Tuesday, December 18, 2012

18/12/2012: 2013 Outlook: 1.0

Looking into 2013, three international media outlets recently asked me for my comments on the global economic outlook for the next year. Here is the latest iteration of my thoughts on the topic:

Euro Crisis:

In 2013, euro area crisis focus will remain on the peripheral countries, with Spain and Portugal taking the front seat from Greece in terms of potential risks in the first half of the year. In particular, Spanish and Portuguese budgetary dynamics, rising unemployment and continued economic recession are likely to act as destabilizing factors in relation to both the ECB OMT programme and the ESM funds. 

Italian political and budgetary dynamics are likely to show serious strains in the early part of 2013, with growth deterioration pushing Italian risks up in the second half of the year.

By the second half of the year, Greece also is likely to return to the top of the risk charts in Europe, posting continued deterioration in economic conditions, catastrophic upward creep in unemployment and new evidence of non-sustainable medium-term fiscal dynamics. 

Aside from the three weakest countries, Ireland will likely remain at the bottom of the peripheral risks ranks with stagnant economic activity and relatively stable unemployment. Latest credible headline forecasts on Ireland's performance for 2013 are here, and these (IMF's ones) are optimistic, in my view. Ireland's risk is likely to rise toward the end of 2013 as reformed personal insolvencies regime starts adversely impacting banking and household balancesheets on mortgages writedowns side. Budgetary performance in Ireland will also come under significant pressure as targets set out in Budget 2013 are likely to show signs of stress in the second half of 2013. Nonetheless, Irish situation will remain at the back burner of European attention as Italy and Spain (which together will have to raise some €500 billion in bonds in 2013) are likely to be the main drivers of risks.

In all peripheral countries, continued slowdown in the rate of unemployment growth will be consistent with massive exits from the workforce and rapid deterioration in employment. This will put more strain on the fiscal dynamics and growth.

On the core EA17 side, German political cycle is likely to introduce more uncertainty. Elevated levels of protectionist rhetoric during German elections campaigns of 2013 are likely to adversely impact euro area's capacity to continue kicking the proverbial can of 'peripheral solutions' down the road, potentially exposing internal divisions within the euro area and amplifying crisis impact on euro area economies and markets. Strong euro is likely to weigh on German exports and, although, I do not expect a full-blow recession in Germany in 2013, growth is likely to be subdued and labour markets pressures will start appearing.

Two countries with potential for generating unexpected newsflows are Belgium and the Netherlands. Belgian and Dutch economies are currently struggling with excessive debt levels - a struggle that is neither new, nor abating. In particular, Belgium can experience a twin shock of continued and deepening economic contraction and a political crisis, pushing the country into another period of political uncertainty. The Dutch economy is clearly open to the threats of prolonged economic recession, political instability and household debt crisis amplification. The Netherlands are currently on negative watch for the country Aaa ratings and this can easily translate into a ratings downgrade should negative growth persist well into 2013. This is consistent with projections of 20-25% decline in property prices in an economy that is a debt bubble that has been deflating relatively softly.

The US:

The US Fiscal Cliff is likely to remain a threat into Q1 2013, with only patchwork solutions emerging, supported by the Fed's QE4. I do not expect to see a structural bipartisan resolution of the underlying deficits and debt crises in 2013, which means that the Fed will retain accommodative monetary stance to support sub-trend yields on Government debt. The downside risk to the above 'muddle-through' scenario of Washington stalemate is the effect of the general upward tax creep during the first year of the second Presidential term. Expiration of tax breaks and tax increases at the federal, state and local levels will weigh on the economy, holding back recovery. Capex is likely to see a false start in H1 2013, with fiscal cliff and debt stalemate pushing domestic investment back down in H2 2013. This means that 2013 growth is likely to peak around Q2-Q3 2013 and slow once again in subsequent quarters. Still, owing to aggressive monetary stance and internal households' deleveraging dynamics, the US economy is likely to significantly outperform other G7 economies in 2013.

Global economy:

Globally, the BRIC economies are expected to outperform advanced economies in terms of economic growth and structural macroeconomic stability risk parameters both in 2012 and in 2013. In this sense, the BRICs overall position in the global economy in 2013 is likely to remain as the core centre for generating growth. However, within the BRIC group, at least three of the four economies, namely Brazil, China and India represent potential sources for 'grey swan' high-level macro risk events.

China represents the biggest 'grey swan' in the global growth risks context. Chinese economy is yet to embark on significant banks' and households' balancesheets repairs and this risk is coincident with the political dislocation created by the change of leadership. New, more conservative and less economically-capable leadership is likely to continue the course of attempting to prop-up insolvent banking and property markets. Military-industrial spending and funding for insolvent local authorities are likely to see gradual increases. Upside to this policy stance is that domestic demand is likely to remain relatively strong. Downside is the reduction in the rate of growth in private investment and crowding out of private investment with public spending. 

The greatest downside risk for China, the region and the global economy remains the Chinese property bubble (now firmly contaminating Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as spilling into Australia and New Zealand) and the levels of indebtedness in the corporate sector, with a knock on effect to the assets quality on Chinese banks' balancesheets. Repairing Chinese banking sector will require major restructuring of industrial enterprises-connected banks and smaller banking institutions. The Government might have some appetite for aggressively engaging with this, but the resources expanded on repairing banking sector will be wasted in a liquidity trap. 

The second downside risk is a long-term unravelling of the Chinese competitive advantage. Increased domestic demand and re-orientation of growth drivers toward internal markets imply upward pressure on wages and downward pressure on productivity. At the same time, current recovery in Chinese trade flows with the rest of the world is mainly concentrated in the cost-sensitive sectors of basic manufacturing. To regain trade-based growth momentum, China requires continuous move up the value chain in exports, a movement that is constrained by domestic refocusing of its economy. While 2013 is unlikely to be a catalyst year for Chinese economic crisis materialization, the imbalances continue to build up and it is only a matter of time before China is propelled to become the source of global risk rivaling in this role the euro area.

Brazil, currently the darling of the Latin American growth story, is severely exposed to two risks, both of which can materialise in 2013, although once again, the probability of these is relatively low. 

The first risk relates to the heavy dependence of Brazilian investment story on oil revenues potential. Structural moderation in oil prices is likely to make much of Brazil's oil reserves unviable from commercial exploration perspective before production begins on its offshore fields. This risk can materailize in 2013 if oil prices were to settle into a long-term trend around USD80 or lower. 

The risk of oil price shock to Brazil is likely to coincide with revaluation of the Brazilian economy's fundamentals. In simple terms, Brazil, traditionally driven by extraction and agri-food sectors, has experienced robust levels of growth in recent years based on aggressive, debt-financed public investments. Such investments are capable of producing ROI only in the environment of continued growth and, by them selves, are not growth-generative beyond the initial investment spending push. Brazil can surprise world economy by posting sub-expectations levels of growth (below 3.5% against currently forecast 4.2%) and above-expectations rates of inflation (above 5.5% against currently forecast 4.9%). Brazil's economy is heavily reliant on imports of capital and foreign investment with investment exceeding national savings by a factor of 2.5% of GDP in 2012 and the gap expecting to accelerate to 2.8% in 2013, while current accounts are posting sustained deficits since 2008. Current account deficits for Brazil are expected to rise in 2013 from 2.6% of GDP in 2012 to 2.8% in 2013 and are forecast to reach 3.3-3.4% of GDP in 2014 and 2015. All of this strongly suggests that Brazil is currently experiencing build up of external and internal imbalances, consistent with the fact that Brazil's government has managed to post both structural and ordinary fiscal deficits in every year since 1996

In terms of growth, I expect Russia to outperform Brazil in 2013, although the current gap in growth rates is likely to close substantially. In 2011-2012, Brazil average real growth rate of GDP is likely to reach 2.1% against Russia's 3.9%. In 2013, my forecasts suggest Russian growth of 3.7-3.8% against Brazil's 3.5-3.6%, against global growth of 3.6% projected by the IMF for 2013.

This is an impressive performance in the case of Russia, given that the country currently enjoys GDP per capita (adjusted for purchasing power parity differences) of D17,698 (as measured in International dollars) against ID12,038 for Brazil, ID9,146 for China and ID3,851 for India. Russia will continue closing its income gap with the euro area in 2013-2017. In 2010, Russian GDP per capita (adjusting for price difference and exchange rates variation) stood at 47.9% of the euro area. This is expected to rise to 54.1% in 2013, reaching 60.7% by 2017, according to the IMF projections. Russia's relative position as the wealthiest economy of all BRICs is further reinforced by the fact that aggregate investment and savings in the country are set to remain ahead of those in Brazil in 2013, continuing the trend established since the beginning of the Great Recession, and this trend remains independent of the Government sector. 

Strength of Russian public finances (with the country posting the only positive general government balance in 2012 and 2013 of all BRICs, while having the lowest overall gross government debt to GDP ratio at just under 9.9% of GDP) is further reinforced by a 3.4% current account surplus - the largest of all BRIC economies. The combination of these factors means that Russian economy will have sufficient internal surpluses to fund significant reforms of its domestic sectors, envisioned in the reforms programmes unveiled by the Government in 2011-2012 and stretching into 2020. These reforms include: 
  • enhancing Russia's institutional capital by enacting deep reforms of tax codes, public administration and corruption, judiciary reforms and law enforcement reforms
  • dramatically increasing the rate of technical, labour and TFP productivity growth
  • facilitating transition of agriculture, modern manufacturing, telecommunications and financial services to post-WTO accession platforms
In the shorter run, 2013 developments are likely to benefit from recent improvements in financial instrumentation, namely the push by the Russian authorities to expand clearance systems access for Russian government and corporate bonds.

The risks to the above forecasts are to the downside and focus primarily on changing trends in world gas prices, alongside the risk of continued stagnation in major trading partners (euro area) or continued economic growth slowdown in China feeding through to moderation in prices for basic energy and industrial commodities. However, these risks are less likely to impact ver significantly the Russian economy in 2013 and are more present on the longer-term horizon of 2014-2015.
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