China surprised markets by devaluing its currency by 2% against the US dollar. On the face of it it's not a big move. Other emerging market currencies have fallen by much larger amounts this year. Yet it matters. China is the world's largest exporter. And those exports are now getting cheaper and putting downward pressure on already low developed world inflation rates. Indeed, the Bank of England was highlighting the deflationary risks from China earlier this month. To accommodate the deflationary forces, interest rates may have to stay ‘lower for longer’.
China's currency devaluation could also be an effort by the Chinese authorities to prop up flagging growth (a lower currency makes exports more competitive). Judging by the latest growth indicators the economy is indeed slowing. At 6%y/y, industrial production is growing at levels not seen since the depths of the financial crisis. Meanwhile, investment growth is slower than at any point in the past ten years with new funds into factories and real estate slowing sharply.
That was expensive
China's credit growth figures for July reveal two stories. Firstly, growth in credit to the real economy appears to be weak as the downturn in the economy intensifies. Second, the government's recent effort to prop up the stock market seems to have resulted in an expensive bill to the country's banks. Bank loans totalled around £150bn with more than 50% going to financial institutions - widely believed to have been various bodies that intervened as stock prices plunged. China was supposed to be letting market forces have a bigger say in the running of the economy. But old habits….
The UK unemployment rate stood at 5.6% in the three months to June. While this was a slight rise on the previous quarter, there is little in the numbers to suggest anything worrying. Rather, the economy seems to have hit something resembling full employment - full in terms of numbers rather than necessarily full of the types of jobs everybody wants. Earnings grew by 2.8%y/y, again unchanged and well above the rate of inflation. And the nation's productivity grew at the fastest rate since Q2 2011. Nice and steady then, but as yet unlikely to move opinion on the Monetary Policy Committee.
Watch this space
UK construction output grew 0.2%q/q in Q2, slightly higher than initially thought. But there was a split. Private house building was the fastest growing sector but house-building by public bodies contracted at a faster rate than any of the other sub-sectors. And it’s down by 10% since the third quarter of 2014. But house building stands to get a boost soon. Companies typically start and finish projects when prices are rising faster. They may not be at the moment, but the reliable monthly indicator from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors suggests they are about to pick up significantly.
The eurozone economy expanded by 0.3% in Q2, slightly slower than Q1's 0.4%. In context, the US managed 0.6% and the UK 0.7%. The stand-out stat award goes to Greece. No, not down. That'll come soon enough. Rather output in the Hellenic Republic expanded by a mighty 0.8%. That's faster than Germany, which may raise an ironic smile for your average Athenian. Closer to home, France's economy stagnated, while Italy's managed a meagre 0.2%. In short, the eurozone economy remains weak, and certainly poorly-placed to resist the eastern wind's deflationary blast.
The eurozone’s industrial production figures also raise a few concerns about the region’s recovery, with output shrinking 0.4% in June. And it’s the third contraction in the last four months. Germany and Italy stand out, both shrinking by about 1%, whilst France's performance was a rather stagnant -0.2%. That's also the same amount as Greek output was estimated to have shrunk in June. Factory output across the Eurozone is still 1.2% above where it was last year, but that comparison will deteriorate unless the recent run of form is reversed.
The US is growing at a decent rate and increasing numbers of people are getting into work but data on performance remain patchy. On the plus side, the number of people registering as unemployed reached its lowest level in 15 years. Retail sales were up 2.6%y/y in July, a solid if unspectacular result. Industrial production edged up, although it was flat if car production was excluded. On the downside, consumer confidence slipped again and core producer price inflation rose only 0.9%y/y. There’s little in these numbers to encourage an early rate rise.
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