By Eswar Prasad and Mengjie Ding

As the fifth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers draws near and the debate about fiscal austerity continues to rage, it is time to take stock of the trajectory of debt levels in the key advanced and emerging market economies (AEs and EMs). The overall picture of government debt around the world is not a pretty one (interactive data here).

Data from the IMF’s latest Fiscal Monitor show that the level of aggregate net government debt in the world is expected to rise from $26tn in 2008 to $42tn in 2013. The ratio of world net debt to world GDP, a more relevant indicator of sustainable debt levels, shows a corresponding increase from 46 per cent in 2008 to 61 per cent in 2013.

 Read more

Michael Steen

You still need a strong constitution or a taste for gallows humour to read most eurozone economic statistics, as today’s release of the preliminary Q1 gross domestic product growth contraction data shows.

The bloc is now in its longest recession since the birth of the single currency, beating the post-Lehman Brothers slump in duration, though not in the depth of the downturn. Read more

Robin Harding

We leaned heavily on the idea that sequestration is slowing the growth of the US economy in our write-up of Q1 GDP. The immediate reason to do so is the composition of growth.

Federal defence spending knocked 0.65 percentage points off total growth. Without that, the headline figure would have been an annualised 3.2 per cent instead of 2.5 per cent, bang in line with expectations. Read more

Chris Giles

The FT’s US economics editor Robin Harding had an excellent scoop this week on the US plans to change the calculation methodology for the national accounts in a move that will lift US GDP by 3 per cent in July. Even better, he explained that the changes to the way the US statistics authorities plan to count intangible investment and military procurement were not a unilateral act, but part of a United Nations coordinated approach. What effect would this have on Europe, I wondered.

Well, after a root around Eurostat’s website, the UK’s ONS methodology pages and some academic articles, I am really excited. The bottom line for people with better things to do is that Eurostat reckons GDP in most EU countries will also go up by about 2 to 3 per cent. The amount depends on the quantity of R&D expenditure carried out (good for Germany, Sweden and Finland, bad for Greece) and amount of military kit purchased every year (good for France and the UK). With some exceptions, every EU country has to put in place the new European System of Accounts by September 2014. But it gets even more interesting. Read more

Chris Giles

After almost five years of disappointing services output, Britain’s shops, restaurants, car dealerships and airlines have come to the rescue of George Osborne. They have also saved the country from deeply misleading “triple-dip” headlines, although output is still 2.6 per cent below its 2008 peak.

The preliminary estimate of gross domestic product rose 0.3 per cent in the first quarter. As my column today argued, we should not pay much attention to this figure, since the cash estimates of GDP, which come later, are more relevant to the economy’s predicament. But there are some implications of this positive surprise and I list them here in order of importance. Read more

Tom Burgis

Mark Carney, the incoming governor of the Bank of England, was grilled by MPs and his ECB counterpart Mario Draghi faced awkward questions. By Tom Burgis, Ben Fenton and Lina Saigol in London with contributions from FT correspondents. All times are GMT.  

Chris Giles

Britain is back in recession – gross domestic product fell by 0.2 per cent in the first quarter of this year – following a 0.3 per cent fall at the end of 2011. What should we make of the figures?

1. Is this a deep recession?

No. It is nothing like 2008-09 when output dropped 7 per cent over five quarters. In truth, as Joe Grice, chief economist of the Office for National Statistics said, the economy has been broadly flat since the third quarter of 2010. Some quarters up a bit, the others down. The level of output is now measured at an index number of 98.1 (2008=100) and it was 98.3 in the autumn of 2010. Read more

Robin Harding

The recession of 2008-09 keeps getting worse, even now. For the second time, the annual benchmark revisions to the GDP data have shown that the recession was deeper than previously thought. The decline in GDP is now put at 5.1 per cent rather than 4.1 per cent.

By the magic of FRED, here it is in levels (green is before the 2010 revisions, blue before the 2011 revisions, red is today): Read more

Chris Giles

Financial markets think Bank of England meetings on monetary policy will be a bore for almost another year. The minutes last week persuaded investors that the Monetary Policy Committee was unlikely to raise interest rates until mid 2012.

Economists are now following  in investors’ footsteps with Barclays Capital becoming the latest group of forecasters to push back their forecast of a rate rise from November 2011 to May 2012, arguing that “policy [is] paralysed by domestic double dip” fears.

As I argued in the Financial Times last week, investors have got ahead of themselves a little and the balance on the MPC is rather more delicate. It could easily tip towards a rate increase, particularly if Charlie Bean swung into that camp. Based on their recent words, here is my guide to the MPC members’ views, from the most dovish to the most hawkish.

As you can see, there is quite a delicate balance on the MPC. It could easily tip 5-4 to a rate rise. Getting a majority in favour of QE2 appears much more difficult at present. Read more

Chris Giles

In doing the usual due diligence on the Bank of England’s pictorial forecasts – blowing up the images on screen, getting out a ruler, measuring the YoY growth rates, estimating the skew that represents a risk-adjusted forecast and shoving all the results into a pre-prepared spreasdsheet – you can produced this horrible chart of successive Bank of England growth forecasts.

All it really shows, in the grand scheme of things, is that the Bank’s growth forecasts were pretty good before the crisis and spectacularly awful more recently.

If you strip out a lot of irrelevant information, you get the following, which I think is pretty amazing. Read more

Interest rates are likely to linger for longer at their current record low of 0.5 per cent, following today’s growth figures. With GDP numbers coming in at expectation, market expectations haven’t shifted that much since yesterday, but over the past two months, the change is dramatic (see chart).

Just two months ago, markets forecast three rate rises this year; now the base rate is not expected to reach 0.75 per cent until November. The data also belie an assumption that a rate rise is far likelier in a month following a GDP announcement (notice the jump in expectations for August, November and February). Read more

Chris Giles

For those wanting a primer on how to interpret the 0.5 per cent rise in UK GDP in the first quarter this morning, you could read this piece from the FT yesterday. But I will also summarise the maths and its implications here.

The 0.5 per cent figure suggests the economy stagnated at best in the six months between the third quarter of 2010 and first quarter of 2011 and probably contracted a little. The stagnation bit is easy to see, since the level of GDP in Q3 2010, with an index number of 99.6, is the same as that in Q1 2011.

The “at best” bit comes from the fact that some of the activity that would have taken place at the end of last year, but was disrupted by the snow – distributing goods or maintenance of equipment for example – will have taken place in the first quarter, flattering the latest figures. We don’t know how big this effect was, but can put boundaries on it. At best, the economy stagnated. At worst, if all of the 0.5 per cent of activity lost in the fourth quarter was displaced into the first quarter, the underlying level of activity is now 0.5 per cent lower than that in Q3 2010. Read more

VAT, energy prices and import prices contributed about 2-4 per cent to headline inflation at the end of last year (blue band in chart, right), according to estimates quoted by the Bank of England. Compare that with a contribution of -0.5-1.3 per cent (green band) from more typical domestic (and more manageable) factors such as wages and producer profits, to catch a glimpse of The MPC’s policy dilemma.

That is the title of Charlie Bean’s speech, just delivered at ABI’s Economics and Research conference in London. Be careful interpreting these numbers: the -0.5-1.3 per cent range of inflation contribution “does not provide an estimate of what inflation would have been if commodity prices, the exchange rate and VAT had all remained at their 2007 levels,” said Mr Bean. Without movements in sterling and global prices, “inflation might have been somewhat higher than indicated by the green swathe”. But they would be unlikely to have pushed inflation “materially” above target. Read more

Robin Harding

Professional forecasters have become more optimistic in the Q1 survey by the Philly Fed but I’m not bowled over by their wild enthusiasm.

 Read more

Robin Harding

I went for strong in writing up today’s preliminary Q4 numbers but there was enough going on in the release to argue it either way.

The case for strong is this:

 Read more

Economists at Davos are more optimistic than expected: they think a two-speed economy is sustainable – as long as developing countries move from export-led to consumption-driven model in the longer-term. One suggests a three-speed economy would be a better description. Chris Giles reports.

Ralph Atkins

German consumer optimism has brightened further. The GfK research organisation in Nuremberg estimates its “consumer climate” index will rise again in February, reaching a level last seen in the second half of 2007 – before the global financial crisis took its toll. Germans’ “propensity to buy” this month was the highest since December 2006, it reported.

But “propensity to buy” does not mean actually buying. The most recent German retail sales figures have been disappointing. November saw a 2.4 per cent fall compared with October. While economists generally expect 2011 to see a revival in consumers spending, on the back of steep falls in unemployment, rising wages and a general improvement in German confidence, few expect a dramatic surge. Read more

Chris Giles

In recent weeks, the Bank of England’s problem has been inflation. It is too high at 3.7 per cent in December and going higher. Now the Bank has something apparently worse on its hands: stagflation. The Office for National Statistics has just shocked everyone by saying the UK economy contracted by 0.5 per cent in the final quarter of 2010. Expectations had been for a 0.5 per cent increase.

Nothing could cheer the Monetary Policy Committee more. Now it can bat away suggestions it should be raising interest rates with the comment that this would be nuts as the economy is again contracting. High inflation is nothing to worry about if the economy is still in intensive care. Read more

Italy’s economic recovery will remain weak and below the eurozone average over the next two years, the Bank of Italy forecasts in a report that diverges from more upbeat government predictions while underlining the need for structural reforms.

Noting a slowdown in gross domestic product growth in the last quarter of 2010, the central bank predicted on Tuesday that Italian GDP would grow at a similar pace of 0.9 per cent in 2011 and 1.1 per cent in 2012, boosted by rising exports but held back by weak consumer spending and the government’s austerity programme. Modest growth would not be enough to produce a robust recovery in employment, the bank said. Read more

Chris Giles

As the overall level of growth in the UK continues to be robust – at 0.8 per cent in the third quarter – the detail of the figures just published will keep everyone guessing about the sustainability of that growth. Good news and bad news are evenly balanced and the economy is far from set fair or obviously a basket case. That is why the mushy middle prevails on the Monetary Policy Committee

Good news

  • Market sector output. Real market sector output grew by 1 per cent in the third quarter, indicating robust demand. It has expanded 3.4 per cent in the year to the third quarter, indicating that the willingness to pay for additional goods and services has been strong since late 2009 and the private sector has been in good shape. This bodes well for the consolidation ahead. (Market sector output represents goods and services produced and sold in markets at meaningful prices. Most private sector activity and public sector stuff such as planning fees are included. Direct provision of free-at-the-point-of-use health and education services are excluded.)
  • Broad based output gains. In the third quarter, services accounted for half the 0.8 per cent GDP rise, construction a quarter, and production the rest. The expansion was not dominated by one sector, even if construction gains were disproportionate to their size in the economy.
  • A welcome boost from net trade. When looking at the expenditure contributions to growth, net trade (exports and imports) contributed 0.4 percentage points of the growth, indicating that the trade account is finally helping drive prosperity rather than detracting from it. Both imports and exports grew faster than GDP, but exports grew much faster.

 Read more