2010 Economic outlook: From exit to exit

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This post is a guest contribution by Joachim Fels* of Morgan Stanley.

This year was all about the exit from the Great Recession – and, as we had expected at the start of the year, it worked courtesy of massive global policy stimulus. Next year will be all about the exit from super-expansionary monetary policy – we expect the major central banks to start exiting around mid-2010. Yes, they will likely be cautious, gradual and transparent. However, the prospect and process of withdrawal may have unintended consequences: we think government bond markets will be the first victim. While we believe that the exit will be the dominant macro theme next year, we identify five important economic themes in our global economic outlook that, in our view, will be highly relevant for investors in 2010.

A tale of two worlds: We forecast 4% global GDP growth in 2010, up only marginally from three months ago (see the previous Global Forecast Snapshots: ‘Up’ Without ‘Swing’, September 10, 2009).  True, if this turns out to be about right, it would be a fairly decent outcome, especially compared to the widespread doom and gloom earlier this year. However, it falls short of the close to 5% growth rate in the five years prior to the Great Recession, and it will be the product of unprecedented monetary and fiscal stimulus, which poses substantial longer-term risks on various fronts. Moreover, our 4% global GDP growth forecast masks two very different stories. One is a still fairly tepid recovery for the advanced economies – the ‘triple B’ recovery we discuss below. The other is a much more positive outlook for emerging markets, where we forecast output to grow by 6.5% in 2010 (China 10%, India 8%, Russia 5.3%, Brazil 4.8%), up from 1.6% this year. A rebalancing towards domestic demand-led growth in EM is well underway. Moreover, as our China economist Qing Wang has been pointing out for a while now, the official statistics are likely to vastly underestimate the level and growth rate of consumer spending in China. In short, we think that the theme of EM growth outperformance has staying power and has even been bolstered by the crisis.

A ‘triple-B’ recovery in G10: In contrast to our upbeat EM story, we forecast barely 2% average GDP growth in the advanced G10 economies in 2010 – a triple B recovery where the three Bs stand for bumpy, below-par and boring. On our estimates, GDP growth has averaged around 2% in the G10 in the second half of this year and won’t accelerate much from that pace next year – hence our ‘up’ without ‘swing’ characterisation from three months ago remains valid. The two reasons why we think the recovery in advanced economies will be of the ‘triple B’ type are that it is likely to be creditless and jobless. Creditless recoveries – defined as a situation where banks are reluctant to lend and the non-bank private sector is unwilling to borrow – are the norm following a combination of a credit boom in the preceding cycle and a banking crisis; and creditless recoveries typically display sub-par economic growth as credit intermediation is hampered. Moreover, we expect a jobless G10 recovery, with unemployment in the US declining only marginally next year and rising further in Europe and Japan. Unemployment may well stay structurally higher over the next several years in the advanced economies as many of the unemployed either have the wrong skills or are in the wrong place in an environment where the sectoral and regional drivers of growth are shifting.

More growth differentiation within the G3: Beneath the surface of what we call a lacklustre ‘triple B’ recovery in the advanced economies lies a differentiated story for the three largest economies within this block – the US, the euro area and Japan.  We expect significant growth differentials between these countries in 2010, which may well become a topic for currency, interest rate and equity markets again. We see the US as the growth leader among this group next year, with output expanding by 2.8% in the annual average of 2010. The euro area economy looks set to grow by less than half that rate (1.2%), while Japan should hardly grow at all (0.4%) next year and is forecast to actually fall back into a technical recession in 1H10. One reason for relative US outperformance is that the creditless nature of the recovery affects the US private sector by less because banks (as opposed to capital markets) play a smaller role in financing the economy than in Europe or Japan. Another reason is that US companies have been much more aggressive in shedding labour this year than their European or Japanese counterparts, so the US labour markets looks set to recover (albeit slowly) next year, while we expect unemployment to rise further in both Europe and Japan.  Further, European and Japanese exporters should feel the pain from this year’s currency appreciation, whereas US exporters should benefit from this year’s dollar weakness.

Crawling towards the exit, but triple A liquidity cycle remains intact: As stated above, we expect the beginning of the exit from super-expansionary monetary policies and its implications to be the dominant global macro theme in 2010. We will discuss details of the likely monetary exit strategies across countries in next week’s year-end Global Monetary Analyst. Here, it suffices to say that we expect the Fed, the ECB and the PBoC to move roughly in tandem and raise interest rates from 3Q10, with the Bank of England following in 4Q. Some, like the central banks of India, Korea and Canada, are likely to move earlier, while others, such as Japan, will lag behind. Generally, given the remaining fragility in the financial sector, central banks are likely to approach the exit in a cautious, gradual and transparent manner, so any hikes will likely be telegraphed well in advance, partly through appropriate twists in the crafted language, and partly through some cautious draining of excess bank reserves. Importantly, while the end of easing and the beginning of the exit can be expected to cause wobbles in financial markets, and this is one reason why we see bonds selling off sharply next year, we point out that official rates are likely to stay well below their neutral levels (even factoring in that these themselves are likely to be lower now than they have been in the past) throughout 2010 and, probably, also in 2011. Hence, monetary policy is only expected to transition from super-expansionary to still-pretty-expansionary. This would leave what we have dubbed the ‘triple A’ liquidity cycle (ample, abundant and augmenting), which we have identified as the main driver behind this year’s asset price bonanza and economic recovery, fairly intact next year. The metrics we follow to validate or refute this view is our global excess liquidity measure depicted in the chart below, which is defined as transaction money (cash and overnight deposits) held by non-banks per unit of nominal GDP. This measure exploded this year and we would expect it to rise further, though at a much lower pace, through 2010.

Sovereign and inflation risks on the rise: Fifth, but not least, we think that sovereign risk and inflation risk will be a major theme for markets in 2010. The current issues surrounding Greece’s fiscal problems are only a taste of things to come in many other advanced (note: not emerging) economies, in our view. We note that fiscal policy looks set to remain expansionary in all major economies next year, as it arguably should be, given the ‘triple B’ recovery which still requires support. However, markets are likely to increasingly worry about longer-term fiscal sustainability, and rightly so. Importantly, the issue is not really about potential sovereign defaults in advanced economies. These are extremely unlikely, for a simple reason: most of the government debt outstanding in advanced economies is in domestic currency, and in the (unlikely) case that governments cannot fund debt service payments through new debt issuance, tax increases or asset sales,  they can instruct their central bank to print whatever is needed (call it quantitative easing). Thus, in the last analysis, sovereign risk translates into inflation risk rather than outright default risk. We expect markets to increasingly focus on these risks in the year ahead, pushing inflation premia and thus bond yields significantly higher. Put differently, the next crisis is likely to be a crisis of confidence in governments’ and central banks’ ability to shoulder the rising public sector debt burden without creating inflation.

* Joachim Fels co-heads Morgan Stanley’s Global Economics Team (with Dick Berner) and is the Firm’s Chief Global Fixed Income Economist, based in London. His research focuses on monetary policy, the global liquidity cycle, and inflation. Joachim edits The Global Monetary Analyst, a weekly Morgan Stanley Research publication.

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