An ever so fragile recovery


By the Department of Analysis and Forecasting, under the direction of Eric Heyer and  Xavier Timbeau

This text summarizes the OFCE’s economic forecast for 2015-2017 for the euro zone and the rest of the world.

The figures for euro zone growth in the first half of 2015 have confirmed the upswing glimpsed at the end of 2014. While the zone’s return to growth might once have been taken to indicate the end of the global economic and financial crisis that struck in 2008, the turbulence hitting the emerging countries, particularly over the summer in China, is a reminder that the crisis ultimately seems to be continuing. China’s economic weight and its role in world trade are now so substantial that, even in the case of a soft landing, the impact on growth in the developed countries would be significant. We nevertheless anticipate that the scenario for a recovery need not be called into question, and that euro zone growth will be broadly supported by favourable factors (lower oil prices and ECB monetary support) and by some weakening of unfavourable factors (easing of fiscal policies). But the fact remains that the situation in the developing world will add new uncertainty to an already fragile recovery.

Between 2012 and 2014, the euro zone economies stagnated at the very time that the United States turned in average GDP growth of 2%. The recovery that got underway after the sharp contraction in 2008-2009 was quickly cut short in the euro zone by the sovereign debt crisis, which led almost immediately to the uncontrolled tightening of financial conditions and the reinforcement of the fiscal consolidation being implemented in the Member States, as they searched for market credibility.

The euro zone then plunged into a new recession. In 2015, these economic policy shocks are no longer weighing on demand. The ECB helped to reduce sovereign debt risk premiums by announcing the Outright Monetary Transaction programme (OMT) in September 2012 and then by implementing quantitative easing so as to improve financial conditions and promote a fall in the euro. In terms of fiscal policy, while in some countries the consolidation phase is far from over, the measures being taken are smaller in scale and frequency. Furthermore, growth will also be helped by the fall in oil prices, which should last, and the resulting gains in household purchasing power should in turn fuel private consumption. These factors thus reflect an environment that is much more favourable and propitious for growth.

However, it is clear that this scenario depends on some volatile elements, such as the fall in oil prices and the weaker euro. The Chinese slowdown adds another element of risk to the scenario, which is based on the assumption that China will make a smooth transition from an export-oriented growth model to one driven by domestic demand. We expect the euro zone to grow at a rate of 1.5% in 2015 and 1.8% in 2016 and 2017. The main short-term risks to this scenario are negative. If oil prices go up and the euro doesn’t stay down, and if the slowdown in the emerging countries turns into an economic and financial crisis, then growth worldwide and in the euro zone will be significantly lower. This risk is particularly critical given the very high level of unemployment still plaguing the zone (11% in August 2015). Nevertheless, given the pace of anticipated growth, we expect the unemployment rate to fall in 2016-2017 by around 0.6 percentage point per year. At this pace, it will take almost seven years to bring the rate back to its pre-crisis level. So while the prospects for recovery from the 2008 crisis are uncertain, the social crisis undoubtedly has a long time to run.