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Economy in Brief

EMU Services Contract as UK Sector Cuts Losses 
by Robert Brusca March 4, 2009

This trend is not a friend - In our select group of EMU members (see table) all show month-to-month deterioration in services activity. Meanwhile, the UK continues to cut losses relative to its November low. The US follows a pattern somewhat like the UK with its non-MFG index doing some backtracking in February but still forming a series of months with a rising profile from a November (2008) low.

Fate as her mistress - Europe is still slipping lower, having just reached its cycle low in February. The tentative evidence suggests that the US and UK are turning (or trying to turn a corner) on the worst of times at least for their ‘Service’ sector. In the US the situation is complicated by lumping the troubled housing sector in with services as ‘non-MFG’.

The essential point here is that Europe is - as it usually is -- trailing the US by a few months. Typically it’s trailing by about six months.

Masters of illusion - There was a brief period in 2006 when the US seemed to be lagging and Europe seemed to growing. At that time Euro-pride was at its zenith. For a time the euro currency ran to unprecedented heights on the view that Europe was special and perhaps even bullet-proof. In time, that fallacy revealed itself as sub-prime became the catalyst to expose all sorts of bad market practices including excess lending to Eastern Europe explaining in part the brief suspended animation for Europe from incipient US weakness. But now it’s all out in the open and Europe and the US are part of the same cyclical downturn. Notions of de-coupling are colder and deader than Iceland’s balance sheet.

Europe continues to be beset with weakness from manufacturing transmitted to services. The banking problems that Europe was initially in denial about have simply taken a bit longer to emerge there, at least in some respects. Remedy’s are in train, but so is more damage.

Old fashioned, anyone?
I find interesting the notion that the old fashioned business cycle is back in play. The US is leading the cycle and Europe is following. While some want to paint a picture of this cycle was something unprecedented it is more like the 1973-75 and the 1981-82 cycles that previously gripped the global economy. In 1977 the Economic Summit in London failed to embrace a US-sponsored notion of a locomotive in which stimulus across the G-7 would help bring world growth. By the Bonn Summit in 1978 the G-7 was ready for this, but by then recovery had started and Bonn only helped to inflation the recovery balloon beyond its need. Against that patch of history this cycle is a bit more understandable. Without any formal coordination we have a locomotive process in train involving a US stimulus package various European packages and large effort from a G-7 outsider, China. This is a different version but it is more timely than what had been attempted in 1977/78. It is a good example of global enlightened self-interest.

The Bonn summit in 1978 declared:
‘We agreed on a comprehensive strategy covering growth, employment and inflation, international monetary policy, energy, trade and other issues of particular interest to developing countries. We must create more jobs and fight inflation, strengthen international trading, reduce payments imbalances, and achieve greater stability in exchange markets. We are dealing with long term problems, which will only yield to sustained efforts. This strategy is a coherent whole, whose parts are interdependent. To this strategy, each of our countries can contribute; from it, each can benefit.’

Not depression neglect but hybrid recession forces at work - The actions this time around are not much different except that they include a lot of help to a very battered global financial system. If the efforts to patch up the financial system bear fruit I expect the various efforts at stimulus to be successful. For the moment I see a lot more comparisons with 1973-75 and 81-82 than with the great depression everyone is so fond of speaking about. Without timely action on the financial sector, a key part of the service sector, I might be compelled to change my mind. But having the financial patches in play is crucial to the outlook. Having them, it strikes me that the developing recovery processes are much better understood in terms of the recent history of economic summitry than by dredging up the horrible depressing dillies from the days of Depression when various federal safety nets were not available and the lessons from our then-current folly had not been learned. This recession has late cycle weakness as did 1973-75. But it also has the financial chaos characteristic of 1981-82. (It is worse than that this time, but similar to 1981-82.) Like 1973-75 it also has an oil trigger.

Bad summit/good summit - We may still employ summits to try and get global attention to bear on this crisis. But what is different this time is the willingness of countries to act independently, yet in concert, without the need for a formal summit. Yes, a summit still is coming. But it will likely not be that successful. And this is because the leaders have learned to work separately and with common purpose at the same time with a good measure of success, taking pressure from the summit. Summits are too-grand and too high-stakes, those factors ultimately constrain world economic summit achievement. But summitry has undoubtedly brought the world leaders closer, allowing them to think more alike as a global problem emerges such as the one we are in the midst of trying to solve.

NTC Services Indices for EU/EMU
  Feb-09 Jan-09 Dec-08 3Mo 6Mo 12Mo Percentile
Euro-13 39.24 42.16 42.06 41.15 43.36 46.69 0.0%
Germany 41.32 45.20 46.57 44.36 46.13 49.49 0.0%
France 40.18 42.56 40.57 41.10 44.53 47.77 0.0%
Italy 37.85 41.10 40.30 39.75 42.30 45.26 0.0%
Spain 31.73 31.84 32.10 31.89 32.04 35.97 10.9%
Ireland 31.78 33.94 34.14 33.29 34.89 39.14 0.0%
EU only              
UK (CIPs) 43.24 42.48 40.21 41.98 42.39 45.86 15.5%
US NONFMG ISM 41.60 42.90 40.10 41.53 42.77 46.53 17.5%
EU Commission Indices for EU and EMU
EU Index Feb-09 Jan-09 Dec-08 3Mo 6Mo 12Mo Percentile
EU Services -29 -28 -23 -31.33 -27.00 -21.42 0.0%
EMU Feb-09 Jan-09 Dec-08 3Mo 6Mo 12Mo Percentile
Services -23 -22 -17 -20.67 -13.50 -5.42 0.0%
Cons Confidence -33 -31 -30 -31.33 -27.00 -10.75 0.0%
Consumer confidence by country
Germany -29 -27 -22 -26.00 -19.00 -11.67 0.0%
France -36 -35 -34 -35.00 -31.67 -25.58 0.0%
Ital -28 -26 -30 -28.00 -25.83 -24.58 6.3%
Spain -48 -44 -46 -46.00 -44.17 -37.83 0.0%
UK -32 -35 -29 -32.00 -28.83 -23.42 7.9%
percentile is over range since May 2000
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