Update on economic and monetary developments

Summary

The solid and broad-based economic expansion in the euro area is continuing; the latest data and survey results point to unabated growth momentum in the second half of this year. The ECB’s monetary policy measures continue to support domestic demand, which is a precondition for further progress towards a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation towards levels below, but close to, 2% over the medium term. Private consumption is underpinned by rising employment, which is also benefiting from past labour market reforms, and by increasing household wealth. The upswing in business investment continues to benefit from very favourable financing conditions and improvements in corporate profitability. Construction investment has also strengthened. Risks surrounding the euro area growth outlook remain broadly balanced. On the one hand, the strong cyclical momentum, as evidenced in recent developments in sentiment indicators, could lead to further positive growth surprises. On the other hand, downside risks continue to relate primarily to global factors and developments in foreign exchange markets. At the global level, growth has also broadened across countries and survey-based indicators point to sustained momentum. Global trade growth strengthened in July, after a moderation in the second quarter of 2017, and remained robust in August, mainly driven by the advanced economies. Leading indicators continue to signal positive prospects for trade growth in the short term.

Euro area annual HICP inflation was 1.5% in September, unchanged from August. Underlying inflation measures have ticked up moderately since early 2017, but have yet to show more convincing signs of a sustained upward trend. Wage growth has increased somewhat, but domestic cost pressures still remain subdued overall. Global headline inflation also picked up in August, mainly due to increases in energy and food prices. Underlying inflation in the euro area is expected to continue to rise gradually over the medium term, supported by the ECB’s monetary policy measures, the continuing economic expansion, the corresponding gradual absorption of economic slack and rising wage growth. Looking ahead, on the basis of current futures prices for oil, headline inflation is likely to temporarily decline towards the turn of the year, mainly reflecting base effects in energy prices.

Broad money growth has remained robust, and the gradual recovery in loan growth is proceeding. Domestic counterparts of broad money, associated with Eurosystem purchases under the asset purchase programme (APP) and the gradual recovery in the growth of credit to the private sector, were the main drivers of broad money growth. The latest euro area bank lending survey shows that loan growth continues to be supported by increasing loan demand by enterprises and households, and the easing of credit standards for loans to households. Financing costs for euro area non-financial corporations (NFCs) have remained favourable, with bank lending rates for NFCs close to their historical lows.

Financial markets reflect the firmer euro area economic outlook and global developments. Euro area government bond yields have risen and the EONIA forward curve has steepened since early September. The improved economic outlook and some easing of geopolitical concerns have driven indices of equity prices higher, while corporate debt spreads have tightened. The trade-weighted value of the euro is unchanged overall, despite some bilateral depreciation against the US dollar and the pound sterling.

At its monetary policy meeting on 26 October 2017, the Governing Council took the following decisions in pursuit of its price stability objective.

  • First, the key ECB interest rates were kept unchanged and the Governing Council continues to expect them to remain at their present levels for an extended period of time, and well past the horizon of net asset purchases.
  • Second, as regards non-standard monetary policy measures, the Eurosystem will continue to make purchases under the APP at the current monthly pace of €60 billion until the end of December 2017. From January 2018 net asset purchases are intended to continue at a monthly pace of €30 billion until the end of September 2018, or beyond, if necessary, and in any case until the Governing Council sees a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation consistent with its inflation aim. If the outlook becomes less favourable, or if financial conditions become inconsistent with further progress towards a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation, the Governing Council stands ready to increase the APP in terms of size and/or duration.
  • Third, the Eurosystem will reinvest the principal payments from maturing securities purchased under the APP for an extended period of time after the end of its net asset purchases, and in any case for as long as necessary. This will contribute both to favourable liquidity conditions and to an appropriate monetary policy stance.
  • Fourth, the Governing Council also decided to continue to conduct the main refinancing operations and three-month longer-term refinancing operations as fixed rate tender procedures with full allotment for as long as necessary, and at least until the end of the last reserve maintenance period of 2019.

The Governing Council took these decisions to preserve the very favourable financing conditions that are still needed for a sustained return of inflation rates towards levels that are below, but close to, 2%. While the recalibration of the asset purchases reflects growing confidence in the gradual convergence of inflation towards the inflation aim, domestic price pressures are still muted overall, and the economic outlook and the path of inflation remain conditional on continued support from monetary policy. The Governing Council concluded that an ample degree of monetary stimulus therefore remains necessary for underlying inflation pressures to gradually build up and support headline inflation developments over the medium term.


External environment

Global growth has broadened across countries, while survey-based indicators point to sustained momentum. Since the second half of 2016, the economic recovery has shown signs of increasing synchronisation globally (see Chart 1). Moreover, survey indicators are consistent with sustained global growth. In the third quarter of 2017 the global composite output Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) excluding the euro area remained at a level similar to those recorded in the first half of the year, close to long-term averages. Looking at the world’s major advanced economies, the PMI picked up in the United States, but declined in Japan (and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom) relative to the second quarter. As regards emerging market economies, the quarterly PMI increased in China and rose marginally in Brazil, but declined in Russia and India (with the latter falling below the expansion threshold).

Chart 1

World and advanced and emerging market economy GDP growth

(year-on-year percentage changes)

-6 -4 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 world advanced economies emerging market economies

Source: ECB calculations.
Note: The latest observation is for the second quarter of 2017.

Indicators point to a recovery in global trade in the third quarter of this year. Following a moderation in the second quarter of 2017, global trade growth strengthened in July and remained robust in August, with the volume of merchandise imports increasing by a solid 1.5% in three-month-on-three-month terms in July, followed by growth of 1.3% in August (see Chart 2). The increase in those two months was driven mainly by advanced economies. Leading indicators continue to signal positive prospects in the short term. In particular, the global PMI for new export orders stood at 52.8 in the third quarter of 2017, close to the level recorded in the first half of this year and above its long-term average.

Chart 2

Global trade and surveys

(three-month-on-three-month percentage changes (left-hand scale); diffusion index (right-hand scale))

46 48 50 52 54 56 58 60 -1.0 -0.5 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 global merchandise imports (left-hand scale) global PMI for new export orders (right-hand scale) global PMI for manufacturing excluding euro area (right-hand scale)

Sources: Markit, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis and ECB calculations.
Note: The latest observations are for August 2017 for global merchandise imports and September 2017 for the PMIs.

Global inflation picked up in August. After increasing slightly to stand at 2.0% in July, annual consumer price inflation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) area rose further to stand at 2.2% in August. That increase was driven mainly by a pick-up in energy prices, but food prices also experienced a moderate increase. Annual OECD inflation excluding food and energy remained unchanged at 1.8% in August.

Oil prices have trended upwards in recent weeks. This reflects persistent signals that market rebalancing is under way, with demand increasing further and markets more firmly expecting the current OPEC agreement to be extended beyond March 2018. Geopolitical tensions following the independence referendum of the Kurdistan region in Iraq at the end of September and concerns about US sanctions on Iran have also supported higher oil quotations. Prices remain well above the levels observed prior to the OPEC agreement of November 2016.

Economic data in the United States are temporarily being affected by the recent hurricanes. After recovering to stand at an annualised rate of 3.1% in the second quarter, US real GDP growth is expected to weaken temporarily in the third quarter, reflecting the economic impact of recent hurricanes. However, experience of previous hurricanes suggests that economic activity should rebound thereafter as reconstruction efforts gather pace. The overall decline in employment in September was also influenced by those hurricanes. Employment growth outside the affected areas was fairly robust, consistent with a further tightening of the labour market. Annual headline inflation rose to 2.2% in September, boosted by a temporary increase in petrol prices following the hurricanes, while annual consumer price inflation excluding food and energy was stable at 1.7% for a fifth consecutive month. At its September meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee announced that it would start normalising its balance sheet in October. Specifically, it indicated that the principal payments received from its securities holdings would only be reinvested to the extent that they exceeded gradually rising caps.

In Japan, economic activity remains strong and the labour market continues to be tight. Real GDP increased by 0.6% quarter on quarter in the second quarter of 2017. That figure was revised downwards slightly from the previous estimate, but stands well above potential growth. Overall, the outlook for the Japanese economy remains favourable, supported by accommodative policies, recovering foreign demand and a strong labour market. The country’s unemployment rate stood at 2.8% in August, with the vacancy rate rising to a level unseen since the early 1990s. Although base wage growth has remained weak, recent gains in labour productivity in the non‑financial sector suggest that there is increasing scope for stronger wage growth. Meanwhile, annual headline consumer price inflation rose to 0.7% in August, reflecting some upward momentum across measures of underlying inflation. In the general election held on 22 October, the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe secured its victory with a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

In the United Kingdom, economic activity slowed markedly in the first half of 2017. This followed two quarters of unexpectedly resilient growth in the aftermath of the country’s referendum on EU membership last year. In the second quarter of 2017, real GDP growth stood at 0.3% quarter on quarter, broadly in line with the previous quarter, but down from 0.7% in the fourth quarter of 2016. The pass‑through of sterling’s depreciation to consumer prices has been a major drag on growth, as it has hurt consumption by eroding households’ purchasing power. Recent indicators suggest that economic activity will remain subdued in the second half of the year as well. Annual consumer price inflation rose to 3.0% in September. Five rounds of “Brexit” negotiations in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union have taken place between the European Union and the United Kingdom following the official start of negotiations on 19 June 2017, although few decisions have been made to date regarding the terms of the final settlement.

Economic activity in China remains robust. Following strong growth in the first half of the year, China’s real GDP growth weakened marginally in the third quarter of 2017, standing at 6.8% year on year, down from 6.9% in the previous quarter. This slight moderation was in line with recent data on industrial production, fixed asset investment and retail sales. However, available survey data for September have remained robust. Consumer price inflation remains moderate and weakened in September, while annual producer price inflation rose to 6.9%, up from 6.3% in August, with raw material prices continuing to increase strongly and prices of manufacturing goods also rising. In October the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China took place, which confirmed the leadership and set broad policy guidelines for the next five years.


Financial developments

Euro area government bond yields have generally risen since early September. In the period under review (i.e. the period from 7 September to 25 October), the euro area ten-year overnight index swap (OIS) rate and the euro area ten-year sovereign bond yield (as measured by the country GDP-weighted average) increased by around 15 basis points to stand at 0.72% and 1.09% respectively. Sovereign bond spreads vis-à-vis risk-free OIS rates were broadly unchanged over the review period, with the exception of Portugal, where they fell by around 60 basis points in response to a credit rating upgrade (to investment grade) by Standard & Poor’s. In the United Kingdom and the United States, sovereign bond yields rose by around 40 basis points to stand at 1.41% and 2.43% respectively, largely driven by market expectations regarding the future path of monetary policy in those two countries.

Broad indices of euro area equity prices rose over the review period (see Chart 3). The equity prices of euro area non-financial corporations (NFCs) increased by around 3.3%, while prices rose by 6% in the case of euro area bank equities. These increases were largely due to a decline in the equity risk premium, consistent with a perceived easing of geopolitical risks. Overall, expectations of solid growth in earnings continue to support euro area equity prices, reflecting the broad-based improvement in the euro area’s macroeconomic environment. The equity prices of US NFCs and banks also increased over the review period, rising by 2.6% and 14% respectively. Market expectations of equity price volatility in the euro area and the United States remained unchanged overall at around 10% and 7% respectively – levels that are comparatively low from a historical perspective.

Chart 3

Euro area and US equity price indices

(index: 1 January 2015 = 100)

50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120 130 140 01/15 04/15 07/15 10/15 01/16 04/16 07/16 10/16 01/17 04/17 07/17 10/17 euro area NFCs euro area banks US NFCs US banks

Source: Thomson Reuters.
Notes: The vertical grey line denotes the start of the review period (i.e. 7 September 2017). The latest observation is for 25 October 2017.

Spreads on bonds issued by NFCs declined during the period under review. On 19 October investment-grade NFC bond spreads (relative to the corresponding AAA-rated euro area average yield curve) were an average of 7 basis points lower than in early September and around 80 basis points below the levels observed in March 2016 prior to the announcement and subsequent launch of the corporate sector purchase programme. Spreads on non-investment-grade NFC bonds also declined during the period under review, falling by 30 basis points, while spreads on financial sector debt were largely unchanged. Such low levels and further compression of corporate bond spreads are consistent with a strengthening of the economic recovery.

The euro overnight index average (EONIA) remained broadly unchanged at around −0.36% during the review period. Excess liquidity in the banking system increased by around €52 billion to stand at €1,825 billion. This increase was attributable to ongoing securities purchases under the ECB’s asset purchase programme.

The EONIA forward curve shifted upwards slightly over the review period. This upward movement was driven by maturities longer than three years, for which EONIA forward rates increased by around 15 basis points. The gradual upward slope of the curve implies that market participants continue to expect a prolonged period of negative rates lasting until around mid-2020.

In foreign exchange markets, the value of the euro remained broadly unchanged in nominal effective terms over the period under review. The euro depreciated vis-à-vis the US dollar (by 1.6%) and the pound sterling (by 2.8%), reflecting market expectations regarding the relative monetary policy stances of those two countries. This depreciation was, however, largely offset by other developments, with the euro appreciating vis-à-vis most other major currencies, including the Chinese renminbi (by 0.8%), the Japanese yen (by 3.1%) and the Swiss franc (by 2.4%). Moreover, the euro also strengthened against the currencies of most major emerging market economies, as well as those of most EU Member States outside the euro area, with the exception of the Czech koruna and the Polish zloty (see Chart 4).

Chart 4

Changes in the euro’s exchange rates vis-à-vis selected currencies

(percentage changes)

-5 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 Croatian kuna Indian rupee Brazilian real Taiwan dollar Romanian leu Danish krone Hungarian forint Indonesian rupiah South Korean won Turkish lira Russian rouble Swedish krona Czech koruna Polish zloty Japanese yen Swiss franc Pound sterling US dollar Chinese renminbi EER-38 since 7 September 2017 since 25 October 2016

Source: ECB
Notes: “EER-38” is the nominal effective exchange rate of the euro against the currencies of 38 of the euro area’s most important trading partners. All changes have been calculated using the foreign exchange rates prevailing on 25 October 2017.


Economic activity

The solid and broad-based economic expansion in the euro area is continuing. Real GDP increased by 0.7%, quarter on quarter, in the second quarter of 2017, following a rise of 0.6% in the previous quarter (see Chart 5), on the back of a strong positive contribution from domestic demand. At the same time, net trade contributed negatively, while changes in inventories made a neutral contribution to GDP growth in the second quarter. The latest economic indicators – both hard data and survey results – remain elevated, confirming the expectation of robust growth in the second half of 2017 at around the same rates as in the previous two quarters.

Chart 5

Euro area real GDP, the Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) and the composite output Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI)

(quarter-on-quarter percentage growth; diffusion index)

-0.5 0.0 0.5 1.0 45 50 55 60 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 real GDP (right-hand scale) ESI (left-hand scale) composite output PMI (left-hand scale)

Sources: Eurostat, European Commission, Markit and ECB.
Notes: The ESI is standardised and rescaled to have the same mean and standard deviation as the PMI. The latest observations are for the second quarter of 2017 for real GDP, September 2017 for the ESI and October 2017 for the PMI.

Private consumption is continuing to increase and remains a key driver of the ongoing economic expansion. Consumer spending rose by 0.5%, quarter on quarter, in the second quarter of 2017, following a somewhat lower rate of increase in the previous quarter. This outcome largely reflected higher purchasing power following a 10% fall of the oil price in euro terms between the first and second quarters of 2017. On an annual basis, consumption rose by 1.6% in the second quarter, the same rate as in the first quarter of 2017. This stable pattern contrasted with a decline in growth in households’ real disposable income to 1.4%, year on year, in the second quarter, from 1.6% in the previous quarter. Consistent with the unchanged consumption growth and lower income growth in the second quarter of 2017, the annual rate of change in savings declined in the second quarter, leading to a historically low saving ratio of 12%.

Euro area labour markets are continuing to improve, thereby underpinning household income and consumer spending. Employment rose further, by 0.4%, quarter on quarter, in the second quarter of 2017, which led to an annual increase of 1.6%. Employment currently stands almost 1% above its pre-crisis peak in the first quarter of 2008. The unemployment rate in the euro area stood at 9.1% in August 2017, which is the same rate as in the previous two months and 3 percentage points below the post-crisis peak in April 2013 (see Chart 6). This decline has been broad-based across age and gender groups. Long-term unemployment (i.e. the number of people who have been unemployed for at least 12 months expressed as a percentage of the labour force) is also continuing to decline, but remains well above its pre-crisis level. Survey information points to continued improvements in labour markets in the period ahead. At the same time, in some countries and sectors there are increasing signs of labour shortages.

Chart 6

Euro area employment, PMI employment expectations and unemployment

(quarter-on-quarter percentage changes; diffusion index; percentage of labour force)

8.0 8.5 9.0 9.5 10.0 10.5 11.0 11.5 12.0 12.5 13.0 -0.4 -0.3 -0.2 -0.1 0.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 employment (left-hand scale) PMI employment expectations (left-hand scale) unemployment rate (right-hand scale)

Sources: Eurostat, Markit and ECB calculations.
Notes: The PMI is expressed as a deviation from 50 divided by 10. The latest observations are for the second quarter of 2017 for employment, October 2017 for the PMI and August 2017 for unemployment.

Barring any short-term volatility, consumption growth is expected to remain resilient. Recent data on retail trade and new passenger car registrations currently point to lower quarterly growth in consumer spending in the third quarter of 2017 compared with the second quarter. However, these data tend to display some volatility, while other indicators point to continued robust underlying consumption dynamics. For instance, further employment growth, as suggested by the latest survey indicators, should also continue to support aggregate income and thus consumer spending. In addition, households’ net worth continued to increase at robust levels, lending further support to consumer spending. These factors may partly explain why consumer confidence improved further in the third quarter before reaching its highest value since April 2001 in October.

Following a strong second quarter, business investment should continue to grow in the third quarter of 2017. Non-construction investment, which grew by 3.5%, quarter on quarter, in the second quarter of 2017, was driven by investment in intellectual property assets and non-transport-related machinery and equipment. As for the third quarter, continued favourable conditions in the capital goods sector, such as increasing capacity utilisation, rising orders, stronger confidence and rising demand, signal overall a continuation of the ongoing dynamic investment momentum. Monthly data on capital goods production up to August also suggest rising business investment at the beginning of the third quarter. With regard to construction investment, monthly construction production data point to slowing growth in the third quarter of 2017. However, survey indicators on the demand situation and the assessment of order books in the sector, as well as the number of building permits issued, are still in line with positive underlying dynamics in the short term.

Going forward, investment is expected to remain an important contributor to growth. Investment should continue to benefit from elevated business confidence and diminishing uncertainty, rising capacity utilisation, highly supportive financing conditions, stronger corporate profits and the increasing need to modernise the capital stock. According to the euro area sectoral accounts, the corporate gross operating surplus increased in the second quarter of 2017, albeit at a lower year-on-year rate than in the previous quarter, and earnings expectations for listed companies in the euro area, available up to August, remain at high levels. As regards construction investment, factors such as households’ rising disposable income and improving lending conditions should underpin demand in the sector. At the same time, some factors are expected to continue to weigh on the outlook for investment, including expectations of weaker growth over the medium term and limitations on the intermediation capacity of banks in some countries.

Despite prospects of slowing growth in the third quarter of 2017, trade indicators point to sustained momentum going forward. Total euro area exports rose by 0.9% in the second quarter on account of strong goods exports. Monthly trade in goods up to August suggests that extra-euro area exports will continue to show positive growth in the third quarter of 2017, in line with the recovery in foreign demand, albeit at a slower pace than in the second quarter. Exports in the first two months of the third quarter of 2017 seem to have been supported by demand from China, the United States, Latin America and, to a lesser extent, non-euro area EU countries, whereas the United Kingdom and Asia (excluding China) made negative contributions. Leading indicators, such as survey results, continue to signal ongoing improvements in foreign demand, while new manufacturing export orders from outside the euro area have risen further.

Overall, the latest economic indicators are, on balance, consistent with a continued robust growth pattern in the second half of 2017. Industrial production (excluding construction) rose strongly in August. As a result, in July and August production stood on average 1.0% above the level in the second quarter of the year, when it rose by 1.2% on a quarterly basis. More recent survey data also signal solid growth dynamics in the near term. The composite output PMI averaged 56.0 in the third quarter of 2017, compared with 56.6 in the second quarter, before declining between September and October to 55.9. Meanwhile, the European Commission’s ESI rose to 112.1 in the third quarter from 110.0 in the second quarter (see Chart 5). Both the ESI and the PMI remain well above their respective long-term averages.

Looking ahead, the ongoing firm and broad economic expansion is expected to continue. The ECB’s monetary policy measures have facilitated the deleveraging process and continue to support domestic demand. Private consumption is underpinned by rising employment, which is also benefiting from past labour market reforms, and by increasing household wealth. The upswing in business investment continues to benefit from very favourable financing conditions and improvements in corporate profitability. Construction investment has also strengthened. In addition, the broad-based global recovery is supporting euro area exports. The results of the latest round of the ECB’s Survey of Professional Forecasters, conducted in early October, show that private sector GDP growth forecasts were revised upwards for 2017, 2018 and 2019 in comparison with the previous round conducted in early July.

The risks surrounding the euro area growth outlook remain broadly balanced. On the one hand, the strong cyclical momentum, as evidenced by recent developments in sentiment indicators, could lead to further positive growth surprises. On the other hand, downside risks continue to relate primarily to global factors and developments in foreign exchange markets.


Prices and costs

Headline HICP inflation was 1.5% in September, unchanged from August (see Chart 7). The unchanged inflation rate concealed an increase in food inflation, which was offset by a slight reduction in HICP inflation excluding food and energy (which stood at 1.1% in September, down from 1.2% in August). This decline in inflation excluding food and energy mainly reflected a reduction in the inflation rate for the volatile transport services sub-component.

Chart 7

Contributions of components of euro area headline HICP inflation

(annual percentage changes; percentage point contributions)

-1.5 -1.0 -0.5