacklustre Q1, the US especially.

And in both it was caused in large part by a worsening balance of trade. For the US, a poor economic performance reflects soggy global demand more than does domestic factors. Global slow down!.....

One bill to rule them all. A 'one nation' Queen's Speech contained an ambitious 25 bills. The ambitions lie not with their quantity but with their goals. One bill aims to lower the benefits cap, another to raise the income tax threshold. There are bills to extend free child care and the Right to Buy. And then there’s constitutional reform involving further devolution. Overshadowing them all is the referendum on Britain's EU membership. It’s often a long, sometimes tortuous, and not always successful journey for a bill to become law. Yet as many of these proposals were in the manifesto, it reduces the risk that the Lords, where the Government does not have a majority, will block a bill’s progress to the statute book. Will it happen?....

As you were. Q1 GDP growth was still estimated at 0.3% in the ONS’s second release and therefore remains disappointing. But the detail shed some light on why hopes were higher and the economy looks stronger on lots of other measures. Households continued to spend, with consumption rising 0.5% on the quarter, businesses were investing too, but the spoiler was international trade. A surge in imports knocked 0.8% off the Q1 growth figure. A dismal performance yes, but one that largely reverses a strong contribution from trade in Q4 2014. Over the past year domestic demand has risen by an average of 0.7% a quarter, that’s probably closer to the sort of growth most UK businesses are experiencing. Growth...what growth?...

Back into the groove? Business investment turned in a good performance in Q1, growing by 1.7% from Q4. Hopefully this signals a return to healthier levels of growth after the renaissance in business investment fizzled out in the second half of 2014. Investment in new vehicles, buildings, ICT equipment and machinery and intellectual property is growing but at a slower pace. Confidence in the sustainability of the UK's recovery could be cemented if growth in these areas can move up through the gears. We will see!...

Election, what election? The election came and the election went. At least, that was the message from the latest retail survey by the Confederation of British Industry. Not only was reported sales growth the second strongest reported since 2010, expectations of sales growth in the coming month hit a 27-year high. The ONS reported that retail sales (excluding fuel) grew by a solid 2.8%y/y in April. It looks like the numbers for this month and next will be even better. Since 1959, UK consumer spending has risen around the time of all but one election. What will the future bring?...

Where the money is. Across all the 173 UK mini-regions, average household disposable incomes were higher in 2013 than 2008. Yet only one in five of these regions saw income growth keep pace with the cost of living. Orkney came out in first place, with average incomes up 27%, while the good burghers of the otherwise prosperous London borough of Wandsworth managed just 2.3%. The differences between regional incomes have remained largely unchanged since 1997, with one important exception. The top two regions (both in London) saw their average disposable income pull further away from the average. Big gap north and south and getting bigger!...

More puzzling still. US GDP fell at an annualised rate of 0.7% in Q1. The main culprit was a sharp fall in exports, down 7.6%. That might reflect the temporary effects of problems at ports but it could also be a result of weakening Asian growth. While spending by Americans rose by 1.1%, it was slower than in Q1. So, both overseas and domestic demand disappointed. Yet the US is adding more than 200,000 jobs per month. Reconciling these figures is a challenge. They also give the Fed no cause to consider raising rates soon. Global slow down...what is the future?...

Cooling and heating. US house prices increased by 4.1%y/y in March, according to Case Shiller. A year ago inflation was more than 10% but the decline from there has been the gentlest of glides. Slower economic growth should mean further falls from here. But demand growth remains strong. Pending home sales, a forward-looking indicator, were up 3.6%m/m in April and 14.0%y/y. Applications for mortgages to buy a house were also up 14%y/y. Looks good!...

Forget 2014. Back then, the UK and US were the fastest-growing G7 economies. Now the UK has slipped into deflation and US growth appears to be stalling. In contrast, the euro zone's surpassing expectations, with support from the ‘Hero’s’ at the European Central Bank. Europe’s not just become an arena for staging an annual high-camp pop-fest you know. Congratulations to Sweden.

Nocturne. UK consumer prices fell by 0.1% in April compared to the same month last year. But this is unlikely to herald the start of a long night of deflation, à la Japan. For now it’s more of an economic boon as falling prices helpfully boost household incomes. Food, fuel bills and petrol pump prices are all lower than they were this time last year. And inflationary pressures are undoubtedly muted. Core inflation, which strips out both energy and food prices, fell to 0.8%y/y in April, the lowest since 2001. The Bank of England can afford to be patient.

All kinds of everything. UK retail sales growth is robust. Sales volumes are up by about 5%y/y, double the 2.5%y/y average since 1997. Although all the major sectors are benefiting, the pick of the bunch is household goods stores (up 11%y/y), while supermarkets are propping up the table (up 1.6%y/y). These are solid figures and a strong hint that wider consumption improved in April. Yet without equally robust income growth, it's hard to see how it can be sustained.

Fairytale. The UK public sector borrowed £87.7bn last financial year, a full £2.5bn less than the Office for Budget Responsibility expected at the time of the last Budget. Income tax revenues are growing again, which is a good thing, as it suggests that we can expect some sort of pick-up in average earnings growth in the near term. This will all come as very happy news to the Treasury as we head towards the next Budget announcement on 8th July.

Boom Bang-a-Bang. National house price growth was 8.5%y/y in Q1, still far faster than income growth. And the number of houses built in England over the last year increased to 97k, up from 90k in the previous financial year. Also, there’s little sign that the Bank of England's will have to step in to rein-in risky mortgage borrowing. In brief, it’s business as usual in the short term for the UK housing market, even if the longer term housing challenges have not gone away.

Save all your kisses for me. We already knew that the typical worker's weekly pay rose 0.1% in 2014. Last week, ONS explained why people who had held the same job for over a year saw pay rise 4.1%. People starting jobs are younger and less skilled than those leaving them. Employees staying in a job tend to benefit from rises during the year. And the bargaining power of some people looking for work is limited by the fact that they are unemployed. So, while the difference between stickers and twisters is large, it's perfectly normal.

Rise Like a Phoenix. Euro zone annual inflation was 0% in April, up from -0.1% in March. So the single currency region has escaped from the lake of deflation, even if it's not quite reached the familiar shore of inflation either. Although the slow journey out of deflation echoes the relative improvement in general economic activity across the euro zone, the main cause lies more with the weakening downward pull of falling energy prices. So it’s best to keep a sense of perspective. The European Central Bank aims to keep annual price rises near to but below 2%. That's a long way away. Don’t expect a let-up in its bond-buying programme soon.

I Want to. Although business activity in euro zone slowed a little in May, firms want to increase staff. The euro zone composite Purchasing Managers’ Index slipped to 53.4 in May, from the slightly higher 53.9 in April, still nicely above the neutral 50-mark. The region’s makers are reporting stronger business, while the services sector slowed. But the most welcome news was that firms are hiring staff at the fastest pace in three years. What’s often overlooked is that while productivity is important, what really matters in the short term, especially for the euro zone, is jobs dear boy, jobs.

Hold me now. The last time the Fed raised interest rates George W Bush was a first term President and Greece was winning Europe’s football championship. Neither of these is likely to happen again and we’ll wait a while yet before the Fed hikes. The minutes of its April meeting showed members concerned about the recent weakening performance. They put that down mainly to one-off factors but niggles remained that something more troubling is at work. With inflation still quiescent markets believe rates will remain on hold until December.

Global slowdown. China in trouble....Japan just out of trouble...Europe still in trouble....UK hanging on.....US trying harder...Future!....

The number of dollar billionaires in the world has more than doubled to 1,645 since the financial crisis of 2008. Also, the 85 richest people saw their fortunes increase by a total of £150 billion over the past year - equivalent to £415 million a day! Plus, earlier research found these 85 people had access to wealth equal to that of half the world's population. This = the issue/problem of global inequality! Also, these billionaires could/should invest in the future by using their wealth the world will grow more prosperous!

What will the future bring?

b]About the Author Colin Thompson[/b]

Colin is a former successful Managing Director of Transactional/Document Manufacturing Plants, Document Management/Workflow Solutions companies and other organisations, former Group Chairman of the Academy for Chief Executives, Non-Executive Director, Mentor - RFU Leadership Academy, Mentor - Coventry University, Mentor - The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, author/writer Business Advice Section for IPEX, Graphic Display World, NewsUSA, GraphicStart, many others globally, helping companies raise their `bottom-line` and `increase cash flow`. Plus, helping individuals to be successful in business and life in general. Author of several publications, research reports, guides, business and educational models on CD-ROM/Software/PDF and over 2000 articles and 35 books published on business and educational subjects worldwide. Plus, International Speaker/Visiting University Professor.

--- --- ---
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Dr Colin Thompson
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Direct: + 44 (0) 121 247 4589
Mobile: 07831 588310
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email: colin@cavendish-mr.org.uk
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Global Slow Down!

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