• We have lowered our forecasts for economic growth in the United States and China and revised our views on inflation and monetary policy in the euro area.
  • These economies will likely avoid a recession this year but we see slower growth going forward.
  • In an uncertain environment, investors should maintain perspective, tune out the day-to-day noise, remain focused on their goals and take a long-term view.

 

By Andrew Patterson, senior international economist, Vanguard.

Due to the rapidly changing environment, we have lowered our forecasts for economic growth in the United States and China and revised our views on inflation and monetary policy in the euro area.

We believe these economies will likely avoid a recession this year but see slower growth going forward because of a myriad of factors. Our forecast for Federal Reserve policy is unchanged.

United States: Slower but continued growth

We’ve revised our outlook for full-year US GDP growth to roughly 2%, down from around 3.5% at the start of the year1.

Behind our downgrade are three factors that will likely persist over the remainder of 2022:

  • Financial conditions have tightened to a level that likely restricts growth. Most of the tightening has come through higher lending rates. Falling stock markets have also contributed. We believe conditions have tightened significantly more than what’s implied by the market’s current pricing of future increases in the Federal Reserve’s key ‘federal funds’ policy rate. Rates rises might eventually even go beyond the neutral policy rate (when the Fed’s key interest rate would neither stimulate nor restrict the economy), which we currently see as around 2.5%.
  • Incomes aren’t keeping pace with inflation, a drag on what have been solid consumer fundamentals. We believe that wage growth will remain elevated but will continue to lag headline inflation (which includes the effects of volatile food and energy prices) and only catch up with levels of core inflation (which strips them out) in late-2022.
  • The foreign demand outlook has deteriorated. The war in Ukraine is hurting European economies, and persistent Covid-19 outbreaks have caused growth in China to fall well below trend. We expect US net trade to be pressured as a result. A 1.5% US GDP contraction in the first quarter was in no small part driven by a reduction in net trade, as exports declined and imports increased2. The simple maths of the unexpected first-quarter decline in US GDP puts downward pressure on full-year GDP.

So we’re tempering our expectations for US growth. This doesn’t materially change our views about the US labour market or inflation at this point. More moderate growth will keep the unemployment rate from falling below 3% in the near term, and high labour demand should normalise more rapidly.

We continue to expect that inflation will remain elevated but falling, supported by healthy demand, a tight jobs market and supply constraints that will linger on throughout the year. Persistently elevated energy prices have grown as an additional risk factor and we will monitor that closely.

The growth rate also doesn’t change our view on Fed monetary policy for what remains of 2022. Vanguard expects the federal funds rate to increase another 100 to 150 basis points (bps), on top of the 75 bps rise to 0.75%-1.0% seen earlier in the year.

The rate hikes will come alongside a continued reduction in the Fed’s balance sheet, a reversal of the quantitative easing seen in the preceding years.

Europe: Spiking inflation means even higher interest rates

The story is a bit different in the euro area. Our economists in Europe anticipate more interest-rate hikes in 2022 than originally forecasted. The European Central Bank (ECB) is now more focused on fighting inflation, which is spiking into double-digit territory on an annualised quarter-over-quarter basis.

The changing picture for Europe:

  • Europe is slowing down but recession isn’t likely unless Russian natural gas imports end. Euro area growth will likely be around 2.5%, lower than Vanguard’s forecast of around 4% at the start of the year. Recession is not likely this calendar year unless there is a hard stop to Russian gas imports.
  • Annualised consumer price inflation is tracking above 15% on a quarter-over-quarter basis. Vanguard has increased its inflation forecast for the full year to an average of 7.5% to 8%, up from our earlier 6.5%–7% forecast. Sharp rises in food and energy prices are the most acute drivers, but inflation has become broader across sectors, especially in services.
  • The ECB has acknowledged the changing dynamics. Key officials have been signalling more openness to aggressive rate hikes.
  • We now forecast 100 to 125 bps of rate hikes in 2022, higher than our previous forecast of 50 bps. As such, we expect the ECB’s key deposit rate to turn positive for the first time since 2011 and to end the year in a range of 0.5% to 0.75%.
  • We expect the policy rate to be above neutral (around 1.5%) by the middle of next year and to reach 2.5% by year-end 2023. This is about 50 bps higher than what’s reflected in current bond market pricing.

China: 2022 growth target is likely to be missed

We’re predicting a 2022 growth rate just above 3% for China, which is lower than the consensus and considerably lower than the central government’s target of around 5.5%. Obviously, that’s still a healthy growth rate, but for China that will feel like a recession from what they’re used to.

The factors driving the downgrade:

  • China’s zero-Covid policy has had a significant impact. Economic indicators have been weaker than expected in the second quarter, driven by the Covid-19 lockdowns. This will weigh down the full-year forecast. However, we anticipate that May was the trough.
  • Don’t expect a repeat of the 2021 recovery. Although China should recover during the second half of 2022, it will not be anywhere close to the robust pace seen in the second half of last year. There are too many headwinds offsetting anticipated stimulus.
  • Future Covid outbreaks can’t be discounted. More pressing is that China’s continuing zero-Covid policy will mean that any future outbreaks will dampen economic activity.

Our revised forecast for the full year is a downgrade from the 5% we anticipated at the start of the year. It’s also lower than consensus views that generally range from 4% to 5%.

Impact on global economy and Fed monetary policies

Although global recession is unlikely, things are in flux and the Federal Reserve will be watching indicators carefully when forming future monetary policy. The chart below reflects Vanguard’s modelling on how aggressive the US central bank would be in raising interest rates depending on various scenarios.

The federal funds rate in select scenarios

Notes: This figure describes the Fed’s rate hike path under each scenario presented. The forecasts are obtained from Vanguard’s model estimates. A combination of model estimates and subjective analysis is used to estimate the forecasts’ terminal rate and timing under each scenario.

Sources: Vanguard model estimates based on data from Refinitiv, Moody’s, and Bloomberg.

The Fed has to find a balance between reining in inflation and tempering the pressures of a tight labour market. Developments that weigh heavily on economic activity would likely cause the Fed to slow its pace of rate hikes. 

Like the Fed, Vanguard will also be closely monitoring this ever-changing situation.

We’re always revisiting our views, in any economic environment. But the fact that we’re revising so many of our global perspectives now speaks to the uncertainty underlying today’s environment, given the risks surrounding geopolitics, policies and supply chains.

1 Measured on a Q4/Q4 percentage-change basis.

2 Imports are subtracted from GDP because they reflect goods produced outside the United States.

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