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Governor Christopher J. Waller: The Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy

At The Global Interdependence Center’s 39th Annual Monetary and Trade Conference, The LeBow College of Business, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (via webcast)

Thank you, Kathleen, and thank you, George and the Global Interdependence Center, for the invitation to speak to you this afternoon. I am with you to talk about my outlook for the U.S. economy and the implications for monetary policy.1 In the last week we have received employment and inflation reports that have garnered a lot of attention. Incorporating this information into my outlook, I have two messages today. The first is that, despite an unexpectedly weak jobs report, the U.S. economy is hitting the gas and continuing to make a very strong recovery from the severe COVID-19 recession. Let’s remember, and this applies to latest inflation data too, that a month does not make a trend—the trend for the economy is excellent. My second message is that, despite the unexpectedly high CPI inflation report yesterday, the factors putting upward pressure on inflation are temporary, and an accommodative monetary policy continues to have an important role to play in supporting the recovery.

The pandemic and resulting public health response led to the sharpest drop in employment and output the United States has likely ever experienced—22 million jobs lost in eight weeks and an annualized decline of 30 percent in real gross domestic output for the second quarter of 2020. These numbers are simply staggering, and they left us in a deep, deep hole. Not so long ago, it seemed like the economic damage from COVID-19 might be with us for a long time, and that a full recovery could take many years. But thanks to the rapid development of vaccines and aggressive fiscal and monetary policy, the economy is recovering much faster than anyone expected six months ago.

I said a few weeks ago that the economy was ready to rip, and in many respects, that is exactly what it is doing. The initial estimate of first quarter real gross domestic product (GDP) growth came in at a 6.4 percent annual rate, surpassing the level of output in the first quarter of 2020, before the full force of COVID-19 hit the economy. Second-quarter growth is likely to be as much as 8 percent, and the prospects are good that GDP will be close to trend output by the end of 2021. New home sales continue to be strong. We are seeing robust household spending on durable goods despite supply bottlenecks that I will discuss in a moment. Surveys of purchasing managers point to continued solid growth in both manufacturing and business services.

So, what about that jobs report? That thud you heard last Friday was the jaw of every forecaster hitting the floor. It was a big surprise for me and most people, but it probably should not have been, because it fits with what we have been hearing from businesses about labor supply shortages. GDP is back to its pre-pandemic level, but we have recovered only 14 million of the 22 million jobs lost last spring.

To fully understand how the labor market is performing, I like to refer to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s labor market distribution spider chart.2 The chart plots data for 15 different labor market indicators in an easy-to-read manner. Using this chart, you can compare all these indicators for February 2020, April 2020, and March 2021. Looking at these months allows one to compare the very healthy labor market of February 2020 with the depths of the pandemic decline in April 2020 and see both how well we have rebounded since then and how much farther we still have to go.

The takeaway from that chart is that the labor market has recovered on many dimensions, such as hiring plans, job openings, quits rates, and firms unable to fill job openings. But on other dimensions, the labor market is far from recovering to its pre-pandemic level. Employment, as I said, is still below where it was in February 2020, by 8 million jobs. The unemployment rate is still 2.5 percentage points higher than it was in February 2020, and we know that it is even worse for some groups—nearly 10 percent for Black workers and nearly 8 percent for Hispanics. The employment-to-population ratio continues to be depressed from February 2020. The upshot is that several measures of labor market conditions have fully recovered, but other measures indicate that the overall labor market has a long way to go to get back to full strength. In short, some of the labor market’s cylinders are firing away, and some are still sputtering, so monetary accommodation continues to be warranted.

This chart, like the disappointing jobs report for April, shines a light on a current puzzle characterizing the U.S. labor market—a lot of job openings, but high unemployment rates and a low labor force participation rate. We hear repeatedly from our business contacts about firms boosting wages yet still being unable to attract workers.3 While clearly this is a real problem for some firms at the moment, I believe this mismatch is temporary.

I think of the current problem as follows. When the pandemic hit, both labor demand and labor supply fell dramatically. The combination of widespread vaccines and fiscal and monetary stimulus caused consumer demand to recover sharply. This situation, in turn, caused labor demand to rebound quickly, particularly in goods-producing industries. However, due to factors like continued fears of the virus, the enhanced unemployment insurance, child-care issues, and early retirements, labor supply has not rebounded in the same fashion, which led to a situation with excess demand for labor and upward pressure on wages.4 And that is exactly what we saw in the April jobs report. Average hourly earnings rose 20 cents in April for private-sector nonsupervisory workers, to $25.45.

But it is likely the labor supply shortage will be temporary. As vaccinations continue to climb, fears of reentering the labor force should decline. By September, most schools and daycare facilities are expected to fully reopen, resolving recent child-care issues for many families. Finally, the enhanced unemployment benefits passed in response to the pandemic expire in September, and research has shown repeatedly that the job-finding rate spikes as unemployment benefits run out.5 Thus, while labor demand is currently outrunning labor supply, supply should catch up soon.

Now let me turn to the other leg of the Fed’s dual mandate, price stability. That second thud you heard yesterday was forecasters’ bodies following their jaws to the floor after the CPI report was released. It was a surprise, but a look at its causes doesn’t alter my fundamental outlook, which is that the main pressures on inflation are temporary.

First, let me address concerns that strong growth threatens to unleash an undesired escalation in inflation. In August 2020, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) adopted a new policy framework that includes flexible average inflation targeting and a policy stance based on economic outcomes as opposed to economic forecasts.

Flexible average inflation targeting means we aim to have inflation overshoot our 2 percent longer-run goal if inflation had been running persistently below target. Given that we missed our inflation target on the low side consistently for the past eight years or so, the FOMC has said that it will aim to moderately overshoot its inflation target for some period but then have it return to target. Our willingness to aim for above-target inflation also means we will not overreact to temporary overshoots of inflation—we need to see inflation overshoot our target for some time before we will react.

An outcomes-based policy stance means that we must see inflation before we adjust policy—we will not adjust based on forecasts of unacceptably high inflation as we did in the past. Call this the “Doubting Thomas” approach to monetary policy—we will believe it when we see it.

We asked to see it, and lo and behold, we are now starting to see inflation exceeding our inflation target. But the critical question is: for how long? Although inflation is starting to exceed our 2 percent target, in my view, this development is largely due to a set of transitory factors that are occurring all at once. I can think of at least six.

First, there is what we economists call “base effects,” which is the simple arithmetic of what happens when the very low inflation readings of the first half of 2020 fall out of our 12-month measure of inflation. That adjustment will be over in a few months. A second temporary factor is higher energy prices, which have rebounded this year as the economy strengthens but are expected to level off later this year. Retail gasoline prices have jumped in some areas due to the disruption of the Colonial Pipeline, but the effect on inflation should be temporary also.

A third factor is the significant fiscal stimulus to date. Stimulus checks put money in people’s pockets, and when they spend it, there will be upward pressure on prices. But when the checks are gone, the upward pressure on prices will ease.

A fourth factor is a reversal of the very high savings that households have built up over the past year. As households draw down these savings, demand for goods and services will increase, which again will put upward pressure on prices. But, just like stimulus checks, once the excess savings is gone, it is gone, and any price pressures from this factor will ease.

A fifth factor is supply bottlenecks that manufacturers and importers are currently experiencing; supply chain constraints are boosting prices, particularly for goods—less so for services. One strength of a capitalist system is that markets adjust. If demand and prices rise for a product, supply will follow, and bottlenecks will dissipate. So once again, price pressures induced by bottlenecks should reverse as supply chains catch up and orders get filled.

Finally, the excess demand for labor I described earlier is likely to continue to push wages up in the next couple of months. How much of this increase gets passed through to prices is unknown, but some of it will. However, as I argued earlier, once labor supply catches up, this wage pressure should ease.

I expect that all of these factors will cause inflation to overshoot our 2 percent longer-run goal in 2021. But they will not lead to sustained, high rates of inflation. Financial markets seem to think the same—5-year breakeven inflation expectations are around 2.5 percent, and 5-year, 5-year-forward measures are around 2 percent, when adjusted for the difference between CPI (consumer price index) and PCE (personal consumption expenditures) inflation rates.6 Hence, markets do not believe the current factors pushing up inflation will last for long.

While I fully expect the price pressure associated with these factors to ease and for some of the large increases in prices to reverse, it may take a while to do so. Shortages give producers pricing power that they will be reluctant to let go of right away. Wage increases for new workers may cause firms to raise wages for existing workers in order to keep them. Consequently, there may be knock-on effects from the current wage increases. The pandemic has also caused firms to restructure their supply chains, and, as a result, bottlenecks may last longer than currently anticipated as these supply chains are rebuilt. There are also asymmetric price effects from cost shocks—prices go up very quickly but often tend to come down more slowly, as consumers slowly learn that the bottlenecks have gone away.

For these reasons, I expect that inflation will exceed 2 percent this year and next year. After that, it should return to target. And in my view, this fluctuation is okay—our new framework is designed to tolerate a moderate overshoot of inflation for some time as long as longer-term inflation expectations remain well-anchored at 2 percent.

Before I turn to the implications of all this for monetary policy, a word about the housing market. As I said earlier, housing is a bright spot in the economy that is encouraging investment and lifting household wealth, which is all good, but with memories of recent history in mind, the fast growth in housing prices in most areas of the United States does bear close watching. Housing is becoming less affordable, and that price increase has the biggest effect on low-income individuals and families who have struggled the most since last spring and who are always the most vulnerable to rising rents and home prices. Prices for lumber and other inputs for housing are skyrocketing, and while that occurrence is not having a significant effect on inflation, it is limiting the supply of new homes and helping feed the house price boom. Fortunately, the banking system is strong and resilient—going through multiple Fed stress tests and a tough, real-life stress test this past year. Nevertheless, I am watching this sector closely for signs of stress and will continue to do so.

So, in summary, the economy is ripping, it is going gangbusters—pick your favorite metaphor. But we need to remember that it is coming out of a deep hole, and we are just getting back to where we were pre-pandemic. Labor market indicators are more mixed with 8 million workers still without jobs. But many of the problems holding back labor supply will dissipate over time, and we should return to the robust labor market we had in February 2020. Inflation is currently being driven above our 2 percent inflation target but is expected to return to target in subsequent years as transitory inflation shocks fade.

Highly accommodative monetary policy, in conjunction with unprecedented fiscal support, has supported a rapid recovery from a uniquely sharp, pandemic-caused recession. The improving economy is helping repair the significant economic damage suffered by individuals, families, and businesses, but there is still a way to go before we fully recover.

In light of that fact, I expect the FOMC to maintain an accommodative policy for some time. We have said our policy actions are outcome based, which means we need to see more data confirming the economy has made substantial further progress before we adjust our policy stance, because sometimes the data does not conform to expectations, as we saw last Friday. The May and June jobs report may reveal that April was an outlier, but we need to see that first before we start thinking about adjusting our policy stance. We also need to see if the unusually high price pressures we saw in the April CPI report will persist in the months ahead. The takeaway is that we need to see several more months of data before we get a clear picture of whether we have made substantial progress towards our dual mandate goals. Now is the time we need to be patient, steely-eyed central bankers, and not be head-faked by temporary data surprises.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you, and I would be happy to respond to your questions.

Fitch Ratings: World GDP Forecasts Revised Up After US Fiscal Stimulus Package

Global growth prospects are improving as fiscal support is stepped up sharply, economies adapt to social distancing and vaccination rollout gathers momentum, says Fitch Ratings in its latest Global Economic Outlook (GEO) released today.

We now expect global GDP to expand by 6.1% this year, revised up from 5.3% in our December 2020 GEO. GDP outturns were stronger than expected in 4Q20 – particularly in Europe and emerging markets (EM) – and world GDP declined by 3.4% in 2020 as a whole, compared to our previous forecast of a 3.7% decline. World GDP is now expected to be 2.5% higher in 2021 than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

“The pandemic is not over, but it is starting to look like we have entered the final phase of the economic crisis” said Brian Coulton, Chief Economist.

Fitch now forecasts US GDP growth at 6.2% in 2021 (revised up from 4.5%), China at 8.4% (from 8.0%) and the eurozone at 4.7% (unchanged). Growth in EM excluding China is forecast at 6.0% (up from 5.0%).

The main driver of our global forecast revision is the much larger-than-expected fiscal stimulus package recently passed in the US. The USD1.9 trillion price tag represents more than 2.5% of global GDP. Fiscal support had a powerful cushioning impact in 2020.

Further fiscal easing has also been announced in the UK, Italy, Japan, Germany and India, while the EU’s Next Generation EU recovery fund (NGEU) should provide a sizeable boost to eurozone growth in 2022. China is the only major economy that is starting to normalise macroeconomic policy settings, where the fiscal deficit is being scaled back and credit growth is slowing as the economic recovery matures.

Unemployment forecasts for the major economies have been cut but job market recoveries continue to lag. Leisure and transport (L&T) industries are labour-intensive and are still afflicted by social distancing. US employment is still 6.1% below pre-pandemic levels (compared to GDP which is 2.4% lower), while L&T accounts for more than one-third of furloughed workers in the EU.

Vaccine rollout has gained momentum, particularly in the UK and US. The eurozone has had a slower start but the programme should accelerate in 2Q21. It is still reasonable to assume that the health crisis will ease by mid-year, allowing social contact to start to recover. But immunisation delays or problems remain the key downside risk to the forecast.

Improving growth prospects, commodity price increases, and short-term supply constraints in some manufacturing sectors have renewed focus on inflation risks. US bond yields are up by 60bp this year.

The rate of headline US inflation could rise above 3% yoy in April but underlying inflation will increase much more gradually given labour market slack. The Fed is focused on unemployment, more tolerant of higher inflation and will remain patient. Core inflation will stay well below target in the eurozone and the ECB will continue to purchase assets through 2022.

The full report, ‘Global Economic Outlook March 2021: The Final Stretch’, is available at the above link or www.fitchratings.com

RBA Minutes of the December Monetary Policy Meeting

Members participating

Philip Lowe (Governor and Chair), Guy Debelle (Deputy Governor), Mark Barnaba AM, Wendy Craik AM, Ian Harper AO, Steven Kennedy PSM, Allan Moss AO, Carol Schwartz AO, Catherine Tanna

Others participating

Luci Ellis (Assistant Governor, Economic), Christopher Kent (Assistant Governor, Financial Markets), Tony Richards (Head, Payments Policy Department)

Anthony Dickman (Secretary), Ellis Connolly (Deputy Secretary), Alexandra Heath (Head, International Department), Bradley Jones (Head, Economic Analysis Department), Marion Kohler (Head, Domestic Markets Department)

Michele Bullock (Assistant Governor, Financial System), for the paper on the future of money

International economic developments

Members commenced their discussion of the global economy by noting that some potential COVID-19 vaccines were reported as having a high efficacy rate and were nearing approval for emergency use in the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union. It was noted that should these vaccines prove effective in practice and be made widely available on a timely basis, this would reduce downside risks to the medium-term economic outlook.

Nevertheless, infections had risen notably in a number of large advanced economies since September. Hospitalisation rates had exceeded earlier peaks in many countries, and stress was being placed on some healthcare systems. Many governments had responded by tightening containment measures, including the re-introduction of full or partial lockdowns. This had contributed to a welcome reduction in the flow of new cases in Europe in recent weeks, while in the United States, where restrictions had been less stringent, numbers of new cases were yet to slow appreciably.

Members noted that global economic activity had bounced back faster than anticipated in the September quarter, but the tightening in containment measures in the December quarter had resulted in a loss of economic momentum. In Europe, some economies were now expected to contract in the December quarter. Members observed that, once most restrictions were lifted, the level of GDP in many economies had tended to recover to around 4 to 5 per cent below pre-pandemic levels. This sizeable shortfall reflected the remaining restrictions on some services industries as well as risk aversion and cost-cutting by firms, which had weighed on employment and investment.

In Asia, differences in the industry composition of economies explained some of the variation in recovery paths. Economies with large automotive industries had experienced a slower recovery in industrial production, compared with those whose exports of technology and electronics are more important. It was also noted that the composition of fiscal stimulus in China had contributed to the very strong rebound in industrial production there.

Members noted that housing prices in a number of advanced economies had been surprisingly resilient this year, and some economies had seen a notable increase in housing prices in recent months. New Zealand had experienced strong ongoing housing demand from population growth, expatriate buying interest and an earlier easing in lending standards. By comparison, these factors had been less relevant in Australia and, partly as a result, the increase in housing prices in Australia this year had been considerably smaller than in a number of other advanced economies.

Members discussed how global developments had affected Australian trade since the pandemic. Early in the pandemic, weak external demand had depressed exports, while supply disruptions had affected imports (as they had in a number of economies). The imposition by Chinese authorities of import bans and other obstacles to imports of some Australian products, particularly agricultural products and, more recently, coal, had also had an effect. However, it was also noted that Chinese demand for Australian iron ore exports remained firm.

Domestic economic developments

Turning to the domestic economy, members noted that the recovery had established reasonable momentum, aided by the lifting of restrictions in Victoria. Expectations for GDP growth in the September and December quarters had been upgraded over the preceding month, and employment had also recovered faster than anticipated. At the same time, members noted that there continued to be a significant amount of spare capacity in the labour market and the economy more generally. The recovery was still expected to be uneven and protracted, with inflation remaining low. Substantial policy support would therefore be required for a considerable period.

In reviewing recent data, members noted that the rebound in household consumption was well under way and evolving broadly as expected following a record contraction in the June quarter. A bounce-back in spending in Victoria had assisted this, consistent with more consumption possibilities opening up in that state. Indicators such as retail trade, new car sales and payments information indicated that the recovery in consumption would continue in the December quarter; high household savings was also likely to support consumption in the period ahead. At the same time, the ability of households to consume some services would continue to be constrained by pandemic-related restrictions. By the end of the year the level of consumption was still expected to be lower than a year earlier, in line with the experience of some other economies.

Members noted that conditions in the domestic housing market were improving but uneven. Regional housing prices had increased by more than those in capital cities since the onset of the pandemic. There was also considerable variation in changes in housing prices across the capital cities, with conditions in Sydney and Melbourne more subdued than elsewhere in the country. In addition, within Sydney and Melbourne in particular, conditions in the detached housing market were firmer than for higher-density markets. Overall, national housing prices had increased only a little since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Members agreed that an important factor in national housing market conditions had been the slowdown in population growth as a result of the closure of international borders; this had been more consequential in Australia than in many other economies. Members discussed how the decline in net overseas migration had affected conditions in the rental market in particular, with rents falling and rental vacancy rates in inner-city Sydney and Melbourne around their highest levels in many years. Rental vacancy rates were much lower in Perth, where growth in new supply had been relatively modest in recent years and international students accounted for a smaller share of rental housing demand.

Members noted that the recovery in the labour market was more advanced than expected, with employment having grown strongly in October. This was despite a tapering in the JobKeeper program and some restrictions on activity remaining in place in Melbourne during most of the month. Victoria accounted for around half of nationwide employment growth in October, in part because of the pick-up in employment in construction and manufacturing in that state as restrictions began to be eased. Related to the stronger employment outcomes, members also noted that the rebound in the participation rate had been surprisingly swift.

Despite these positive developments, members noted that the unemployment rate had ticked up in recent months and that broader measures of labour underutilisation remained high. Hours worked were around 4 per cent lower than before the pandemic, and many employed workers were still on reduced or zero hours. The recovery in employment and average hours worked for full-time workers had been much more subdued compared with those working part time. Members agreed that, on the whole, there was still a significant amount of spare capacity in the labour market and that this would remain a key policy challenge for some time.

A further indication of spare capacity in the labour market was low wages growth. Members noted that growth in the wage price index slowed to 0.1 per cent in the September quarter to be just 1.4 per cent in year-ended terms. This was the slowest wages growth in the two-decade history of the series. Over recent quarters, the slowdown in growth in wages set in individual agreements largely reflected wage freezes for many private sector employees and some, mostly temporary, wage reductions. The slowdown in award wages growth in the September quarter had been even more pronounced than in individual agreements, in part reflecting deferred increases for many awards. Members also observed that if new collective agreements (mostly enterprise bargaining agreements) were established at lower rates of growth than expiring agreements, this would place further downward pressure on wages growth. It was noted that a substantial tightening in the labour market would be required to lift wages growth and inflation outcomes over the medium term.

Members noted that non-mining business investment was expected to have declined further in the September quarter and the outlook remained weak. Surveys of businesses’ investment intentions indicated that expenditure on machinery and equipment and on non-residential construction would remain weak, although not as weak as expected a few months earlier; investment in machinery and equipment would have declined further in the absence of policy measures designed to encourage some firms to bring forward investment. Members discussed the risk that a prolonged period of weak capital investment could weigh on the economy’s productive capacity over time.

Members concluded their discussion of domestic economic conditions by noting that the unprecedented degree of fiscal and monetary policy stimulus since the outbreak of the pandemic had played a key role in supporting the economy. As part of the national fiscal response, state and territory governments had recently announced welcome additional increases in expenditure; this, combined with lower revenues, had seen the consolidated state and territory budget deficit for 2020/21 increase to around 5 per cent of output. The consolidated deficit across the Australian and state governments in 2020/21 was expected to be around 15 per cent of GDP, a substantial increase from 2019/20. Members agreed that national fiscal settings will provide significant support to the recovery in the period ahead.

International financial markets

Members observed that financial conditions were highly accommodative globally. News of progress in developing effective vaccines had boosted equity markets and had lowered credit risk premiums further during November, notwithstanding rising COVID-19 case numbers and tighter lockdown measures in many jurisdictions.

In the advanced economies, expectations for any further reductions in central banks’ policy rates had been scaled back, partly because of upward revisions to the economic outlook and partly because other policy tools were providing significant stimulus and could be scaled up if needed. At its most recent policy meeting, the US Federal Reserve had judged that immediate adjustments to the pace and composition of its asset purchases had not been necessary. The European Central Bank had signalled that it was likely to expand some of its programs at its upcoming meeting, but a further reduction in its negative policy rate was no longer anticipated by market participants. The Bank of England had announced an expansion of its asset purchase program in November and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand had introduced a program for providing long-term loans to banks. In contrast to previous months, market pricing had suggested that negative policy rates were unlikely to be adopted in either of these two economies.

Yields on long-term government bonds in the advanced economies had risen a little in response to the positive news on COVID-19 vaccines, but had remained at very low levels. Central bank bond buying programs had provided some offset to the effect on yields stemming from other influences, including the ongoing high level of government bond issuance. Members noted that, relative to GDP, the size of the Bank’s balance sheet was at the lower end of the range observed in other countries, although it was now rising steadily under the bond purchase program that had commenced in November.

Members noted that a range of asset prices had been supported by the more positive global outlook and the very accommodative stance of monetary policy. Spreads between corporate and government bond yields had narrowed further. Globally, equity prices had increased strongly following the vaccine developments, rising by at least 10 per cent in many cases, including in Australia. A reduction in uncertainty following the outcome of the US election, and better-than-expected earnings reports in advanced economies, had also supported equity prices.

Chinese government bond yields had increased and the Chinese renminbi had appreciated in recent months. Relatively higher interest rates and China’s recent inclusion in some global benchmark indices had encouraged continued inflows into Chinese bond markets. Also, Chinese authorities had continued to improve foreign access to these markets. Reflecting the better outlook for global growth and trade, many emerging market economies had experienced significant portfolio inflows and appreciating exchange rates.

The US dollar had depreciated during November in response to the improved medium-term outlook for global growth; on a trade-weighted basis it was a little below its level at the start of 2020. The same factors had supported commodity prices and seen the Australian dollar appreciate in November; on a trade-weighted basis the exchange rate had remained around 2 per cent below its peak in early September.

Domestic financial markets

Members noted that the most recent policy package had been working as expected. Money market rates had declined to be close to zero and the yield on the 3-year Australian Government bond had fallen to levels consistent with the Board’s target, aided by the Bank purchasing $5 billion of that bond in November. In addition, $19 billion of longer-dated government bonds had been purchased under the bond purchase program.

The bond purchase program had put downward pressure on bond yields and contributed to a lower exchange rate than otherwise. Yields on 10-year Australian Government Securities (AGS) had declined relative to 10-year government bond yields in other advanced countries in anticipation of the Bank’s bond purchase program. Since the announcement of the program, yields on 10-year AGS had remained at similar levels to those on 10-year US Treasury securities. The spread of semi-government bond yields relative to AGS had increased a little following the release of the state government budgets, but yields had remained at historically low levels. The markets for AGS and semi-government debt had continued to function smoothly.

Members observed that average outstanding interest rates on housing and business loans had declined to historic lows. Since the start of November, announcements of reductions in borrowing rates had largely been for fixed-rate housing loans as well as business loans under the Government’s Coronavirus Small and Medium Enterprises Guarantee Scheme. Some banks had also reduced rates on a range of deposit products.

Demand for housing finance had increased in recent months, particularly for loans to owner-occupiers, and credit to investors had stopped declining. Members noted that, in contrast, demand for business credit had remained weak and business credit had declined since May, unwinding the increase over March and April, when businesses had drawn on credit lines for precautionary reasons. Payments into offset and redraw accounts had remained high in October.

The future of money

Members considered a special paper on the future of money and changes in the way payments are made. They discussed the longer-term trend towards the use of electronic payment methods by households and the apparent acceleration in this trend as a result of the pandemic. Members noted that the shift from cash to electronic payments is further advanced in Australia than in a number of other countries. However, demand for cash as a store of value had continued to grow in Australia and most other advanced economies.

Members discussed different possible design features for a retail central bank digital currency (CBDC) and the associated public policy issues. They noted that there has been significant innovation in the Australian payments system in recent years, including the provision of real-time account-to-account payments that are available on a 24/7 basis. A retail CBDC might assist with some particular use cases, but it could fundamentally change the structure of the financial system and introduce new financial stability risks. It therefore did not appear that a public policy case for a retail CBDC currently existed in Australia. Members noted that there could be stronger arguments in favour of a wholesale CBDC and that it was important for the Bank to continue to conduct research in this area and monitor developments in other jurisdictions.

Considerations for monetary policy

In considering the policy decision, members observed that the global outlook remained uncertain. Infection rates had risen sharply in Europe and the United States and the recoveries in these economies had lost momentum or even reversed. However, the news about vaccines had been positive, which should support the recovery of the global economy. The recovery was also dependent on ongoing support from both fiscal and monetary policy. In labour markets in most countries, hours worked were noticeably below pre-pandemic levels. Inflation remained very low and below central bank targets.

In Australia, the economic recovery was under way and recent data had generally been better than expected. Consumer spending had risen as restrictions were eased, business and consumer confidence had lifted and housing markets had generally proved resilient. Employment had been recovering strongly and the peak in the unemployment rate was likely to be lower than the 8 per cent rate expected a month earlier. Nevertheless, the recovery was still expected to be uneven and protracted, and it remained dependent on significant policy support and favourable health outcomes. It would take some time for output to reach its pre-pandemic level and an extended period of high unemployment was in prospect. The high unemployment rate and excess capacity across the economy more broadly were expected to result in subdued wages growth and inflation over coming years. Given this environment, the Board viewed addressing the high rate of unemployment as an important national priority.

Following the significant policy changes made at the Board’s recent meetings, members decided to maintain the existing policy settings. Members agreed that the Board’s policy measures had lowered interest rates across the yield curve, which was assisting the recovery by: lowering financing costs for borrowers; contributing to a lower exchange rate than otherwise; and supporting asset prices and balance sheets. The Term Funding Facility (TFF) was also supporting the supply of credit to businesses. The Board’s decisions were complementary to the significant steps taken by governments in Australia to support jobs and economic growth.

Since the start of the year, the Bank’s balance sheet had increased by around $130 billion. Authorised deposit-taking institutions had drawn down $84 billion of low-cost funding through the TFF and had access to a further $105 billion under the facility. Over the preceding month, the Bank had purchased $19 billion of government bonds under the bond purchase program and a further $5 billion of AGS in support of the 3-year yield target. The Bank remained prepared to purchase bonds in whatever quantity required to achieve the 3-year yield target. Members noted that the Australian banking system, with its strong capital and liquidity buffers, had remained resilient and was helping the economy traverse the current difficult period.

Given the outlook for both employment and inflation, members acknowledged that monetary and fiscal support will be required for some time. The Board remains committed to not increasing the cash rate until actual inflation is sustainably within the 2 to 3 per cent target range. For this to occur, wages growth would have to be materially higher than recent levels. This would require significant gains in employment and a return to a tight labour market. Given the outlook, the Board does not expect to increase the cash rate for at least 3 years. The Board remains of the view that it would be appropriate to remove the yield target before the cash rate itself were increased.

Members agreed to keep the size of the bond purchase program under review. At its future meetings, the Board will closely monitor the effects of the bond purchases on the economy and on market functioning, as well as the evolving outlook for jobs and inflation. The Board is prepared to do more if necessary.

The decision

The Board reaffirmed the existing policy settings, namely:

  • a target for the cash rate of 0.1 per cent
  • an interest rate of zero on Exchange Settlement balances held by financial institutions at the Bank
  • a target of around 0.1 per cent for the yield on the 3-year Australian Government bond
  • the expanded Term Funding Facility to support credit to businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, with an interest rate on new drawings of 0.1 per cent
  • the purchase of $100 billion of government bonds of maturities of around 5 to 10 years over the 6 months following the Board meeting on 3 November 2020.

GREECE IN THE POST-PROGRAMME PERIOD: CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE GROWTH MODEL

Speech by Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras at the 86th Annual Meeting of Shareholders

2019 marks the beginning of new course for the Greek economy. Following the successful completion of the last economic adjustment programme in August 2018, the activation of the enhanced surveillance framework and with Greece now subject to the improved institutional framework for economic governance in the European Union and the euro area, the Greek economy is called upon to operate in a new economic policy context. It is our duty, as individuals, businesses, political and institutional stakeholders, to prove that we have taken ownership of the lessons of the crisis.


2018 saw the recovery of the Greek economy gain traction, with a GDP growth rate of 1.9%. The key drivers of growth were a rise in exports of goods and services, reflecting a greater extroversion of the economy, and a pick-up in private consumption supported by employment growth and an increase in households’ disposable income. 

The smooth execution and completion of the economic adjustment programme, improvements in confidence and the ensuing strengthening of growth led to a return of deposits to banks. This, in turn, enabled an increase in bank liquidity, a significant reduction and almost elimination of emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) from the Bank of Greece, a small recovery of bank credit, as well as a further relaxation of capital controls. 

All of the above led to upgrades of the credit rating of the Greek sovereign and enabled Greece to return to international financial markets a year later, in February 2019, when, taking advantage and of the favourable global investment climate, the Greek government successfully issued a five-year bond. The successful issue of a five-year government bond was the first positive step on the way back to normality. 

Moreover, the successful 10-year bond issue in March 2019, for the first time since the start of the public debt crisis in 2010, marked a more decisive step in the same direction, i.e. towards reconnecting Greece with the markets. The legal provision recently passed by Parliament on primary residence protection also contributes in this direction, as it reforms the relevant legislative framework, incorporating specific eligibility criteria and safeguards. 

The debt relief measures agreed in June 2018, together with the increased disbursements from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) for the creation of a cash buffer, have significantly improved the sustainability of public debt in the medium term. However, given that Greek government bonds are still rated at below investment grade and in the absence of access to a precautionary credit line, Greek bonds remained ineligible for the ECB’s quantitative easing programme (QE) that would have helped strengthen economic activity and further improve the credit standing of Greek bonds. Greek government bond yields are still high and volatile. They are sensitive to potential disturbances in international financial markets and are influenced by increased uncertainty regarding the maintenance of reform momentum. In fact, the yield spread of Greek 10-year government bonds remains elevated, at just under 400 basis points, despite the recent decline in yields. This persistent phenomenon is a matter that needs our serious attention. 

2019 will be another challenging year for the Greek economy. In the external environment, the slowdown of world trade amid rising protectionism could dampen export growth. 

On the domestic front, increased uncertainty about the continuation of reforms coupled with credit constraints are weighing on investment. High taxation in recent years has taken a toll on the growth dynamics of the economy, the competitiveness of Greek enterprises and confidence, and has caused tax fatigue leading to a contraction of the tax base and an exhaustion of the taxpaying capacity. 

In 2019, the growth momentum of the Greek economy is expected to continue at the same pace as in 2018, despite a further slowdown of growth rates worldwide and, especially, in the euro area. However, this forecast is conditional upon the resolute pursuit of structural reforms, the implementation of the privatisation programme without delays and the strengthening of productive investment. These conditions are essential to completing a successful transition to a sustainable and extroverted growth model. 

More specifically, according to Bank of Greece forecasts, GDP at constant prices is expected to grow by 1.9% in 2019, driven mainly by exports and private consumption. However, in order to make up for the huge losses suffered by the Greek economy in terms of output and employment during the long period of recession, higher growth rates are needed. 




The low level of investment, insufficient domestic savings, the high – albeit declining – stock of non-performing loans, the large loss of physical and human capital during the recession, as well as the apparently low expectations regarding medium-to-long term potential output growth as a result of adverse demographic trends and the sluggish adoption of new technologies in production processes, all weaken the growth dynamics. Meanwhile, the outlook for the economy still depends largely on foreign investor confidence and on foreign capital inflows. 

Turning to the domestic environment, and the fiscal front in particular, the possible implementation of Council of State Plenum rulings that earlier pensions cuts and the abolition of pensioners’ bonuses were unconstitutional, poses the greatest fiscal risk in the immediate future. 

Furthermore, the fact that Greece is entering an electoral cycle increases the risk of a slowdown of the reform effort and of fiscal relaxation, compounding economic uncertainty. Thus, backtracking on agreed policies would undermine the significant progress achieved so far. 

DEVELOPMENTS AND PROSPECTS OF THE GREEK ECONOMY IN 2019 

Actual GDP developments in 2018 and the outlook for 2019 indicate that the Greek economy is back on a track of positive growth. The challenge now is to preserve and reinforce the growth momentum so as to enable strong growth rates over a long period. 

The reason for this is that growth has yet to gain sufficient traction, as reflected in a negative rate of change in investment, a negative household saving rate and a still high – albeit decreasing – rate of unemployment. The continued underexecution of the Public Investment Programme is also dampening growth. 

The growth prospects for 2019 will, to a large extent, remain conditional on the course of the global economy and of the euro area economy in particular, as well as on the continuation of the reform effort. 

Economic expansion in the euro area is projected to continue in 2019, but at a significantly more moderate pace (1.1%), as recent data point to a considerable weakening relative to the strong growth rates of previous years. In order to avert the risk of a further economic slowdown in the euro area and to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term, the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) decided in March 2019 to maintain accommodative monetary policy by keeping the key ECB interest rates unchanged until the end of the year and by launching a new series of quarterly targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO-III) with a maturity of two years. This decision should improve financial conditions in Greece and support the growth effort. The ECB Governing Council additionally stressed, as it has been doing for some time now, that fiscal policy in euro area member states with adequate fiscal space should be supportive of economic growth. 




The Greek economy in the current year is forecast to be driven mainly by export growth, albeit at a slower pace, and a rise in private consumption. Private consumption will be supported by the continued robust performance of the tourism sector, the ongoing recovery of the labour market and the improved disposable income of households, while investment will benefit mainly from a stabilisation of the real estate market. 

HICP inflation fell to 0.8% in 2018, from 1.1% in 2017. The absence of significant further increases in indirect taxation during 2018, the sharp drop in international crude oil prices as from October 2018 and strong base effects were among the main factors behind weaker inflation developments. Looking forward, HICP inflation in 2019 is expected to fall to lower levels, as a result of low international crude oil prices, a slowdown in global activity and trade, as well as strong competition in the domestic retail food market. 

FISCAL POLICY 

In 2017, for the third consecutive year, the general government primary balance exceeded the programme target. An overperformance is also expected for 2018, according both to the Introductory Report on the 2019 Budget and to Bank of Greece forecasts. 

However, the Public Investment Programme was once again underexecuted in 2018. Moreover, considerable delays were observed in the clearance of general government arrears to suppliers, despite targeted disbursements under the loan agreement. These developments, which have been observed repeatedly in recent years, tighten credit supply constraints, thereby depriving the real economy of much-needed financing resources and weighing on long-term growth, as also pointed out by the European Commission in its Enhanced Surveillance Report. 

For 2019, an expansionary fiscal package amounting to roughly 0.6% of GDP is envisaged, partly offset by a curtailment of 0.3% of GDP in Public Investment Programme expenditure. 
More importantly, possible further fiscal expansion in the run-up to the elections could put public finances at risk. 

THE BANKING SYSTEM

Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras

Developments in the Greek banking system during 2018 were marked by an accelerating return of bank deposits, banks’ improved liquidity situation and diversification of funding sources through access to the interbank market and away from emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) of the Bank of Greece, a small recovery of bank credit and the maintenance of capital adequacy ratios at satisfactory levels. However, bank profitability remained weak. 

In early 2018, an EU-wide stress test exercise was conducted, including Greece’s four systemic banks, in order to assess bank resilience to hypothetical shocks over the period 2018-2020. The stress test exercise identified no capital shortfall in any of the participating Greek banks. 
Non-performing loans 

The high stock of non-performing loans (NPLs) on banks’ balance sheets remains the major challenge for Greek banks and a serious constraint on their lending capacity. Banks are using the options provided by the improved legal and regulatory framework, which has removed significant institutional and administrative impediments to NPL reduction. These important reforms have begun to bear fruit, as indicated by the reduction of the stock of NPLs to €81.8 billion at end-December 2018 (or 45.4% of total loans), down from a peak of €107.2 billion in March 2016. However, the NPL stock is still excessively high. 

At the end of March 2019, Greek banks submitted to the ECB and the Bank of Greece their revised operational targets for NPL reduction, incorporating any recent changes in their strategies since September 2018 and any revised macroeconomic assumptions. According to the previous submission in September 2018, the banks aimed to reduce the aggregate stock of NPLs to €34.1 billion by end-2021, bringing the NPL ratio down to 21.2% of total loans. With the new submission, the Banks aim to reduce the NPL ratio even further, to slightly below 20%. Despite the significant reduction, this ratio is still roughly six times the EU28 average, meaning that the NPL reduction needs to be further accelerated.





The successful resolution of the NPL problem is one of the major challenges facing the Greek economy in its effort to achieve sustainable growth, given that bank lending is the main source of financing for non-financial corporations (NFCs), owing to their structure and size, and for households. Freeing the banks of the NPL burden would help reduce the financial risks and funding costs faced by banks, thereby improving their internal capital generation capacity on a sustainable basis and enabling them to resume their intermediation role. In addition, alleviating the NPL burden would strengthen banks’ resilience and shock-absorbing capacity against potential future shocks; support operating profitability and put the conditions in place for a gradual increase in loan supply and a decrease in lending rates to enterprises and households, thereby enabling the smooth financing of the real economy.


The Greek authorities will soon need to decide on new, more systemic tools that would complement the banks’ own efforts. The Bank of Greece has for quite some time now proposed a systemic solution, which provides for the transfer to Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) of a significant part of NPLs along with part of the deferred tax credits (DTCs) on banks’ balance sheets. This solution has the advantage of addressing two very serious problems at the same time: NPLs and DTCs. The government and the Bank of Greece are working together towards the submission for approval of such systemic solutions by the competent European authorities and their ultimate adoption with a view to successfully tackling the NPL problem. 

Furthermore, as mentioned previously, the new legislation on primary residence protection is a first step towards an overhaul of the personal insolvency framework in pursuit of a holistic solution to the problem. The implementation of the new framework, which incorporates specific eligibility criteria and safeguards, aims to protect the more vulnerable social groups, to avoid creating moral hazard at the expense of non-delinquent borrowers and to ensure that the impact on bank capital is manageable. 

PRIVATE INSURANCE UNDERTAKINGS

 
As a consequence of Solvency II, the Greek private insurance market matured further in 2018, with improvements in governance structures and human resources. Risk and solvency assessment capabilities were also improved, with a view to better capital and risk management and more effective protection of policy-holders. In 2018, insurers continued their efforts to reduce the long-term guarantees embedded in their products. In this context, the time horizon of coverages has been reduced, and the financial guarantees offered reflect more accurately the prevailing economic conditions. These practices have had a positive impact on the undertakings themselves, by enhancing their solvency position, and on policy-holders, by ensuring lower insurance costs and better quality of insurance products. Nevertheless, insurance undertakings must take care not to lose their long-term perspective.


In the life insurance sector, insurance undertakings are increasingly designing and providing insurance-based investment products. This business strategy supports the financial strength of insurance undertakings, while also enabling them to offer higher returns to policy-holders, although exposing them to higher investment risks. Against this background, it is of crucial importance that insurers provide accurate and relevant information to prospective customers, enabling them to understand the risks involved and avoid losses. In addition, with Law 4583/2018, Directive (EU) 2016/97 on Insurance Distribution was transposed into national legislation, and the Bank of Greece was entrusted with the supervision of insurance intermediaries and distributors. 

The outlook for the domestic insurance market is promising. In particular, based on the recent proposal for an EU regulation on a Pan-European Personal Pension Product (PEPP), Greek insurance undertakings could assume a new role and offer personal pension products to customers seeking to supplement their pension entitlements. Likewise, insurance undertakings could be part of a broader scheme providing protection against natural disasters, climate change-related and environmental risks in general. 

Moreover, insurance undertakings can take advantage of new technologies, such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, to improve risk assessment and pricing. 

RISKS AND SOURCES OF UNCERTAINTY

 
Despite the progress made so far, as shown by key economic aggregates, risks remain, both domestic and external. 
On the external front, risks could arise from a possible further slowdown of global economic activity in 2019 amid increasing trade protectionism, geopolitical risks and vulnerabilities in emerging market economies. The slowdown of the European economy is also a significant source of concern, which together with heightened uncertainty over the outcome of the Brexit process, could negatively affect the growth of Greek exports and tourism. 




Turning to the domestic front, the possible implementation of Council of State Plenum rulings that earlier pensions cuts and the abolition of pensioners’ bonuses were unconstitutional, poses the greatest fiscal risk in the medium term. The associated additional expenditure would weigh negatively on the public debt sustainability analysis and would feed uncertainty about the fiscal policy and the financial sustainability of the pension system. 

Other domestic risks include the potential implications of high taxation and the overall fiscal policy mix, as well as the backtracking on reforms or delays in their implementation. In addition, in the labour market, the increase in the minimum wage, legislated last January, though expected to bring about short-term gains by supporting disposable income and thereby private consumption, is expected in the medium term to hurt employment, mainly of youth, and competitiveness. In any event, any raise of the average wage must be consistent with labour productivity growth, so as to preserve the gains in competitiveness and employment achieved through a painstaking reform effort since 2010. 

CHALLENGES FOR GROWTH 
Greece is confronted with a dual challenge: on the one hand, to achieve strong and sustainable growth rates and, on the other, to ensure high primary surpluses in order to meet its fiscal commitments, as defined in the Eurogroup decision of June 2018 and by the broader framework of European fiscal rules. 
During the long period of adjustment, the Greek economy succeeded in correcting several macroeconomic imbalances. However, Greece continues to face vulnerabilities which can, to a large extent, be considered a legacy of the crisis, although the multiple and interrelated nature of these vulnerabilities reveals chronic weaknesses.


In greater detail: 
The permanent return of the Greek State to international financial markets on sustainable terms is the greatest challenge ahead. The existence of a cash buffer, though useful, is only a temporary means for refinancing State borrowing requirements, and would prove rather ineffective in the event of future shocks in international markets. By no means, therefore, can the cash buffer substitute for a return to the markets at regular intervals and on sustainable terms. 
The high public debt-to-GDP ratio increases public and private sector borrowing costs and puts a drag on growth. Although Greece’s debt sustainability improved markedly with the measures adopted by the Eurogroup since 2012 and up, most recently, to June 2018, debt reduction ultimately hinges upon both achieving the fiscal targets and remaining committed to the reform effort so as to ensure robust GDP growth. 
The maintenance of large primary surpluses over an extended period of time (3.5% of GDP annually until 2022 and 2.2% of GDP on average over the period 2023-2060), especially when accompanied by high taxation, weighs on growth and consequently on debt sustainability. 
The high stock of non-performing loans (NPLs) on banks’ balance sheets hampers the financing of growth, as it ties up bank capital and financing resources in non-productive activities. The successful resolution of this problem is absolutely necessary in order to improve the quality of bank assets. This, in turn, would enhance the access of healthy entrepreneurship to bank credit. 
The rate of unemployment remains not only high, but the highest across the European Union. High unemployment, in particular youth and long-term unemployment, gives rise to inequalities that threaten social cohesion, devalues human capital, saps away any motivation for better education and work, and feeds the brain drain. 
Low structural competitiveness, with in fact a trend towards deteriorating. 
The still negative rate of change in investment, considering the need to replenish Greece’s capital stock, especially in the wake of a protracted period of disinvestment. Moreover, continued underexecution of the Public Investment Programme holds back growth, as it reduces aggregate demand, leads to a deterioration of public infrastructure and increases businesses’ operating costs. 
Insufficient domestic savings. The rise in nominal disposable income per capita, in particular in the lower income brackets, supported by employment growth especially among youth and workers with part-time and intermittent employment contracts, was chiefly channelled into consumption. Thus, the household saving rate has remained in negative territory. 
Delays in the delivery of justice. According to the Enforcing Contracts Indicator used in the World Bank’s Doing Business report for 2019, compared to the OECD average, the time for trial and to enforce the judgment is three times longer in Greece, while the time for resolving insolvency is twice as long. Therefore, the rapid and fair settlement of legal disputes in a transparent and stable legal framework is crucial to strengthening the rule of law, thereby also improving investor confidence. 
The quality of institutions and respect for independent authorities. Countries with weak institutions lack in flexibility and adaptability, making potential economic disturbances more likely to occur and more difficult to address. 
Adverse demographic developments. Over the past decade, Greece’s demographics have deteriorated dramatically, as evidenced by the decline and rapid ageing of the population and a very low fertility rate. This trend in demographic data was further exacerbated by the recent wave of migration of part of the population of reproductive age. The demographic crisis is one of the most serious challenges that Greece’s society and economy will need to address in the immediate future, as the rapid contraction and ageing of the population adversely impacts potential output and the pace of economic growth in the medium-to-long term. 
The slow digital transformation of the economy. According to the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), Greece ranked second to last among the EU28 in 2018, meaning that the digital transformation of the Greek economy remains slow. As a result, Greece is still considered ‘digitally immature’. Consequently, policy action must be taken to eliminate this technological lag and reduce digital illiteracy. 
Climate Change and the challenge of sustainable development. Redefining the concept of growth in a sustainability context and embracing the principles of a circular economy will be crucial to our future. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report for 2019, three of the top five risks for the world economy are environmental and all three relate to climate change. 

PREREQUISITES FOR SUSTAINABLE GROWTH




 
Addressing the above challenges effectively will require, as a minimum, the following set of policy actions: 

First, a continuation and completion of structural reforms, so as to safeguard the achievements made so far, reinforce the credibility of economic policy and further improve Greece’s credit standing, paving the way to a permanent return to international financial markets on sustainable terms. In this context, top priority must be given to reforms that enhance public administration efficiency, legal certainty, especially in land use, and the faster delivery of justice. 

Second, reducing the high stock of non-performing loans, so as to free up funds for viable businesses, facilitate the restructuring of the business sector and strengthen healthy competition. Meanwhile, the legal framework reforms currently under way should improve payment morale. 

Third, a change to the fiscal policy mix geared towards lowering the excessively high tax rates, further rationalising public expenditure and enhancing the Public Investment Programme. Ideally, this change should be combined with more realistic primary surplus targets, considering that, with public debt close to 170% of GDP, one additional percentage point increase in GDP contributes 1.7 times more towards reducing the public debt ratio than does one percentage point of primary surplus. 

Fourth, greater focus on attracting foreign direct investment of high value added, which would accelerate technology integration, strengthen Greece’s export performance, utilise inactive human resources, thereby increasing total factor productivity. This presupposes a continuation of privatisations, along with an encouragement of public-private partnerships and a removal of disincentives to investors. 

Fifth, strengthening the “knowledge triangle” (education, research, innovation). As shown by the latest global trends, in modern efforts to reconcile the functioning of a market economy, i.e. capitalism, with democracy, investing in knowledge and the access opportunities to knowledge for all are a crucial catalyst both for economic growth and for social justice. The Greek education system, despite producing a pool of highly-qualified individuals, fails to equip them with the skills required in today’s digital world. The new technologies can generate employment opportunities, provided that labour can rapidly adjust to a human-centred working environment, in which knowledge, skills, personal initiative, mobility, flexibility and cooperation will play a key role. Investing in human capital and fostering entrepreneurship are strategies crucial to the successful adjustment of the labour market. All levels of the education system must therefore be redesigned in order to cultivate the skills required by the modern labour market. Closer links between education and the production process will contribute towards this goal. 
                                                                          *** 
2019 will be a challenging year, as domestic and external risks remain. Therefore, there is no room for complacency. Greece’s successful course in new, post-crisis, European normality calls for strict commitment to uphold the very important achievements made so far, conduct a prudent economic policy aimed at eliminating the remaining imbalances and pursue reforms. The ultimate objective is to complete the Greek economy’s safe transition to a sustainable growth model based on extroversion, entrepreneurship, investment, knowledge and social cohesion, with social sensitivity and respect for the natural environment. The benefits to be reaped are substantial: a rapid decrease in the unemployment rate, a reversal of the brain drain, higher total productivity, higher wages and incomes. 

China’s GDP growth down to 7.5 percent

China’s GDP growth slowed in the second quarter to 7.5 percent year-on-year as weak overseas demand weighed on output and investment, lining up a test of Beijing’s resolve to revamp the world’s second-biggest economy in the face of deteriorating data.

Other figures showed industrial output in June rising slightly less than forecast compared with a year earlier, but retail sales increasing more than had been expected.