The year that is ending has been characterized by the coincidence of two extraordinary disturbances: a shock of uncertainty as a result of exacerbated geopolitical tensions after the invasion of Ukraine and an escalation in energy prices, particularly gas, which has not been seen since the oil crisis.
The first, of a psychological nature, has clouded expectations, a crucial (although difficult to quantify) factor in investment and consumption decisions. And the energy shock is equivalent to an impoverishment of the country, which can be estimated at more than 52,000 million euros —or 4% of GDP—, what has never been seen since the 1970s.
In the face of such shocks, the economy has held up better than anticipated. The much feared storm did not occur in autumn and the available indicators, although generally downward, show that the collapse in purchasing power borne by households has only partially passed through to consumption. Companies, for their part, have adapted by saving energy and in some sectors profits have skyrocketed.
What happens from here on out depends above all on three factors. One, the degree of persistence of both shocks, something that seems to point in the right direction. Uncertainties persist, but the worst scenarios proposed as a result of the war now seem less plausible. Proof of this are the confidence indices, which, although still in negative territory, register a slight improvement. Likewise, the prospect of a gas supply cut during the winter is less likely, according to forward markets that anticipate a stabilization of energy prices around their current levels —although these continue to be very high and subject to fluctuations. great volatility. The CPI for energy products has fallen since the summer to levels close to pre-war values.
Second, much will depend on the second-round effects of the shocks. At the moment these are not appreciated in terms of wages (the labor cost per hour worked increased by 2.3% in the third quarter, six tenths less than the euro area average). But, meanwhile, the escalation of prices has entered the productive apparatus, with a very high percentage of CPI components becoming more expensive at a rate of more than 6%. In addition, as the ECB has pointed out in its latest forecasts, the suppression of some of the measures adopted by governments, such as the general subsidy for hydrocarbons, will mechanically have an upward effect on inflation.
Another second-round effect that will be decisive is the behavior of the labor market. Until now, employment has acted as a containment dam against the wave of contraction. Changes are detected in the management of the workforce that point to the maintenance of this moderating trend, but this is under the assumption that new shocks do not occur.
All in all, what will be most relevant will be the role of monetary and fiscal policy, given the challenge of appeasing inflation without affecting growth or financial stability. The task is especially complex for the ECB, due to the pressure from the countries of central Europe with a CPI in double digits, which demand a more aggressive monetary restriction. Something that is not necessarily convenient for Spain and France, with more contained inflation. The public treasury, for its part, tries to distribute the costs of inflation, facilitate the energy and digital transition, and at the same time embark on a path to correct imbalances. In short, everything indicates that economic policy will regain its leading role in the new year, after the exceptional succession of exogenous shocks that have marked our lives.
The one-year Euribor, the main reference for variable-rate mortgages, has left behind the negative terrain in which it has remained in recent years, rising from -0.5% in January to values of over 3% after the last ECB meeting. The increase is less pronounced discounting the increase in remuneration: in real terms (difference between the nominal interest rate and the increase in wages), the Euribor stands at 1%, compared to an average of -1.1% during the expansive pre-pandemic period.