Economic growth is vital to an economy: it helps to create jobs and is crucial in stimulating confidence, both for businesses and consumers. Growth comes from various sources, both domestic and external, and so for each individual country it’s not just its growth rate that is important, but the growth rates of other countries, in particular those it trades with.
Recent data suggest that the global economy could be on the downturn and here we consider three countries/continents.
The US economy has been doing relatively well and we saw discussion by the Federal Reserve as to whether the economy was in a position to be able to handle an increase in interest rates. Although rates didn’t rise, there was a general consensus that a rate rise would not significantly harm the economy. However, perhaps those opinions may now be changing with the latest information regarding US growth. In the second quarter of 2015, growth was recorded at 3.9%, but according to the Department of Commerce, it fell to 1.5% for the third quarter. Though it’s still a solid growth rate, especially compared to other economies, it does represent a significant fall from quarter to quarter.
Many analysts suggest that this slowing is just a blip, partly the result of running down stocks, but it’s also a trend that has occurred in the UK. Although the fall in growth in the UK (see series IHYR) has been less than in the USA, it is still a fall. Annual growth was recorded at 2.7% in quarter 1, but fell to 2.4% in quarter 2 and to 2.3% in quarter 3 (with GDP in quarter 3 only 0.5% higher than in quarter 2). A big cause of this slowdown in growth has been a fall in manufacturing output and it is the service sector that prevented an even larger slowdown.
And it’s not just the West that is experiencing declining growth. The IMF has warned of a slowdown in economic growth in Africa. Although the absolute annual rate of growth at 3.75% is high compared to the UK, it does represent the slowest rate of growth in the past six years. One key factor has been the lower oil prices. Although this has helped to stimulate consumer spending in many countries, it has hit oil-producing countries.
With some of the big players experiencing slowdowns, world economic growth may be taking something of a dive. The Christmas period in many countries is when companies will make significant contributions to their annual sales, and this year these sales are going to be vital. The following articles consider the slowdowns in growth around the world.
US growth slows despite spending free Financial Times, Sam Fleming and Richard Blackden (29/10/15)
US economic growth slows in third quarter as businesses cut back The Guardian, Dominic Rushe (30/10/15)
US economic growth slows sharply BBC News (29/10/15)
US Q3 gross domestic product up 1.5% vs 1.6% growth expected CNBC, Reuters (29/10/15)
US growth cools in third quarter Wall Street Journal, Eric Morath (29/10/15)
UK economic growth slows to 0.5% in third quarter BBC News (27/10/15)
GDP growth in the UK slows more than expected to 0.5% The Guardian, Julia Kollewe (27/1015)
UK growth slows as construction and manufacturing output shrinks The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (27/10/15)
UK economy loses steam as GDP growth slows to 0.5% Financial Times, Ferdinando Giugliano (27/10/15)
No UK growth without services BBC News, Robert Peston (27/10/15)
IMF warns of African economic slowdown BBC News (27/10/15)
African growth feels the strain from China’s slowdown Financial Times, Andrew England (27/10/15)
Tax credits: George Osborne ‘comfortable’ with ‘judgement call’ BBC News (22/10/15)
IMF revises down Sub-Saharan Africa 2015 growth Wall Street Journal, Matina Stevis (27/10/15)
World Economic Outlook, October 2015: Adjusting to Lower Commodity Prices IMF (6/10/15)
Global Growth Slows Further, IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook IMF Podcast, Maurice Obstfeld (6/10/15)
Transcript of the World Economic Outlook Press Conference IMF (6/10/15)
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (October 2015 edition)
- How do we measure economic growth?
- Using an AD/AS diagram, explain why economic growth has fallen in (a) the US, (b) the UK and (c) Africa.
- How have oil prices contributed towards recent growth data?
- Why has the IMF forecast slowing growth for Africa and how dependent is the African economy on growth in China?
- Which sectors are contributing towards slower growth in each of the 3 countries/continents considered? Can you explain the reason for the downturn in each sector?
- What do you think should be done regarding interest rates in the coming months?
In 2009, interest rates in the UK were cut to a record low of 0.5%. Since that point, there has been almost unanimous agreement amongst the members of the Monetary Policy Committee to keep rates at this low. It is only in the last couple of months when some have even voted to raise rates. However, this month, interest rates were once again held at 0.5%.
The low interest rates have played a key part in creating an economic stimulus for the UK economy. With low interest rates, some of the key components of aggregate demand are stimulated and this in turn is crucial in creating a growth environment. However, with the recovery of the UK economy, there are now expectations that interest rates may soon begin to rise. Perhaps adding to this expectation is the fact that the bank’s stimulus programme has remained unchanged at £375bn. As more data is released that continues to show the positive progress of the UK economy, it becomes increasingly likely that interest rates will soon rise.
Despite the fact that interest rates will inevitably increase, Mark Carney has said that any increase will be slow and gradual to minimise the effect on consumers, especially home-owners. Mortgage payments are typically the biggest expenditure for a household and so any increase in interest rates will certainly put added pressure on home-owners and with wage growth still remaining slow, there are concerns of the impact this may have. Perhaps this may continue to deter some of the Committee for voting in favour of interest rate rises. There does appear to be some conflict between economists as to what the next step is likely to be. Yael Selfin is the economics director at KPMG and said:
With inflationary pressures still subdued, it is no surprise that rates have been held … Despite recent revisions to GDP and productivity, there is still room for further improvements in productivity, to mop up some of the rise in demand over the coming months. Steady falls in unemployment and strong economic growth are likely to see rates rising in February next year.
However, Andrew Goodwin, who is the senior economic adviser to the EY ITEM Club commented that:
On one hand, the stronger performance might convince some members that the economy is sufficiently robust to withstand the steady tightening of policy, although it should be noted that the Bank routinely builds into its forecasts the expectation of some upward revisions to the recent historical data … On the flip side, the revisions also provide some ammunition for those of a dovish persuasion, with evidence that a stronger productivity performance has had little feed through into inflationary pressures.
The key question therefore appears to be not whether interest rates will increase, but when. The MPC certainly considers inflation when making its decisions, but over the past few years, it is economic growth which has probably been the biggest influence. The data for the UK economy over the coming months, as well as the fast-approaching General Election, will prove crucial in determining exactly when interest rates increase. The following articles consider this monetary policy change.
UK interest rates held at record low of 0.5% BBC News (4/9/14)
Bank of England holds interest rates at 0.5pc for 66th month The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (4/9/14)
Timing of UK interest rate hike mired in UK services sector conundrum International Business Times, Lianna Brinded (3/9/14)
Interest rates expected to hold Mail Online, Press Association (31/8/14)
Bank of England holds rates despite robust recovery Reuters, Andy Bruce (4/9/14)
Bank of England keeps record-low rate on weak inflation Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton (4/9/14)
- By outlining the key components of aggregate demand, explain the mechanisms by which interest rates will affect each component.
- How can inflation rates be affected by interest rates?
- Why is there a debate between economists and the MPC as to when interest rates should be increased?
- If interest rates do increase, how is this likely to affect home-owners?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of a slow and gradual rise as opposed to one big rise?
There’s been much talk about the UK’s economic recovery and whether or not it has begun and whether consumer spending is actually the cause. The latest sector to post positive figures is the car industry, which has seen 2013 bring in the highest level of car sales since the onset of the credit crunch.
According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), vehicle registrations in 2013 were 2.26 million, which represented a 10.8% increase from 2012. That’s not to say that we have returned to the heights seen pre-crisis levels, as sales still remain some way below their 2007 figure, but the data is certainly moving in the right direction. The key questions are: What’s the cause of this growth and what does it mean for the UK economy?
The economy has certainly turned a corner and perhaps consumer confidence is improving to reflect this. With consumes more optimistic about future economic prospects, more luxury items may well be purchased. During the height of the recession, many families may well have said ‘it will last’ or ‘we’ll make do’, referring to their old cars. However, this improved confidence, together with attractive finance deals may have been instrumental in convincing consumers to splash out. This is reflected in the data, which indicates that some 75% of car sales involve a finance package. One further explanation that has been offered by industry analysts is that the refunds individuals are receiving through mis-sold payment protection insurance are providing a nice contribution towards the deposit.
PPI payments will certainly dry up, but as long as attractive finance packages remain, car sales should continue. A key factor affecting affordability may be interest rates. When they increase, any variable rate loans will become more expensive to service and this may act to deter consumers. However, if the car industry helps to stimulate other sectors and wages begin to increase, the overall effect may be to sustain and even further the growth of this key economic sector. The following articles consider the car industry.
UK car sales hit five-year high The Guardian, Angela Monaghan (7/1/14)
UK new car sales highest since 2007, SMTT says BBC News (7/1/14)
Car sales increased by almost 11% in 2013 Sky News (7/1/14)
UK new car sales rise to highest level since 2007 Reuters, David Milliken (7/1/14)
UK car sales up 11% in 2013, topping pre-crisis levels Wall Street Journal, Matthew Curtin and Ian Walker (7/1/14)
New car sales in UK at highest since before recession Independent, Sean O’Grady (7/1/14)
UK car sales top pre-recession levels Financial Times, Henry Foy (6/1/14)
- How important is the car industry in the context of the UK economy?
- How is the UK car industry performing relative to its Western rivals?
- Would a 30% single rate of income tax be equitable?
- Explain the way in which car sales have been affected by consumer confidence.
- How have finance packages helped to stimulate car sales?
- What are the key macroeconomic variables that are likely to affect the future performance of this key sector?
As the old year gives way to the new, papers have been full of economic forecasts for the coming year. This year is no exception. The authors of the articles below give their predictions of what is to come for the global economy and, for the most part, their forecasts are relatively optimistic – but not entirely so. Despite a sunny outlook, there are various dark clouds on the horizon.
Most forecasters predict a higher rate of global economic growth in 2014 than in 2013 – and higher still in 2015. The IMF, in its October forecasts, predicted global growth of 3.6% in 2014 (up from 2.9% in 2013) and 4.0% in 2015.
Some countries will do much better than others, however. The USA, the UK, Germany and certain developing countries are forecast to grow more strongly. The eurozone as a whole, however, is likely to see little in the way of growth, as countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy continue with austerity policies in an attempt to reduce their debt. Chinese growth has slowed, as the government seeks to rebalance the economy away from exports and investment in manufacturing towards consumption, and services in particular. It is still forecast to be 7.3% in 2014, however – well above the global average. Japanese growth has picked up in response to the three arrows of fiscal, monetary and supply-side policy. But this could well fade somewhat as the stimulus slows. The table shows IMF growth forecasts for selected countries and groups of countries to 2018.
Much will depend on what happens to monetary policy around the world. How quickly will monetary stimulus taper in the USA and in Japan? Will the ECB introduce more aggressively expansionary monetary policy? When will the Bank of England start raising interest rates?
Growth within countries is generally favouring those on higher incomes, with the gap between rich and poor set to continue widening over the coming years. The pay of top earners has continued to rise considerably faster than prices, while increasingly flexible labour markets and squeezed welfare budgets have seen a fall in living standards of many on low incomes. According to a Which? survey (reported in the Independent article below), in the UK:
Only three in ten expect their family’s situation to improve in the new year, while 60% said they are already dreading the arrival of their winter energy bill. The Which? survey also found that 13 million people could afford to pay for Christmas only by borrowing, with more than four in ten using credit cards, loans or overdrafts to fund their festive spending. A third of people (34%) also dipped into their savings, taking an average of £450 from their accounts.
If recovery is based on borrowing, with real incomes falling, or rising only very slowly, household debt levels are likely to increase. This has been stoked in the UK by the ‘Help to Buy‘ scheme, which has encouraged people to take on more debt and has fuelled the current house price boom. This could prove damaging in the long term, as any decline in confidence could lead to a fall in consumer expenditure once more as people seek to reduce their debts.
And what of the global banking system? Is it now sufficiently robust to weather a new crisis. Is borrowing growing too rapidly? Is bank lending becoming more reckless again? Are banks still too big to fail? Is China’s banking system sufficiently robust? These are questions considered in the articles below and, in particular, in the New York Times article by Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Global economy: hopes and fears for 2014The Observer, Heather Stewart and Larry Elliott (29/12/13)
Looking ahead to 2014 BBC News, Linda Yueh (20/12/13)
Low hopes for a happy new financial year in 2014 Independent, Paul Gallagher (29/12/13)
Brisk UK economic growth seen in 2014 fuelled by spending – Reuters poll Reuters, Andy Bruce (12/12/13)
GLobal Economy: 2014 promises faster growth, but no leap forward Reuters, Andy Bruce (29/12/13)
My 2014 Economic Briefing Huffington Post, Tony Dolphin (27/12/13)
Three UK Economy Stories that will Dominate in 2014 International Business Times, Shane Croucher (27/12/13)
Who You Calling a BRIC? Bloomberg, Jim O’Neill (12/11/13)
Hope and Hurdles in 2014 Project Syndicate, Pingfan Hong (27/12/13)
On top of the world again The Economist (18/11/13)
Digging deeper The Economist (31/10/13)
BCC Economic Forecast: growth is gathering momentum, but recovery is not secure British Chambers of Commerce (12/13)
Eight predictions for 2014 Market Watch, David Marsh (30/12/13)
Stumbling Toward the Next Crash New York Times, Gordon Brown (18/12/13)
Central banks must show leadership to rejuvenate global economy The Guardian, Larry Elliott (1/1/14)
Global economy set to grow faster in 2014, with less risk of sudden shocks The Guardian, Nouriel Roubini (31/12/13)
A dismal new year for the global economy The Guardian, Joseph Stiglitz (8/1/14)
Forecasts and reports
World Economic Outlook (WEO) IMF (October 2013)
Economic Outlook OECD (November 2013)
Output, prices and jobs The Economist
Bank of England Inflation Report: Overview Bank of England (November 2013)
- What reasons are there to be cheerful about the global economic prospects for 2014 and 2015?
- Who will gain the most from economic growth in the UK and why?
- Why is the eurozone likely to grow so slowly, if at all?
- Are we stumbling towards another banking crisis, and if so, which can be done about it?
- Why has unemployment fallen in the UK despite falling living standards for most people?
- What is meant by ‘hysteresis’ in the context of unemployment? Is there a problem of hysteresis at the current time and, if so, what can be done about it?
- Explain whether the MINT economies are likely to be a major source of global economic growth in the coming year?
- Why is it so difficult to forecast the rate of economic growth over the next 12 months, let alone over a longer time period?
A key debate for some months has been the UK’s membership of the European Union. The debate has centred around the desire to return some powers back to the UK, but this has extended into the possibility of a referendum on our membership of the preferential trading area. So, let’s take a step back and consider why any country would want to be a member of a preferential trading area.
Preferential trading areas can be as basic as a free trading area or as advanced as a currency, or even political union. The eurozone is clearly a currency union, but the European Union, of which the UK is a member, is a common market. A common market has no tariffs and quotas between the members, but in addition there are common external tariffs and quotas. The European union also includes the free movement of labour, capital and goods and services. Membership of a preferential trading area therefore creates benefits for the member countries. One such benefit is that of trade creation. Members are able to trade under favourable terms with other members, which yields significant benefits. Countries can specialise in the production of goods/services in which they have a comparative advantage and this enables greater quantities of output to be produced and then traded.
Other benefits include the greater competition created. By engaging in trade, companies are no longer competing just with domestic firms, but with foreign firms as well. This helps to improve efficiency, cut costs and thus lower prices benefiting consumers. However, from a firm’s point of view there are also benefits: they have access to a much wider market in which they can sell their goods without facing tariffs. This creates the potential for economies of scale to be achieved. Were the UK to completely exit the EU, this could be a significant loss for domestic firms and for consumers, who would no longer see the benefits of no tariffs on imported goods. Membership of a preferential trading area also creates benefits in terms of potential technology spillovers and is likely to have a key effect on a country’s bargaining power with the rest of the world. As is a similar argument to membership of a trade union, there is power in numbers.
There are costs of membership of a preferential trading area, but they are typically outweighed by the benefits. However, estimates suggest that the cost of EU regulation is the equivalent of 10% of UK GDP. Furthermore, while the UK certainly does trade with Europe, data suggests that only 13% of our GDP is dependent on such exports. The future is uncertain for the European Union and Britain’s membership. There are numerous options available besides simply leaving this preferential trading area, but they typically have one thing in common. They will create uncertainty and this is something that markets and investors don’t like. Vince Cable warned of this, saying:
There are large numbers of potential investors in the UK, who would bring employment here, who have been warned off because of the uncertainty this is creating.
The impact of the UK’s decision will be significant and not just for those living and working in the economy. The world is no interdependent that when countries exist (or typically enter) a preferential trading area the wider economic effects are significant. While any change in the UK’s relationship with the EU will take many months and years to occur and then further time to have an effect, the uncertainty created by the suggestion of a change in the relationship has already sent waves across the world. The following articles consider the wider single market and the current debate on UK membership.
European Union: if the ‘outs’ get their way, we’ll end up like Ukraine Guardian, Vince Cable (16/5/13)
Conservative MP James Wharton champions bill to guarantee EU referendum Independent, Andrew Grice (16/5/13)
Nick Clegg shifts ground over EU referendum The Guardian, Patrick Wintour (15/5/13)
Cameron tells EU rebels to back referendum law Reuters, Peter Griffiths (16/5/13)
The EU and the UK – the single market BBC Democracy (4/3/13)
Single market dilemmas on Europe BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (14/5/13)
Lord Wolfson: I back the single market – but not at any cost The Telegraph, Lord Wolfson (19/1/13)
EU focuses on returning single market to health Financial Times, James Fontanella-Khan (8/5/13)
- What other examples of preferential trading areas are there? How close are they to the arrangement of the European Union?
- In each of the above examples, explain the type of preferential trading area that it is.
- What are the benefits and costs of being a member of a preferential trading area such as the EU? How do these differ to being a member of a) a free trade area and (b) a customs union?
- What options are open to the UK in terms of re-negotiating its relationship with the EU? In each case, explain how the benefits and costs identified in question 3 would change.
- Why is the UK’s decision so important for the global economy? Would it be in the interests of other economies? Explain your answer.