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Posts Tagged ‘forecasts’

What to do about slowing global growth?

First the IMF in its World Economic Outlook, then the European Commission in its Economic Forecasts (see also) and now the OECD in its Economic Outlook (see also) – all three organisations in the latest issues of their 6-monthly publications are predicting slower global economic growth than they did 6 months previously. This applies both to the current year and to 2016. The OECD’s forecast for global growth this year is now 2.9%, down from the 3.7% it was forecasting a year ago. Its latest growth forecast for 2016 is 3.3%, down from the 3.9% it was forecasting a year ago.

Various reasons are given for the gloomier outlook. These include: a dramatic slowdown in global trade growth; slowing economic growth in China and fears over structural weaknesses in China; falling commodity prices (linked to slowing demand but also as a result of increased supply); austerity policies as governments attempt to deal with the hangover of debt from the financial crisis of 2007/8; low investment leading to low rates of productivity growth despite technological progress; and general fears about low growth leading to low spending as people become more cautious about their future incomes.

The slowdown in trade growth (forecast to be just 2% in 2015) is perhaps the most worrying for future global growth. As Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, states in his remarks at the launch of the latest OECD Economic Outlook:

‘Global trade, which was already growing slowly over the past few years, appears to have stagnated and even declined since late 2014, with the weakness centering increasingly on emerging markets, particularly China. This is deeply concerning as robust trade and global growth go hand in hand. In 2015 global trade is expected to grow by a disappointing 2%. Over the past five decades there have been only five other years in which trade growth has been 2% or less, all of which coincided with a marked downturn of global growth.’

So what policies should governments pursue to stimulate economic growth? According to Angel Gurría:

‘Short-term demand needs to be supported and structural reforms to be pursued with greater ambition than is currently the case. Three specific actions are key:

•  First, we need to resist and turn back rising protectionism. Trade strengthens competition and investment and revs up the “diffusion machine” – the spread of new technologies throughout the economy – which will ultimately lift productivity.
•  Second, we need to step up structural reform efforts, which have weakened in recent years. And here, I mean the whole range of structural reforms – education, innovation, competition, labour and product market regulation, R&D, taxes, etc.
•  Third, there is scope to adjust public spending towards investment. If done collectively by all countries, if the sector and projects chosen have high multipliers, and if combined with serious structural reforms, stronger public investment can give a boost to growth and employment and not increase the relative debt burden.’

On this third point, the OECD Economic Outlook argues that ‘the rationale for such investments is that they could help to push economies onto a higher growth path than might otherwise be the case, at a time when private investment growth remains modest.’

Collective action to increase public investment can be expected to boost the initial domestic multiplier effects from the stimulus, since private investment and exports in each economy will benefit from stronger demand in other economies. …the multiplier effects from an investment-led stimulus are likely to be a little larger than from other forms of fiscal stimulus, since the former also has small, but positive, supply-side effects.

In other words, the OECD is calling for a relaxation of austerity policies, with public investment being used to provide a stimulus to growth. The higher growth will then lead to increased potential output, as well as actual output, and an increase in tax revenues.

These policy recommendations are very much in line with those of the IMF.

Videos and Webcasts
OECD warns of global trade slowdown, trims growth outlook again Reuters (9/11/15)
OECD returns to revisionism with growth downgrade Euronews, Robert Hackwill (9/11/15)
OECD: Weak China Import Growth Leads Trade Slowdown Bloomberg, Catherine L Mann, OECD Chief Economist (9/11/15)
OECD Economic Outlook: Moving forward in difficult times OECD PowerPoint presentation, Catherine L Mann, OECD Chief Economist (9/11/15)
Press Conference OECD, Angel Gurría and Álvaro Pereira (9/11/15)

Articles
OECD cuts world growth forecast Financial Times, Ferdinando Giugliano (9/11/15)
OECD rings alarm bell over threat of global growth recession thanks to China slowdown Independent, Ben Chu (10/11/15)
OECD cuts global growth forecasts amid ‘deep concern’ over slowdown BBC News (9/11/15)
OECD fears slowdown in global trade amid China woes The Guardian, Katie Allen (9/11/15)
The global economy is slowing down. But is it recession – or protectionism? The Observer, Heather Stewart and Fergus Ryan (14/11/15)
Global growth is struggling, but it is not all bad news The Telegraph, Andrew Sentance (13/11/15)

OECD Publications
Economic Outlook Annex Tables OCED (9/11/15)
Press Release: Emerging market slowdown and drop in trade clouding global outlook OCED (9/11/15)
Data handout for press OECD (9/11/15)
OECD Economic Outlook, Chapter 3: Lifting Investment for Higher Sustainable Growth OCED (9/11/15)
OECD Economic Outlook: Full Report OECD (9/11/15)

Questions

  1. Is a slowdown in international trade a cause of slower economic growth or simply an indicator of slower economic growth? Examine the causal connections between trade and growth.
  2. How worried should we be about disappointing growth in the global economy?
  3. What determines the size of the multiplier effects of an increase in public investment?
  4. Why are the multiplier effects of an increase in public-sector investment likely to be larger in the USA and Japan than in the UK, the eurozone and Canada?
  5. How can monetary policy be supportive of fiscal policy to stimulate economic growth?
  6. Under what circumstances would public-sector investment (a) stimulate and (b) crowd out private-sector investment?
  7. How would a Keynesian economist respond to the recommendations of the OECD?
  8. How would a neoclassical/neoliberal economist respond to the recommendations?
  9. Are the OECD’s recommendations in line with the Japanese government’s ‘three arrows‘?
  10. What structural reforms are recommended by the OECD? Are these ‘market orientated’ or ‘interventionist’ reforms, or both? Explain.
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A balancing act

There’s some good news and some bad news about the UK economy. The good news is that there are signs that the recovery is gathering momentum; the ‘green shoots’ are growing bigger. The bad news is that it’s the ‘wrong type of growth’!

One of the main underlying problems of the 2008 financial crisis was that household debt had been increasing to unsustainable levels, egged on by banks only too willing to lend, whether as personal loans, on credit cards or through mortgages. When the recession hit, many people sought to reduce their debts by cutting back on spending. This further fuelled the recession.

What the government and most economists hoped was that there would be some rebalancing of the economy, with less reliance on consumer spending to drive economic growth. Instead it was hoped that growth would be driven by a rise in investment and exports. Indeed, the 25% depreciation of sterling exchange between 2007 and 2009 was seen as a major advantage as this would boost the demand for exports and encourage firms to invest in the export sector.

But things haven’t turned out the way people hoped. The recession (or lack of growth) has been much deeper and more prolonged than previous downturns in the economy. Today, real GDP per head is more than 7% below the level in 2007 and many people have seen much bigger declines in their living standards.

But also, despite the austerity policies, the economy has not been ‘rebalanced’ towards exports and investment. Exports are 3% lower than in 2006 (although they did grow between 2009 Q2 and 2011 Q1, but have since stagnated). And investment is 27% lower than in 2006. Household consumption, however, has grown by about 2% and general government consumption by around 9% since 2006. The chart shows the figures, based on 2006 Q1 = 100.
(Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

And recent evidence is that consumption is beginning to grow faster – not because of rising household incomes, but because of falling saving rates. In 2008, the household saving ratio had fallen to nearly 0% (i.e. households were on average saving about the same as they were borrowing). Then the saving ratio rose dramatically as people reined in their spending. Between 2009 and 2012, the ratio hovered around 7%. But in the first quarter of 2013, it had fallen to 4.2%

So the good news is that aggregate demand is rising, boosting economic growth. But the bad news is that, at least for the time being, this growth is being driven by a rise in household borrowing and a fall in household saving. The videos and articles consider whether this is, however, still good news on balance.

Webcasts
Britain’s imbalanced economy The Economist, Zanny Minton Beddoes and Richard Davies (4/7/13)
Britain’s Export Drought: an enduring disappointment The Economist, Andrew Palmer and Richard Davies (9/2/13)
‘Green shoots’ of economic recovery in Rugby BBC News, Paul Mason (12/6/13)

Articles
Is the UK economy seeing the ‘wrong kind’ of green shoots? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (3/7/13)
The export drought: Better out than in The Economist (9/2/13)
Exports and the economy: Made in Britain The Economist (21/1/12)
The economy: On a wing and a credit card The Economist (6/7/13)
Unbalanced and unsustainable – this is the wrong kind of growth The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (8/7/13)
The UK economy’s looking up – but no one’s told manufacturers The Guardian, Heather Stewart (10/7/13)

Data
Quarterly National Accounts, Q1 2013 (27/6/13)
Forecasts for the UK economy: a comparison of independent forecasts HM Treasury (June 2013)
ISM Manufacturing Report on Business® PMI History Institute for Supply Management

Questions

  1. What are forecasters expecting to happen to economic growth in the coming months? Why?
  2. What factors determine investment? Why has it fallen so substantially in the UK?
  3. Explain what is meant by the ‘accelerator’. Is the rise in consumption likely to lead to an accelerator effect and, if so, what will determine the size of this effect?
  4. Why have exports not grown more rapidly despite the depreciation of sterling after 2007?
  5. What will determine the rate of potential economic growth in the UK economy? How will a rise in real GDP driven by a rise in consumption impact on potential GDP and potential economic growth?
  6. What supply-side policies would you recommend, and why, in order to increase potential economic growth?
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The Global Economy

The latest growth data for the UK is somewhat difficult to interpret. It’s positive, but not that positive. The Conservatives say it shows that the economy is moving in the right direction. Labour suggests it is evidence that the Coalition’s policies are not working. With a return to positive growth, the UK has avoided the triple dip recession and here we take a closer look at the economic performance of other key nations.

In the final quarter of 2012, the US economy grew at 0.4%, but in the 3 months to March 2013, economic growth in America picked up to 2.5%. Consumer spending significantly increased, growing at an annualized rate of 3.2%, according to the Commerce Department. This figure helped boost the growth rate of the US economy, as consumer spending accounts for around two thirds of economic activity.

However, the growth figure was lower than expected, in part due to lower government spending. Furthermore, there are suggestions that the positive consumer spending figures are merely a positive blip and spending will fall as the US economy moves through 2013.

If this does prove to be the case in the USA, it will do little to further boost UK economic growth, which was recorded at 0.3% for the first 3 months of 2013. The Chancellor has said that the growth figures are encouraging and are evidence that the government’s policies are working.

Today’s figures are an encouraging sign the economy is healing … Despite a tough economic backdrop, we are making progress. We all know there are no easy answers to problems built up over many years, and I can’t promise the road ahead will always be smooth, but by continuing to confront our problems head on, Britain is recovering and we are building an economy fit for the future.

While the USA and UK have recorded positive growth, expectations of growth throughout Europe remain uncertain. Spain has revised its forecasts downwards for 2013, expecting the economy to shrink by over 1%. Even after 2013, growth is expected to remain very weak, forecast to be 0.5% in 2014 and 0.9% in 2015. To make matters worse, Spain’s unemployment continues to move in the wrong direction, with data for the first 3 months of 2013, recording an unemployment rate of 27.2% – the highest on record.

However, it’s not just Spanish unemployment that is on the rise. Figures for March show that in France, 3.2 million people were out of work, a 1.2 % rise compared to February. In the UK, 2.56 million people were recorded as unemployed, representing just under 8% of the working population. The German economy continues to outperform its European partners, but eurozone growth continues to look weak for the rest of 2013.

Despite much bad news in Europe, growth in other parts of the world remains buoyant. South Korea has recorded economic growth that is at its highest level in 2 years. Economic growth was just under 1%, but construction and investment both increased, perhaps a sign of an economy starting its recovery.

The Chinese economy has seemed relatively unaffected by the economic downturn, yet its economic growth has slowed. Averaging over 10% per annum for the last decade, the growth for January – March 2013 was only 7.7%. This is a decline on the previous 3 months and is lower than expected. If the Chinese economy does begin to slow (relatively speaking), this could present the global economic recovery with an unwelcome obstacle.

Many Western economies are reliant on exports to boost their growth figures and with such high demand in China, this is a key export market for many countries. If the Chinese economy continues to slow, consumer spending may even fall and this could mean a reduction in Chinese imports: that is, a reduction in other countries’ exports to China. However, for China’s competitors, the news is better, as with China’s move from a low to middle-income country, other countries will now see an opportunity to grasp a competitive advantage in the production of cheaper products. David Rees from Capital Economics said:

Trade data show that Chinese imports of commodities, and industrial metals in particular, have been falling in recent months … That is bad news for those emerging markets in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa that predominately export commodities to China. It is not all bad news … To the extent that China’s structural slowdown reflects its transition from low to middle-income status, opportunities will present themselves for other EMs as China moves up the value chain. We are particularly upbeat on the manufacturing-based economies of South East Asia, along with Mexico, Poland, and Turkey.

News is better in Japan, where growth forecasts have been raised to 2.9% over the same period and the economy is expected to grow by 1.5% throughout both 2013 and 2014. Furthermore, suggestions that inflation may also reach 0.7% have boosted confidence. This might be the end of Japan’s troubles with deflation.

So, we have something of a mixed picture across the world, although the IMF predicts a global rate of growth of 3.5% for 2013, which would be an improvement on 2012 figures. The following articles consider the global situation.

Spain slashes economic growth forecast Sky News (26/4/13)
UK avoids triple-dip recession with better than expected 0.3% GDP growth The Guardian, Heather Stewart (26/4/13)
US economy grows 2.5% on buoyant consumer spending BBC News (26/4/13)
Poor French and Spanish jobs data but UK economy returns to growth – as it happened The Guardian, Graeme Wearden and Nick Fletcher (25/4/13)
UK economy avoids tiple-dip recession with 0.3pc GDP growth The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (25/4/13)
South Korea economic growth hits two year high BBC News (25/4/13)
S. Korea economy grows at the fastest pace in two years Bloomberg, Eunkyung Seo (25/4/13)
Spain revises down its economic forecast BBC News (26/4/13)
US economy sees broad growth Financial Times, Robin Harding (25/4/13)
Germany’s private sector shrinks as Eurozone decline continues – as it happened The Guardian, Graeme Wearden and Nick Fletcher (23/4/13)
China economic growth lower than forecast BBC News (15/4/13)
China’s slowing economy: what you need to know Bloomberg Business Week, Dexter Roberts (25/4/13)
Modest Growth Pickup in 2013, Projects IMF International Monetary Fund (23/1/13)

Questions

  1. How is economic growth measured?
  2. What is meant by a triple-dip recession?
  3. What has caused the small increase in growth in the UK? Do you think this signifies the start of the economic recovery?
  4. In the USA, what has caused the growth rate to reach 2.5% and why is it lower than expected?
  5. Why are growth rates in countries across the world relevant for UK forecasts of economic growth?
  6. Which factors have allowed the Chinese economy to achieve average growth rates above 10% for the past decade?
  7. Using an AD/AS diagram, illustrate the desired impact of the Coalition’s policies to boost economic growth.
  8. With unemployment rising in countries like Spain and France, how might Eurozone growth be affected in the coming months?
  9. Japanese growth is looking positive and inflation is expected to reach about 0.7%. Why is it that Japan has suffered from deflation for so many years and why is this a problem?
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Hard times (update)

According to a report just published by accountancy firm Deloitte, UK household real disposable incomes are set to fall for the fourth year in a row. What is to blame for this? According to Deloitte’s chief economic adviser, Roger Bootle, there are three main factors.

The first is the combination of tax rises and government expenditure cuts, which are now beginning to have a large impact. Part of this is the direct effect on consumer disposable incomes of higher taxes and reduced benefits. Part is the indirect effect on employment and wages of reduced public expenditure – both for public-sector employees and for those working for companies that supply the public sector.

The second is the rise in food, fuel and raw material prices, which have driven up the rate of inflation, thereby eroding real incomes. For most people, “pay growth is unlikely to catch up with inflation any time soon. Inflation is heading towards – and possibly above – 5%. Real earnings are therefore all but certain to fall for the fourth successive year in a row – the first time that this has occurred since the 1870s.”

The third is that demand in the private sector is unlikely to compensate for the fall in demand in the public sector. “I still doubt that the private sector can compensate for the cuts in public sector employment – which is already falling by 100,000 a year.

The upshot is that I expect households’ disposable incomes to fall by about 2% this year in real terms – equivalent to about £780 per household. And it will take until 2015 or so for incomes to get back to their 2009 peak.

… In terms of the year-on-year change in circumstances, although not the absolute level, that would make 2011 the worst year for households since 1977 (the depths of the recent recession aside). Were interest rates to rise too, conditions would arguably be the worst for households since 1952.”

Well, that’s a pretty gloomy forecast! The following articles examine the arguments and consider the likelihood of the forecasts coming true. They also look at the implications for monetary and fiscal policy.

Since I wrote the above, two more gloomy forecasts have been published: the first by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the second by Ernst & Young’s Item Club. Both reports are linked to below.

Articles
Squeeze on incomes expected to rule out rate rise Guardian, Phillip Inman (3/5/11)
No rate rise until 2013, says Bootle MoneyMarketing, Steve Tolley (3/5/11)
UK households ‘face £780 drop in disposable incomes’ BBC News (3/5/11)
Why our purchasing power is set to suffer the biggest squeeze since 1870 The Telegraph, Ian Cowie (3/5/11)
2012 ‘worst year’ for household finances says Deloitte BBC News, Ian Stuart, Chief Economist with Deloitte (3/5/11)
Retailers expect sales gloom to continue Guardian, Graeme Wearden (3/5/11)
What makes consumers confident? BBC News, Shanaz Musafer (4/5/11)
Household incomes in UK ‘may return to 2004 levels’ BBC News (13/5/11)
Biggest squeeze on incomes since 1980s TotallyMoney, Michael Lloyd (13/5/11)
High street to endure decade of gloom, says Ernst & Young Item Club Guardian, Julia Kollewe (16/5/11)
Outlook for spending ‘bleak’ and road to recovery is long, Ernst & Young ITEM Club warns The Telegraph, James Hall (16/5/11)

Reports
Feeling the pinch: Overview Deloitte (3/5/11)
Feeling the pinch: Full Report Deloitte (3/5/11)
Long-term effects of recession on living standards yet to be felt IFS Press Release (13/5/11)
ITEM Club Spring 2011 forecast Ernst & Young
UK high street faces difficult decade as consumer squeeze intensifies and households focus on paying down debt, says ITEM Club Ernst & Young (16/5/11)

Data
Forecasts for Output, Prices and Jobs The Economist
Forecasts for the UK economy: a comparison of independent forecasts HM Treasury
Commodity Prices Index Mundi
Consumer Confidence Index Nationwide Building Society (Feb 2011)
Confidence indicators for EU countries Economic and Financial Affairs DG

Questions

  1. For what reasons may real household incomes fall by (a) more than and (b) less than the 2% forecast by Deloitte?
  2. What is likely to happen to commodity prices over the coming 24 months and why?
  3. With CPI inflation currently running at an annual rate of 4% (double the Bank of England’s target rate of 2%), consider whether it is now time for the Monetary Policy Committee to raise interest rates.
  4. For what reasons might households respond to falling real incomes by (a) running down savings; (b) building up savings?
  5. What are the implications of the report for tax revenues in the current financial year?
  6. What makes consumers confident?
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Making a lot of a little

According to the first estimates by the Office for National Statistics, real UK GDP rose by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2011. In the House of Commons, David Cameron claimed that “it’s clearly a success the economy is growing”, while Ed Balls, Shadow Chancellor, countered this by stating that the economy “flat-lined in the last six months with no growth at all”.

So who is right? According to the statistics both are, in the sense that the economy grew by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2011 after shrinking by 0.5% in the fourth quarter of 2010. But what bigger picture do the figures paint? Is the economy now in recovery mode? Or is the fact that growth is so small a sign that the economy is still fragile? Could it easily dip back into recession as the tax increases and government expenditure cuts begin to bite?

And what of the policy implications? Do the latest figures make a rise in Bank Rate more or less likely in the near future? And how will the figures impact on confidence? Are they more or less likely to stimulate investment? Will consumers feel more confident that recovery is under way and their jobs are therefore more secure?

The following articles assess the situation and look ahead at the prospects for the UK economy.

Articles
UK economy ‘on a plateau’ as 0.5pc GDP rise disappoints The Telegraph, Emma Rowley and Philip Aldrick (28/4/11)
GDP figures: Cameron accused of complacency over economy Guardian, Hélène Mulholland (27/4/11)
Low growth figure suggests economy is stagnating – at best Independent, Sean O’Grady (28/4/11)
A matter of interpretation but nobody’s happy at the latest news Scotsman, Terry Murden (28/4/11)
UK economy grows by 0.5% in first quarter of 2011 BBC News (27/4/11)
Britain ‘on the edge of a double dip recession’ The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (27/4/11)
British GDP grows by 0.5 per cent Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (27/4/11)
GDP: Slow but not stagnant BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (27/4/11)
GDP figures: Despite meagre growth, we must hold our nerve The Telegraph (27/4/11)
The economic gamble looks ever more reckless Independent (28/4/11)
If George Osborne thinks this is the road to recovery, he needs a new satnav Guardian, Heather Stewart (27/4/11)
GDP figures: the verdict Guardian, Michael Burke, Eamonn Butler, Frances O’Grady, Ian Brinkley (27/4/11)
UK GDP grows 0.5pc: reaction The Telegraph, various commentators (27/4/11)

Data
GDP growth ONS
GDP preliminary estimates ONS
Forecasts for Output, Prices and Jobs The Economist
Forecasts for the UK economy: a comparison of independent forecasts HM Treasury

Questions

  1. What are the causes of short-term economic growth?
  2. Why has UK growth been lower than that of most other developed economies?
  3. What are the arguments for and against the government using fiscal policy at the current time to increase aggregate demand?
  4. Why has the construction sector performed so badly while the manufacturing sector has performed relatively well?
  5. How might the growth figures impact on consumer and business confidence? Why is this difficult to predict?
  6. What impact are the growth figures likely to have on interest rate decisions by the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee?
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The wrong kind of economics?

Business leaders and politicians pay a great deal of attention to economic forecasts. And yet these forecasts often turn out to be quite wrong. Very few economists predicted the banking crisis of 2008 and the subsequent credit crunch and recession. And the recently released 2010 Q4 growth figures for the UK economy, which showed a decline in real GDP of 0.5%, took most people by surprise.

What is more, forecasters often disagree. If, for example, you look at the forecasts made by various panel members for Consensus Forecasts, you can see the divergence between their various predictions.

So why is economic forecasting so unreliable? Is it the fault of economic models? Or are there too many unpredictable factors that can impact on economies – factors such as business and consumer confidence, or political events, or natural disasters, such as the recent floods in Australia, South Africa and Brazil? Will economic forecasting always be a very inexact science?

Articles
Davos 2011: Why do economists get it so wrong? BBC News, Tim Weber (27/1/11)
Popular Semi-Science Slate, Robert J. Shiller (24/1/11)
Fed Often Gets It Wrong In Its Forecasts on US Economy American Public Media, Justin Wolfers (26/1/11)
Don’t bet on economic forecasting CNBC, Jeff Cox (21/9/10)

Forecasts
Forecasts for the UK economy HM Treasury
Econ Stats: The Economic Statistics and Indicators Database Economy Watch (large database of worldwide annual statistics, including forecasts to 2015)
World Economic Outlook IMF (follow link in right-hand panel)
OECD Economic Outlook: Statistical Annex OECD
European Economic Forecasts European Commission, Economic and Financial Affairs DG

Questions

  1. For what reasons may economic forecasts turn out to be wrong?.
  2. To what extent is economic forecasting like weather forecasting? Which is harder and why?
  3. Wo what extent can the poor accuracy of economic forecasts be blamed on the application of the ‘wrong type of economics’?
  4. How much variation is there in the independent forecasts of the UK economy reported by the Treasury (see HM Treasury link above)?
  5. Using the HM Treasury link, compare the forecasts made of 2010 in January 2010 with those made of 2010 in January 2011. Attempt an explanation of the differences.
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Who’d be a forecaster? A taxing time for the new OBR

Under its terms of reference the new Office for Budget Responsibility is required to provide updated forecasts for the economy and the public finances at the time of each Budget in order take into account the impact of those measures contained in the Budget. Here we consider those economic forecasts contained in the June 2010 OBR Budget Forecast relating to economic growth. In particular, we consider the OBR’s interpretation of how growth is likely to be affected by the policy measures unveiled by George Osborne in his first Budget as Chancellor of Exchequer on 22 June.

The OBR forecasts that the UK economy will grow by 1.2% in 2010 and by a further 2.3% in 2011. These estimates are lower than those published by the OBR in its Pre-Budget Forecast published on 14 June. The Pre-Budget Forecasts predicted growth of 1.3% in 2010 and 2.6% in 2011. The downward revisions reflect the OBR’s assertion that the Budget’s measures to meet the Government’s fiscal mandate and, hence the resultant fiscal consolidation package, will weaken aggregate demand.

In terms of the components of aggregate demand, the fiscal consolidation will mean restraints on government spending (G) and, if the OBR is right, lower growth in household consumption (C). Lower consumption growth is expected as a result of reduced growth in household incomes and the rise in the standard rate of Value Added Tax next January from 17½% to 20%.

The OBR now forecasts that real household consumption will grow by just 0.2% in 2010, following last year’s contraction of 3.2%, and by 1.3% in 2011. General government final consumption – the Government’s expenditure on current goods and services – is forecast to grow in real terms by 1.7% this year before falling by 1.1% next year. The forecasts for general government capital spending are for a real fall of 4.9% this year, following last year’s rise of 15.7%, followed by a sizeable 19% decline in 2011.

A more positive note emerging from the OBR forecasts relates to capital expenditure by businesses. The measures to reform corporation tax, which include a reduction in the main rate of corporation tax from 28 per cent to 24 per cent over four years beginning with a one per cent reduction from April 2011, are predicted to have a favourable effect on investment. Business investment is forecast to rise in real terms by 1.4% this year, following last year’s fall of 19.3%, and to rise again in 2011 by 8.1%.

The projections for growth from 2013 are now stronger than in the OBR’s Pre-Budget Forecast with the economy portrayed as adjusting more quickly at this point towards its potential output. Potential output is the level of output level when the economy’s resources are operating at ‘normal capacity utilisation’. But, in 2015, which is at the end of the OBR’s five year forecast period, the UK economy is still forecast to be experiencing a negative output gap. In other words, actual output will still be less than potential output.

To help paint a picture of how the economy’s output will adjust towards its potential level consider the OBR estimates for the output gap. The OBR estimates that in financial year 2009-10 the economy’s output was 4.1% below its potential. This negative output gap is now expected to be reduced to 3.7% of potential output in 2010-11, to 2.8% in 2012-13 and to 0.9% of potential output in 2015-16.

Office for Budget Responsibility
OBR home page
Office for Budget Responsibility Terms of Reference

Documents
Budget Forecast June 2010 OBR (22/6/10)
Pre-Budget Forecast June 2010 OBR (14/6/10)
Budget 2010 HM Treasury (22/6/10)

Articles
OBR endorses Budget but faces questions over its own predictions Telegraph, Philip Alrdrick (23/6/10)
UK growth forecasts could be revised again, says Sir Alan Budd Citywire, Deborah Hyde (23/6/10)
OBR says growth will take bigger hit Financial Times, Norma Cohen (22/6/10)
Budget 2010: Government cuts will slow economic recovery, says watchdog Telegraph, James Kirkup (23/6/10)
Highlights from the Budget BBC News (22/6/10)
Budget statement: George Osborne’s speech in full BBC Democracy Live (22/6/10)

Questions

  1. What do you understand by the concept of aggregate demand?
  2. What are the component expenditures of aggregate demand? Which of these do you think is the largest in value terms?
  3. The OBR is forecasting the household sector’s disposable income to grow in real terms this year by 0.2% and by 1.2% next year. Why then is the OBR identifying weaker consumer demand as a result of the Budget measures as a major reason for revising down its predictions for economic growth?
  4. The OBR argues that the fiscal consolidation measures will have a ‘direct effect’ on household incomes and so on spending, but that this will be ‘partially offset by a decline in saving’. Why might the OBR be arguing that a fiscal consolidation will lead to a decline in saving? Evaluate the OBR’s arguments.
  5. What do you understand by the concept of an output gap? What does a negative output gap signify?
  6. To see the sorts of problems that forecasters commonly face, try identifying reasons why the output gap could be eliminated more quickly or less quickly as a result of the Budget measures.
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Profiting from a new prophet

As one of his first acts, the new UK Coalition government’s Chancellor, George Osborne, set up an independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) (see Nipping it in the Budd: Enhancing fiscal credibility?. The role of the OBR is to provide forecasts of the economy and the data on which to base fiscal policy.

On 14 June, the OBR produced its first forecast in time for the Budget scheduled for 22 June. It has some bad news and some good news. First the bad news: it forecasts that growth for 2011 will be 2.6% – down from the 3–3.5% forecast by Labour in its last Budget in March. But now the good: it forecasts that the public-sector deficit in 2010/11 will be 10.5% of GDP – down from the 11.1% forecast by Labour; and that public-sector debt will be 62.2%, not the 63.6% forecast by Labour. These forecasts are before any policy changes announced in the Budget on 22 June.

Meanwhile, the accountants BDO have published a survey of business confidence. This shows the largest drop since the survey began. Talk by the government of cuts and worries that this will impact directly on the private sector have caused many businesses to cut investment plans. The worries are compounded by fears of a decline in export demand as countries abroad also make cuts.

So what does the future hold? Should we put any faith in forecasts? And should we be more worried about a double-dip recession or by failure to make sufficient inroads to deficits to calm markets?

Articles
Growth forecast is cut but borrowing improves Guardian, Phillip Inman and Hélène Mulholland (14/6/10)
UK watchdog slashes growth forecasts Financial Times, Chris Giles (14/6/10)
Fiscal watchdog downgrades UK growth forecast BBC News (14/6/10)
OBR UK growth forecast downgraded BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (14/6/10)
‘Sorry it is so complicated’ BBC Daily Politics, Stephanie Flanders (14/6/10)
Britain’s new economic forecasts: what the analysts say Guardian (14/6/10)
Spending cuts under fire amid new borrowing forecasts Independent, Russell Lynch (14/6/10)
The self-fulfilling deficit spiral Guardian, Adam Lent (14/6/10)
UK business confidence sees ‘record drop’ BBC News (13/6/10)
Britain to avoid double dip but recovery will be weak, CBI warns Independent, David Prosser (14/6/10)
A winding path to inflation The Economist (3/6/10)
Is inflation or deflation a greater threat to the world economy? The Economist: debate (1/6/10)
A question for chancellor Osborne Financial Times, Martin Wolf (11/6/10)
Fiscal conservatism may be good for one nation, but threatens collective disaster Independent, Joseph Stiglitz (15/6/10)
Hawks v doves: economists square up over Osborne’s cuts Guardian, Phillip Inman (14/6/10)

Data and forecasts
Pre-Budget forecast Office for Budget Responsibility (14/6/10)
Pre-Budget Report data Google docs (14/6/10)
Forecast for the UK economy: a comparison of independent forecasts HM Treasury (May 2010)

Questions

  1. How reliable is the OBR’s forecast likely to be? What factors could cause the forecast for economic growth to be (a) an overestimate; (b) an underestimate?
  2. What is likely to happen to aggregate demand over the coming months? Explain.
  3. What is meant by the ‘structural deficit’. Why might the structural deficit fall as the economy recovers? Would you explain this in terms of a shift or a movement along the short-term aggregate supply curve?
  4. Which is the greatest threat over the long term: inflation or deflation?
  5. Do you agree that the debate about cutting the deficit is merely a question of timing, not of the amount to cut?
  6. Why may policies of fiscal tightening, if carried out generally around the world, involve the fallacy of composition?
  7. Is there any common ground between the fiscal ‘hawks’ and fiscal ‘doves’ (see the last Guardian article above)?
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Too soon to crack open the champagne?

Is there finally cause to celebrate? Government borrowing is lower than expected. Initially, public sector net borrowing for 2009-2010 was forecast in the Pre-budget Report to be £178bn, but official public figures have reduced this to £170 bn. The fall in government revenues has not been as big as predicted and as a result, borrowing this year is likely to be between £5bn and £10bn less than expected. But, let’s not crack open the champagne quite yet, as February’s figures for public sector net borrowing are still about 41% higher in 2010 than in the same month last year.

Whilst the UK is predicted to under-shoot its public-sector net cash requirement made in the Pre-Budget Report for 2009-2010, government borrowing remains at a record high and the level of the deficit is still a worrying 12% of GDP. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the European Commission wants the UK to bring its deficit down faster than the current government plans – and the Commission is not alone. There is considerable debate at the moment between those who want the government to bring the deficit down quicker to appease the market and those who want the government to start taking strong measures only when the recovery is well established. Their fear, very much in the Keynesian school, is that cutting too soon, by reducing aggregate demand, would push the economy back into recession.

If government spending is to be restrained, can we rely on export-lead growth? The fall in the value of our currency over the past two years should have meant a boost for exports. With a weaker pound, export growth was expected to be strong and allow us to export our way out of recession. See the news blog Expecting too much from exports. However, with figures in January 2010 showing the biggest trade deficit since August 2008 (£3.8bn) and with the volume of exports down by 8%, this may not be the case. Whilst the credit rating of the UK remains at AAA, experts say that the government should be aiming to reduce the deficit more quickly in order to retain this rating. So, although there is some good news (government borrowing will only be £170bn!) and exports are likely to increase as the global economy recovers from recession, significant problems in the UK economy still remain.

Articles
Row over leaked EU deficit report AFP news (17/3/10)
Government borrowing less than forecast BBC News (18/3/10)
Borrowing update cheers Treasury Financial Times, Chris Giles (19/3/10)
UK trade deficit widens to biggest in 17 months BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (9/3/10)
Government borrowing: what the economists say Guardian (18/3/10)
Darling to use higher revenues to cut debt Financial Times, Chris Giles and Jean Eaglesham (19/3/10)

Data
Public sector finances. February 2010 Office for National Statistics

Questions

  1. Why have government revenues been falling?
  2. What is the difference between the public-sector net cash requirement and public-sector debt?
  3. Why is a weak pound good for exports?
  4. As the global economy recovers, UK exports should begin to rise. Illustrate this idea with a circular flow of income diagram for the UK and the rest of the world.
  5. What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against reducing the government deficit now?
  6. Should the Treasury be celebrating these latest figures, or is the UK economy still in a bad way?
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Looking into the crystal ball – what’s in store for the world economy in 2010?

At the start of the new decade, many commentators are getting out their crystal balls to take a look into the future. Below you will find a selection of their predictions, including six extracts from The Economist’s ‘The World in 2010′.

In 2009, the world economy shrank for the first time since 1945. Will it now bounce back, or will global recovery be slow, or will there be a ‘double-dip recession’ with output falling once more before sustained recovery eventally sets in? And what about particular economies? How will the UK fare compared with other countries? How will the USA and the eurozone perform? Will China and India be the powerhouses of global recovery?

Then there is the whole question of the financial sector. Is it now fixed? Will businesses and consumers have sufficient access to credit – is the credit crunch over? Has toxic debt been expunged from the banking system? Do banks now have sufficient capital?

And what about debt? Even though private-sector debt is falling in many countries as households and businesses scale back borrowing and as banks have imposed tighter lending criteria, public-sector debt is soaring around the world. Will financial markets continue to support these growing levels of sovereign debt? Will central banks have to continue with quantitative easing in order to support these levels of debt and to keep interest rates down?

Economic Outlook: 2010 may narrow gap Financial Times, Chris Flood (27/12/09)
CIPD Annual Barometer Forecast: UK economy to shed a further 250,000 jobs before unemployment peaks at 2.8 million in 2010 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) (21/12/09)
Unemployment ‘set to peak in 2010′ Guardian (29/12/09)
Unemployment ‘will peak at 2.8m’ in 2010 BBC News (29/12/09)
What employment prospects lie ahead in 2010? BBC News, Shanaz Musafer (3/1/10)
Money printing scheme is working, Bank of England says Times Online, Gráinne Gilmore and Francesca Steele (1/1/10)
Bank optimism rises as credit to business eases Guardian, Ashley Seager (31/12/09)
The world in 2010: China continues its unstoppable economic charge Independent, Alistair Dawber (2/1/10)
The US slowly emerges from the gloom of 2009 Independent, Alistair Dawber (2/1/10)
Year dominated by weak dollar Financial Times, Anjli Raval (2/1/10)
A year when tipsters took a tumble Times Online, David Wighton (1/1/10)
PMEAC pegs growth at 8% in ’10-11 Times of India (2/1/10)
China and the other Brics will rebuild a new world economic order The Observer, Ashley Seager (3/1/10)
Five countries that crashed and burned in the credit crunch face a hard road to recovery The Observer, Heather Stewart, Ashley Seager, David Teather, Richard Wachman and Zoe Wood (3/1/10)
HSBC goes out on a limb and predicts growth beyond dreams of Chancellor Times Online, Gráinne Gilmore (2/1/10)
Uncertainty dogs sterling Financial Times, Peter Garnham (2/1/10)
A tough year to forecast as recovery hangs in the balance Scotsman, George Kerevan (30/12/09)
Unstable equilibrium in 2010 BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks (30/12/09)
Intriguing economic questions for 2010 BBC News blogs, Stephanomics (23/12/09)
The hard slog ahead The Economist (13/11/09)
In the wake of a crisis The Economist (13/11/09)
Now for the long term The Economist, Matthew Bishop (13/11/09)
Recessionomics The Economist, Anatole Kaletsky (13/11/09)
The World in 2010: From the editor The Economist, Michael Pilkington (13/11/09)
The hard slog ahead The Economist (13/11/09)

For forecasts of various economies and regions see
World Economic Outlook (OECD)
European Economic Forecast – autumn 2009 (European Commission)
Tables set A and Tables set B from World Economic Outlook (IMF)

Questions

  1. What is likely to happen to the major economies of the world in 2010?
  2. How much reliance should be placed on macroeconomic forecasts for the medium term (1 or 2 years)?
  3. For what reasons might the UK economy fare (a) better or (b) worse than forecast?
  4. Why has unemployment risen less in the UK, and many other countries too, during the current recession compared to previous recessions? Does the flexibility of labour markets affect the amount that unemployment rises during a period of declining aggregate demand?
  5. Why may the world face a ‘long hard slog’ in recovering from recession?
  6. Why is the world in 2010 ‘balanced precariously’ and why are there huge uncertainties? (See Robert Peston’s blog.)
  7. Why are China and India likely to see much faster rates of economic growth than the USA, the EU and Japan?
  8. What is likely to happen to stock markets over the coming 12 months? What will be the main factors influencing the demand for and supply of shares?
  9. What fiscal and monetary policies are most appropriate during the coming 12 months?
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