Europe’s Stagnating Economy Falls Further Behind the U.S. - Kanebridge News
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Europe’s Stagnating Economy Falls Further Behind the U.S.

Thanks to robust growth and its relative insulation from geopolitical crisis, the U.S. economy has left Europe behind

By PAUL HANNON and Yuka Hayashi
Wed, Jan 31, 2024 10:38amGrey Clock 4 min

Europe’s economy stagnated in the final three months of last year, expanding a divide between a booming U.S. economy and a European continent that is increasingly left behind.

The fresh economic data showed higher borrowing costs had compounded the earlier impact of higher energy prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

By contrast, the U.S. economy has been expanding robustly and enjoyed its strongest performance relative to the eurozone since 2013—with the exception of the Covid-19 pandemic.

One factor that is threatening to weigh further on the European economy is its proximity to geopolitical flashpoints. Russia’s war on Ukraine sent energy prices rocketing in 2022, hitting European manufacturers. The U.S., as an energy producer, was comparatively unaffected, and its natural-gas industry even benefited when it became Europe’s energy supplier of last resort after Russia throttled gas deliveries to the region.

Now the crisis in the Middle East, which has gummed up cargo traffic through the Red Sea, is adding costs to European importers and disrupting European supply chains. There too, the U.S. hasn’t suffered as much since it has alternative routes for goods coming from Asia.

Europe’s Stoxx 600 index rose 12.64% last year, a little over half the performance of the S&P 500, which rose 24.23% over the same period.

The European Union’s statistics agency Tuesday said gross domestic product in the eurozone was unchanged in the final three months of last year. That followed a decline in the three months through September. During 2023 as a whole, Eurostat recorded growth of just 0.5%, while the U.S. economy expanded by 2.5%.

Still, the divergence between the giant economic blocs is more a story of surprising U.S. strength than unanticipated weakness in the eurozone. The U.S. grew much faster than economists had expected it would at the start of 2023, while the eurozone was about as badly hit by high energy prices and rising interest rates as had been expected. Economists forecast the growth gap will narrow somewhat in the course of the year.

Europe’s policymakers don’t expect the stagnation in output to extend deep into 2024. Instead, they see a pickup in activity as wages rise faster than prices, reversing the declines in real incomes that followed the war in Ukraine and a rise in energy and food bills.

“We have the conditions for recovery that are coming into place,” said European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde Thursday. “I’m not suggesting that it’s going to pick up radically, but it’s coming into place from what we see.”

Helping Europe is the fact that energy prices are falling from post-invasion highs faster than policymakers had expected. That should help boost household spending on other goods and services and lower costs for Europe’s hard-pressed factories.

With inflation easing, the ECB is expected to lower its key interest rate later this year, which would also jolt growth by easing the pressure on household spending and business investment.

Yet the eurozone faces fresh threats too, mainly from the conflict that began with the attack on Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7. Disruptions to shipping in the Red Sea have pushed freight costs sharply higher and led to delays for European manufacturers that rely on Asian suppliers for parts. A further escalation of the conflict could reverse the decline in energy costs and stall the anticipated recovery.

The International Monetary Fund now expects the eurozone to grow by 0.9% this year, a downgrade from its previous 1.2% growth estimate, according to the Fund’s quarterly World Economic Outlook report published on Tuesday. By contrast, it sees the U.S. growing by 2.1% against its earlier 1.5% forecast.

Strong U.S. growth and an estimated 4.6% increase in China’s GDP according to the IMF should more than offset Europe’s disappointing performance and translate into a soft landing for the world economy this year. The IMF now sees the world economy growing at 3.1% this year, the same rate as last year and faster than the 2.9% growth projected in October.

“We find that the global economy continues to display remarkable resilience,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, IMF Chief Economist, told reporters, pointing to the speed at which inflation had receded as a positive surprise.

He warned, however, that geopolitical distortions could reignite price increases. Core inflation—which excludes volatile energy and food prices—isn’t quite back to the prepandemic trend, particularly for services sector prices, he said.

IMF economists also cautioned that financial markets have been overly optimistic in anticipating early rate cuts by central banks. They project policy interest rates to remain at current levels for the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of England until the second half of 2024, before gradually declining as inflation moves closer to targets. Some investors and analysts expect a Federal Reserve rate cut in the first half of this year.

Back in Europe, Tuesday’s GDP data showed Germany was the weakest of Europe’s large economies at the end of last year, with output falling in the final quarter. However, revised figures showed it avoided a contraction in the three months through September.

“The economy remains stuck in the twilight zone between recession and stagnation,” said Carsten Brzeski, an economist at ING Bank.

While Italy’s economy expanded slightly, the French economy flatlined for the second straight quarter. Ireland, which had been a major source of growth for the eurozone over the previous decade, saw its GDP fall by 1.9% in 2023 as a pandemic-driven boom in its key pharmaceutical industry ended.

In a rare bright spot, Spain finished the year with another strong quarter and matched the U.S. growth rate over 2023 as a whole, thanks to a surge in international tourism as the last of the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.


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Leaders with epic hobbies seem to squeeze more hours out of the day than the rest of us

By Callum Borchers
Fri, Jul 19, 2024 4 min

Many of us can barely keep up with our jobs, never mind hobbies. Yet some top executives run marathons, wineries or music-recording studios on the side. How can they have bigger responsibilities and more fun than we do?

It can seem like ultrahigh achievers find extra hours in the day. They say they’ve just figured out how to manage their 24 better than the rest of us.

They also admit they take full advantage of the privileges of being a boss—the power to delegate and the means to do things like jetting to Denmark for a long weekend of windsurfing.

Dan Streetman trains as many as 20 hours a week for Ironman triathlons in addition to his job as CEO of cybersecurity firm Tanium. It’s a big commitment for anyone, never mind a corporate leader who travels to meet with customers every week. He pulls it off by sleeping fewer than seven hours a night and waking around 5 a.m., planning his exercise sessions months in advance, and switching his brain from work mode to sport mode almost as fast as he transitions from swimming to cycling during a competition.

“I tend to work right up until the day of the race,” says Streetman, 56 years old. “I remember being on a board call on a Friday night, and Saturday morning was an Ironman. That’s just part of it.”

Ahead of business trips, he maps running routes in unfamiliar cities and scouts nearby pools, often at YMCAs. He rides stationary bikes in hotel gyms and, if they’re subpar, makes a note to book somewhere else next time he’s in town.

Leaders who eat, breathe and sleep business can appear out of touch at a time when employees crave work-life balance and expect their bosses to model it. Today’s prototypical CEO has a full life outside of work, or at least the appearance of one.

Their tactics include waking up early, multitasking and scheduling fun as if it were any other appointment. When you’re a top executive, hobbies tend to disappear unless they’re on the calendar. One CEO told me he disguises “me time” as important meetings. Only his assistant knows which calendar blocks are fake.

Ben Betts calls himself a “spreadsheet guy,” which is a bit like saying Michelangelo was a paint guy. With Excel as his canvas, Betts creates cell-by-cell checklists for just about everything he does, from cooking Christmas dinner to building a coop for newly hatched ducklings.

Betts, 41, is CEO of Learning Pool, a professional-development software maker. The duck home is part of his ambitious effort to restore an 18th-century farmhouse in England. He’s been renovating for about five years and aims to finish this fall.

On a recent Saturday, Betts’s spreadsheet called for stripping overhead beams by 5 p.m. so he could refinish them. Otherwise, the task would have to wait until the following weekend, throwing off his whole timeline. His vision of the home as a cozy enclave—completed in time for the holidays—can only come true if he sticks to a precise plan.

“Sometimes I stand in the doorway, and my wife probably wonders what I’m staring at,” he says. “I’m picturing us on a corner sofa with our two kids and the dog, watching a film in front of the fireplace I installed.”

Back in the swing

John Sicard , president and CEO of supply-chain manager Kinaxis , got back into drumming many years after he let go of his dream to become a professional musician. He practices almost every day, but his sessions sometimes last only 20 minutes. He rehearses with bandmates two or three times a month. That’s enough to prepare Sicard, 61, to play Foo Fighters and Led Zeppelin covers at occasional charity gigs.

He also built a studio in his house, where he records up-and-coming artists. He finds time by sticking to this management philosophy: “The most successful CEOs do the least amount of work.”

For Sicard, that means letting his lieutenants take charge of—and responsibility for—their divisions. Many corporate leaders work harder than they need to because they micromanage or hire poorly and pick up the slack, he says.

Thomas Hansen , president of software maker Amplitude, is back to windsurfing, a sport he competed in as a teenager. He lives near the ocean in California but gets out on the water only about once a month, when the waves are just right. Hobbies don’t need to be daily activities to be fulfilling, he says, especially if they require training regimens.

To stay in shape for windsurfing, he rises at 4:30 a.m., seven days a week, for an hour of exercise. Hansen, 54, also guards his Saturdays and Sundays like the crown jewels of Denmark, his native country, limiting himself to two working weekends a year. Things that feel urgent can almost always wait till Monday, he contends.

‘Like a badass’

When Christine Yen isn’t calling the shots at work, she’s circling a racetrack at 80 mph on her Honda CB300F motorcycle. The co-founder and CEO of Honeycomb, which helps engineers diagnose problems in their software, took up racing a few years ago.

Prepandemic, her motorcycle was strictly for commuting in San Francisco—and making an impression. She loved pulling up to investor meetings in her hornet-yellow helmet and leather riding suit.

“It fits me like a glove, and it makes me feel like a badass,” says Yen, 36.

The keys to spending full days at the track are planning and being willing to work at odd hours, Yen discovered. Her favorite track publishes racing schedules in 10-week batches. As soon as a slate is released, she circles the dates when she expects her workload will be lightest, aiming to participate in roughly half of the events.

“I have also been known to bring my laptop to the motel and get some work done in the evenings,” she says. “It sounds boring to say hobbies can be scheduled, but that’s how I protect my time.”