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A synchronised slowdown is looming: World economy this week

Nov 03 2018 09:09
Alessandro Speciale, Bloomberg

The risk of synchronised slowdown in global growth as Europe wobbles, China sputters and stock markets around the world keep crumbling dominated the world economy this week.

Adding to the gloomy picture, emerging markets are under pressure and central banks face fresh challenges to their independence.

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

Slowing Growth

The trade war is starting to hurt China’s economy for good, with manufacturing output on the verge of contraction and export orders at a two-and-a-half low. The government in Beijing is prepared to respond with further stimulus but this may not be enough. Taiwan and Korea are also faltering, while US President Donald Trump now wants to reach an agreement on trade with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 nations summit in Argentina later this month and has asked key US officials to begin drafting potential terms. 

The chill is also hitting Europe, where the pace of growth halved in the third quarter even as inflation accelerated. For now the European Central Bank may put a brave face on the data but companies are unconvinced. With Italy stagnating and Germany set to do the same, only Spain remains as a bright spot. Emerging markets ended October in the red. This leaves the US to drive global growth.

Consumers haven’t been this upbeat since the start of the millennium and the job market remains solid. To finance the tax cuts and spending hikes the Trump administration is planning to increase debt sales above the levels seen during the great financial crisis, and economists expect U.S. growth will moderate in 2019.

For now, though, Trump is going into the midterms with the strongest economy since Lyndon Johnson over 50 years ago – even if only history will tell if this is real or just favorable optics.

The Federal Reserve never had it so good on inflation, but labour costs heating up set the stage for more rate hikes. Ironically, the divergence between the US and China is contributing to weakness of the yuan, which fell to the lowest level in a decade.

The Bank of Japan stayed the course on monetary policy as inflation continues to slip out of reach, but there are changes in the way it buys bonds. The ECB is still on track to end bond-buying this year – yet it won’t raise rates much above zero before the next recession and one of its newest policy makers wants to shake up the way it looks at its inflation target.

In emerging markets, South Africa’s central bank sees higher rates, while Thailand may have to delay the first increase in borrowing costs since 2011.

With a Brexit deal once again in sight, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said the central bank is ready to respond, though his warning that a no-deal outcome would mean rate hikes isn’t convincing economists. And as the world prepares to bid good bye to Angela Merkel, her economic record is impressive – at least when it comes to unemployment.

Elsewhere in the world, the tensions between populist politicians and central bankers over their independence continued. In India the government has tried to defuse tensions after threatening to use special powers.

In Italy, the governor and the finance minister sparred over the populist government’s spending plans – and even a Bundesbank economist weighed in with a radical plan to halve the country’s debt.

In the US, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell may find that Wall Street is his best insurance against Trump’s barbs. In Brazil, the election of Jair Bolsonaro has sparked a market rally and his economic top aide promises business-friendly policies and a blunt style matching that of his boss. A new central bank chief could come as early as next week.

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