This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 17 February 2023

By: Taro Chellaram /Wells Fargo Economics & Financial Report/Feb 20, 2023

This Week's State Of The Economy - What Is Ahead? - 17 February 2023

nflation in the U.K. receded for the third straight month in January, with the headline rate coming in lower than expected at 10.1% year-over-year. The biggest upward contributions to the headline rate came from household energy and food prices. Excluding those more volatile factors, core CPI fell to 5.8% year-over-year. Given that headline inflation is still five times the Bank of England's (BoE) 2% target, the central bankraised its policy rate 50 bps to 4.00% at its February meeting and signaled further monetary tightening ahead. Against this backdrop, we forecast a final 25 bps rate increase at the BoE's March meeting. Inflation slowing more sharply than expectations also reinforces the view that an end to BoE rate hikes is in sight, especially against a backdrop of underwhelming U.K. economic activity. We expect the policy rate to remain at 4.25% through late 2023, before the BoE begins cutting rates in Q4 of this year.

Elsewhere, Japan's economy experienced a somewhat uneven growth path in 2022, bouncing back and forth between expansion and contraction. While it ended on a positive note, Japan's Q4 GDP data release showed that the economy grew less than expected. More specifically, GDP rebounded 0.2% quarter-over-quarter in Q4 after a negative print in Q3. The underlying details of the report reflected mixed sector trends, with private consumption rising 0.5% quarter-over-quarter but business spending falling 0.5%. We expect these mixed economic trends to flow through to this year, altogether expecting growth in Japan to average a moderate 1.3% in 2023, essentially unchanged from last year. At the same time, inflation appears to be trending higher. In December, nationwide headline CPI reached 4% year-over-year, and while more contained compared to its global peers, this is quite elevated compared to Japan’s recent history. Only moderate growth combined with rising inflation pressures adds to the Bank of Japan's (BoJ) dilemma of if and when it should begin to tighten monetary policy, especially with a new BoJ governor on the way. While our base case is for no change in policy settings this year, we will be closely watching for any signals that the BoJ is ready to move away from easy monetary policy.

Down under in Australia, labor trends continued to soften in January. The job market failed to regain its footing last month, with employment declining for the second month in a row. Although consensus expectations were for a 20,000-job gain, employment actually fell by 11,500. Notably in contrast to the December jobs report, this drop in employment was completely due to a decline in full-time employment (-43,300), while part-time employment increased (+31,800). Other parts of Australia's economy also experienced some softness late last year, but we believe this soft patch is temporary and do not forecast Australia to fall into recession this year, nor do we expect slower growth to prevent the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) from continuing to tighten monetary policy in order to bring down inflation.

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