Factories from Australia to Europe are seeing already surging costs jump further as Russia’s war in Ukraine and the barrage of sanctions rolled out in response roil commodity markets and trade.
While the relaxation of pandemic restrictions helped overall business activity weather the initial shock from the invasion, dwindling confidence is threatening economic growth in the coming months, according to March surveys of purchasing managers by S&P Global that offer a first glimpse at the conflict’s spillover effects.
Rising expenses are denting sentiment in Asia, with input prices at a 14-year high in Japan and a record in Australia. In the euro zone, which borders Ukraine, manufacturers are facing an “unprecedented” rise in costs for parts and raw materials that’s set to feed into consumer inflation.
“Had it not been for the easing of COVID-19 containment measures to the lowest since the start of the pandemic, business activity would have weakened far more sharply,” Chris Williamson, an economist at S&P Global, said about the currency bloc.
While this short-term boost will fade in the coming months, record price pressure on factories “will inevitably feed through to higher consumer prices in the months ahead,” he said Thursday in a statement.
The fear is that soaring inflation will weigh on economies, with the International Monetary Fund poised to cut its global growth forecast for this year. While the U.S. has “fairly strong fundamentals,” other countries face the risk of recession, Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said this week.
Despite inflation running at three times the European Central Bank’s 2% target, President Christine Lagarde played down stagflation concerns this week, saying that even the “severe” 2022 scenario modeled by her staff envisages growth of more than 2% for the euro-zone economy.
Still, the bloc “has the most to lose” from the conflict because of its dependence on Russian energy and closer trade ties with that nation, according to Bloomberg Economics.
In the U.S., S&P Global data showed input price growth accelerated to a near-record high and businesses’ outlooks slipped to a five-month low amid concerns about the war and even higher costs. Even so, the flash U.S. composite PMI advanced to an eight-month high as easing COVID-19 restrictions and less severe supply chain disruptions supported demand and production.
There are signs of disruption in Germany, where the war has thrown into doubt a planned spin-off of Thyssenkrupp AG’s steel business. Car-parts maker Schaeffler AG has also scrapped its earnings forecast, while Mercedes-Benz AG is readying plans to cope with potential natural-gas shortages.
In the U.K., Chancellor Rishi Sunak said Wednesday that this year’s growth projection has been cut to 3.8% from 6%, with the Treasury identifying inflation — at a three-decade high — as the No. 1 economic threat.
While looser virus curbs helped Britain maintain robust growth this month, deteriorating business expectations signal softer activity ahead, S&P Global said. The combination of a potentially sharp slowdown and a worsening cost-of-living crisis “paints an unwelcome picture of ‘stagflation,’” Williamson said.
“We’ve never managed the business through a period of inflation like the one we’re seeing at the moment,” Simon Wolfson, chief executive officer of U.K. clothing and housewares retailer Next Plc, said Thursday as the company lowered its profit and sales guidance for this year. “It’s very difficult for us to make an assessment as to what effect our price increases will have on total sales.”
Governments in the U.K. and across Europe are trying to ease the war’s knock-on effects for households by offering tax breaks, cheaper fuel and income support.
But with the extent of the crisis still unclear, a European Commission gauge of confidence has slumped to its lowest level since the early months of the pandemic, while statistics offices in countries including France have halted forecasts due to the uncertainty.
“A number of recent developments look more worrying than the resilient PMI headline numbers,” said Frederik Ducrozet, global strategist at Banque Pictet & Cie SA, “Today’s stagflation shock is massive, hurting supply chains at the worst possible time.”
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