recession

China’s dual circulation policy aims to reduce debt reliance

Every now and then, people wake up to the fact that debt is only good news when it adds to growth. Otherwise, it simply destroys value. China is usually the case study for this analysis, as the chart confirms. It shows the rise in debt from 2002, when official data begins, versus the rise in

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Rising US interest rates, US$ and oil prices set to pressure financial markets

Everyone who has ever played the Beer Distribution Game on a training course knows what is happening in supply chains today. A small increase in underlying demand is rapidly leading to a massive increase in ‘apparent demand’. As the New York Times reports, “the pandemic has disrupted every stage of the (supply chain) journey.”  And

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Chart of the Year – CAPE Index signals negative S&P 500 returns to 2030

Each year, it seems there is only one candidate for Chart of the Year. And 2020 is no exception. It has to be the CAPE Index developed by Nobel Prize winner, Prof Robert Shiller.  As the chart shows, it is nearly at an all-time high with Tesla’s addition to the S&P 500. Only the peak

If you don’t want to know the future, look away now

Next week, I will publish my annual Budget Outlook, covering the 2021-2023 period. It will highlight how the pandemic is accelerating major paradigm shifts in society, politics and the global economy. I have been publishing these Outlooks since 2007, and they disprove the idea that forecasting is a waste of time.  They highlight instead most

A new recession era to emerge

Contingency planning has become mission-critical. The longer the coronavirus pandemic continues, the more it will expose the underlying fragility of today’s debt-laden global economy. Companies therefore have to move into crisis management mode, with a number of key areas requiring immediate attention: • Employee health and safety is the top priority. Governments are slowly waking

Contingency planning is essential in 2020 as “synchronised slowdown” continues

The IMF has now confirmed that the world economy has moved into the synchronised slowdown that I forecast here a year ago. Its analysis also confirms the importance of the issues highlighted then, including “rising trade barriers and increasing geopolitical tensions”, a sharp decline in manufacturing, contraction in the auto industry and structural forces such

UK election offers voters no middle ground in December

Pity the poor UK voters as they prepare to vote in probably the most critical election of their lives. As they battle the wind and rain to vote in the first December election for 100 years, they already know there are only 3 likely outcomes: Tory majority, Brexit by end-January, EU trade deal uncertain Labour

Oil market weakness suggests recession now more likely than Middle East war

Oil markets remain poised between fear of recession and fear of a US attack on Iran. But gradually it seems that fears about a war are reducing, whilst President Trump’s decision to ramp up the trade war with China makes recession far more likely. The chart of Brent prices captures the current uncertainties: It shows

Resilience amidst headwinds is key for H2

Resilience is set to become the key issue as we look forward to H2, as I note in a new analysis for ICIS Chemical Business. None of us have ever seen the combinations of events that are potentially ahead of us. And none of us can be sure which way they will develop. So it

Recession risk rises as Iran tensions and US-China trade war build

Oil markets are once again uneasily balanced between two completely different outcomes – and one again involves Iran. Back in the summer of 2008, markets were dominated by the potential for an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, as I summarised at the time: “Nothing is certain in life, except death and taxes. But it

Stormy weather ahead for chemicals

Four serious challenges are on the horizon for the global petrochemical industry as I describe in my latest analysis for ICIS Chemical Business and in a podcast interview with Will Beacham of ICIS. The first is the growing risk of recession, with key markets such as autos, electronics and housing all showing signs of major

BASF’s second profit warning highlights scale of the downturn now underway

The chemical industry is easily the best leading indicator for the global economy.  And thanks to Kevin Swift and his team at the American Chemistry Council, we already have data showing developments up to October, as the chart shows. It confirms that consensus hopes for a “synchronised global recovery” at the beginning of the year

Budgeting for the end of “Business as Usual”

Companies and investors are starting to finalise their plans for the coming year.  Many are assuming that the global economy will grow by 3% – 3.5%, and are setting targets on the basis of “business as usual”.  This has been a reasonable assumption for the past 25 years, as the chart confirms for the US economy:

Oil prices flag recession risk as Iranian geopolitical tensions rise

Today, we have “lies, fake news and statistics” rather than the old phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics”. But the general principle is still the same.  Cynical players simply focus on the numbers that promote their argument, and ignore or challenge everything else. The easiest way for them to manipulate the statistics is to ignore […]

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Global auto market heads for 5% fall as stimulus impact wanes

2016 data highlights one startling statistic about the world’s Top 7 auto markets.  They are 85% of total world sales and as the chart shows, their overall sales growth since 2007 has been entirely due to China:    China’s sales have risen nearly four-fold since 2007, from 6.3m to 24.2m    Sales in […]

Chemical industry flags rising risk of global recession in 2017, with Trump set to “clear the decks” at the start of his first term

The chemical industry is the best leading indicator that we have for the global economy.  It has an excellent correlation with IMF data, and also benefits from the fact it has no “political bias”.  It simply tells us what is happening in real-time in the world’s 3rd largest industry. Sadly, the news is not good. […]

Chemical industry warns of likely global recession in 2017

The chemical industry is the best leading indicator for the global economy, and it is flagging major warning signs about the outlook for 2017.  As the chart above shows, based on American Chemistry Council (ACC) data:   Since 2009, Capacity Utilisation (CU%) has never returned to the 91.3% averaged between 1987 – 2008   It […]

Will 2014 be a repeat of 2008, but worse?

Will 2014 turn out to be a repeat of 2008 for the US economy? 6 years ago, after all, not a single mainstream forecaster – including the IMF and World Bank – was forecasting a recession.  Even in September 2008, the consensus was still confident about the economic outlook.  Yet the National Bureau for Economic Research […]

Nobody realised the BabyBoom had happened till long after it finished

Milton Friedman received a Nobel Prize for economics in 1976, partly on the basis of his analysis that ‘inflation is everywhere and always a monetary phenomenon’.  It sounds an appealing insight, but of course it is wrong.  The reason is that it confuses cause and effect. The above chart presents a different view, highlighting the […]

Ethylene demand weak as eurozone flirts with recession and deflation

So this is as good as it gets in 2013.  That seems to be the sad conclusion from analysis of Q3 operating rate (OR%) data for Europe’s crackers.  Actual Q3 OR% inched up to 81%, which was slightly better than 2012′s 80% rate and 2009′s 79% rate.  But its a very long way from the […]

Investors decide central banks may not know what they are doing

The blog was speaking last week at the major Euromoney investor conference on bond markets.  It followed a keynote by the head of the UK’s Debt Management Office, who noted that the Bank of England now ‘owned’ ~30% of total UK government debt compared to none in 2008 The reaction to his speech revealed just how investor […]

Key China data suggest economic growth already less than 5%

China’s economy is continuing to slow, as the new leadership takes power.  As the chart shows of H1 performance: Electricity consumption (red line) was up 5% versus H1 2012 Bank lending was up 4% These levels are of course well below the published GDP figure of 7.5% for Q2, but the two types of data […]

Drug supplies cut to Greece as capital controls return to Europe

Don’t be surprised if your finance team starts working even longer hours over the next few weeks. Not only will they have to worry about revising profit forecasts and working capital issues, as demand weakens in some core markets. Now they have to w…

S&P 500 hits new record as Kem One files for bankruptcy

The divergence between the real world and financial markets was sharply clarified last week:

• The world’s major stock index, the US S&P 500, hit a record new closing high of 1569
• Sadly, Europe’s 3rd largest PVC producer, Kem One, filed for bank…

Demand weakness spreads across Europe and Asia

The blog was in sober mood when giving its usual New Year Outlook in January, warning that “renewed global recession appears to be the major risk facing us at the start of 2013”. Developments since then only reinforce its caution. Europe and Asia are…

Lanxess temporarily closes plants, as demand remains slow

Chemical markets continue to paint a very worrying picture of the state of the global economy. There has been no improvement in demand over the past week, since the blog first raised the alarm. Instead, plants are being temporarily closed because of …

Company results show few signs of any upturn

Economic recovery is already underway, according to the optimists who have bid up financial markets in recent weeks. But the blog’s quarterly review of company results shows little evidence of it on the ground.

Phrases such as ‘challenging’, ‘economi…

Global economy faces difficult 2013

Its now 4 years since the blog published its first New Year Outlook in ICB. Then it was in a small minority when advising CEOs “to prepare for a marathon not a sprint” in dealing with the financial crisis. And very few accepted its suggestion that it…

Q3 results remain in downward trend

The blog’s quarterly survey of chemical industry results shows the downward trend continued in Q3. Some companies remain untouched by the mainstream problems, but they are now clearly in the minority:

• Bayer remain optimistic, and DuPont hopeful …

IMF warns on recession risk as Political, Social worries rise

When the economy is running well, most people tend to get on with their lives. That was the case during the 1982-2007 SuperCycle, when growth was almost constant. But today’s greater economic uncertainties translate into a growing role for Political …

Buyers start selling benzene as demand disappears

What happens if prices stay unaffordable for so long, that the consumer eventually stops buying? Younger readers may not remember such a period, as it last happened in the early 1980s, before the SuperCycle began. But it looks as though they may be c…

‘Moving forward in volatile times’ the motto for H2

The chemical industry has a long track record as a leading indicator for the global economy. Its position in the value chain means that it sees what is happening upstream in energy markets, and downstream in consumer markets.

Anyone studying Q2 resul…

Oil markets break out of their ‘triangle’

There has never been any fundamental basis for the rise in oil prices over the past 3 years:

• At no time has there been any actual shortage of product
• In fact, inventories have always been at comfortable levels

They rose only for two reasons:

Europe’s banks turn to bullfight loans

The blog’s IeC Boom/Gloom sentiment indicator (blue column) continues to be neutral on the outlook. As the chart shows, this is quite unlike its performance in early 2009. Then it rose rapidly from February – accurately forecasting the major recovery…

The banana skin risk

This week’s news provided more evidence to support the blog’s fear that the global economy is close to recession:

• The German economy, Europe’s motor, saw negative growth in Q4
• US retail sales grew just 0.1% in December, despite good auto sales…

Oil prices hit record annual level in 2011

High oil prices are a bad thing for the global economy, and for the chemical industry,

2011 was therefore a very bad year indeed.

Brent oil prices, the global benchmark, averaged $111/bbl in 2011. This is higher even than in 1979 and 1980, after adj…

2012 Budgets

The blog will publish its fifth annual Budget Outlook next weekend. As usual, it is therefore time to review last year’s Outlook. Past performance may not be a perfect guide to future outcomes. But it is one of the best that we have.

The blog’s 2008 O…

Global oil bill now 5% of GDP

The world has suffered a recession every time the oil price has reached current levels. And as the blog has warned for months, this time is unlikely to be different.

The reason is captured in the above chart. This uses:

• Oil production since 19…

Groundhog Day again as Quarter 4 starts

The great film comedy Groundhog Day saw Bill Murray doomed to repeat the same day in his life, until he learnt to become a better person. Sadly, financial markets have yet to learn from his example.

Every quarter, the investment banks produce new sto…

Boom/Gloom Index suggests downturn resuming

A recession is often defined as being when your neighbour loses their job. A depression is when you lose your job.

Latest industrial production data shows output is falling around the world. And US unemployment is rising again, with the wider measur…

August highlights

Many readers have been taking a well-earned break over the past few weeks. The blog also continues to gain large numbers of new readers, as the financial crisis intensifies. As usual, therefore, it is highlighting key posts during August, to help you…

US polymer demand slows as consumers cut back

The above chart, from the invaluable American Chemistry Council (ACC) weekly report, highlights the scale of Q1’s inventory build in N American polymer markets (polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC).

This build took place as consumers down the value chain…

Downturn continues as financial markets sink

ICIS pricing is a very valuable resource, particularly at market turning points. It highlighted the start of the current downturn in April, when reporting that buyers had moved to operating on a ‘hand to mouth’ basis.

Now, its market editors are high…

Policymakers remain in the Denial phase

A year ago, the blog feared we were “still towards the beginning of the crisis”, not at its end. Sadly, its judgement seems to have been correct.

2 weeks after that post, the US Federal Reserve launched its now infamous $600bn QE2 programme. The aim…

Wal-Mart sends a message

The blog is a great believer in the predictive power of the retail sector.

Wal-Mart and Tesco were the first to spot the downturn in the summer of 2007, a year before it became obvious to everyone else.

Now Wal-Mart’s problems are providing some impo…

Boom/Gloom Index suggests markets on the edge

There’s “a 50% chance that the US could slide into a new recession”, according to Harvard’s Prof Martin Feldstein. He sees the economy as “really balanced on the edge”, with housing still depressed and consumer spending flat.

The blog’s own IeC Boo…