Friday, February 5, 2010

Economics 05/02/2010: Prepare for a new slide

Fasten your seat belts and prepare for a new round of bad news. Globally this time around.

All data for January-February is showing that the pressures of jobless recoveries around the world, coupled with continued weaknesses in financial sector and money supply (despite unprecedented stimulus deployment and helicopter drops - more like blanket bombings - of liquidity) are over-powering the weak positive momentum in growth.


December retail season was, officially, a disappointment – down 1.6% on 2008 season across the euro area. The headline Eurozone Manufacturing PMI reached 52.4 in January, highest reading for two years. The index stood at 51.6 in December, so the rise was marginal.

There were noticeable disparities in performance between national manufacturing economies. Countries reporting an increase in output were Germany, France, Italy, Austria and the Netherlands. All improved on December. Spain, Ireland and Greece all recorded lower output and faster rates of contraction.

Sector data indicated that capital and intermediate goods fared best in January. Growth consumer goods production is falling below that achieved in the previous month.

Growth of new orders was the strongest since June 2007 and faster than the earlier flash estimate. The gain in the index between its flash and final releases was the greatest since flash PMI data were first compiled at the start of 2006. New export orders rose at an above flash estimate pace that was the quickest since August 2007. See Ireland PMI in my Sunday Times article this week.

Despite rise in core PMI, manufacturing continued to shed jobs during January, across the Eurozone.

Core retail sales (ex-motors) in Germany were weaker in November than previously reported (down 1.7% mom) but rose 0.8% mom in December. Car sales are down 40% quarter on quarter –driven by the end of the scrappage scheme. Which, of course, shows that Irish experiment with temporary programmes of subsidies is unlikely to work. Interestingly, in Germany, scrappage scheme has benefited primarily foreign manufacturers. Of course, the reason for this is that German car makers are primarily at the top of the price proposition distribution and in a recession, subsidy or none, they will suffer. Foreign care makers sales rose 26% in December and 38% in January, before the scrappage scheme shut down. Domestic car sales were flat.

Sign of troubles ahead for exports growth – German manufacturing orders are down 2.3% in December while output contracted 2.6%.

Greece and Portugal are clearly in the news flow. Both have no market credibility when it comes to their deficits. And the reports from the ground are even worse with virtually all vox-pop reporting suggesting that populations of both countries are in deep denial of the reality. People are talking about ‘fat cat managers earning hundreds of thousand euros’ while ‘ordinary people are suffering’. Long legacy of communist and socialist politics in both countries is clearly evident in the popular unwillingness to face the music.

The next points of pressure will be Ireland and Spain.

On Ireland’s fiscal position and PMIs – read my Sunday Times article this weekend.

On Spain: the country is about 3 times bigger in economic terms than Greece and Portugal – accounting for roughly 11.8% of the euro area GDP. Troubles here will be a much bigger problem for the Eurozone than all the rest of the PIIGS (less Italy) combined. Meanwhile, Spain’s unemployment is rising (just as Ireland's), adding some 125,000 to the dole counts in January. 19% of Spaniards are now officially unemployed, as opposed to Ireland’s 12.7%. In terms of hidden unemployment, Spains problems are also much tougher than Ireland’s especially since grey markets for construction workers which sustained unofficial employment during the boom are now shut in Spain.


Credit is still tight in the euro area and the FX valuations are still around $/€1.36 – way too high for an exports recovery.

It is now painfully clear that the only thing that can resolve euro area’s problem would be a massive one-off emission of liquidity directly into the government budgets. To do this, the ECB can set a target of, say, €1,000 per capita for the eurozone economies, disbursed to each country based on their population. Anything else simply won’t do.

But even such a measure will not provide sufficient support for Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain – only a temporary reprieve.


UK
’s economy is also in stagnation pattern with full-time employment still falling, individual, insolvencies up to record highs. The uptick in house prices in late 2009 is likely to have been temporary and driven by speculative ‘testing the water’ by international investors. Manufacturing PMI is up robustly January to 56.7, its highest level since October 1994, and from 54.6 in December. The increase was driven by new orders, which rose at the fastest pace in six years, as well as companies' efforts to clear backlogs of existent orders. It remains to be seen if this pace of improvements is sustainable. Services sector PMI meanwhile contracted rapidly from 56.8 in December to 54.5 in January, marking the slowest activity in five months.

Here is a little fact to put things into perspective – manufacturing accounts for less than 20% of the UK economy, while services account for 76%.


Overall, this recovery is coming along with more stress and strain on the labour markets. All global indicators are now appearing to have peaked back in Q4 2009, with the new year starting on downward trajectory. Inventory cuts passed in previous quarters are now being worked out and there is little sign this process will be picked up by a structural increase in new orders. All in, jobs growth is now severely lagging that achieved in the end of the previous recessions. In this environment, growth favours the US where jobs cuts were much more significant and early, allowing firms to rebuild their margins before the onset of any demand improvements. Eurozone is, in contrast, toast. Indicative of this is the volume of global trade – with Baltic Dry Goods index down to 2704 today as contrasted by 3335 reading 3 months ago.


Strategically – I would short Europe as an index, but look for low cost medium margin operations for a long position.
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