Economic forecasting came in for much criticism at the time of the financial crisis and credit crunch. Few economists had predicted the crisis and its consequences. Even Queen Elizabeth II, on a visit to the London School of Economics in November 2008, asked why economists had got it so wrong. Similar criticisms have emerged since the Brexit vote, with economic forecasters being accused of being excessively pessimistic about the outcome.
The accuracy of economic forecasts was one of the topics discussed by Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England. Speaking at the Institute for Government in London, he compared economic forecasting to weather forecasting (see section from 15’20” in the webcast):
“Remember that? Michael Fish getting up: ‘There’s no hurricane coming but it will be very windy in Spain.’ Very similar to the sort of reports central banks – naming no names – issued pre-crisis, ‘There is no hurricane coming but it might be very windy in the sub-prime sector.” (18’40”)
The problem with the standard economic models which were used for forecasting is that they were essentially equilibrium models which work reasonably well in ‘normal’ times. But when there is a large shock to the economic system, they work much less well. First, the shocks themselves are hard to predict. For example, the sub-prime crisis in 2007/8 was not foreseen by most economists.
Then there is the effect of the shocks. Large shocks are much harder to model as they can trigger strong reactions by consumers and firms, and governments too. These reactions are often hugely affected by sentiment. Bouts of pessimism or even panic can grip markets, as happened in late 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Markets can tumble way beyond what would be expected by a calm adjustment to a shock.
It can work the other way too. Economists generally predicted that the Brexit vote would lead to a fall in GDP. However, despite a large depreciation of sterling, consumer sentiment held up better than was expected and the economy kept growing.
But is it fair to compare economic forecasting with weather forecasting? Weather forecasting is concerned with natural phenomena and only seeks to forecast with any accuracy a few days ahead. Economic forecasting, if used correctly, highlights the drivers of economic change, such as government policy or the Brexit vote, and their likely consequences, other things being equal. Given that economies are constantly being affected by economic shocks, including government or central bank actions, it is impossible to forecast the state of the macroeconomy with any accuracy.
This does not mean that forecasting is useless, as it can highlight the likely effects of policies and take into account the latest surveys of, say, consumer and business confidence. It can also give the most likely central forecast of the economy and the likely probabilities of variance from this central forecast. This is why many forecasts use ‘fan charts’: see, for example, Bank of England forecasts.
What economic forecasts cannot do is to predict the precise state of the economy in the future. However, they can be refined to take into account more realistic modelling, including the modelling of human behaviour, and more accurate data, including survey data. But, however refined they become, they can only ever give likely values for various economic variables or likely effects of policy measures.
Andy Haldane in Conversation Institute for Government (5/1/17)
‘Michael Fish’ Comments From Andy Haldane Pounced Upon By Brexit Supporters Huffington Post, Chris York (6/1/17)
Crash was economists’ ‘Michael Fish’ moment, says Andy Haldane BBC News (6/1/17)
The Bank’s ‘Michael Fish’ moment BBC News, Kamal Ahmed (6/1/17)
Bank of England’s Haldane admits crisis in economic forecasting Financial Times, Chris Giles (6/1/17)
Chief economist of Bank of England admits errors in Brexit forecasting BBC News, Phillip Inman (5/1/17)
Economists have completely failed us. They’re no better than Mystic Meg The Guardian, Simon Jenkins (6/1/17)
Five things economists can do to regain trust The Guardian, Katie Allen and Phillip Inman (6/1/17)
Andy Haldane: Bank of England has not changed view on negative impact of Brexit Independent, Ben Chu (5/1/17)
Big data could help economists avoid any more embarrassing Michael Fish moments Independent, Hamish McRae (7/1/17)
- In what ways does economic forecasting differ from weather forecasting?
- How might economic forecasting be improved?
- To what extent were the warnings of the Bank of England made before the Brexit vote justified? Did such warnings take into account actions that the Bank of England was likely to take?
- How is the UK economy likely to perform over the coming months? What assumptions are you making here?
- Brexit hasn’t happened yet. Why is it extremely difficult to forecast today what the effects of actually leaving the EU will be on the UK economy once it has happened?
- If economic forecasting is difficult and often inaccurate, should it be abandoned?
- The Bank of England is forecasting that inflation will rise in the coming months. Discuss reasons why this forecast is likely to prove correct and reasons why it may prove incorrect.
- How could economic forecasters take the possibility of a Trump victory into account when making forecasts six months ago of the state of the global economy a year or two ahead?
- How might the use of big data transform economic forecasting?
Deflation is currently a concern in the UK and across Europe. However, relative to Japan, the deflation concern is small. In Japan, deflation has been problematic for more than two decades and this has had significant implications for the Japanese economy.
‘Abenomics’ has been in practice in Japan, as the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been trying to reflate the economy. Growth has been improving and the deflation concern appeared to be under control. However, GDP data now shows that the economy is once again declining and so with aggregate demand falling, this pushes down average prices across the economy and so the deflation risk re-emerges. This article from BBC News and another from The Guardian look at the economic policy known as ‘Abenomics’ and how the Japanese economy is faring.
Off target: Is it the end of ‘Abenomics’ in Japan? BBC News, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes (15/2/16)
Japan’s economy shrinks again as Abenomics is blown off course The Guardian, Justin McCurry (15/2/16)
Japan’s deflation fears grow (update) (27/2/16)
Riding the Japanese roller coaster (15/2/16)
Japan’s interesting monetary stance as deflation fears grow (14/2/16)
Japan’s arrows missing their target (17/11/14)
Japan’s recovery (3/2/14)
Abenomics – one year on (16/12/13)
Japan’s three arrows (6/6/13)
- What are the key features of Japan’s ‘Abenomics’?
- Why is deflation such a concern? Surely falling prices are good for consumers and hence the economy.
- How has Japan been trying to reflate its economy and why has this failed?
- The yen is getting stronger, but how will this affect the Japanese economy? Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate what has caused the value of the yen to fall and an aggregate demand and supply diagram to show the impact.
- Negative interest rates have been implemented in Japan. What does this mean for savers and borrowers and the economy?
- How do you think Japan’s stance on immigration and structural change is affecting its macroeconomy?
In the UK, petrol prices have fallen significantly over the past couple of years and currently stand in some places at below £1 per litre. For UK residents, this price is seen as being cheap, but if we compare it to prices in Venezuela, we get quite a different picture. Prices are increasing here for the first time in 20 years from $0.01 per litre to $0.60 per litre – around 40 pence, while lower grade petrol increases to $0.10 per litre.
Venezuela has oil fields in abundance, but has not used this natural resource to its full potential to bolster the struggling economy. The price of petrol has been heavily subsidised for decades and the removal of this subsidy is expected to save around $800 million per year.
This will be important for the economy, given its poor economic growth, high inflation and shortages of some basic products. Venezuela relies on oil as the main component of its export revenues and so it has been hit very badly, by such low oil prices. The money from this reduced subsidy will be used to help social programmes across the country, which over time should help the economy.
In addition to this reduced subsidy on petrol prices, Venezuela’s President has also taken steps to devalue the exchange rate. This will help to boost the economy’s competitiveness and so is another policy being implemented to help the economy. However, some analysts have said that these changes don’t go far enough, calling them ‘small steps’, ‘nowhere near what is required’ and ‘late and insufficient’. The following articles consider the Venezuelan crisis and policies.
Venezuela raises petrol price for first time in 20 years BBC News (18/02/16)
Venezuela president raises fuel price by 6,000% and devalues bolivar to tackle crisis The Guardian, Sibylla Brodzinsky (18/02/16)
Venezuela’s Maduro devalues currency and raises gasoline prices Financial Times, Andres Schipani (18/02/16)
Venezuela hikes gasoline price for first time in 20 years The Economic Times (18/02/16)
Venezuela hikes fuel prices by 6000%, devalues currency to tackle economic crisis International Business Times, Avaneesh Pandey (18/02/16)
Market dislikes Venezuela reforms but debt rallies again Reuters (18/02/16)
- Why are oil prices so important for the Venezuelan economy?
- How will they affect the country’s export revenues and hence aggregate demand?
- Inflation in Venezuela has been very high recently. What is the cause of such high inflation? Illustrate this using an aggregate demand/aggregate supply diagram.
- How will a devaluation of the currency help Venezuela? How does this differ from a depreciation?
- Petrol prices have been subsidised in Venezuela for 20 years. Show how this government subsidy has affected petrol prices. Now that this subsidy is being reduced, how will this affect prices – show this on your diagram.
- Why are many analysts suggesting that these policies are insufficient to help the Venezuelan economy?
Pork – a favourite food of many Brits, whether it’s as a key ingredient of a roast dinner or a full English Breakfast! But, British pig farmers may be in for a tricky ride and we might be seeing foreign pork on our plates in the months to come. This is because of the falling price of pork, which may be driving local farmers out of the market.
As we know, market prices are determined by the interaction of demand and supply and as market conditions change, this will affect the price at which pork sells at. This in turn will have an impact on the incomes of farmers and hence on farmers’ ability to survive in the market. According to forecasts from Defra, specialist pig farms are expected to see a fall in income by 46%, from £49,400 to £26,500 in 2016. A key driver of this, is the decline in the price of pork, which have fallen by an average of £10 per pig. This loss in income has led to pig farmers facing the largest declines of any type of farm, even beating the declines of dairy farmers, which have been well-documented.
If we think about the forces of demand and supply and how these have led to such declines in prices, we can turn to a few key things. Following the troubles in Russia and the Ukraine and Western sanctions being imposed on Russia, a retaliation of sorts was Russia banning European food imports. This therefore reduced demand for British pork. Adding to this decline in demand, there were further factors pushing down demand, following suggestions about the adverse impact that bacon and ham have on health. If pig farmers in the UK continue with the number of pigs they have and bearing in mind they would have invested in their pig farms before such bans and warnings were issued, then we see supply being maintained, demand falling and prices being pushed downwards.
Zoe Davies, Chief Executive of the National Pig Association said:
“This year is going to be horrendous for the British pig industry … Trading has been tough for at least 18 months now and we are starting to see people leave. We’re already seeing people calling in saying they’ve decided to give up. All we can hope is that more people leave European pig farms before ours do.”
We can also look to other factors that have been driving pig farmers out of business, including a strong pound, the glut of supply in Europe and productivity in the UK. Lily Hiscock, a commentator in this market said:
“It is estimated that the average pig producer is now in a loss-making position after 18 months of positive margins … The key factors behind the fall in markets are the exchange rate, UK productivity and retail demand … Indeed, pigmeat seems to be losing out to cheaper poultry meat in consumers’ shopping baskets … The recent fall in prices may stimulate additional demand, and a strengthening economy could help, but at present these are hopes rather than expectations.”
The future of British pig farms is hanging in the balance. If the economy grows, then demand may rise, offsetting the fall in demand being driven by other factors. We will also see how the exit of pig farmers affects prices, as each pig farmer drops out of the market, supply is being cut and prices rise. Though this is not good news for the farmers who go out of business, it may be an example of survival of the fittest. The following articles consider the market for pork.
UK pork market, Poppers, Scrap Metal BBC Radio 4, You and Yours (28/01/16)
Drop in global pork prices to bottom out – at 10-year lows agrimoney.com (29/01/16)
UK pork crisis looms as pig farmers expect income to half in 2016 Independent, Zlata Rodionova (5/02/16)
British pig farmers et for horrendous year as pork prices fall Western Morning News (17/01/16)
- What are they demand-side and supply-side factors which have pushed down the price of pork?
- Illustrate these effects using a demand and supply diagram.
- Into which market structure, would you place the pork industry?
- Using a diagram showing costs and revenues, explain why pig farmers in the UK are being forced out of the market.
- How has the strength of the pound affected pork prices in the UK?
There is a select group of countries (areas) that have something in common: the USA, the UK, Japan and the eurozone. The currency in each of these places is one of the IMF’s reserve currencies. But is China about to enter the mix?
The growth of China has been spectacular and it is now the second largest economy in the world, behind the USA. It is on the back on this growth that China has asked the IMF for the yuan to be included in the IMF’s basket of reserve currencies. The expectation is that Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s Managing Director, will announce its inclusion and, while some suggest that the yuan could become one of the major currencies in the world over the next decade following this move, others say that this is just a ‘symbolic gesture’. But that doesn’t seem to matter, according to Andrew Malcolm, Asia head of capital at Linklaters:
“The direct impact won’t be felt in the near term, not least because implementation of the new basket won’t be until Q3 2016. However the symbolic importance cannot be overlooked…By effectively endorsing the renminbi as a freely useable currency, it sends a strong signal about China’s importance in the global financial markets.”
Concerns about the yuan being included have previously focused on China’s alleged under-valuation of its currency, as a means of boosting export demand, as we discussed in What a devalued yuan means to the rest of the world. However, China has made concerted efforts for the IMF to make this move and China’s continuing financial reforms may be essential. The hope is that with the yuan on the IMF’s special list, it will boost the use of the yuan as a reserve currency for investors. It will also be a contributor to the value of the special drawing right, which is used by the IMF for pricing its emergency loans.
Although the Chinese stock market has been somewhat volatile over the summer period, leading to a devaluation of the currency, it is perhaps this move towards a more market based exchange rate that has allowed the IMF to consider this move. We wait for an announcement from the IMF and the articles below consider this story.
Chinese yuan likely to be added to IMF special basket of currencies The Guardian, Katie Allen (29/11/15)
‘Chinese yuan set for IMF reserve status BBC News (30/11/15)
IMF to make Chinese yuan reserve currency in historic move The Telegraph, James Titcomb (29/11/15)
China selloff pressure Asia stocks, yuan jumpy before IMF decision Reuters, Hideyuki Sano (30/11/15)
IMF’s yuan inclusion signals less risk taking in China Reuters, Pete Sweeney and Krista Hughes (29/11/15)
Did the yuan really pass the IMF currency test? You’ll know soon Bloomberg, Andrew Mayeda (29/11/15)
- What is meant by a reserve currency?
- Why do you think that the inclusion of the yuan on the IMF’s list of reserve currencies will boost investment in China?
- One of the reasons for the delay in the yuan’s inclusion is the alleged under-valuation of the currency. How have the Chinese authorities allegedly engineered a devaluation of the yuan? To what extent could it be described as a ‘depreciation’ rather than a ‘devaluation’?
- Look at the key tests that the yuan must pass in order to be included. Do you think it has passed them given the report produced a few months ago?
- The weighting that a currency is given in the IMF’s basket of currencies affects the interest rate paid when countries borrow from the IMF. How does this work?