Throughout the global economic expansion that is now stretching into its sixth year, we have experienced periods of accelerating growth followed by brief pauses or setbacks. Even with extraordinary monetary policy stimulus and ultra-low interest rates, the world economy has struggled to maintain an above-trend rate of growth. As a result, excess capacity remains. Little wonder that global inflation continues to surprise to the downside. “In other words, this expansion has been anything but normal”, point out MFS experts, Robert Spector, Institutional portfolio manager, Sanjay Natarajan, Institutional Equity portfolio manager, and Robert M. Hall, Institutional Fixed Income portfolio manager.
Will 2015 finally be the year when the global economy returns to normal?, asked. After all, consensus growth estimates reported by Bloomberg show an accelerating pace this year versus last year. And these forecasts probably underestimate the constructive impact of the sharp plunge in energy prices, which is likely a net positive for the global expansion.
“In our view, a normal economy is characterized by being relatively synchronized across regions, maintaining a self-sustaining growth rate at or above its potential without hyper- accommodative monetary conditions and having a functioning credit system so that easy central bank policies can work effectively. Let’s look at each of these three characteristics in turn”, they explain.
Synchronized across regions
The global economy remains unsynchronized. The United States is the undisputed growth leader among the major economies, with third-quarter real GDP growth hitting 5% at an annual rate, the labor market improving at an impressive clip and prospects for consumer spending looking solid. Energy-related capital spending will likely take a hit from lower oil prices, yet overall we expect US growth to be around 3% in 2015.
By contrast, European growth may struggle to hit 1%, given ongoing deleveraging and the threat of deflation. Although Japan could receive a boost from lower energy prices and a weaker yen, real wages may continue to stagnate, and structural reforms remain a headwind until they become a reality. Emerging economies in general face a muted global trade cycle and structural issues related to productivity. The bottom line is that the global economy will continue to grow in 2015, but without the reinforcing vigor of a synchronized expansion.
Self-sustaining growth at or above potential rate
Given these divergent growth trends, it will be difficult for the world economy to grow above the long-run potential rate on a sustained basis. “As a result, we expect global monetary conditions to remain super easy in 2015. Though the US Federal Reserve (Fed) has ended quantitative easing and is guiding the market toward a midyear rate tightening cycle, the timing of the first hike could be pushed out if inflation keeps undershooting expectations on downward pressure from crude oil prices or if US labor market improvements fail to generate wage gains”, says MFS.
Functioning credit system
Blockages in credit continue to get in the way of monetary stimulus, as money multipliers and the velocity of money are still falling. To be sure, deleveraging has reached an advanced stage in the United States, yet debt levels remain high by historical standards. Globally, there has actually been no net deleveraging since the financial crisis, owing to the debt buildup among European governments and emerging markets (EM). “Without the powerful accelerant of credit expansion, easy monetary policy can provide a buffer against deflation pressures and boost asset prices but cannot be the savior of global growth as in normal cycles”, concludes the MFS analysis.
The bottom line is that growth in 2015 may surpass last year’s tally, thanks mainly to the strength of the US expansion and the sharp drop in oil prices. However, we expect the recovery to remain far from normal, so the environment of low inflation and long-term sovereign yields should persist. “That would be good for equity prices and the US dollar. As long as the global economy avoids recession, which is our base case, global equities should outperform global government bonds in 2015”, they explain.