Tuesday, January 20, 2015

IMF Paints Dismal Picture for 2015

In what is sure to spook investors in companies with high global exposure, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lowered their global growth forecasts for 2015.  The big hit was in their forecast for China, lowering their forecasts to a 6.8% growth rate.  That's 0.8% lower than China experienced in 2014, and last year was already down from 2013.

That 6.8% growth rate is still almost double the anticipated growth rate world-wide, which the IMF is forecasting to decline to 3.5%.  While Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard acknowledged that the declining price in oil was providing a bit of an economic boost, he does not believe that it will be enough to stem the amount of global economic weakness that is forecast.

Interestingly, the IMF only cut their forecast for the Eurozone to by 0.2% to 1.2%.  From what we've seen to date, it's optimistic to assume that growth will be positive as Europe appears poised for recession.  They also cut Japan drastically, and with a consumer confidence level under 40 and falling, that appears more than justified.  In fact, the 0.6% growth level they are projecting may even be optimistic.

One major challenge related to validating the IMF's gloomy view of China is the lack of confidence in numbers produced by the Chinese government.  Instead, we'll need to rely on forward guidance from some of the larger US corporations with high exposure in that region.  Alcoa, for example, provided a stronger view of 2015 Chinese growth than is predicted by the IMF.  Caterpillar reports next Tuesday (01/27) and it will be most beneficial to compare their forecasts with Alcoa's.  Between CAT and AA, I trust their assessment of global economic conditions far more than I trust the judgement of either the Chinese government's reporting, or the somewhat pessimistic view of the IMF.

Despite my overall skepticism related to numbers coming out of China, there is one release this week that does warrant watch.  The HSBC Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index for China is released at 01:45 GMT on Friday (8:45 PM EST on Thursday.)  The December number was 49.6, so there's a bit of interest in the direction it takes for January.  A reading above 50 signals economic expansion, whereas a number below 50 signals contraction.  It has been slowly - very slowly - trending down since 2009.

It's no exaggeration to say that China will make or break global economic health as we navigate a troubled period in Europe and Japan.  A strong US dollar is not helping there since the Chinese Yuan is pegged to the dollar.  The strong dollar is adding downward pressure on the health of their currency, which raises the prospect that they could decouple from the dollar for added relief.  That may provide a needed boost by improving their export market.

There's a lot to consider related to China and it's interaction with other markets.  For now, pay attention to the PMI number on Friday, but pay even closer attention to the guidance from companies with extreme exposure overseas.  You can count on them being far more forthcoming than the numbers coming out of any government release.

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