Economists might like to believe that inflation is somehow a monetary phenomenon. But as we are all likely to learn to our cost over the winter, food and energy prices are critical for most people. Oil prices are already rising. And food prices are joining them.
Chemicals and the Economy
The good news for consumers is that the move to renewables is already set to save European consumers €100bn in 2021-23. The technologies needed in terms of wind, water, solar and storage can successfully deliver the cheaper and more reliable energy supply needed to support the global economy.
Last week’s UN Conference confirmed that curbs on the production of virgin plastics are clearly on the way. Plastics companies have the technology and expertise needed to make advanced recycling of plastics a major success. They now need to accelerate their commitment if they want to remain a growth industry for the future.
The election’s timing could hardly be worse, with Johnson now just a caretaker premier. Russia is threatening food and energy security by cutting fertiliser and gas supplies. The UK should be working very closely with the EU on these critical issues. But instead, we may well see candidates attack the Protocol and the EU to win constituency support.
The history of the 1929 and 2000 downturns suggests the real pain is yet to come. Housing markets look terribly over-valued around the world, as I noted last month. And US consumer sentiment is at all-time lows. So most company earnings seem set to fall, with more than 60% of US CEOs now expecting to see a recession.
Consumer sentiment is already at all-time lows. Rising energy, transport and food prices will likely soon push inflation above 10%, and interest/mortgage rates to 5%+, adding to the risk of a major and long-lasting downturn.
Europe’s plastic industry is at a critical turning point. Profitability is falling as the recession bites. But it cannot just cut back and hunker down. Instead, it has to take a lead in building major new recycling capacity as today’s markets and feedstocks start to disappear.
Essentially, the problem is a timebomb which is set to explode next winter unless governments work together to increase arable planting, establish emergency stocks, and subsidize fertilizer costs whilst gas prices remain at today’s record levels.
Energy and financial markets are exacerbating the risks ahead. Oil prices at current levels – as the chart confirms, they now account for more than 3% of global GDP – have historically led to recession as the chart shows. The reason is that consumers have to cut back on their discretionary spending, which drives economic growth, in order to heat their homes and travel to work and school. Today’s high levels of natural gas prices add to this risk.
This is why we are facing a K-shaped recession. Companies and investors have a difficult time ahead. They not only have to navigate a potentially major downturn. But they also have to completely reposition their portfolios for the New Normal world that will follow.