By Mathieu Plane, Bruno Ducoudré, Pierre Madec, Hervé Péléraux and Raul Sampognaro
This text summarizes the OFCE’s economic forecast for the French economy for 2015-2017
After a hesitant upturn in the first half of 2015 (with growth rates of 0.7% and 0% respectively in the first and second quarter), the French economy grew slowly in the second half year, with GDP rising by an average of 1.1% for the year as a whole. With a GDP growth rate of 0.3% in the third quarter of 2015 and 0.4% in the fourth quarter, which was equal to the pace of potential growth, the unemployment rate stabilized at 10% at year end. Household consumption (+1.7% in 2015) was boosted by the recovery in purchasing power due in particular to lower oil prices, which will prop up growth in 2015, but the situation of investment by households (-3.6%) and the public administration (-2.6%) will continue to hold back activity. In a context of sluggish growth and moderate fiscal consolidation, the government deficit will continue to fall slowly, to 3.7% of GDP in 2015.
With GDP growth in 2016 of 1.8%, the year will be marked by a recovery, in particular by rising corporate investment rates. Indeed, all the factors for a renewal of investment are coming together: first, a spectacular turnaround in margin rates since mid-2014 due to a fall in the cost of energy supplies and the impact of the CICE tax credit and France’s Responsibility Pact; next, the historically low cost of capital, which has been helped by the ECB’s unconventional monetary policy; and finally, an improvement in the economic outlook. These factors will lead to an acceleration of business investment in 2016, which will increase by 4% on average over the year. Household consumption should remain strong in 2016 (+1.6%), driven by job creation in the market sector and by a slight fall in the savings rate. Fuelled by the rise in housing starts and building permits, housing investment will pick up (+3%), after shrinking for four years in a row. Foreign trade will be boosted by the impact of the euro’s depreciation and the government’s competitiveness policies, and will make a positive contribution to growth (+0.2 GDP point in 2016, the same as in 2015). Once the impact of the downturn in oil prices has fed through, inflation should be positive in 2016, but still low (1% on an annual average, after two years of virtual stagnation), a rate that is close to underlying inflation. The pace of quarterly GDP growth in 2016 will be between 0.5% and 0.6%: this will trigger a gradual closing of the output gap and a slow fall in the unemployment rate, which will end the year at 9.8%. The public deficit will be cut by 0.5 GDP point, due to savings in public spending, notably through the contraction of public investment (-2.6%), low growth in government spending (+0.9%), and the impact of the rise in tax revenues as the economy recovers.
Assuming that the macroeconomic environment remains favourable, the output gap is expected to continue to close in 2017. With GDP growth of 2%, the government deficit will fall further to 2.7% of GDP, passing below the 3% bar for the first time in 10 years. Under the impact of the government’s employment policies and the absorption of the overstaffing by companies, the unemployment rate will continue to fall, to 9.4% of the active population by the end of 2017.