Eurozone Growth Remains Weak In Q3

The euro area managed to eke out a 0.2% growth rate in Q3, matching the previous quarter

T he solid growth in Germany and France (at 0.5% and 0.4%, QoQ respectively) seems to be the only remaining driver of the struggling euro area economy, according to Eurostat’s flash figures for Q3 GDP growth. Growth in Spain came to a standstill, while the Portuguese economy continued to contract. Going forward, the downward trending confidence indicators and PMIs suggest that the entire euro area is headed towards a recession. Also, additional fiscal drag and the prospect of raising bank solvency ratios by shrinking assets will not bode well for the European economy.

A worrying implication of the lack of growth is that the periphery countries will find it harder to reach their deficit targets by implementing austerity programs. This possibility of worsening debt dynamics will make markets even more wary about the current efforts to deal with the European crisis. Indeed, widening French, Italian and Spanish spreads already highlight the dangers of indecisive action and political turbulence.

Bottom line: The looming recession makes it ever more pressing for euro area policymakers to bolster their efforts, but also limits their ability to rely on fiscal belt-tightening to restore confidence. We maintain that growth oriented policy changes and more aggressive action by the ECB are required to resolve Europe’s crisis.

Making A Separation

Stock markets seem to have been trying to separate the euro zone crisis from economic fundamentals elsewhere in the world.

Back in August, financial markets were grappling with three big risks: a double-dip recession in the U.S., a total implosion in the European banking system and a hard landing in the Chinese economy. Events since the shakeout suggest that the market was too pessimistic about the outlook and has come to terms with the fact that the European crisis has not driven the U.S. into a recession.

Our Global Investment Strategy service argues that the U.S. economy is probably gravitating toward its trend growth of 2.5%. The possibility of even stronger growth should not be dismissed. The large accumulation of liquid assets on corporate balance sheets suggests that companies have much “dry powder” to increase capital outlays. Of course, political and policy uncertainty is a roadblock, but solid profits are also a powerful incentive for companies to invest.

As for China, financial markets have slowly realized that the slowdown in growth is cyclical in nature and the government is well equipped to navigate a “soft landing”. Nevertheless, lingering concerns still exist and many analysts continue to predict that the economy could soon hit a brick wall. The improving picture for the U.S. and Chinese economies has probably put a floor beneath stock prices, especially the S&P 500.

Nevertheless, it will take a decisive solution to the euro zone crisis for risky assets to make a significant breakthrough on the upside.

The Fed: Impotent But Not Giving Up

BCA Research, The Fed: Impotent But Not Giving Up

The Fed has largely exhausted its policy options and is divided about what to do next. Talk (aka communications) rather than monetary stimulus is now the preferred strategy.

The Fed’s extreme policy activism may have prevented economic disaster, but it has failed to deliver decent growth and sharply falling unemployment. This is because the level of long-term interest rates or the size of the Fed’s balance sheet do not deal with what ails the economy. Thus, additional quantitative easing would likely have little economic impact, even though the Fed has not ruled it out. Moreover, the case against more QE is supported by the fact that inflation expectations are holding up at a relatively high level and unemployment claims have stabilized. The key problems are that businesses lack the confidence to hire and spend aggressively and consumers are still trying to deleverage. There is not much that monetary policy can do to change this picture, but don’t expect the Fed to simply give up. The Fed is now considering how to send out the message that policy will stay highly accommodative until economic activity returns to more acceptable levels.

Bottom Line: Low rates clearly will be around for a very long time.

Fragile Equilibrium?

BCA Research | Fragile Equilibrium

Last week’s income, consumption and inflation data suggest that the U.S. economy continues to muddle through, but the most interesting stories may be found beneath the headlines.

The rush of high-impact economic data likely did nothing to change consensus views of the U.S. economy. As last week’s consumption data reiterated, American households continue to eke out decent income advances and spend at a rate that is supportive of real GDP growth somewhere above 2%. But as our Bank Credit Analyst pointed out in its November edition, households have become increasingly reliant on government transfers to maintain trend-level spending even while they boost savings to repair their balance sheets. Beneath the more celebrated recent data, the slump in the employment cost index (ECI) may provide some insight into the profit margin sustainability. The momentum that appeared to be building in the ECI over the first half of this year was choked off in the third quarter, suggesting that profit margins may yet have some life in them. If inflation pressures abate as we expect they will, margins could even expand from their already robust levels. The trouble is that there’s a limit to how long corporations can keep thriving as pressure on consumers continues to accumulate, especially if the federal government attempts to withdraw some of its support of households.

Bottom line: Just a few months after the debt ceiling debate fiasco, a fractious Congress may be preparing to return to center stage. Investors should keep track of which way the wind is blowing inside the Capitol.

Winners In A Low Growth World

 

BCA Research, Winners In A Low Growth World

U.S. spread products will be the big winners in the medium to long term.

Our U.S. Investment Strategy service expects the investment backdrop to eventually evolve from one dominated by fears of U.S. recession, a hard landing in China and a European financial meltdown, to one in which U.S. growth remains sluggish but the downside risks are more moderate. The expansion will be held back by the combination of ongoing private sector deleveraging and fiscal consolidation in the developed markets (DM). This combination will require monetary policy in the developed markets to support growth via low rates, potentially for years. Combined with plentiful savings in the emerging markets (China in particular), the deleveraging backdrop in the DM means that the global savings glut will remain a key feature for some time. Several fixed income asset classes stand out as being potential winners in this environment. Investors will favor income over the potential for capital gains. Spreads could narrow to extremely tight levels as the “search for yield” intensifies, similar to what occurred in Japan. The environment will also push investors toward carry trades. Among the U.S. spread product, agency MBS and municipal bonds offer good value. Corporates tend to outperform stocks in a low, but positive growth environment. Corporate credit quality is strong and corporate bonds currently provide a sizable yield advantage relative to competing asset classes, and will benefit in a world where growth is slow enough to keep policy rates low but not slow enough to cause a recession.

This economic backdrop implies minimal interest rate risk and only moderate credit risk.