In his latest Quarterly Economic Outlook, Neil Williams, Senior Economic Adviser to Hermes Investment Management, argues that markets are still taking a ‘glass half full’ view of the macro outlook, with little real consideration of the new risk emerging.
Until now, this has made sense, with speculation the US would open the fiscal box having justified ‘reflation trades’. However, while better for growth (see chart 1), markets are ignoring the darker cloud looming. Rather than financial distrust, we may need to brace for political distrust with the threat of beggar-thy neighbour policies - from the US to anti-European populism - rising.
2018 could be a ‘year of two halves’...
In which case, 2018 could be a year of two halves, where stimulus- euphoria gradually gives way to stagflation concern. Helpfully, the trade-off is that policy rates stay lower than many expect.
As chart 2 attests, the world’s appetite for international trade has, as a share of GDP, more than doubled in the past 50 years. Nevertheless, without care, the unhelpful jigsaw piece of retaliatory protectionism from the 1930s, might come crashing into place.
In 1930, it was triggered by the Smoot-Hawley reforms that raised US tariffs to up to 20% on over 20,000 imported goods. This hit the US’s relatively small number of trading partners, most notably Canada and Europe, and prolonged the depression.