Steeling themselves

Why Chinese steel overcapacity will continue to test global steel producers’ patienceSince 2010, Chinese demand for steel has lagged far behind production and exports (Figure 1). In spite of this, production has remained strong with steel mills taking advantage of low iron ore prices at present. These sustained levels of production have been worrying producers of the metal around the globe as China ships its excess steel abroad. China is already the world’s largest steel manufacturer, in value terms they dwarf the whole of North America and are estimated to be responsible for around 50% of global overcapacity. Steel associations outside of China argue that China is flooding markets and hence driving steel prices down.  As a result of these concerns, eight representatives of steel organisations from around the globe (North America, Latin America and Europe) have lobbied China to alter its recent Steel Adjustment Policy 2015.

 

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Figure 1  | Chinese Steel Exports and Imports, demand and production compared, based 2010
Source | DeltaMetrics 2015

 

Chinese iron and steel trade is highly correlated with the value of the yuan (and with equity markets across the region). Further, its trade generally is also highly correlated with the Iron and Steel price. Through a state-controlled steel industry, China is able artificially to drive down steel prices and effectively circumvent the market forces which all other global steel industries are susceptible to. The eight steel association representatives therefore hope China will rethink its steel policy for the benefit of the free market and the future of steel trade.

Delta Economics, sees encouraging signs of China reining in its steel exports in future. Between 2010 and 2015 (to the current month), we saw a compound average growth rate (CAGR) in Chinese steel exports of 10.7%. This was compared with 5.3% growth from North America, 1.3% in Latin America and 1.5% in Europe over the same period. However, between 2015 and 2020 we are now forecasting significantly lower CAGR growth in Chinese steel exports of 6.8%. This is compared with growth in steel exports in Latin America (4.2% to 2020), North America (6.2% to 2020) and Europe (2.6% to 2020). It appears, therefore, that China may well be listening to global concerns over its steel overcapacity.

This will not be a quick or easy process, however. It will take years of adjustments to address the Chinese steel surplus. Smaller steel mills within China are most likely to bear the brunt of the readjustment policy with plant closures and redundancies. However, the larger steel mills will be slower to change. Therefore, although our forecasts are showing more encouraging signs for steel producers outside of China, the coming years are likely to severely test the industry.

 

 

Nerves of steel  |  Author  |  Jack Harding  |  Analyst and Publications Manager

Outlook 2015

A small increase in World trade in 2015 | World trade grew at around 1.2% during 2014. This is still a forecast but is based on the actual data from the International Monetary Fund for the first three quarters of 2014 and the Delta Economics forecast for Q4 2014. The Delta Economics forecast aligns with the CPB Netherlands Bureau Trade Monitor for the first three quarters of 2014 but is divergent from the IMF and WTO’s trade forecast for 2014 by some margin (Figure 1).

Delta Economics is predicting that World trade will grow in value terms slightly during 2015 from 1.2% to just below 2% by the end of 2015. Because this is a forecast in constant values, it represents likely increases in World trade volumes during the course of the year.

Care should be taken in interpreting this growth, however. While it is the first forecast of slightly faster growth that we have made since 2011, it is still too slow to suggest that there is any major resurgence of trade as a driver of economic growth or, indeed, a return to the multiples of trade growth versus GDP that was evident in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis.

 

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Figure 1  | Delta Economics, WTO forecasts versus actual trade growth, 2011-14
Source | Delta Economics, WTO and CPB Netherlands Bureau 2011-14

 

The growth in 2015 will be led by two regions, Asia and North America (Figure 2). Asia’s growth, to a large extent will be driven by:

  • China’s recovery from slow trade growth (at just 4%) in 2014 to above 7% in 2015, although this is still a long way below post-crisis peaks
  • Re-distribution of trade around the region away from China, we expect particularly rapid trade growth in Indonesia and Malaysia at over 10% and 7% respectively in 2015

North America’s growth is driven by exports which, following a sustained period of re-shoring, are forecast to grow by nearly 4.5% in 2015.

However, every other region’s trade is forecast to decline or grow at a slower rate in 2015 with Europe’s trade set to shrink in current prices by 3.5%. Much of this is due to declining intra-European trade: trade within the Eurozone is forecast to drop by 3.7% this year reflecting weak demand conditions within the Eurozone.

 

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Figure 2  | World and regional trade growth (% constant prices), 2014 and 2015 compared
Source | DeltaMetrics 2014

 

Disinflation, oil prices and the risks of contagion | MENA’s trade is forecast to drop to 1.9% in 2015 from an already disappointing 3.6% growth in 2014. At the beginning of 2014 the Delta Economics forecast was for above 4% growth. On paper at least, oil producing nations are net losers in export terms as the oil price drops while oil importers are net winners in that it reduces costs for producers and exporters.

A zero-sum game in trade terms as the oil price drops is over-simplistic, however. Trade and oil are 94% correlated. This means that trade can effectively be a mechanism through which disinflation is spread through the global economic system. Emerging markets are the largest oil producers and, as they lose export revenues, their aggregate demand falls back meaning that they demand less by way of imports from other countries. Lower oil prices reduce producer costs, but if there is little demand either within or outside of a region then export prices will also have to drop.

Against this backdrop the forecast for World trade becomes important as a predictor of when we might see oil prices increasing again (Figure 3).

The monthly predictions of trade growth suggest that there will not be any major pick-up in the oil price until the end of Q1 2015. Even then, any increase will be erratic and relatively small based on how we are predicting global trade will grow.

 

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Figure 3  | Monthly value of World trade vs. NYSE Arca oil spot, Last Price Monthly, June 2001-Nov 2011
Source | DeltaMetrics 2014, Bloomberg

 

Geopolitics, geoeconomics and “febrile stability” | 2014 was dominated by geo-political and geo-economic risks from the outset: starting with the Emerging Markets in January, Russia and Ukraine in late February, the Iraq crisis in June 2014 and subsequent crises in August to the end of tapering, with China and Japan’s economic slowdowns at the end of the year. Until the major fall in oil prices at the end of 2014, markets appeared to be pricing these in. Equity markets continue their bull run with the role of central banks increasingly seeming to be to provide reassurance to markets that nothing precipitous is likely to happen to interest rates in the immediate future.

This creates what Delta Economics terms, “febrile stability”: markets are behaving as if there are no underlying geo-political or geo-economic concerns, yet watching for one incident that will trigger a major sell-off.

The case of Germany’s car trade with China and Russia illustrates the interplay between geo-politics and geo-economics and its dampening effect on trade (Figure 4). The DAX is 86% correlated with Germany’s trade overall, 73% correlated with its car trade to China and 84% correlated with its car trade to Russia. Figure 4 shows:

  • German car exports to China are forecast to grow during 2015 but it will not be until the end of Q2 that exports really pick up again, this suggests that China’s demand for luxury goods, while growing, is not growing at the pace that might be expected
  • German car exports to Russia are forecast to slow during 2015 and have dropped substantially since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, this is partly a reflection of Russia’s weakening economy but in the first instance was the result of punitive reciprocal trade restrictions

The tipping point in 2015 is likely to be an increase in interest rates in the USA. If this is early in 2015 while oil prices are still falling, this will further strengthen the US Dollar, reducing further the export revenues for emerging economies in particular and placing at risk of default any sovereign debt or bonds denominated in US Dollars. As Russia, Argentina and Venezuela are close to default this could be the catalyst that sparks a global correction.

 

 

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Figure 4  | Monthly value of German car exports to Russia and China, USDm vs. DAX, Last Price Monthly (June 2001-Dec 2015)
Source | DeltaMetrics 2014, Bloomberg

Global equity markets long overdue a correction | Delta Economics modelling continues to suggest that equity markets are long overdue a correction. The correlation between World trade and the S&P 500 has weakened from 68% in January to 62% now and this reflects its long bull run that has extended to the end of 2014. It has become increasingly detached from real macroeconomic indicators and increasingly determined by central bank monetary policy and short-term sentiment indicators.

Delta Economics considers the bull run to be unsustainable given the pressures of disinflationary contagion and geo-political and geo-economic risk that spread through the global trade system. Economies do not operate in isolation in the same way as they did pre-crisis and a hike in interest rates in one country, particularly the USA, will impact others through trade and debt dependencies. Against this fragile backdrop, it is likely that a major correction in asset prices will take place during 2015.

 

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Figure 5  | Monthly value of World trade (USDbn) vs. S&P 500, Last Price Monthly, June 2001-Dec 2015
Source | DeltaMetrics 2014, Bloomberg

Outlook 2015: a small increase in World trade in 2015  |  Trade View Author  |  Rebecca Harding  |  CEO

Even a stopped clock….?

Why economists are right to be cautious about the recovery | In a recent after-dinner speech at an Economists’ event I attended, a senior UK economist and a former external member of the Monetary Policy Committee explained why economists are cautious about stating unequivocally that the recovery in the UK and Europe has started. The argument ran something like this: first, economists generally as a profession did not predict the downturn; second, although there are plenty of individuals who will state that they knew it was coming, it was not predicted in our models and therefore we should be wary of declaring recovery – just in case everything collapses again; third, there are plenty of signs that any recovery in 2014 is weak and is unlikely lead to global “escape velocity”, as Christine Lagarde, the Head of the IMF reminded us last week.

As the World Trade Organisation (WTO) looks back into its crystal ball on the 14th April, tells us what happened to merchandise trade in 2013 and revises what it thinks will happen in 2014, it would do well to remember the humility with which all economists should treat any forecast. In a sense, its job is easy. It is revising its forecasts for 2013 and therefore 2014. It is likely to come in at a trade growth figure for 2013 around 1.9% in contrast to its forecast of 2.5% for last year. This will mean that it will also have to revise downwards its forecast for 2014 as it will be starting from a lower base but, because it is using the more optimistic assumptions modelled by the IMF of faster growth in developed countries, it will still be very optimistic on trade growth for the year.

Delta Economics’ own estimate of trade growth in 2013 suggests that trade growth has been lower than the 1.9% that the WT0 was informally predicting back in December at just 1.4% averaging out imports and export growth. Our modelling is based on the monthly IMF Direction of Trade Statistics, the United Nations Comtrade Statistics and 93 national statistics offices. The first two are the same datasets that the WTO itself uses, the third harmonises the data with national data to bring it up to date.

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Figure 1 | Delta Economics Q1 2014 World Trade Forecast overview

Figure 1 Source | DeltaMetrics 2014

Given that the data is similar to that used by the WTO, it is hard to see why it would come in with a value as high as 1.9%, but estimating techniques vary and the figure of 1.5% growth in imports in 2013 without a correction for global disinflation may explain the difference.

However, what matters more is the fact that the Delta Economics forecast for world trade growth in 2014 has been falling over the past six months and will, no doubt, be several percentage points below that of the WTO’s which currently stands at 4.5% for 2014. While, like the WTO/IMF’s forecasts, we saw more buoyant conditions at the end of 2013 but even so, the moving average forecast over the past 6 months suggests that world trade growth in 2014 will be only just above 1% compared to 1.5% that we were forecasting in December.

There are several reasons why Delta Economics is cautious about predicting a rapid expansion in trade growth this year. The first is that, as Figure 1 suggests, while we are more positive about the US, Germany and the UK, we are more negative or neutral about exports from other top trading nations: China, France and Japan. Our forecasts are also more negative for other, key, economies such as Canada, Mexico, India, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This leads us to have a generally more negative outlook for export growth in every region except Europe and for Europe we are forecasting a slightly slower contraction rather than growth.

The second reason why we are less positive about trade is because of the patterns of trade between developed and emerging economies. The main feature of the post-crisis recovery was a more rapid recovery of emerging economies in trade terms compared to developed nations, shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2 | North-North and South-South trade, June 2001-Dec 2016 (USDbn values)

Figure 2 Source | DeltaMetrics 2014

North-North trade has yet to return to its pre-crisis levels and will remain flat for the next three years according to our forecasts, but more importantly, South-South trade, which drove trade recovery after the downturn globally, will grow by just over 5% in 2014 compared to over 18% in nominal values between 2011 and 2012. And since this is predominantly accounted for by commodities, infrastructure and intermediate manufactured goods, it suggests that these economies will not be demanding the products that fuel growth for the foreseeable future. Declining export forecasts for China, India and Mexico, as well as slower forecast growth in Asia, Latin America and MENA illustrates just how the spillover effects of South-South slowdown work through to these countries.

Some of the fall in prices is because of how trade is measured. We, like the IMF and the WTO, use US Dollar nominal values to create our trends but what this does, is illustrate very clearly that if there has been downward pressure on prices this, in and for itself would explain why we are showing slower actual growth. The current price forecasts that Delta Economics models, effectively show how trade volumes will be affected if prices remain the same. On the basis of this, we are forecasting only modest growth in South-South and flat growth in North-North trade volumes.

Why this is important is because of the effect that it has on equity markets in particular. For example, the BSE Sensex is highly correlated with South-South trade (0.92) and this is illustratively presented in Figure 3.

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Figure 3 | South-South trade and the Indian BSE Sensex last price monthly, June 2001-Feb 2014

Figure 3 Source | DeltaMetrics 2014

When equity prices generally fell between 2007 and the end of 2008, the subsequent lock-down in credit affected markets for trade finance with the result that South-South trade fell as well after a time-lag. The upward trend of the market and emerging world trade continues until the end of 2010 when again, a drop in the market created uncertainties, particularly about India’s trade and economic performance and again led to a drop in trade after a four month time lag.

And this matters at a global level as well. Figure 4 replicates the same diagram for the S&P 500 and world trade.

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Figure 4 | S&P last price monthly and value of World trade, USD bn, June 2001-Feb 2014

Figure 4 Source | DeltaMetrics 2014

Since 2001, equity prices and trade have been highly correlated. In 2008 we saw a major drop in equity prices and the simultaneous lock-down of credit. What this did was restrict access to trade finance with the consequential 23% drop in trade that we saw in 2009. They moved together with a high positive correlation up to April 2011 reflecting general confidence in markets, but, since then, the relationship has been an equally strong negative correlation.

What this tells us is that markets have not been reacting to economic fundamentals for the last nearly 3 years but instead are reacting to sentiment and political/geo-political events. This makes them volatile, which, as our modelling demonstrates, increases uncertainty and therefore trade itself. It also suggests that there is a correction due during the course of 2014 if we are to return to the high levels of correlation up to 2011.

There is plenty to worry about in world trade at the moment. It is not like GDP in that it is directly affected by geo-political risk, which often works through trade sanctions and embargoes, and it is directly affected by economic uncertainty because this makes the trade finance environment more difficult and can restrict access to finance for exporters. This in and for itself will negatively impact GDP and economic development through trade.

Given the importance of trade to markets, trade finance and to economies generally, improving the accuracy and timeliness of trade forecasts is vital. Delta Economics is erring on the side of caution in proclaiming a recovery, not because it is insuring itself against the likelihood of a downturn but because the geo-political and deflationary downside risks globally suggest that the trade picture is more negative than is currently being predicted elsewhere. Trade, like financial markets, is internationally inter-dependent – one falls and the other falls too. It is no longer adequate to be like a stopped clock – right twice a day.

North America

Our regional forecast for 2014 export growth has dropped from 2.8% in Q4 2013 to 1.6% now. The United States will see its exports grow by a forecast 3% in 2014 which, compared to a net drop in Canada of -2.5% is positive. Its imports are forecast to shrink by around 1.9% during the course of 2014 and this reflects the reduced dependency that it has for imports on intermediate goods, particularly originating in China. Compared to Mexico, its drop is relatively small compared to 2013 (just 0.7%) suggesting a positive outlook for economic growth more generally. Mexico’s drop in forecast export growth reflects its status as an emerging economy and its dependency on trade with Canada and China in particular. All emerging economies at present are experiencing downward pressure on prices in order to remain competitive and this is reflected in the forecasts as well. Mexico is no exception.

The Dog That Never Barked?

Why deflation may yet bite | Deflation has come back on to the agenda. It never really left – it is the dog that never barked in the wake of the downturn: the sheer scale of the fiscal stimulus around the world has meant that, with the notable exception of Japan, we have experienced dis-inflation, or falling price levels, rather than deflation, which is negative price levels. With recovery in Europe and North America apparently beginning to take hold, why would commentators and analysts start to fear its bite now?

The answer is that it is not just Europe that needs to worry about deflation. Chinese trend growth is falling and March’s declines in copper and iron ore prices underscore the over-capacity in the Chinese economy that are symptomatic of lower domestic demand and that raise the spectre of deflationary contagion for Asia and the rest of the world.

The similarities with Europe are striking. Lack of demand in Germany  keeps inflation low in the Eurozone. While this benefits the weaker economies in the Eurozone in terms of competitiveness, making their prices cheaper and giving their consumers some spending power, if German demand remains low, then its inflation remains low. Because it is a surplus nation, its over-production pushes down prices in peripheral countries too, putting further downward pressure on investments and increasing the cost of their debt.

The threat of deflation from China’s lack of demand is best seen through the lens of South-South trade, illustrated in Figure 1a and 1b. China’s demand is a major determinant of South-South Trade, and the two charts show clearly the inverse relationship between South-South trade and the strength or weakness of the currency.

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Figure 1a (left)  |  Real-USD and Zloty-USD Last Price Monthly versus monthly USDm monthly value of South-South trade, June 2001-Feb 2014

Figure 1b (right)  |  INR-USD versus monthly USDm monthly value of South-South trade, June 2001-Feb 2014

Source  |  DeltaMetrics 2014, Bloomberg


The post-crisis recovery in trade continued until the beginning of Q2 2011 and the emerging currencies 
continued to strengthen. Since then, however, South-South trade has been volatile but with flat trend growth. The Real and the Rupee have deteriorated against the US Dollar. The Zloty has strengthened slightly, but this is because Poland is integrated into European supply chains, especially through Germany.

This points to two dangers: first, the fact that China’s trade is volatile and not increasing at the rate that it was between 2010 and the middle of 2011, meaning that South-South trade is relatively unpredictable and not as buoyant as it was either pre- or post-crisis. This will put downward pressure on prices in China and in other emerging economies. As prices fall, servicing debt becomes more difficult.

Second, the fact that emerging market currencies (here proxied by the Rupee and the Real in particular) are associated with South-South trade growth presents a further challenge for US denominated debt. Emerging market trade is slowing and the pressure on prices is downward. This puts downward pressure on the value of the currencies too, making dollar denominated debt more expensive – further exacerbating the debt challenges caused by any potential deflation.

Figure 2 looks at the problem on a global scale and shows how deflation may already be working its way into trade values and into lower metal prices.

 

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Figure 2  |  World Trade (USDm) versus Copper, Steel, Platinum and Gold Spot Last Price Monthly (June 2001-Feb 2014)

Source  |  DeltaMetrics 2014, Bloomberg

The first point from this chart is the clear flat-lining of trade values since March 2011 and a decline from May 2013 through to February 2014 in nominal value terms. Second, through the whole period, key metal prices are highly correlated with world trade, at above 0.79 for all metals. However, since August 2008 only Copper and Gold have been highly correlated (0.71 and 0.79 respectively) with world trade.

Both Copper and gold prices have fallen over the last 14 months but for quite different reasons. Copper is a proxy for economic development and manufacturing. In this context, its price will be strongly associated with economies that have strong manufacturing components to their trade, as illustrated in Figure 3.

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Figure 3  |  Copper Spot prices against the world’s largest exporters (value of exports USDm against Copper Last Price Monthly, June 2001-Feb 2014)

Source  |  DeltaMetrics 2014

 

The copper price is highly correlated (at above 0.85) for all these countries’ exports. However, since August 2008, China’s exports have exhibited the weakest correlation at 0.57. This may suggest that investors are already looking at stronger growth in Europe and the US in the near term while also expecting flatter manufacturing exports from China as a reflection of over-supply in Asia.

Gold prices, in contrast, are often used as a hedge against inflation and deflation. Theoretically, where deflation is a risk, gold, as a store of value during low or negative interest rates, would rise in price, although, as Figure 4 shows, the price of gold rose up to early 2008 despite sustained Japanese deflation. But Figure 4 also shows a marked decrease in the price between January 2008 and October 2008 and then from September 2012. These were periods of marked disinflation, as opposed to deflation.

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Figure 4  |  Gold Spot Last Price Monthly against Export Trade values for Germany, China, the US and Japan (June 2001-Feb 2014)

Source  |  DeltaMetrics 2014, Bloomberg

For the whole period, China, Germany, the US and Japan’s export trade has been highly correlated with Gold prices at 0.85 and 0.90 for China and Germany and 0.94 for Japan. Since the crisis, the correlation with Gold for Germany, the US and Japan has remained strong at 0.75, 0.79 and 0.86 but has weakened for China to 0.48. This is purely descriptive data but it suggests that investors have potentially been more concerned about the direct effects of deflation in developed economies until recently and have not regarded falling export prices in China as anything other than a competitive correction leading to disinflation rather
than deflation itself.

How worried to we need to be about either German or Chinese surpluses? There clearly is a deflationary trend globally manifesting itself through nominal trade values. But will this spill over into either the Eurozone or more widely across Asia?

 

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Figure 5  |  China and Germany’s Trade Ratio (exports/imports), June 2001-Dec 2014

Source  |  DeltaMetrics 2014

 

If the problem in either Germany or China is the balance of exports over imports, then Figure 5 is enlightening. Germany’s trade ratio has remained remarkably static since June 2001 suggesting that it is not Germany’s surplus that is causing new problems. Similarly, China’s trade ratio has tipped in favour of imports over exports since the downturn since it has declined overall since 2001. In other words, the challenges of over-production are not new for two economies that are export-driven or for their neighbours.

However, if there is an issue, it is that investors and commentators alike may yet talk themselves into a deflationary spiral based on what is, increasingly, compelling evidence that disinflation could turn into deflation.

 

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Figure 6  |  China and Germany’s trade balance, USDm against Gold Spot, Last Price Monthly, June 2001 – Feb 2014

Source  |  DeltaMetrics 2014, Bloomberg

   

Figure 6 shows a high correlation between the Gold Price and Germany and China’s trade balances. It is the most recent months, where disinflation has been present, that both the trade balances and the gold price have declines most sharply. The only other time when the simultaneous decline was as strong was between July 2008 and January 2011. But while German trade is highly correlated since this point, suggesting investors have priced in European disinflation, the decline in gold prices appears to lead the Chinese trade surplus since September 2012. In other words, investors began to worry about Asian prices then but may not see this as a real issue of deflation since recent price rises are strongly associated with geo-politics rather than economics.

In the end, trade flows in nominal value terms provide evidence that disinflation is an issue in both China and Germany with obvious effects for Asia, South-South trade and Europe. Of particular concern is the size of the debt burden of peripheral countries in Europe and Dollar-denominated debt in Asian markets. Defaults alongside downward pricing pressures could make deflation really bite and this is what markets are currently nervous about. And, as Figure 7 shows, the correlation between World Trade and the S&P 500 was positive up until August 2013 but has been negative since suggesting some form of correction is perhaps overdue.

 

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Figure 7  |  World Trade Values (USDm) against S&P 500 Last Price Monthly, June 2001-Feb 2014

Source  |  DeltaMetrics 2014, Bloomberg

However, whether or not the dog will start to bark will depend on recovery in Europe and the US. If this proves sustainable, then it is yet possible that deflation’s bark may be worse than its bite.

Don’t Cry for Me…

Why trade mistakes are hampering Latin American growth | In the context of the current Ukrainian crisis, the decision by Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, to suspend diplomatic and economic relations with Panama has barely registered. Trade between Panama and Venezuela is relatively small, worth an estimated US$ 1.2bn in 2013. Crude oil, which is Venezuela’s main export with a value of over US$ 2.6bn is not within the top 30 trade sectors between the two countries and therefore, on the face of it, the impact on long term policies to stabilise the Venezuelan economy may be minimal. Trade is highly volatile between Venezuela and Panama and Venezuela is more reliant on its trade with Panama for imports than it is for exports, as Figure 1 shows.

 

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Figure 1 | Estimated exports from Venezuela to Panama and imports to Venezuela from Panama, 2001-2014

Source | DeltaMetrics 2014

(Trade data between Venezuela and Panama contain a large number of zeroes thus data must be seen as indicative)

 

Second, and as Figure 1 also shows, the decision to stop trade with Panama potentially hurts Panama more than it hurts Venezuela. Venezuela was Panama’s largest export partner in 2013, although the US will take over from Venezuela during 2014. This calculation is ill-advised on several counts. For example, Venezuela relies heavily on the US for its oil exports. It is the US’s third largest importer of crude oil; it’s exports to the US of crude oil are ten times higher than for the second largest export partner – Germany. With inflation running at, reportedly, above 50% and with the fiscal deficit running at 16% of GDP, the country needs stability more than anything. Any tension with Panama has the potential to spill over into relations with the US and thereby affect its oil exports. The parallels with Ukraine’s situation are not drawn idly: street protests leading to a new government and increasing tensions with the US pose a risk of sanctions and this would not help Venezuela’s quest for sustainable economic growth.

Second, Venezuela is not amongst Latin America’s top 30 trade partners, and yet it is highly dependent on the region for its trade. As Panama’s canal grows so too will its trade both with Latin America, North America, the Middle East and with Asia-Pacific. Its port-to-port trade with, say Singapore is forecast to grow by 10% in 2014 alone and with Hong Kong by 8%. Any greater political instability in Venezuela will have the effect of destabilising trade between other countries in the region. We are already forecasting substantial drops in the trade between it and many of the Latin American countries and yet it has the scope to act as a trade route through to North America if it keeps its export routes with Panama open.

 

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Figure 2 | Venezuela’s export trade with Latin American countries (2014 values and change on 2013) compared to Panama’s extra regional growth.

Source | DeltaMetrics 2014

 

The fact that its largest export product through Panama is automotives demonstrates how important this trade route is potentially in integrating Latin American and North American non-oil supply chains. Before the lock-down of trade we were expecting Venezuelan exports of cars to Panama to increase by over 18% this year, albeit from a small base.

Venezuela’s exports to Argentina are forecast to grow by over 9% during 2014 but Venezuela would do well to learn from Argentina’s trade track record, especially on restricting trade with other countries. Argentina imposed punitive tariffs on importers in 2011 requiring them to export from Argentina the amount in value terms that they were importing. The effect on trade for Argentina has been to increase export and import volatility since, as illustrated in Figure 3.

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Figure 3 | Argentinian exports and imports, June 2001-February 2014

Source | DeltaMetrics 2014

Since mid-2011 when the first range of additional tariffs were imposed, Argentina’s trade has experienced greater volatility in its trade and in fact, trade seems set on a downward trend. The seasonal swings in trade, which were already greater than pre-financial crisis appear to have been accentuated in the years since with a particularly severe drop in 2011-12 as the tariffs started to take effect.

While Venezuela has not introduced tariffs, it has just suspended its trade with Panama, the lessons from Argentina in terms of regional contagion cannot be understated. Figure 4 is the same chart, Argentinian exports and imports, against the value of the Brazilian Real and shows clearly that the value of the Real in relation to the USD has deteriorated over the same time period.

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Figure 4 | Risk of contagion: Argentina’s trade against the Real per USD exchange rate 2001-2014

Source | DeltaMetrics 2014, Bloomberg

It would be a mistake to say that Argentinian, or even Venezuelan trade directly causes a depreciation of the Real or other regional currencies. However, what Argentina’s economic and trade strategies have done, like other countries in the region, is make markets call into question the robustness and sustainability of economic performance and therefore to make them more bearish on the overall outlook as the collapse in the Peso and its knock-on effects to other Emerging Market currencies in January showed.

Venezuela’s trade is important to the region because of the link with the US and although they are not currently through Panama itself, the risk to that trade comes from geo-politics rather than trade economics. If it continues to suspend trade, then the US may impose restrictions on its imports. This could increase the downside risks to Venezuela’s trade forecast for 2014 and there is a clear risk for further contagion across the region. Perhaps like the Ukraine, this is a crisis that may start small but escalate to something bigger, particularly in economic terms. When it does, remember the lessons from Argentina, and don’t cry for me…..