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Rates may have peaked, but economy remains fragile

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The immediate recession should be milder and shorter than previously expected, as energy prices fall, and interest rates do not rise as high as previously expected.

That picture is reinforced by the Bank’s decision while raising official interest rates to 4%, to remove hints that they might go much higher. For the first time in this series of 10 consecutive rises, the language suggests that the job might be done, or very nearly done.

Further rate rises are no longer presumed. The peak in interest rates could be imminent.

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While this is still consistent with the energy shock recession lasting through this year and into next, it is far shallower and does not last as long as the two-year downturn previously predicted.

But on the other side, the recovery out of this downturn in the next few years is expected to be very sluggish indeed.

The Bank assesses that Brexit, the pandemic and the energy shock has led to an enduring hit to the economy. The workforce has not returned to its pre-pandemic size, unlike other major economies. This is mainly down to early retirements and therefore is likely to prove permanent. Fewer EU workers in key sectors suffering shortages also plays a part.

The Bank has also reassessed post-Brexit goods trade data, and concluded that the hit is notably more than suggested by official data. It believes that the expected fall in UK productivity after Brexit “might have occurred more quickly than previously assumed”.

In addition business investment – the key to boosting the economy in the long term – remains “very subdued” well below pre-referendum levels, hit by both Brexit and the pandemic.

Throw that all together and an economy that is still smaller now than it was before the pandemic and Brexit, might not exceed that size until early 2026, according to this new analysis. The promised “roaring” 2020s is looking more like a lost half-decade at least.

So the good news is that the immediate shock should be milder, with inflation, energy prices and interest rates higher than they were, yes, but now on a lower path than previously expected. But the shocks have left an enduring mark on the economy.

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Charting the Global Economy: Fed, BOE, SNB Push Ahead With Hikes

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(Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve, Bank of England and Swiss National Bank all proceeded with expected interest-rate increases this week, reinforcing their commitments to curb inflation despite turmoil in the banking sector.

Policymakers in the US and UK hiked by a quarter point while those in Switzerland opted for a half point. All three signaled more increases could be in store.

The UK was especially under pressure to tighten policy after a report earlier in the week showed consumer prices advanced 10.4% in February, surpassing all estimates in a Bloomberg survey and bucking economists’ expectation of a slowdown.

Here are some of the charts that appeared on Bloomberg this week on the latest developments in the global economy:

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World

Iceland’s central bank extended western Europe’s longest policy-tightening campaign with a full percentage-point increase, while the Philippine central bank shifted to a smaller hike. Norway, Taiwan and Nigeria also kept hiking. Officials in Turkey left rates unchanged, as did those in Brazil despite pressure from the government for looser policy.

The rush of layoffs that began late last year isn’t letting up, marking the worst start to a year since 2009, with nearly 52,000 jobs lost in one week in January alone. Since Oct. 1, executives across sectors have sacked almost half a million employees around the world, according to a comprehensive review of layoffs by Bloomberg News.

US

History remembers Paul Volcker as the slayer of inflation, and Ben Bernanke as the crisis firefighter. Jerome Powell is in danger of having to play both roles at once — or, what may be worse, to choose between them.

Powell and his colleagues are expecting a sharp dropoff in economic activity through the rest of 2023 — at least, that’s the implication from new economic projections they published this week.

Rent increases for US single-family homes eased for a ninth straight month in January, pushing the annual rate to the lowest since the spring of 2021, according to CoreLogic. All 20 major metro areas tracked by CoreLogic posted single-digit annual rent increases, for the first time since late 2020.

Europe

UK inflation accelerated unexpectedly in February for the first time in four months, keeping the BOE on course to raise interest rates. Food and non-alcoholic drink prices soared 18%, the fastest pace in 45 years, while core and services inflation also picked up.

Euro-zone economic growth continued to pick up in March, driven exclusively by the service sector as concerns over energy supplies recede. The overall rate of expansion rose to the highest level in 10 months, according to business surveys by S&P Global.

Asia

China’s population is emerging from a massive virus wave unleashed by the rapid reversal of Covid Zero in mid-December. People are planning trips, dining out and returning to shopping malls. Still, residents of the world’s second-biggest economy aren’t splashing out like they used to.

South Korea’s early trade data showed a deepening slump in exports as global demand for semiconductors remains weak and China’s reopening is yet to generate any boost.

Singapore’s core inflation, a key barometer for the central bank, kept its 14-year-high pace in February as officials weigh fresh threats to the global economy amid the Federal Reserve’s resolve to stay the course on tightening.

Emerging Markets

Sri Lanka clinched a $3 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund after six months of negotiations. Now comes the harder part: getting a debt restructuring agreement and seeing through monetary policy and tax reforms.

—With assistance from Mathieu Benhamou, Ruchi Bhatia, Matthew Boesler, Libby Cherry, Jo Constantz, Jennah Haque, Jinshan Hong, Michelle Jamrisko, Sam Kim, Phil Kuntz, Karen Leigh, Rich Miller, Tom Rees, Zoe Schneeweiss, Naomi Tajitsu, Alex Tanzi, Kevin Varley, Alexander Weber and Karl Lester M. Yap.

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Euro-Area Economy Strengthens More on Service-Sector Surge – Financial Post

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(Bloomberg) — Euro-zone economic growth continued to pick up in March, driven exclusively by the service sector as concerns over energy supplies recede.

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The overall rate of expansion rose to the highest level in 10 months, according to business surveys by S&P Global. Manufacturing output broadly stagnated, however, only supported by a backlog of orders as demand continued to fall.

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“Growth has been buoyed since the lows of late last year as recession fears and energy market worries fade, inflation pressures ease and the unprecedented supply chain delays seen during the pandemic are replaced with record improvements to supplier delivery times,” said Chris Williamson, an economist at S&P Global.

Sentiment in Europe has been improving as it became clear that the region would avoid worst-case scenarios for access to natural gas predicted after Russia cut off supplies to the bloc. Recent turmoil in the banking sector has cast some doubt on how the global economy will develop, though European officials have sounded confident that the sector can withstand any fallout.

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While activity improved in both Germany and France, the strongest performance came in the rest of the 20-nation euro area.

What Bloomberg Economic Says…

“The euro-area composite PMI survey for March suggests the economy is beginning to emerge from a period of stagnation and holding up well under the weight of higher interest rates. While monetary policy works with long and variable lags and choppy waters may still lie ahead, the resilience of the economy should allow the hawks at the European Central Bank to succeed in pushing for more interest rate increases”

—David Powell, economist. For full analysis, click here

Inflation is still running far above the European Central Bank’s 2% target, however, with underlying data becoming the key focus for policymakers. While price gains continued to moderate in March, they remain elevated by historical standards, according to S&P Global.

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“Such stubborn inflationary pressures, fueled primarily by the service sector and rising wage costs, will be a concern to policymakers and suggests that more work may be needed in terms of bringing inflation down to target,” Williamson said.

The jobs market also remained resilient. Employment growth reached a nine-month high, with acceleration seen especially in services in line with rising demand.

Firms’ confidence in the business outlook dipped, though it remained well above levels seen in late 2022. That could be linked to concerns over uncertainty caused by banking-sector stress and the impact of further increases in interest rates, S&P Global said.

The composite PMI reading for the UK edged lower to 52.2 in March from 53.1 the previous month, suggesting the economy has avoided a recession for now. British companies are the most confident they’ve been since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Data earlier revealed activity in Japan’s services sector edged up to the strongest in almost a decade as the return of Chinese tourists boosted demand. The US number due later on Friday is expected to be below 50.

—With assistance from Mark Evans, Joel Rinneby, Tom Rees and Zoe Schneeweiss.

(Updates with UK PMI data in 10th paragraph.)

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Economy headed into a ‘Bermuda Triangle’ financial crisis: Nouriel Roubini

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  • The economy is headed into a “Bermuda Triangle” of risk, economist Nouriel Roubini warned.
  • Roubini pointed to three stressors facing the US economy.
  • He sounded the alarm for a stagflationary debt crisis and a severe recession to hit the US.

In a recent interview on the McKinsey Global Institute’s “Forward Thinking” podcast, the top economist warned that the economy was risking another financial crisis as central bankers continue to tighten monetary policy.

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Federal Reserve officials raised interest rates another 25 basis-points this week, and have hiked rates 475 basis-points over the last year to control inflation. That marks one of the most aggressive Fed tightening cycles in history, and could place the economy under three different kinds of stress, Roubini warned.

First, high interest rates could easily overtighten the economy into a recession, experts say, which reduces income for households and corporations.

Second, high interest rates means firms are battling higher costs of borrowing and waning liquidity, which weighs on asset prices. Last year, US stocks plunged 20% amid the Fed’s rate hikes, with warnings from other market commentators of an even steeper crash in equities this year.

Finally, high interest rates are pressuring the mountain of debt, both private and public, that was amassed during the years of low rates, Roubini said. He pointed to bankrupt “zombies”, which include households, corporations, and governments.

“It’s got like, a Bermuda Triangle. You have a hit to your income, to your asset values, and then to the burden of financing your liabilities. And then you end up in a situation of distress if you’re a highly leveraged household or business firm. And when many of them are having these problems, then you have a systemic household debt crisis like [2008],” he warned.

Roubini, one of the experts who called the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, has repeatedly sounded the alarm for another crisis to strike the US economy. The scenario he envisions combines the worst aspects of 70s-style stagflation with something like the 2008 crisis, with  a severe recession, stubborn inflation, and mounting debt levels bludgeoning economic growth.

He and other top economists have criticized the Fed’s aggressive rate hiking regime over the last year, and some experts have called central bankers to stop raising interest rates entirely out of fear of “breaking” something in the financial system.

Signs of stress are mounting, the most recent being the failure of Silicon Valley Bank. But pausing interest rates could panic investors and lead to a resurgence of inflation, meaning central bankers are powerless no matter what they do with rates, Roubini has said previously.

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