Original post (24/4/12)
The result of the first round of the French presidential elections on 22 April make it likely that François Hollande will be the new president.
M. Hollande can be described as an austerity sceptic. In other words, he questions the wisdom of trying to meet the target agreed by eurozone countries of reducing public-sector deficits to no more than 3% of GDP.
If elected, M. Hollande promises to adopt a more Keynesian stance of stimulating demand in order to prevent a slide into recession. This would mean a reversal of cuts and a growth, at least temporarily, of the public-sector deficit.
Currently France’s deficit is much higher than the 3% target. In 2010 it was 7.1%; in 2011 it had fallen somewhat to 5.2%. But it is set to rise in 2012, thanks to the slowing economy in France and most of the rest of Europe.
And it is not just in France that ‘austerity sceptics’ are on the ascendant. In the Netherlands the centre right government of Mark Rutte fell. He was unable to get his coalition partners to agree to sufficient cuts to achieve the 3% target. And yet, the Netherland’s deficit is considerably lower than most eurozone countries’. In 2012 it is projected to be just 4.6% of GDP.
So if doubts about the 3% target could lead to a change in policy in the Netherlands and France, what hope is there that the targets could be adhered to by countries with much larger deficits and where the pain of the cuts is already causing political turmoil?
The growth in austerity scepticism has spooked the markets. The day following M. Hollande’s first round victory and the fall of Mark Rutte’s government, stock markets around Europe plummeted and bond prices rose. The higher bond prices will make it even harder for governments to refinance maturing government debt. Take the case of France. As Robert Peston remarks in his article below:
According to IMF figures, 59% of France’s government debt is held overseas – which means that well over half of all lending to the French state is not motivated by sentimentality or patriotism in any way.
To put that figure into context, just 24.8% of UK general government debt is provided by foreigners.
Perhaps more relevantly, the French government has to borrow a colossal sum equivalent to 18.2% of GDP this year and 19.5% next year to finance debt that is maturing and the current deficit.
So what are the implications of the rise in austerity scepticism? Will it make deficits harder to finance? Will a collapse of confidence push the eurozone into a deep recession. Might the eurozone break apart? Or will a dose of Keynesian policies turn the tide and allow growth to resume, making it easier to service government debts? The following articles explore the issues?
François Hollande was indeed elected president on 6 May. The question now is to what extent he will be able to enact measures to simulate the economy. In his campaign he had talked about renegotiating the European treaty on budget discipline. Angela Merkel, responding to M. Hollande’s victory, said that the European fiscal treaty had been agreed and could not be renegotiated. Nevertheless, she said she was happy to consider new growth strategies that did not involve increased budget deficits.
François Hollande’s potential spending spree in France has caused concern in austerity Europe The Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (23/4/12)
European turmoil, American collateral Guardian, Robin Wells (24/4/12)
Political risk returns to eurozone debt crisis Financial Times, Richard Milne (23/4/12)
The rise of Europe’s austerity foes Business Spectator, Karen Maley (23/3/12)
Europe: A crisis of the centre BBC News, Paul Mason (24/4/12)
Is Hollande enemy or prisoner of finance? BBC News, Robert Peston (23/4/12)
President Hollande and the IMF BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (23/4/12)
French Bond Yields Test Hollande’s Economic Fealty Bloomberg, Mark Deen and Anchalee Worrachate (24/4/12)
Dutch and French politics bring us back to reality BusinessDay (South Africa), Ron Derby (24/4/12)
Crisis topples governments like dominos Deutsche Welle, Bernd Riegert (24/4/12)
Eurozone leaders push for growth BBC News (25/4/12)
Additonal articles (after 6 May)
Francois Hollande to set France on new course after win BBC News (7/5/12)
Europe elections: German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Francois Hollande but warns Greece The Telegraph, 7/5/12)
A Merkel-Hollande bust-up? Less likely than you might think Guardian, Philip Oltermann (7/5/12)
Merkel Rejects Stimulus in Challenge to Hollande BloombergBusinessweek, Patrick Donahue and Tony Czuczka (7/5/12)
François Hollande’s chemistry with Angela Merkel crucial for Europe Guardian, Ian Traynor (7/5/12)
Q&A: End of austerity? BBC News (7/5/12)
Austerity and the people’s verdict Guardian letters, Shanti Chakravarty and others (8/5/12)
Europe: The big debate BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (11/5/12)
European Economy: Economic data Economic and Financial Affairs, European Commission
Eurozone Statistics ECB
French Economic Statistics INSEE, National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies
Netherlands Statistics CBS, Statistics Netherlands
- Why do investors worry about the pursuit of Keynesian expansionary fiscal policies? Are their fears justified?
- How important is it for countries, such as the Netherlands, to retain their AAA credit rating?
- What determines bond yields?
- Do a search to find the policies advocated by M. Hollande. Assess the likely economic impact of these policies.
- What conditions are necessary for the pursuit of a tough austerity line to achieve economic growth in (a) the short term of 12 to 18 months; (b) the longer term of several years?
- Is an increased use of public-private partnerships a solution to finding a way of delivering greater infrastructure expenditure without increasing the short-term deficit?
A negative outlook for the UK economy – at least that’s what Moody’s believes. The credit rating agency has put the UK economy’s sovereign credit rating, together with 2 other European nations (France and Austria) on the ‘negative outlook’ list.
The UK currently has a triple A rating and we have been able to maintain this despite the credit crunch and subsequent recession. However, with weak economic data and the continuing crisis in the eurozone, Moody’s took the decision to give the UK a ‘negative outlook’, which means the UK, as well as France and Austria have about a 30% chance of losing their triple A rating in the next 18 months.
Both Labour and the Coalition government have claimed this decision supports their view of the economy. Labour says this decision shows that the economy needs a stimulus and the Coalition should change its stance on cutting the budget deficit. However, the Coalition says that it shows the importance the Credit ratings agencies attach to budget deficits. Indeed, Moody’s statement showed no signs that it feels the UK should ease up on its austerity measures. The statement suggested the reverse – that a downgrade would only occur if the outlook worsened or if the government eased up on its cuts. The Coalition’s focus on cutting the deficit could even be something that has prevented the UK being put on the ‘negative watch’ list, as opposed to the ‘negative outlook’ list. The former is definitely worse than the latter, as it implies a 50% chance of a downgrade, rather than the current 30%.
The triple A rating doesn’t guarantee market confidence, but it does help keep the cost of borrowing for the government low. Indeed, the UK government’s cost of borrowing is at an historic low. A key problem therefore for the government is that there is a certain trade-off that it faces. Moody’s says that 2 things would make the UK lose its rating – a worsening economic outlook or if the government eases on its austerity plans. However, many would argue that it is the austerity plans that are creating the bad economic outlook. If the cuts stop, the economy may respond positively, but the deficit would worsen, potentially leading to a downgrade. On the other hand, if the austerity plans continue and the economy fails to improve, a downgrade could also occur. The next few days will be crucial in determining how the markets react to this news. The following articles consider this issue.
The meaning of ‘negative’ for Mr Osborne and the UK BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (14/2/12)
Relaxed markets remain one step ahead of Moody’s move The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (14/2/12)
George Osborne tries to be positive on negative outlook for economy Guardian, Patrick Wintour (14/2/12)
Moody’s wants it may cut AAA-rating for UK and France Reuters, Rodrigo Campos and Walter Brandimarte (14/2/12)
Moody’s rating decision backs the Coalition’s path of fiscal consolidation The Telegraph, Damian Reece (14/2/12)
Moody’s rating agency places UK on negative outlook BBC News (14/2/12)
Britain defends austerity measures New York Times, Julia Werdigier 14/2/12)
- What does a triple A rating mean for the UK economy?
- Which factors will be considered when a ratings agency decides to change a country’s credit rating? What similarities exist between the UK, France and Austria?
- Which political view point do you think Moody’s decision backs? Do you agree with the Telegraph article that ‘Moody’s rating decision backs the Coalition’s path of fiscal consolidation’?
- If a country does see its credit rating downgraded, what might this mean for government borrowing costs? Explain why this might cause further problems for a country?
- How do you think markets will react to this news? Explain your answer.
- What action should the government take: continue to cut the deficit or focus on the economic outlook?
- Why has the eurozone crisis affected the UK’s credit rating?
Germany is the world’s fourth largest economy and Europe’s largest. Part of its strength has come from its exports, which last year increased by 11.4% to $1.3 trillion – the first time it had ever exceed the $1 trillion mark. Germany, however, is by no means the country with the largest export sector – that mantle was taken from them by China, whose exports rose 20.3% last year to reach $1.9 trillion.
At the same time as exports have been rising from Germany, imports have also increased, showing a recovery in domestic demand as well. Despite this, Germany’s foreign trade surplus increased slightly to €158.1 billion (from €154.9 billion).
However, in the last month of 2011, its export growth did slow – the fastest drop in nearly 3 years – and that is expected to signal the trend for 2012. As the eurozone debt crisis continues to cause problems, German exports have been forecast to grow by only 2% this year, with economic growth expected to be as low as 0.7%. This is a marked change from last year, where the Germany economy grew by some 3%. Help for the eurozone is unlikely to come form Europe’s second largest economy, France, where growth in the first 3 months of 2012 is expected to be zero and figures have shown a widening trade deficit, with issues of competitiveness at the forefront. The following articles look at Germany’s prowess in the export market and the likely developments over the coming year.
German exports drop is steepest in nearly 3 years Reuters (8/2/12)
German exports set record of a trillion euros in 2011 BBC News (8/2/12)
German exports broke euro1 trillion mark in 2011 The Associated Press (8/2/12)
Surprise drop in German industrial output Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (7/2/12)
French trade deficit hits high, competitiveness at issue Reuters (7/2/12)
French trade deficit casts shadow on campaign Financial Times, Hugh Carnegy (7/2/12)
German exports fall at fastest rate in three years, sparks fears over Europe’s bulwark economy Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (8/2/12)
- What is meant by a trade surplus?
- Briefly examine some of the factors that may have contributed to Germany’s rising exports throughout 2011.
- How has the eurozone debt crisis impacted the Germany economy and in particular the export sector?
- The articles that look at France refer to a growing trade deficit, with competitiveness being a key issue. What is meant by competitiveness and why is the French economy suffering from a lack of it?
- Does France’s membership of a single currency reduce its ability to tackle its competitiveness issues?
- Why is German growth expected to remain sluggish throughout 2012? Given that Germany is a member of the eurozone, what government policies are open to the government to boost economic growth?
- China has overtaken Germany as the largest exporter, with growth of 20.3% in 2011. What factors have allowed Chinese exports to grow so quickly?
Growth figures across many countries still remain vulnerable, including the UK, where growth lies at only 0.5%. Despite some countries starting to grow more rapidly, the numbers still remain close to 0. The eurozone area is a particularly interesting case, as there are so many individual countries that are all interdependent. So, despite growth in the eurozone area increasing to 0.8% in the first three months of 2011, which is higher than that for the UK, this doesn’t explain the full story in the area. Germany has grown by 1.5% and it is this figure which has largely contributed to the 0.8% figure. It was also helped by growth of 1% in France and incredibly of 0.8% in Greece, despite its huge debts. The growth in Greece is allegedly down to a better export market.
Why then wasn’t the figure higher? Whilst countries like Germany showed an acceleration in demand, growth remained sluggish in Spain and Italy at only 0.1% and 0.3% respectively and Portugal faced the second consecutive quarter of negative growth and so has officially gone back into recession. This situation may get even worse as the austerity measures put in place by the EU and IMF take effect. One of the key arguments against joining the eurozone is that the policies implemented are never going to be in the best interests of any one country. With some countries beginning to grow more quickly and others remaining sluggish, what should happen to macroeconomic policy? Should interest rates remain low in a bid to boost aggregate demand or should they rise as other countries see accelerating growth?
An interesting question here is why do countries, such as Italy, Spain and Portugal struggle, whilst France and Germany begin their recovery? One obvious explanation is that Germany and France are at the heart of the eurozone, where as Spain, Portugal and Italy remain on the periphery. Ken Wattret at BNP Paribas said:
“The periphery are getting the worst of both worlds. The core countries like Germany are doing really well and that’s keeping the euro strong, and it’s making the ECB [European Central Bank] more inclined to tighten policy.”
If the ECB do go ahead with a tightening of monetary policy, it could spell further trouble for those countries on the periphery of the Euro area that would benefit from interest rates remaining low and a weaker Euro. The following articles look at the conflicts within the 2-speed Eurozone.
Sterling lags euro on growth outlook; trails dollar Reuters (13/5/11)
Eurozone’s growth surprises as UK lags behind Telegraph, Emma Rowley (13/5/11)
Eurozone’s economic growth accelerates BBC News (13/5/11)
Solid finances help drive German economic revival Financial Times, Ralph Atkins (13/5/11)
UK’s economy in the slow lane as eurozone surges Scotsman, Scott Reid (14/5/11)
Euro growth eclipses rivals despite north-south divergences AFP, Roddy Thomson (13/5/11)
Eurozone economic growth data prompts political clash BBC News (13/5/11)
Fresh fears for UK economy as Germany and France power ahead Guardian, Larry Elliott (13/5/11)
Portugal’s GDP is set to shrink this year and next Wall Street Journal, Alex Macdonald and Patricia Kowsmann (14/5/11)
UK GDP Growth National Statistics
Eurozone growth rates ECB
EU countries’ Growth rates of GDP in volume Eurostat News Release (13/5/11)
Real GDP growth rate for EU countries and applicant countries, EEA countries and USA and Japan Eurostat
- What has contributed to the German, French and Greek economies surging ahead?
- Why is there such a north-south divergence in growth within the eurozone?
- What is the most suitable monetary policy for those countries growing more strongly?
- What is the best direction for interest rates and hence the value of the euro for countries, such as Spain, Italy and Portugal?
- ’The UK economy would be in a worse position if it were a member of the eurozone’. What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against this statement?
- What is the relationship between interest rates, the exchange rate and growth?
The International Monetary Fund is made up of 186 countries, which together strive for global monetary co-operation, financial stability, the facilitation of international trade, as well as promoting high employment and sustainable economic growth. At the same time, the IMF and the World Bank also aim to reduce poverty around the world. Some task! – especially with the current financial crisis putting strains on even the richest of countries. In its annual meeting on the 2nd October 2009, the ‘rescue’ of more than 12 governments has already been organised by the IMF.
But it is not just countries who are suffering. The World Bank has said that it could run out of money within the next year and the IMF’s Managing Director has also suggested that it will run out of money for its low-income-country loan facility, which loans money to low-income countries at zero interest rates. However, France and Britain have stepped up with a $4 billion allocation to the IMF to help poorer countries, which may lead to other countries doing the same.
Meanwhile, Alistair Darling continues to fight to keep Britain’s seat at the IMF, as some suggest that Europe has too many seats and should give them up to make room for growing economies. This comes at a time when Britain is also facing the prospect of being side-lined from a new group of economic superpowers that would include the US, Japan, China and the Eurozone countries. The following articles consider the role of the IMF and the WB, as the global economy continues to face financial turmoil.
Doubts remain over global power of IMF Financial Times, Alan Beattie (3/10/09)
Pledge for more IMF help for poor BBC News (4/10/09)
World Bank could run out of money ‘within 12 months’ Telegraph, Edmund Conway (2/10/09)
Will tough new G20 measures work? BBC News (26/9/09)
France, UK to loan IMF$4 billion for poor nations Bloomberg, Sandrine Rastello (3/10/09)
Darling rejects call for UK to lose permanent seat on IMF Guardian, Larry Elliot (4/10/09)
Alistair Darling battles to keep UK on the world’s economic top table Telegraph, Edmund Conway(3/10/09)
World Bank Homepage
- How do the roles of the IMF, the World Bank, the G7 and the G20 differ and overlap? Do we need all of them?
- What are the arguments for less European representation at the IMF? How may this affect decision-making?
- If the G4 does go ahead, with the Eurozone as one of its members, why will the UK be sidelined?
- It is often mentioned that all countries are interdependent, but what do we mean by international policy harmonisation and why is it desirable?
- The BBC News article and the Telegraph article talk about money shortages at the IMF and the WB. What does this mean for the poorer countries and also for the UK and France which have allocated $4 billion to the IMF?