Will stronger global growth be sustained?

6th June 2015 by Simon Ward

Global monetary trends have been suggesting faster economic growth in the second half of 2015 – see previous post. May business surveys are consistent with this scenario: a weighted average of G7 manufacturing purchasing managers’ new orders indices rose significantly, with improvements in six of the seven countries (Germany being the exception) – see first chart.

The coming growth pick-up is at least partially discounted in markets, judging from recent divergent performance of global equities and government bonds, and relative strength of cyclical stocks. The key issues now are how long the upswing will last and whether it will give way to another slowdown in 2016.

Six-month growth of global real narrow money reached a peak in February – second chart. The lead time from real money to output has averaged eight months at the last three growth turning points, suggesting that economic momentum will top out around October.

Real money growth remained solid in April, consistent with little economic slowdown in late 2015. It is likely, however, to fall further as inflation continues to recover, assuming that commodity prices are stable at current levels – third chart.

A plausible scenario, therefore, is that strong second-half growth will give way to a loss of economic momentum in early 2016, following a real money slowdown this summer. The coming upswing, in other words, will prove to be another false down.

How could this be too pessimistic? One possibility is that nominal money growth will strengthen, offsetting the inflation drag on real money expansion. The most likely source of a rise in global money growth is China, where trends are showing signs of improvement and recent policy easing has yet to feed through – see previous post.

An alternative growth-bullish possibility is that money velocity will pick up, or at least fall at a slower rate. A rise in velocity has the same economic impact as an increase in real money. A measure of the velocity of G7 narrow money is far below its declining long-term trend, suggesting the potential for a rebound – fourth chart.

What could trigger such a turnaround? The surprising answer is a rise in US interest rates. Velocity has increased when the Fed has tightened historically – fifth chart. Correlation is not causation, but this suggests that Fed tightening initially results in a stronger economy as the velocity effect outweighs the (lagged) impact of higher rates. An early Fed move, perversely, may warrant greater near-term economic optimism.

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