Some ten years after the outbreak of the Great Recession, global economic growth is positive and broadly based, inflation is low in the developed economies and falling in important emerging economies, and monetary policies are very supportive, cautious, and predictable. At the same time, company earnings growth has increased significantly, and the volatilities of many asset prices are low. This environment is generally positive for risky asset classes.
Economic growth in the Eurozone has embarked on a clear upward trend. At the same time, the fear of falling wages and prices has disappeared for now. The worries over a possible break-up of the European Union have also eased. Against this backdrop, the ECB President Draghi issued a slightly more optimistic growth forecast yet again on 27 April at the press conference of the European Central Bank. This is another tiny step indicating a possible reduction of the monetary support in the medium term.
The losses on the stock exchanges and in other risky asset classes unsettle investors. The additional expansive signals sent by the central bank support markets, albeit only by a minor degree. From an economic perspective there are no convincing signs for a trend reversal. The current correction is due to permanently low growth and to the risk of further deterioration.
The beginning of Q4 is the time for an outlook on the coming year. At first we want to establish the determining factors for the economic activity and the markets. On this basis, we will introduce three scenarios.
Interest rate decision by the Fed
Tomorrow, Thursday 17 September 2015, the federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the US central bank Fed will be taking an important decision. Is the Fed funds rate to be raised or not? The financial markets have accorded this decision a particularly important role. After all, the rate hike by the most important central bank in the world could cause the degree of instability on the financial market to continue rising.
Regardless of whether or not a rate hike materialises, the Fed will communicate that the interest rate cycle will only be set off very gradually. At the same time, the projection for the final level of the cycle will probably be taken down a bit. If the Fed managed to alleviate the worries of excessive rate hikes, a slight increase of the Fed funds rate on coming Thursday would not upset the financial markets in any sustainable fashion. However, the weakest segments in the emerging countries would come under pressure.
Commodity prices have fallen drastically since the beginning of July. The commodity price index provided by Bloomberg has fallen by nearly 12%. In fact, many commodity prices are locked in a bear market. The index is currently almost 50% below the level of the beginning of 2011.
Over the same period the currencies of emerging countries have depreciated by about 35% vis-à-vis the US dollar, and equities have fallen by about 26%.
Real global economic growth was surprisingly weak in Q1. The preliminary estimate for the annualised growth rate of Q4 2014 to Q1 2015 is only 1.5%. This is mainly due to disappointingly weak growth of the GDP in the USA (+0.2%), in China (+5.3%), in the UK (+1.2%), and in Japan (+1.5%; estimate). Brazil (-2.4%) and Russia (-11.5%) have even shrunk (both figures are preliminary estimates). In line with this situation, the data surprises have been largely negative, and the trend of downward revisions for economic growth has continued.
The new normal
The importance of China for the global economic and financial system continues to grow at a rapid pace. Last year the country set a new milestone by becoming the world’s biggest economy. The total value of goods and services produced in a year exceeds that of the United States. Thus, at 30% China accounts for the largest contribution to global economic growth.
The dynamics of the economy and the markets have declined. Global economic growth is down on a quarter-on-quarter basis, the two most important trends of the past months (appreciation of the US dollar and falling oil price) have come to a halt, inflation is not falling anymore, and the US Fed has put a damper on the expectations of interest hikes. One important exception: the Eurozone has been picking up speed.
The US dollar has appreciated significantly vis-à-vis the euro in the past months. For this trend to continue, at least two developments would have to be in place. Firstly, the US Fed would have to abandon its zero interest rate policy; and secondly, the ECB would have to remain on its path of negative interest rate policy and bond purchases.