Reading the newspapers at the weekend what will you have learned? That stock markets are tumbling. Oil prices are too. The will they/won’t they debate over a potential interest rate rise meanders on. The Greek saga takes an unexpected turn with Prime Minister Alex Tsipiras’s resignation. China’s faltering economy looms menacingly on the horizon. All of these topics have dominated columns and rightly so. Pieced together what do they reveal about the health of the global economy?
China’s exports have been coming under pressure for some time. However, when overseas sales for July came in 8.3% below their level a year earlier the powers that be decided to act, catching markets by surprise. The devaluation of its currency a fortnight ago, not once but three times, spooked investors. Last week the FTSE 100, which tracks the 100 largest companies listed in London, closed the week 13% down on the record high it hit in April. A similar fall was witnessed in the American, French and German markets.
For the first time since the height of the financial crisis, US oil prices dropped below $40 on Friday. Some analysts are suggesting that the plunge in crude oil prices will push petrol and diesel prices towards £1 a litre, bearing down further on already weak inflation. China again plays a part here with a glut of crude oil supply in the US being exacerbated by a diminishing requirement for commodities.
As ever, Europe is a complex picture. Alexis Tsipiras has fallen on his sword, at least for the time being, adding more uncertainty to Greece’s future in the Eurozone. Interestingly, the currency markets have reacted to this move positively with the single currency nearly 6 cents stronger against the Pound shortly after the market opened this morning compared to high of the last 7 days. The exchange rate looks like a paradox to the actual goings-on in Europe. Tsipiras aside, the total growth in the Eurozone was shown last week to be a meagre 1.2% up to the end of Q2. Tellingly, only the economies of the Czech Republic, Spain, Romania, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia boasted numbers policymakers would argue showed undeniable signs of a true recovery. Meanwhile, France stagnated while the economies of Italy, the Netherlands and Germany all grew less than expected.
Elsewhere Japan continues to struggle and whilst the situation in America looks promising, the risk appetite of investors will not have increased with suggestions that officials within America’s Federal Reserve have doubts about the strength of the global recovery according to the minutes of the Fed’s July meeting.
Given that we are now seven years on from the height of the banking crisis, what more can policymakers do to help turnaround the fortunes of the beleaguered global economy if indeed we are heading towards another fiscal cliff? In America, the Eurozone, the UK and Japan huge sums of money have been printed to get the financial system running again. At the same time, interest rates have been cut to, and stayed at, historic lows. ‘Austerity’ has been the consensus policy of the time – higher taxes and cutting of government spending. And yet still growth is at best marginal and at worst in decline across the board for the economies of the global powerhouses. Should we expect a switch to more fiscally expansive policies? Given the time invested in ‘austerity’ by those in power things would have to get a lot worse before they countenanced a U-turn.