2019 Global Outlook: Europe’s year of living dangerously
There are plenty of signs of trouble ahead for the European Union in 2019. Unstable leadership, rampant populism, strikes and demonstrations, migration disputes, security challenges, Brexit, an economic slowdown and the makings of another financial crisis are just a few of the challenges that await. For EU institutions, perhaps the biggest test will come with the European Parliament elections in May, which could overturn the grand coalition that has governed the bloc since the 1980s.
The euro and the promise to end monetary profligacy
As the European Central Bank winds down its quantitative easing program, none of its future policy options look especially promising for the euro. While investors would welcome a more neutral monetary stance, that could spur political tensions in the euro area that could roil financial markets. Meanwhile, regulation is on the rise and growth could suffer, with unpleasant consequences for the single currency.
The false end of quantitative easing
In June, the European Central Bank made the fateful announcement that it would phase out its bond-buying program – called quantitative easing, or QE – by the end of this year. But putting an end to net bond purchases is not the same thing as ending the ECB’s ultra-lax monetary policy. By leaving the door open to rolling over its massive balance sheet of bonds as they mature, policymakers could keep oxygenating the euro area’s economy for years to come.
The consequences of prolonged low interest rates in Europe
Monetary policymakers are becoming preoccupied with the risks of persistently low interest rates to Europe’s still fragile economic recovery. Ultra-easy credit is creating growing economic distortions and asset bubbles, while reviving volatility and risk in financial markets. The European Central Bank realizes it must “normalize” rates, but it worries that sudden tightening could precipitate a financial crisis that could be as bad or worse than 2008-2009.
The Swiss franc 2.0
The Swiss economy is doing remarkably well. Though it is growing only slowly, its companies are competitive, unemployment is virtually absent, inflation is close to zero and public debt is under control. One would therefore expect the Swiss National Bank to abstain from taking an active role in monetary policy or manipulating interest rates and exchange rates. Yet, last June the SNB announced that it intends to play an active role, and that it will expand its money supply to enhance growth and avoid deflation. These explanations are not convincing – the key is somewhere else: bruised Swiss manufacturers.
Opinion: Confusing statements on money and trade
Janet Yellen is not worried about another global financial crisis. Mario Draghi and even Warren Buffet bemoan “inequality.” But no one seems to be taking seriously the problems artificially cheap money is causing to the global economy. With such a fragile global financial situation, free trade could be a big help – but protectionism is on the rise. Could the upcoming G20 meeting bring substantive progress on that count?
Opinion: Can Emmanuel Macron change France?
After winning France’s presidency, the easy part is over for Emmanuel Macron. Now he must shift from faux outsider to the country’s first real reformer in decades. To succeed, he will need to take on a political establishment only too eager to jump on his bandwagon.
GIS Dossier: The strangely resilient euro
The euro has been remarkably stable during its 15-year existence as a major currency. That has not always been a good thing for the European economy. But the real concerns for the single currency hinge on politics and survival.
QE has failed. What comes next?
Eurozone economies have been subjected to expansionary monetary policy for almost five years, and the easy-money approach has failed to jump-start demand and ignite growth. As central bankers begin to face this reality, they may have to choose between shoring up government indebtedness and letting banks go bust, or giving bankers a chance to operate and letting governments default. Which will they choose?
Central banks and corporate bonds
The latest scheme to have the European Central Bank buy corporate bonds is unlikely to turn quantitative easing into an effective stimulus policy. But there may other motivations at work. As a camouflaged bailout for big European banks and a bureaucratic carrot to slow corporate flight, expanded debt purchases make sense to policy makers in Brussels and Frankfurt.