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Forget Draghi, Crude Matters

Forget Draghi, Crude Matters

Despite Mario Draghi’s supposedly misinterpreted comments earlier this week, there are global indications that the best of this round has already been reached. Policymakers are always going to claim things are improving, that much is given. But there is tremendous difference between that and what has occurred, especially if it is indeed rolling over worldwide.

The earliest indicators for China’s economy in June signal that the manufacturing sector may be poised to decelerate, while other challenges loom in the second half of this year.

Small- and medium-sized enterprises showed the lowest level of confidence in 16 months, a gauge of manufacturing drawn from satellite imagery slumped, and conditions in the steel business remained lackluster.

At the center of the story is as always crude oil. There are, of course, direct effects of the ups and downs (more down than up) in the energy market. As the price of it rises there will be more exploration, drilling, production, and transportation required. Some of that has already happened, and accounts for some part of this economic recuperation.

The larger effects are in sentiment, or at least the kind they might measure in PMI’s or surveys. It bears repeating that when the global downturn arrived in early 2015, economists worldwide assured everyone not to worry. They had several plausible reasons for taking that position, flawed as they were. Overall, however, especially from a US perspective the big contrary indicator was WTI.

Dismissing it as a mere “supply glut”, actual economic agents especially in industry would have known better. Even if these important marginal changes weren’t completely understood, it didn’t take any special knowledge or complex series of regressions to link the crash in oil to reduced demand for goods globally. In that way, oil became the best real-time indicator for economic demand and its overall direction no matter what Janet Yellen would say.

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