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Nobody likes these curves as global economy’s out of shape

Aug 16 2019 09:22
Michelle Jamrisko

There are weeks when the markets lead the fretting, and others when the numbers dictate. And then there are weeks - like this one - when markets, data and politics all point to a darker global outlook.

Here’s our weekly wrap of what’s going on in the world economy:

The Dominoes Fall

First it was Argentina. Then China. Then Germany. Yield curve inversions in the UK and the US followed suit: A potent mix of electoral surprise, growth disappointments and shifting investor bets made for the worst shattering of confidence in the global economy this year.

Two of the most alarming sources of economic pain were from Asia’s and Europe’s growth engines: Chinese industrial production growth weakened to a 17-year low in July, alongside softer numbers on retail sales and slowing home prices. And Germany’s economy is flirting with recession as investor sentiment deteriorates.

World recession warnings are piling up, even if you don’t believe in the predictive power of yield curves. A Brazil activity gauge signals contraction. Trade bellwether Singapore cut its growth outlook to near zero. Its in-region rival, Hong Kong, is dealing with a political crisis of its own.

Who Blinks First

The US and China are attempting to restart talks, but neither appears ready to take the first conciliatory step. President Donald Trump delayed some new tariffs on Chinese imports while saying others will go into effect September 1. That spurred China to pledge retaliation and request the US meet it halfway in any negotiations, something Trump’s lead trade hawk says isn’t possible. Meanwhile, Japan surpassed China in June as the top holder of US Treasuries.

Both sides are losing face on the economic front. Our team in Beijing looks at how President Xi Jinping’s superpower-by-2050 plan is already quite challenged structurally. And look for Hong Kong to remain a major challenge and distraction. At least China still has some unused firepower.

Quickening inflation in the US complicates things for the Federal Reserve, which cut interest rates at the end of July. US spending growth is fast outpacing revenue, making for a fiscal deficit year-to-date that’s already bigger than all of fiscal year 2018.

In what was otherwise a relatively quiet week for central bank decisions, Mexico cut rates for the first time in five years. Norway maintained policy, but threw doubt on a September rate hike. Policy makers elsewhere are positioning their defenses against the global downturn, though they’d still like more fiscal support on their side. Indonesia and Hong Kong are among the rare economies now pledging just that.

Looking ahead, the Swiss National Bank might be joining the cutting club this quarter, and New Zealand’s central bank signaled it’s open to further easing. India watchers are left guessing at the road ahead after the central bank’s unconventionally incremented cut.

Fed officials will field questions on their complicated decisions, and ever-heated relationship with the White House, at their annual Jackson Hole gathering next week.

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