The central message from the G20 Summit in Brisbane last weekend was the need for more growth, and there was a clear sense after the meeting that leaders are worried. David Cameron captured the mood with his statement that “red warning lights are flashing on the dashboard of the global economy” and his concern about “a dangerous backdrop of instability and uncertainty.” While Europe came in for the most criticism (Christine Lagarde rightly worries that high debt, low growth and unemployment may yet become “the new normal in Europe”) concerns about growth in Japan and emerging markets also weighed on leaders. In the end, though, the diplomacy conducted on the sidelines was more meaningful than the growth proposals put forward at the summit.
Surprisingly poor second quarter growth numbers in Japan have raised market expectations that there will be snap elections and a delay in the consumption tax hike that was scheduled for October 2015. GDP fell for a second consecutive quarter, by 1.6 percent (q/q, a.r), versus market expectations of a 2.2 percent increase. A huge miss. Falling corporate inventories were a large part of the story, but exports rose only modestly while household consumption and capital spending slowed. The yen sold off after the announcement, reaching a low of 117 against the dollar. Japanese stocks are higher.
The initial post-election talk is understandably about whether the shift to a Republican controlled Senate makes it easier or harder to make progress on central economic challenges facing the United States, including energy, immigration, social spending, and infrastructure. There is understandable concern that this next Congress will face the same gridlock that we have now. But even before that, there is the mundane issue of what we borrow and spend. Partly out of fear of being seen as crying wolf one too many times, I have been wary to advertise my concern that we are facing a new series of economic cliffs. First up is a likely standoff on the budget (in December, and likely again in the spring of 2015). Then comes the debt limit, which will be reset on March 15, but given the usual and not-terribly-extraordinary “extraordinary measures” that are at the disposal of Treasury, they can likely pay the nation’s bills until perhaps the fall of 2015 before cash balances fall to zero. Of course, in the past deals have been done, often at the last minute, and we have not, with the exception of the 2013 government shutdown, gone off the cliff (though there have been a few unnecessary fender benders along the way). But with the Senate as polarized as ever, it is easy to see getting to deals on these issues will be difficult and potentially unsettling to markets.
Today’s central bank news tells us a lot about the risks and rewards of proactive central banking.
The Bank of Japan (BoJ) surprised me (and nearly everyone else ) with a dramatic expansion of its unconventional monetary policy this morning, citing renewed risks of deflation. The BOJ announced (i) an increase in the target for monetary base growth to ¥80 trillion ($730 billion) per annum from ¥60–70 trillion; (2) an increase in its Japanese government bond (JGB) purchases to an annual pace of ¥80 trillion from ¥50 trillion; (3) an extension of the average maturity of its JGB purchases to 7–10 years (3 years previously); and (4) a tripling of its targets for the annual purchases of Japan real estate investment trusts (J-REITs) and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
The European banking assessment results, released yesterday, were generally well received by markets. The test looked like earlier U.S. and Spanish stress tests in terms of structure, the results were in line with market expectations, and the report provided enough detail to keep analysts busy for weeks. This morning, the euro is firmer and European stocks were up a bit before weak data clawed them back. Will this test succeed where previous efforts have failed and ultimately restore confidence in European banks? I suspect that your answer to this question depends on your outlook for the European economy. Without growth, Europe remains over-indebted, its banks undercapitalized, and a crisis return looks likely.
At last week’s World Bank and IMF meetings, I heard sharply divided views about the future path of sanctions and what lessons should be drawn from their use against Russia. Have they been successful, and at what cost to the West? Should sanctions be extended to the payments system, which enhances their power but risks damaging a global public good? What signal does it send to other countries? With growing evidence that sanctions are materially damaging the Russian economy, concerns have been raised that sanctions could become too easy an option for U.S. policymakers.
There are many reasons cited for this week’s market turndown and risk pullback, including concerns about global growth, Ebola, turmoil in the Middle East, and excessive investor comfort from easy money. What has been less commented on is the role played by last weekend’s IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings. Sometimes these meetings pass uneventfully, but sometimes bringing so many people together—policymakers and market people—creates a conversation that moves the consensus and as a result moves markets. It seems this year’s was one of those occasions. As the meetings progressed, optimism about a G-20 growth agenda and infrastructure boom receded and concerns about growth outside of the United States began to dominate the discussion. The perception that policymakers—particularly European policymakers—were either unable or unwilling to act contributed to the gloom. Time will tell whether macro risk factors that markets have shrugged off over the past few years will now be a source of volatility going forward. But if that is the case, perhaps these meetings had something to do with it.
This week’s Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF will have a lot of discussion but little action. Here are five things that I anticipate will capture some headlines.
Time will tell whether new sanctions on Russia announced by the United States and European Union last week will be a game changer. The most significant development concerns oil, as the new measures go much further than previously understood to shut down ongoing exploration and production of new Russian supply. While triggered by events on the ground in Ukraine, from a policy perspective this is a catch-up action, closing loopholes and bringing market practice more in line with the harsher intent of earlier measures. As such, I view the steps as an incremental, if logical, next step in the effort to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine. Still, compared to what some energy companies thought they would be allowed to do, the new measures look to be material in terms of their effect on ongoing exploration, development and investment in securing new oil.
Macro and Markets examines the forces influencing the global economy, macroeconomic policies, and financial markets.