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?
In the blog No accounting for trade, the rise in the UK’s balance of trade deficit was discussed. Many factors have contributed to this weakening position and no one market is to blame. But, by analysing one product and thinking about the factors that have caused its export volumes to decline, we can begin to create a picture not just of the UK economy (or more particularly Scotland!), but of the wider global economy.
Scotch whisky may not have been the drink of choice for many British adults, but look outside Great Britain and the volume consumed is quite staggering. For example, French consumers drink more Scotch whisky in one month than they drink cognac in one year. The volume of Scotch whisky exported from our shores was £4.23 billion for 2011, accounting for 90% of all sales and making its way into 200 markets. However, one problem with this product is that it is highly susceptible to the business cycle. Add to this the time required to produce the perfect Scotch (in particular the fact that it must be left to mature) and we have a market where forecasting is a nightmare.
Producers typically look to forecast demand some 10 years ahead and so getting it right is not always easy, especially when the global economy declines following a financial crisis! So what has been the impact on exports of this luxurious drink? In the past few years, it has been as key growth market for UK exports rising by 190% in value over the past decade. But in 2012 the volume of Scotch whisky exports fell by 5% to 1.19 billion bottles. What explains the decline in sales?
The biggest importer of Scotch whisky is France and its volumes were down by 25%. Part of this decline is undoubtedly the economic situation. When incomes decline, demand for normal goods also falls. Many would suggest Scotch whisky is a luxury and thus we would expect to see a relatively large decline following any given fall in income. However, another factor adding to this decline in 2012 is the increased whisky tax imposed by the French government. Rising by 15% in 2012, commentators suggest that this caused imports of Scotch whisky to rise in 2011 to avoid this tax, thus imports in 2012 took a dive. Spain is another key export market and its economic troubles are clearly a crucial factor in explaining their 20% drop in volume of Scotch whisky imported.
But, it’s not all bad news: sales to Western Europe may be down, but Eastern Europe and other growth countries/continents, such as the BRICs and Africa have developed a taste for this iconic product. Latvia and Estonia’s value of Scotch whisky imports were up by 48% and 28% respectively, as Russian demand rises and China, still growing, is another key market. Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association said:
A combination of successful trade negotations, excellent marketing by producers, growing demand from mature markets, particularly the USA, and the growing middle class in emerging economies helped exports hit a record £4.3bn last year.
Furthermore, while the volume of exports worldwide did fall, the value of these exports rose to £4.27 billion, a growth of 1%. This suggests that although we are exporting fewer bottles, the bottles that we are exporting are more expensive ones. Clearly some people have not felt the impact of the recession. For Scotland and the wider UK, these declining figures are concerning, but given the cyclical nature of the demand, as the world economy slowly begins to recover, sales are likely to follow suit. Gavin Hewitt continued his comments above, saying:
We are contributing massively to the Government’s wish for an export-led recovery. There is confidence in the future of the industry, illustrated by the £2bn capital investment that Scotch whisky producers have committed over the next three to four years.
The following articles consider the rise and fall of this drink and its role as a key export market across the world.
Scottish whisky industry puts export hope in new market BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky sales on the slide The Guardian, Simon Neville (2/4/13)
Growth stalls for Scotch whisky exports BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky accounts for 25pc of UK’s food and drink exports The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Whisky sales fall but value of exports hits new high Herald Scotland (3/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports rise to record value The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports hit by falling demand in France The Grocer, Vince Bamford (2/4/13)
New markets save Scotch from impact of austerity Independent, Tom Bawden (2/4/13)
Scotch exports hit by falling demand Financial Times, Hannah Kichler (2/4/13)
- Which is the better measure of an industry’s performance: the value or the volume of goods sold?
- Why would you expect volumes of Scotch sold to decline during an economic downturn?
- When a higher tax was imposed on Scotch whisky in France, why did volumes fall? Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the impact of the tax.
- What type of figure would you expect Scotch whisky to have for income elasticity of demand? Does it vary for different people?
- Why is forecasting demand for Scotch so difficult? What techniques might be used?
- Why does demand for Scotch whisky remain high and even rising in many emerging markets?
- Is the market for Scotch whisky exports a good indication of the interdependence of countries across the world?
With falling GDP and house prices, Spanish banks have been running the risk of failure. Indeed, the Spanish government has already had to agree to bail out Spain’s fourth biggest bank, Bankia.
On Saturday 9 June, at a crisis conference call, eurozone finance ministers agreed to lend the Spanish government up to €100 billion to provide credit to Spanish banks. The Spanish government is commissioning independent audits of the banks and, in the light of that, will specify just how much it needs to borrow.
Details of the nature of the loans will be made clear over the coming days, but they will funded either from the temporary rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), or from the new permanent fund that will replace it, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
But whilst the loans will remove the immediate pressure on Spanish banks, the underlying problems of the Spanish economy remain. Easy credit fuelled a property bubble which then burst. House prices have fallen by over 20% since the peak, and many Spanish people are in negative equity. Many construction companies have gone out of business.
What is more, the Spanish government is committed to reducing the budget deficit from 8.9% of GDP in 2011 to 5.3% in 2012 and 3% in 2013. To achieve this it has instituted tough austerity policies of government expenditure cuts and tax rises. (Click here for a link to a graph from the BBC of budget deficits in 18 EU countries.)
This has only aggravated the decline in GDP – at least in the short term. Spanish GDP is set to fall by around 2% this year and unemployment, at nearly 25% and rising, is the highest in Europe. Indeed the unemployment rate for those aged 15 to 25 is over 51%! This clearly has profound social and political consequences, with many young people seeing no prospect of gaining employment and thus feeling socially alienated. (For a PowerPoint of the above chart, click here.)
Markets on the Monday after the bailout was announced initially reacted positively. By the end of the day, however, the gains had been wiped out. Although no conditions were imposed on the Spanish government – the loan, although to the Spanish government, was to bail out the banks, not the government itself – worries remain that the Spanish economy is not set to recover for some time.
What is more, worries about other eurozone countries in difficulty have not gone away. Indeed, with the Spanish government being seen as having been dealt with more leniently than the Greek, Portuguese and Irish governments, investors are now worried that these countries may demand to renegotiate the terms of their bailout. And in the case of Greece, the Spanish bailout may make people more willing to vote in this coming Saturday’s election for parties that reject the Greek bailout terms. This may make it more likely that Greece will be forced to leave the euro, with all the chaos that is likely to ensue.
Webcasts and Podcasts
Spain: Simmering anger in Seville BBC News, Paul Mason (7/6/12)
Will Spain’s Bailout save Europe? CNBC Video, Martin Wolf (11/6/12)
Bailout boost evaporates Financial Times video, James Macintosh (11/6/12)
Spain’s bailout may not be enough Financial Times video, Nikki Tait (11/6/12)
Eurozone: ‘Italy will be next’ BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston (11/6/12)
Eurozone agrees to lend Spain up to 100 billion euros MSN Money, Jan Strupczewski and Julien Toyer (12/6/12)
Hurried Spanish banking bailout fails to calm market nerves Guardian, Giles Tremlett (11/6/12)
Fears that Spain’s bailout relief may be short-live Independent, Alasdair Fotheringham and Tom Bawden (11/6/12)
Spanish banks deal: Market concerns remain BBC News (11/6/12)
Q&A: Spanish bank deal BBC News (11/6/12)
Debt crisis: Market euphoria evaporates over Spain’s €100bn bank bailout The Telegraph, Emma Rowley and Bruno Waterfield (11/6/12)
Why bondholders are scared about Spain MarketWatch, Deborah Levine (11/6/12)
Krugman on another bank bailout Press-Telegram Paul Krugman (11/6/12)
Messy Spanish rescue BBC News, Robert Peston (10/6/12)
This latest euro fix will come apart in less than a month The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (11/6/12)
The consequences of Spain’s bank rescue Financial Times, Gavyn Davies (10/6/12)
Buy on the summit, sell on the communiqué Financial Times, Alan Beattie (11/6/12)
The vicious euro circle keeps turning BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (12/6/12)
Spanish banks need up to 62bn euros BBC News (21/6/12)
Eurozone crisis explained BBC News (19/6/12)
Spain formally requests a bailout for its banks BBC News (25/6/12)
Documents and press releases
IMF Says Spain’s Core Financial System is Resilient, but Important Vulnerabilities Remain IMF Press Release (8/6/12)
Spain and the IMF IMF links to various documents including: Spain – Financial System Stability Assessment (8/6/12)
Eurogroup statement on Spain Eurozone Portal, The Eurogroup (9/6/12)
- How does the Spanish bailout differ from those for Greece, Irelend and Portugal?
- What are the likely implications for Spanish borrowing costs of the loans coming from the ESM?
- To what extent does the plan to bail out Spanish banks involve a moral hazard?
- What is likely to be the effect of the Spanish bailout on Greece, Ireland and Portugal?
- How bad is Spanish public-sector debt compared with other countries? What is the likely effect of the bailout on Spanish public-sector debt?
- What is meant by a banking union in the eurozone and how would it work? What would be the implication of a eurozone banking union for the UK?
Today (16/6/11) in Greece, the Prime Minister is trying to form a new government that will help the country tackle its large and growing debts. Austerity measures have been put in place by the Greek government and these cuts and subsequent job losses (unemployment now stands at 15.9%) have resulted in massive riots.
Critics of the eurozone and Greek membership are suggesting that the price Greece has to pay to remain a member might be too high. Billions of euros have already been given to the bankrupt country and yet it seems to have made little difference – more money is now needed, but Finance Ministers have so far been unable to agree on how best to finance another bailout. These concerns have adversely affected financial markets, as investors sell their shares in light of the economic concerns surrounding Greece. The trends in financial markets over recent weeks suggest a growing feeling that Greece may default on its debt.
If an agreement isn’t reached between European leaders and/or Greece doesn’t accept the terms, then it could spell even more trouble and not just for the Greek economy and the eurozone. Banks across Europe have lent money to Greece and if an agreement isn’t reached, then this will mean losses for the private sector. Whilst these losses may be manageable, further trouble may arise due to contagion. Other countries with substantial debts, including Spain, Ireland and Portugal could mean a significant increase in these potential losses.
As the crisis in Greece continues, doubts remain over whether the European leaders even know how to deal with the crisis and this creates a lack of confidence in the markets. Activities over the coming weeks will play a large part in the future of Greece’s eurozone membership, trends in financial markets and the direction of the UK economy. The following articles consider Greece’s debt crisis.
Greece debt crisis sends financial markets reeling BBC News (16/6/11)
Euro slumps vs Swissie, Greece intensifies concern Reuters (16/6/11)
EU and IMF agree Greek debt deal Financial Times, Peter Spiegel (16/6/11)
Greece crisis: Commissioners fear ‘future of Eurozone’ BBC News, Joe Lynam (15/6/11)
Stocks slump as Greece crisis turns violent Bloomberg Business Week, Pan Pylas (15/6/11)
Euro slides as Greek default fears deepen Financial Times, Peter Garnham (16/6/11)
Germany insists all of EU must pay for Greece bailout Guardian, Ian Traynor (15/6/11)
US stocks slump on US, Greek woes Associated Press (16/6/11)
More time to argue about Greece BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (16/6/11)
Greece: Eurozone ministers delay decision on vital loan BBC News (20/6/11)
Greece crisis: Revolution in the offing? BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (19/6/11)
Greece crisis: Not Europe’s Lehman (it could be worse) BBC News, Robert Peston (20/6/11)
Greek debt crisis: eurozone ministers delay decision on €12bn lifeline Guardian, Ian Traynor (20/6/11)
Eurozone must act before Greek crisis leads to global meltdown, IMF warns Guardian, Larry Elliott (20/6/11)
Greece: Private-sector voluntary aid may be impossible BBC News, Robert Peston (21/6/11)
Greece crisis and the best way to cook a lobster BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (22/6/11)
- What is meant by contagion and why is this a potential problem?
- What are the options open to European leaders to finance the bail out?
- If an agreement is not reached or Greece do no accept the terms, how might the UK economy be affected?
- What has been the impact of recent events in Greece and Europe on financial markets and currencies across the world? Explain your answer.
- Why are critics suggesting that the price of Greece remaining in the Eurozone might be too high? If Greece was not a member state what would it mean it could do differently to help it deal with its mounting debts?
The outbreak of E. Coli has already cost lives, but it is also costing livelihoods of farmers who rely on producing and selling agricultural produce. Immediately following the outbreak in Germany, the blame was put on Spanish producers of cucumbers, which lead to the destruction of tens of thousands of kilos of fresh produce, costing Spain an estimated £177m per week in sales. Although Spain is not the source of the outbreak, the problem has not disappeared and will now affect the whole of Europe: at least until the source is identified. Countries such as Spain, France and Germany are big exporters to Russia and these countries are likely to take a big hit with the Russian health service banning imports of EU vegetables. The impact of this action (together with other countries implementing similar strategies) has not only affected agricultural producers, but is also having wider impacts on other sectors, including transportation. If no-one wants to buy the products, there’s very little use for the companies and indeed drivers to deliver them.
The Spanish economy will be looking for compensation from Germany for the losses they incurred, when sales of fruit and vegetables practically ceased following Germany’s initial accusation. As the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero said:
“We acted as we had to, and we are going to get reparations and the return of Spanish products to their rightful place. … I believe that any other interpretation or any effort to politicise the huge mistake made by the German authorities is totally unfair.”
The effects of this outbreak have spread to UK supermarkets and producers. The former have reported a slight drop in sales of fruit and vegetables, but have not taken this opportunity to drop the prices paid to British growers, which is particularly important for cucumber producers, given the high production costs. Sarah Pettitt of the National Farmers Union said she was ‘extremely encouraged to hear that the major supermarkets … are not using this unfortunate situation as an excuse to drop prices to British growers.’ In fact some believe that the outbreak could be good for UK producers, as consumers increasingly turn to home-produced products. While the source of the outbreak remains unknown, so does the future of agricultural producers throughout Europe, as well as all those that have any dependence on this huge industry.
E. Coli outbreak: UK cases rise to 11 BBC News (4/6/11)
E coli source hunted as growers fear sales slump Guardian, Robin McKie (4/6/11)
Farmers reel as outbreak hits demand Financial Times, Matt Steinglass and Victor Mallet (3/6/11)
Spain seeks compensation for E. Coli blame BBC News (3/6/11)
E.Coli: Economic impact on the agriculture industry BBC News, Richard Anderson (3/6/11)
Spain says Germany mulls EU aid over cucumber slur Associated Press (3/6/11)
Rose Prince: Cucumbers, diet and Prof Moth Telegraph, Rose Prince (4/6/11)
- Why have cucumber producers been experiencing falling profit margins in recent years?
- Could the outbreak of E Coli bring any benefits to the UK economy?
- What are the costs and benefits to Russian consumers and producers from the protectionists measures that have been imposed on EU imports of fruit and vegetables?
- Which sectors within the European market are likely to experience the biggest problems?
- Explain why the Chairman of the National Farmers Union was ‘encouraged to hear that the major supermarkets … are not using this unfortunate situation as an excuse to drop prices to British growers’. Why would supermarkets have an incentive to do this?