The global economy is wobbling in 2019, giving rise to recession fears and forcing the world’s central banks to consider renewed policy easing.
The stresses have prompted repeated forecast downgrades by governments and other authorities. On Tuesday, the World Trade Organisation slashed its 2019 trade projection to the weakest in three years. The OECD cut its economic forecast last month and warned of downside risks that could mean an even worse outcome.
Across trade, equities, currencies and interest rates, here are a few reasons analysts are worried about the global economic outlook:
US-China trade talks sputter on, without any clear sign of resolution. The Chinese economy has been a difficult one to pin down, sliding more than expected and then improving in fits and starts. That’s feeding into a broader malaise in global demand, which has shown up in the form of dramatically slower trade flows.
While quarterly data show a frightening drop at the start of 2019, a more timely Bloomberg Economics dashboard of 10 critical gauges has pointed to ongoing weakness. German companies’ sentiment showed a glint of hope in March after six straight declines.
And the pain is felt acutely in Asia, home to some of the world’s most export-reliant economies. Purchasing manager indexes across the continent are only starting to show hints of a China-led rebound after several months of souring.
2. Policy Uncertainty
Trade talks and the tariff wars have fed into the guessing game around how politics and policy will interfere with the fundamentals. Also in the mix are Brexit, a spate of elections - some of them messy, like Thailand - and the sharp turn in the global monetary policy cycle. China’s policy uncertainty has been especially pronounced as analysts try to pick apart how officials will manage the slowdown there.
In the UK, Brexit has become the weight that won’t go away, still holding back capital spending and broader economic growth, as London-based Bloomberg Economics economist Dan Hanson shows. The British Chambers of Commerce said this week that investment intentions are at the lowest in eight years as firms refuse to commit to projects in such an uncertain backdrop.
3. Financial Conditions
The financial markets have taken some of the developments in stride, while still showing signs of stress.
It’ll be a gauge to keep an eye on, but for now, the Bloomberg US Financial Conditions Index - which measures the overall level of financial stress in money, bond and equity markets - is at least looking better than it did since touching a 2 1/2-year low in December. A positive value in that measure indicates accommodative financial conditions, while a negative value indicates tighter financial conditions relative to pre-crisis norms.
4. Dollar Strength
Emerging-market officials especially are attuned to any durable signs that the greenback will return to the strengthening path that added a lot of pressure in 2018. The dollar remains in a relatively stronger band against a basket of major currencies, particularly compared with its position a year ago.
5. Economic Surprises
Adding to the gloomy hard data is the fact that analysts just haven’t been very good at forecasting recently. Releases have been surprising on the negative side more often - across the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific.
It’s even more concerning when you consider economists’ terrible record on predicting recessions.
Since Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell branded it “one of the major challenges of our time,” stubbornly low inflation has garnered even more attention around the world. Despite unprecedented monetary support, central bankers have been constantly frustrated in their attempts to generate sustainable price growth.
While debt worries might vary by economy, one area getting extra attention lately - including from former Fed chief Janet Yellen - is the US leveraged loan market. UBS Group AG and Deutsche Securities analysts have cited the risk, and Taimur Baig, chief economist at DBS Bank in Singapore, said last week that he shares Yellen’s concern.