Furthermore, inflation excluding energy and food was relatively weak at the beginning of 2019. The appreciation of the euro effective exchange rate until mid-2018 spread to industrial goods prices, with a few quarters’ lag. The weakness of services inflation at the beginning of 2019 was more unexpected, but it has recovered since May.
Overall, annual average HICP excluding energy and food is expected to be only 0.6% in 2019 after 0.9% in 2018, while annual average headline HICP should fall to 1.3% from 2.1% in 2018. Headline HICP is then expected to decline a little further to 1.1% in 2020 when the effects of the drop in energy prices are expected to make themselves fully felt, in annual average terms. In addition, the rise in food prices should slow following the recent short-term increases. Headline HICP is then expected to regain momentum and rise to 1.3% in 2021, mainly driven by inflation excluding energy and food.
In 2020 and 2021, inflation excluding energy and food should gradually increase to 1.0% and then 1.3%, respectively. In the last few years, the rise in the value added deflator, and hence the underlying inflationary pressures, has been limited by weak growth in the cost of production factors, both labour costs and the cost of capital. Businesses have thus been able to cushion the impact of wage growth by slightly squeezing their margins. However, the dynamic labour market is expected to gradually contribute to a rebound in core inflation. Furthermore, the effects of the past exchange rate appreciation are expected to dissipate and industrial goods prices should be more strongly supported by rising import prices.
However, it is important to note that inflation excluding energy and food is expected to follow an uneven trajectory, particularly in 2020, as a result of various economic policy measures: a further cut in social housing rents in January (following a first reduction in June 2018); and the impact of the French health law on zero excess for optical products, hearing aids and dental prostheses. This latter reform could prompt a significant decrease in the prices of optical products (and hearing devices) and therefore on industrial goods prices at the beginning of the year. In return, supplementary healthcare coverage could become more expensive, pushing up the service price index.
In 2019, the government deficit should be close to the ceiling of 3% of GDP, although it would only be a little over 2% if the temporary effect of the transformation of the CICE were excluded. It should remain a little over 2% of GDP in 2020, before falling below this ceiling in 2021. This is still unlikely to be enough to bring down government debt
The government deficit, which narrowed to 2.5% of GDP in 2018, is expected to stand at 3.0% in 2019 as a result of the temporary effect of transforming the CICE tax credit into a permanent cut in social security contributions. Excluding this impact, the deficit would stand at 2.1% of GDP in 2019. Factoring in the most recent fiscal measures announced by the government (the cut in income tax in 2020, the extension of the abolition of the housing tax to the households which have not benefited yet as from 2021, unemployment benefit reform), even though they still have to be fully clarified in forthcoming budget laws, the government deficit should be a little over 2% of GDP in 2020 before shrinking to slightly below 2% in 2021.
A reduction in the aggregate tax-to-GDP ratio (taxes and social security contributions as a percentage of GDP) of 1 percentage point of GDP between 2018 and 2021 should be accompanied by an increase in spending, in real terms and excluding tax credits, of up to 0.7% on average from 2019 to 2021 (0.6% excluding the impact of the incorporation of France Compétences into the scope of general government). In addition to savings made on the public sector wage bill (freeze in index points in the public sector pay grid) and on social security benefits (unemployment benefit reform), this trend incorporates the continued reduction in interest payments over the projection horizon. Real primary spending (excluding interest payments) is expected to increase more significantly than total spending, by an average of 1.3% from 2019 to 2021. The primary structural adjustment is expected to be negative over the entire projection horizon and the government debt ratio should continue to rise until 2020, only stabilising at the end of the horizon at around 99% of GDP.
These projections remain subject to negative external risks, including in particular the outcome of Brexit, which could have a significant impact on our expectations
These projections remain subject to significant risks, notably due to the uncertain international environment. Economic activity in France could be undermined by a more severe slowdown in our euro area trading partners’ economies, especially in Germany, which has been hit by the weakening of global trade and difficulties in its automobile sector, and in Italy, where future economic policy trends are difficult to foresee. The escalation in trade tensions, particularly between China and the United States, also continues to pose significant risks.
Above all, a disorderly Brexit, and particularly if its repercussions quickly reach beyond the United Kingdom (a scenario that has not been taken into consideration here), would create a significantly different – and more deteriorated – external environment, which would thus weigh on France’s economic outlook.
By contrast, on a domestic level, recent economic surveys suggest that the short-term outlook should be positive, while business investment could be higher than anticipated, particularly given the recent significant reduction in long-term rates. The uncertainty over the speed at which purchasing power gains will be consumed remains a significant risk, both upside and downside, to our projections. Lastly, the fiscal measures that will be incorporated into the 2020 budget law, details of which were not available at the time of preparing these projections, are also likely to have an impact on the trajectory described.
There are also a number of risks to the evolution of prices in France. First, oil price volatility generally poses a symmetric risk to energy prices. Furthermore, while the trajectory of non-energy, non-food inflation was weaker than expected in the first half of 2019, it appeared to pick up, particularly in services, in July and August, but it remains to be seen how long this upturn will last. Moreover, we have incorporated a fairly significant downside effect from the January 2020 “100% health” law on the pharmaceutical products price index, but it is difficult to precisely calculate the future impact of such measures on inflation. Lastly, a significantly different macroeconomic scenario, such as a more unfavourable Brexit outcome than that included in these projections, would, of course, lead to a different, and theoretically weaker, level of inflation.