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)
- How is economic growth measured?
- What is meant by a triple-dip recession?
- What has caused the small increase in growth in the UK? Do you think this signifies the start of the economic recovery?
- In the USA, what has caused the growth rate to reach 2.5% and why is it lower than expected?
- Why are growth rates in countries across the world relevant for UK forecasts of economic growth?
- Which factors have allowed the Chinese economy to achieve average growth rates above 10% for the past decade?
- Using an AD/AS diagram, illustrate the desired impact of the Coalition’s policies to boost economic growth.
- With unemployment rising in countries like Spain and France, how might Eurozone growth be affected in the coming months?
- 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?
The problem of obesity and healthy eating is a growing problem in many countries and governments have long been looking into designing policy to tackle this issue.
Some have gone for healthy eating campaigns and policies to encourage pregnant women to eat better, but one government took it a step further and introduced a Fat Tax. In October 2011, the Danish government introduced a tax on foods that are high in saturated fat in a bid to reduce consumption of these goods. However, this policy is now to be abolished.
The Fat Tax introduced by the government imposed a surcharge on foods that contained more than 2.3% saturated fat. Numerous products were affected, including meats, dairy and as expected – processed foods. The policy was criticised by scientists who said that saturated fat was the wrong target and perhaps they were proved right, but the government’s u-turn, which will now see the tax being abolished. The tax had gradually increased food prices throughout the country and authorities said that it had even put Danish jobs at risk.
With food prices much higher in Denmark with the tax, consumers switched from buying domestically produced goods to crossing the border into Germany and purchasing their cheaper food. This undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the Danish economy, as it represented a cut in consumer expenditure. Perhaps it also helps to explain Germany’s strong economy – it was feeding 2 nations! The Danish tax ministry said:
‘The fat tax and the extension of the chocolate tax — the so-called sugar tax — has been criticised for increasing prices for consumers, increasing companies’ administrative costs and putting Danish jobs at risk … At the same time it is believed that the fat tax has, to a lesser extent, contributed to Danes travelling across the border to make purchases … Against this background, the government and the (far-left) Red Green Party have agreed to abolish the fat tax and cancel the planned sugar tax’
Once the tax is abolished, other policies will need implementing to tackle the problem of obesity and encourage healthy eating, as it continues to be a big problem in this and many other countries. The following articles consider this problem.
Denmark to scrap world’s first fat tax Associated Press (10/11/12)
Denmark to abolish tax on high-fat foods BBC News (10/11/12)
Fat tax repealed The Copenhagen Post (10/11/12)
Businesses call fat tax a failure on all fronts The Copenhagen Post, Ray Weaver (10/11/12)
- Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on a diagram. What happens to equilibrium price and quantity?
- According to Danish authorities, consumers didn’t change their consumption habits with the tax. What does this suggest about the PED of these products?
- How does the amount of tax revenue generated vary with the price elasticity of demand and supply?
- What other policies could be implemented to encourage healthy eating?
- Why did this fat tax lead to higher food prices?
- Explain the way in which such a tax could adversely affect the Danish economy. Does this justify its removal?
Fuel prices at German petrol stations fluctuate wildly – by up to €0.14 per day. They are also often changed several times per day. In morning rush hours, when demand is less elastic, prices may shoot up, only to drop again once people are at work.
But is this a sign of healthy competition? Critics claim the opposite: that it’s a sign of the oligopoly power of the oil companies. More than two-thirds of Germany’s petrol stations are franchises of five big oil companies: BP/Aral, Esso, Jet, Shell and Total. These five companies directly control the prices at the pumps. According to the Der Spiegel article below, oil companies:
have sophisticated computer systems that allow them to precisely control, right down to the minute, when they increase their prices nationwide, and by how many cents. The prices are not set by the individual franchise holders. Instead, they are centrally controlled – for example, in the town of Bochum, at the headquarters of Aral, a BP subsidiary that is the market leader in Germany.
The price manager merely presses a button and price signs immediately change at all 2,391 Aral service stations in Germany. All filling stations are electronically linked with Bochum via a dedicated network called Rosi. After each price increase, they watch closely to see how the competition reacts and whether they follow suit.
… If the competitor’s prices are significantly cheaper, the Aral franchise holder can, with the help of Rosi, apply for permission to reduce the prices again.
Not only do the oil companies control the prices at the pumps, but they observe closely, via their franchise holders, the actions of their rivals, and then respond in ways which critics claim is collusive rather than competitive. The problem has become worse with the introduction of incentives to the franchise owners of additional commission if they exceed the price of their competitors within the local area. This has the effect of ratcheting prices up.
The sophisticated pricing strategies, with prices adjusted frequently according to price elasticity of demand, are making it very hard for independent operators to compete.
In response, the German Cartel Office has launched an investigation into the oil companies and in particular into the issues of collusion and frequent price changes and how these impact on independent operators.
German anti-trust authority probes alleged fuel cartel Deutsche Welle (4/4/12)
German antitrust watchdog to probe oil majors-paper Reuters, Ludwig Burger (3/4/12)
Oil giants probed over claims they rigged petrol prices in Germany The Telegraph, Nathalie Thomas (4/4/12)
BP, Exxon, Esso, Jet, Shell and Total in Germany Price Fix Probe International Business Times (9/4/12)
German cartel office probes petrol company pricing MarketWatch (4/4/12)
Kartellverfahren gegen fünf Mineralölkonzerne (in German) Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Helmut Bünder and Manfred Schäfers (4/4/12)
Crazy gas prices driving German consumers mad msnbc, Andy Eckardt (3/4/12)
Big Oil’s Strategy for Jacking Up Gas Prices Der Spiegel, Alexander Jung and Alexander Neubacher (5/4/12)
- What the features of the German road fuel oligopoly?
- Why does the price elasticity of demand for petrol and diesel vary with the time of day? Is it likely to vary from one week to another and, if so, why?
- In what ways have the actions of the big five oil companies been against the interests of the independent petrol station operators?
- Consider the alternatives open to the German Federal Cartel Office for making the market more competitive.
- Would it be a good idea for the big five German companies to be forced to adopt the Western Australian system of price changes?
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?
The two biggest world exporters have signed trade deals worth $15bn (£9bn). The Chinese Premier and German Chancellor were targeting an increase in bilateral trade to £178bn over the next five years. Premier Wen has also offered support to some of the European countries struggling with their debt. Despite this offer of support, there is something in it for the Chinese economy. China’s foreign exchange reserves are at a record high, but about 25% are invested in euro-denominated assets, hence China has a very strong interest in preventing the collapse of the euro. Furthermore, it is also interested in diversifying its export market to reduce its reliance on US markets. This is particularly important given the growth in protectionism in the US economy. Mr. Innes-ker said:
“China’s dependence and exposure to the US dollar creates issues for its own economy to the extent that it’s a hostage to US monetary policy.”
China’s interest in the European economies may provide an opportunity for the UK economy, as it is a country with ideal investment conditions and is already one of China’s most important trading partners. David Cameron, in a meeting with Wen, has said he wants bilateral trade to increase to £62bn by 2015. The amount is nothing in comparison to the trade deal between China and Germany, but still a significant potential sum for the UK economy. The following articles consider the Chinese economy and its role in the global environment.
Self-interest in China’s helping hand Asia Times Online, Jian Junbo (30/6/11)
China and Germany ink $15bn trade deals as leaders meet BBC News (29/6/11)
Chinese leader’s visit to Germany ends with large trade deals The New York Times, Judy Dempsey (28/6/11)
China offers helping hand to Eurozone Guardian, Helen Pidd (28/6/11)
Rights, trade to dominate Germany-China talks Associated Press, Deborah Cole (28/6/11)
China promises EU ‘helping hand’ with debt crisis Reuters, James Pomfret and Stephen Brown (28/6/11)
We still don’t grasp how little we matter to China Independent, Hamish McRae (29/6/11)
- What are the benefits of trade?
- Why is it important for the Chinese economy to diversify its export market?
- What does it mean by the statement that China is hostage to US monetary policy?
- Why are China’s foreign exchange reserves at a record high?
- What are the reasons behind China’s interest in Europe? Is it more of a ‘helping hand’ or more to do with furthering China’s own ambitions?
- What might the trade deal between China and Germany mean for trade between China and other nations? Is the deal to the benefit of everyone?