Baisse du coût unitaire du travail dans la périphérie de la zone euro, inflation au centre (Allemagne). Les forces en mouvement provoquées par la crise financière et les politiques économiques mises en oeuvre (débat austérité/croissance) pourraient provoquer un rééquilibre des balances courantes de différents pays de la zone euro. Une bonne nouvelle, si l’on en croit Julian Callow, chez Barclays.
« A slow and gradual competitiveness adjustment is already under way in southern Europe and Ireland. Nonetheless, a significant adjustment in unit labour costs (relative to the euro area) of around 5~15% may still be required for Spain, 5~20% for Italy, and 5~10% for Portugal. With these countries also engaged in very strong fiscal consolidation, which will further squeeze domestic demand, the combination of ongoing competitiveness improvement and production switching to exports should enable the trend towards current account balance to continue during the next two years.
The adjustment process will be helped if Germany experiences relatively high inflation. Indeed, there are some indications of faster German wage growth (with recent major private and public wage settlements estimated to be running at around 3-3½%), whereas growth in compensation per employee has effectively ground to a halt in southern Europe (and indeed turned sharply negative in Greece). Overall, such divergences in wage growth, and hence in relative consumption demand, are likely to continue in the years ahead.
There has also been a substantial switch away from domestic absorption in the ‘periphery’, given profound tightness in monetary, financial and fiscal conditions, resulting in some shift in production to exports and a reduction in imports. This is in turn assisting the re-balancing process, most notably resulting in the German trade balance going into deficit against the rest of the EU.
There appears little prospect of a near-term reversal in the powerful forces depressing demand in the ‘periphery’. In turn, these countries have little choice but to seek to grow their exports (viz, Ireland and Portugal). When countries can move into sustainable current account surpluses, foreign investors are likely to become more supportive.
Nonetheless, it is also clear that current account re-balancing is still proceeding relatively slowly, being held back by a generalised and pronounced fiscal tightening in the key trading partners of southern European countries. Inflexible labour markets and relatively small export sectors, which are less oriented towards high valued exports, have also been significantly limiting the ability of southern European countries to adjust external positions rapidly. Moreover, in the ‘periphery’, the danger of outright deflation looms, which substantially complicates financial conditions for economies with high debt.
Still, the analysis presented here would tend to suggest that countries do not necessarily have to leave the euro to obtain the necessary adjustment in their competitiveness. This is particularly true if one considers France, not Germany, as the benchmark (and therefore considers that Germany will need to experience a period of some inflation as part of the adjustment process). »