The Eurozone economy is expected to collapse in 2020. In countries like Spain and Italy, the decline, more than 9%, will likely be much larger then emerging market economies. However, the key is to understand how and when will the eurozone economies recover.
There are three reasons why we should be concerned:
The eurozone was already in a severe slowdown in 2019. Despite massive fiscal and monetary stimulus, negative rates, and the ECB balance sheet above 40% of GDP, France and Italy showed stagnation in the fourth quarter and Germany narrowly escaped recession. The eurozone weakness started already in 2017 and disappointing economic figures continued throughout the next years. Many governments blamed the weakness on the Brexit and Trade War cards, but it was significantly more structural. The eurozone abandoned all structural reforms in 2014 when the ECB started its quantitative easing program (QE) and expanded the balance sheet to record-levels. Manufacturing PMIs were already in contraction, government spending remained too high and the elevated tax wedge weighed on growth and jobs. In 2019, almost 22% of the eurozone GDP gross added value came from Travel & Leisure, a sector that will unlikely come back anytime soon, while the exporting sector is also likely to suffer a prolonged weakness.
The banking sector is still weak. In the eurozone, 80% of the real economy is financed via the banking channel (compared to less than 15% in the United States). Eurozone banks still have more than 600 billion euro in non-performing loans (3.3% of total assets vs 1% in the U.S.), an almost unprofitable business with a poor return on tangible assets (ROTE) due to negative rates, and a significant challenge ahead, as most of the growth investments, in LatAm in particular, may reduce capital strength significantly in the next months. Most of the eurozone governments are relying on leveraging the banks’ balance sheets in their “recovery plans”. A massive increase in loans, even with some form of state guarantee, is likely to cause significant strains on lending capacity and solvency in the next years, even with massive TLTROs and capital requirement reductions.
Most of the recovery plans go to government current spending, and tax increases will surely impact growth and jobs. The eurozone tax wedge on jobs and investment is already very high. According to the Paying Taxes 2019 report, the majority of eurozone economies show widely uncompetitive taxation levels. As most governments will massively increase deficits to combat the Covid-19 crisis, there is a high likelihood of a massive increase in taxes that will make it more difficult to attract investment growth and jobs. Most of the recovery plans are also aimed at bailing out the past and letting the future die. There are massive bailout packages for traditional conglomerates and industries, but investment in technology and R&D continues to have high burdens and no support. Considering that the eurozone was already in contraction in the middle of the massive Juncker plan (that mobilized more than 400 billion euro in investments) and the large green policies implemented, it is safe to say that relying on a Green New Deal will unlikely boost growth or reduce debt. The main problem of these large investment plans is that they are politically directed and, as such, have a large tendency to fail, as we saw with the Jobs and Growth Plan of 2009.
Almost 30% of the eurozone labor force is expected to be under some form of unemployment scheme, be it temporary, permanent, or self-employed cessation of activity. After a decade of recovery from the past crisis, the eurozone still had almost double the unemployment rate of its large peers, the US, or China. Germany may recover jobs fast, but France, Spain or Italy, with important rigidities and tax burdens on job creation may suffer large unemployment levels for longer.
The eurozone also faces important challenges into a recovery due to its lack of technological and intellectual property leadership. Those two factors will help China and the U.S. recover faster, as well as the reality of having more flexible jobs market and higher support for entrepreneurial activity through attractive taxation. Considering the severity of the crisis, the eurozone is likely to need at last 10% of its GDP o rebuild the economy, but that figure is almost completely absorbed by the traditional sectors (airlines, autos, agriculture, tourism). Furthermore, the New Green deal initiative includes severe restrictions to travel and energy-intensive industries that may act as a brake on future growth.
The ECB policy was already unnecessarily expansionary in the past years, and now it runs out of tools to address the unprecedented challenge of recovery post-Covid-19. With negative rates, targetted liquidity programs, asset purchases of private and public debt, and a balance sheet that exceeds 42% of GDP of the eurozone, the best it can do is to disguise some risk, not eliminate it. We should also warn of adding massive monetary imbalances when demand for euros globally is acceptable but shrinking according to the Bank of International Settlements, and risk of redenomination remains in a politically unstable eurozone.
Our estimates show that, even with large fiscal and monetary stimulus, the eurozone economy will not recover its output and jobs until 2023, and rising debt to record highs as well as monetary imbalances due to massive supply of euros in a diminishing demand environment, may cause significant problems for the stability of the eurozone.
The eurozone needs to understand that if it decides to increase taxes to address the rising debt due to the Covid-19 response, its ability to recover will be irreparably damaged.