Eurozone Economy: When Paradigms Collide

When scientific paradigms collide everyone should duck, at least that is the best advice I can offer at the present moment. The provisional German retail sales for January are now in, and they don’t make especially pleasant reading:

European retail sales dropped for the first time in 10 months in January as spending in Germany slumped, adding to signs economic growth is slowing, the Bloomberg purchasing managers index showed…..German retail sales had the biggest drop in two-and-a-half years, with its index declining to 43.9 from 55.2 in December

Now for those who have been following the German economy in recent months none of this should be particularly surprising, since as is reasonably well known Angela Merkel’s government has just upped VAT from 16% to 19% in an attempt to address the ongoing federal deficit problems. And of course, one months data never offer a complete picture. But this decline in retail consumption in Germany forms part of a much longer ongoing weakness in domestic consumption (and here), one which many were arguing had finally come to an end in 2006. Some of us, however, seriously doubted that this was the case, and hence the initial significance of today’s reading. In particular what we may be faced with are changing structural characteristics of economies as median population ages rise. In particular – and following the well-known life cycle pattern of saving and consumption – more elderly economies may have a higher rate of saving and a lower rate of consumption increase than their younger counterparts.

Some more evidence to back this point of view comes from Japan, where today we learn that household spending in December declined for a 12th straight month, dropping 1.9 percent from a year ago. Yet the Japanese economy is not in recession, and output is actually rising. As Bloomberg say:

Japan’s factory production rose to a record and household spending fell, underscoring the central bank’s concern that growth has bypassed consumers and left the economy dependent on exports.

So please note: growth appears to have by-passed consumers, and the economy is ever more dependent on exports. The same goes for Germany, and this is why I talk about paradigm collision, since the neo-classical theory of economic growth – with its core conception of ‘steady state’ growth – was never built to handle median age related changes in economic performance and structural characteristics. Something new is clearly needed.

Over the coming weeks I will undoubtedly have more to say about all this, as we get to see more of the 2007 Eurozone data, but for now let me point you in the direction of Claus Vistesen, who has been patiently toiling away trying to work through a hypothesis which, in terms of the data we are now seeing, certainly seems more in keeping with current economic realities than the view we currently see emanating from the ECB. His arguments on Japan can be found in depth here, and his latest piece on the eurozone is reproduced below the fold.
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Andy Xie, India and China

Andy Xie is a rare beast, he’s a talented, creative economist. His recent departure from Morgan Stanley, and by implication from the Global Economic Forum, is now being widely commented on in the press (and here).

Andy was really one of the first global economists to start drawing attention to the important impact the rise of the Chinese economy was going to have (you can find a selection of some of his posts on my page here, and my early China Economy Watch blog – now defunct – was full of citations from Andy, basically he was getting it right when almost everyone else was getting it wrong).

There are two memorable arguments that Xie has advanced over the years that still bear thinking about.

1) Throw away the text books. This wasn’t meant, I don’t think, to be taken literally, what he was getting at was that we are facing new phenomena, and we need to think on our feet. Intuitive economics. Two recent posts of mine (and comments) on the Indian Economy Blog reflect this legacy (and here).

2). It’s time to start conceptualising the global economy as *one* single developing economy (with a lot of market imperfections) rather than as the sum total of a lot of discrete individual economies. I still think that this idea hasn’t attracted the attention it deserves as a methodological proposal.

Ostensibly Andy left as a result of remarks he made about Singapore (if you believe the rumour mill):
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China’s Currency and Trade

Currency traders around the globe lazily staring into their screens must have found themselves transfixed last Friday when the flatline indicating the value of the Chinese yuan (or renminbi if you prefer) suddenly jumped to life. And so it was that during a brief 20 minute interval the yuan surged to a level of 8.270 to the dollar from the hypnotic and seemingly eternal value of 8.276. Now 6 thousandths of a dollar isn’t really a very big deal, but it is the sheer fact that it happened that is causing all the fuss.
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