Which posted the strongest growth at the beginning of 2016: the US, UK or the Eurozone? The answer is the Eurozone. Growth at 0.6% for the quarter (about 2.5% at an annual rate) is nothing to write home about, but it is not the stuff of doom and gloom either. Reasonable growth like that should come as no surprise. The economy is receiving as much monetary stimulus as the ECB can currently muster, and fiscal contraction has come to a halt.
Inflation is still well below target, but the reason for that is straightforward enough (as Martin Sandbu points out): there is still a lot of spare capacity. Inflation will only stabilise at around the 2% target when that spare capacity has disappeared. Policy should be doing everything (more public investment!) to ensure that happens through strong growth rather than, as seems to have happened in the UK, a gradual contraction in supply. On inflation the ECB should make their target 2%, rather than the current ‘below but close to’ 2%, to avoid the Japan problem that Narayana Kocherlakota discusses here.
I went further when I wrote two weeks ago (the GDP figures came out a week ago) that “I also think we may see rapid Eurozone growth before ”. By rapid growth I mean something in excess of 2.5%. I said that because I was adding one other factor into the mix of fiscal neutrality and monetary expansion, which is that the Euro has been pretty competitive for well over a year. As Martin points out, that has so far not contributed anything to recent Eurozone growth.
I have read in a few places recently people saying that the impact of international competitiveness is not what it was. I agree with Paul Krugman that this pessimism is unlikely to be warranted. I have spent a significant part of my working life estimating and applying trade elasticities (the impact of international competitiveness on trade and hence demand), and this experience has taught me that this effect is a bit like Milton Friedman’s description of how monetary policy works: there can be long and variable lags. So I expect that the Eurozone’s competitiveness gain over the last year and a half will begin to impact on Eurozone GDP at some point in the next year or two, and that might just provide more rapid growth than we saw at the beginning of 2016.