Prospettive macro meno rosee: l’analisi di Pimco
A cura di Joachim Fels, Consulente economico globale di PIMCO.
Il fermento per un’espansione solida e globalmente sincronizzata ha lasciato il posto ad una riflessione sull’improvviso calo degli indicatori di attività globali durante i primi mesi di quest’anno mentre gli esperti stanno rivedendo le loro aspettative di crescita. Secondo Fels, così come è stato sbagliato trarre le conclusioni su una crescita accelerata alla fine dello scorso anno, non sarebbe saggio interpretare la recente insicurezza come anticipazione di una brusca recessione.
Tuttavia le prospettive macroeconomiche generali sono diventate meno rosee e rischiano di generare più volatilità. Questo perché i rischi di inflazione, in particolare negli Stati Uniti, sono aumentati per diversi motivi:
- Innanzitutto, l’inflazione dei prezzi delle merci a livello globale ha subito un’accelerazione e sta iniziando ad influire sui prezzi al consumo degli Stati Uniti;
- In secondo luogo, se il conflitto commerciale con la Cina dovesse intensificarsi con tariffe imposte su un insieme più ampio di importazioni statunitensi, l’inflazione dei prezzi dei beni essenziali accelererebbe ulteriormente;
- In terzo luogo, poiché lo stimolo fiscale inizia ad arrivare nell’economia reale e la crescita degli Stati Uniti rimane al di sopra del potenziale, il margine positivo rimanente nell’economia si ridurrà ulteriormente, esercitando pressioni al rialzo sui salari e sui prezzi.
Il risultato che trae Fels è che stiamo attualmente assistendo all’inizio della fine di un’espansione economica insolitamente lunga.
Back from several weeks of client-related travel, I note a distinct change in tone in the economic commentaries and forecast updates hitting my inbox. Celebrations and extrapolations of a solid, globally synchronized expansion have given way to collective head-scratching about the sudden drop-off in global activity indicators during the first few months of this year. Forecasters are either revising down their growth expectations or emphasizing increased downside risks to existing projections. In short, our peak growth thesis from last December appears to have become the new consensus.
To be sure, weaker global activity data in the past few months should be taken with a dose of salt. Just as it was wrong to extrapolate accelerating growth late last year, it would be unwise to interpret the recent sogginess as a harbinger of a sharp downturn or even recession in the remainder of this year. Inclement weather in Europe, the usual residual seasonality in U.S. economic data, and a reaction by companies and consumers to the equity volatility shock in early February are likely to have contributed to softer demand and output. Some rebound in the next few months therefore appears likely especially in the U.S. where fiscal stimulus will start to arrive and residual seasonality will reverse sign in Q2.
However, even if some of the first-quarter growth weakness turns out to have been exaggerated, the general macro outlook has become less rosy and is likely to give rise to more volatility. This is because inflation risks, particularly in the U.S., have risen, for a several reasons:
First, global goods price inflation has accelerated and is now passing through into U.S. consumer prices. This is partly due to stronger global growth during 2017, but also reflects rising energy prices and a weaker U.S. dollar. Moreover, headline inflation on a year-over-year basis is certain to rise further in the next several months as last year’s idiosyncratic price declines fall out of the annual comparison. While this effect is well-known among financial market participants, higher headline prints may push households’ inflation expectations higher.
Second, if the trade conflict with China escalates and tariffs will be imposed on a broader set of U.S. imports, core goods price inflation would accelerate further. While a full-blown trade war is not our base case, it remains a significant risks.
Third, as the fiscal stimulus starts to arrive in the real economy and U.S. growth remains above potential, the remaining slack in the economy will erode further and will put upward pressure on wages and prices. Most forecasters, including the Fed, expect the unemployment rate to move below 4% in the course of this year. The last time this happened on a sustained basis was in the mid-to-late 1960s, and what followed was a significant acceleration in wage and price inflation.
The key question of course is how the Fed would react to an inflation overshoot. A near-term rise in inflation caused by past dollar weakness and higher oil prices is unlikely to produce an aggressive policy response. However, if growth picks up again in the coming months in response to fiscal stimulus and wages growth accelerates further, this may well lead to a further upward revision of the median FOMC participant’s “appropriate policy” rate path in June. Already now, the Fed expects to push rates slightly above its own estimate of neutral over the next couple of years. Market pricing suggests that investors still don’t believe it. Yet, this belief is about to be tested in the coming months. If so, risk assets are unlikely to be amused.
The upshot is that we are currently witnessing the beginning of the end of an unusually long economic expansion. For the investment conclusions, check out our March Cyclical Outlook “The Beginning of the End?”