Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Economic Fundamentals of 2013

NEW YORK – The global economy this year will exhibit some similarities with the conditions that prevailed in 2012. No surprise there: we face another year in which global growth will average about 3%, but with a multi-speed recovery – a sub-par, below-trend annual rate of 1% in the advanced economies, and close-to-trend rates of 5% in emerging markets. But there will be some important differences as well.

Painful deleveraging – less spending and more saving to reduce debt and leverage – remains ongoing in most advanced economies, which implies slow economic growth. But fiscal austerity will envelop most advanced economies this year, rather than just the eurozone periphery and the United Kingdom. Indeed, austerity is spreading to the core of the eurozone, the United States, and other advanced economies (with the exception of Japan). Given synchronized fiscal retrenchment in most advanced economies, another year of mediocre growth could give way to outright contraction in some countries.

With growth anemic in most advanced economies, the rally in risky assets that began in the second half of 2012 has not been driven by improved fundamentals, but rather by fresh rounds of unconventional monetary policy. Most major advanced economies’ central banks – the European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and the Swiss National Bank – have engaged in some form of quantitative easing, and they are now likely to be joined by the Bank of Japan, which is being pushed toward more unconventional policies by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new government.

Moreover, several risks lie ahead. First, America’s mini-deal on taxes has not steered it fully away from the fiscal cliff. Sooner or later, another ugly fight will take place on the debt ceiling, the delayed sequester of spending, and a congressional “continuing spending resolution” (an agreement to allow the government to continue functioning in the absence of an appropriations law). Markets may become spooked by another fiscal cliffhanger. And even the current mini-deal implies a significant amount of drag – about 1.4% of GDP – on an economy that has grown at barely a 2% rate over the last few quarters.

Second, while the ECB’s actions have reduced tail risks in the eurozone – a Greek exit and/or loss of market access for Italy and Spain – the monetary union’s fundamental problems have not been resolved. Together with political uncertainty, they will re-emerge with full force in the second half of the year.

After all, stagnation and outright recession – exacerbated by front-loaded fiscal austerity, a strong euro, and an ongoing credit crunch – remain Europe’s norm. As a result, large – and potentially unsustainable – stocks of private and public debt remain. Moreover, given aging populations and low productivity growth, potential output is likely to be eroded in the absence of more aggressive structural reforms to boost competitiveness, leaving the private sector no reason to finance chronic current-account deficits.

Third, China has had to rely on another round of monetary, fiscal, and credit stimulus to prop up an unbalanced and unsustainable growth model based on excessive exports and fixed investment, high saving, and low consumption. By the second half of the year, the investment bust in real estate, infrastructure, and industrial capacity will accelerate. And, because the country’s new leadership – which is conservative, gradualist, and consensus-driven – is unlikely to speed up implementation of reforms needed to increase household income and reduce precautionary saving, consumption as a share of GDP will not rise fast enough to compensate. So the risk of a hard landing will rise by the end of this year.

Fourth, many emerging markets – including the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), but also many others – are now experiencing decelerating growth. Their “state capitalism” – a large role for state-owned companies; an even larger role for state-owned banks; resource nationalism; import-substitution industrialization; and financial protectionism and controls on foreign direct investment – is the heart of the problem. Whether they will embrace reforms aimed at boosting the private sector’s role in economic growth remains to be seen.

Finally, serious geopolitical risks loom large. The entire greater Middle East – from the Maghreb to Afghanistan and Pakistan – is socially, economically, and politically unstable. Indeed, the Arab Spring is turning into an Arab Winter. While an outright military conflict between Israel and the US on one side and Iran on the other side remains unlikely, it is clear that negotiations and sanctions will not induce Iran’s leaders to abandon efforts to develop nuclear weapons. With Israel refusing to accept a nuclear-armed Iran, and its patience wearing thin, the drums of actual war will beat harder. The fear premium in oil markets may significantly rise and increase oil prices by 20%, leading to negative growth effects in the US, Europe, Japan, China, India and all other advanced economies and emerging markets that are net oil importers.

While the chance of a perfect storm – with all of these risks materializing in their most virulent form – is low, any one of them alone would be enough to stall the global economy and tip it into recession. And while they may not all emerge in the most extreme way, each is or will be appearing in some form. As 2013 begins, the downside risks to the global economy are gathering force.

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    1. CommentedSimon Edwards

      All sensisble intelligent musings on the downsized risks -but part of the risk never outlined by economists is"the self fulfilling prohecy" - economists and forecasters as well as the media focus too much on the possibe downside and very little on the potential upside. Afterall being right in the new world culture of finance with regards to optimisim is terribly unfashionable. We only hear of economists in the past 7 years who predicted "the tech bubble" "the housing crisis" " the credit crisis" and so on. indeed in the press their names are often followed by "he who correctly predicted the xxx crisis". These forecasters set a tone, a tone which i feel spreads a contagion of fear rippling through the wider financial markets - this prevents mum and dad moving house, banks lending to business, governments investing into infrastrcuture. A pervasive culture of fear irrationaly takes hold, which is then fuelled by negative sentiment. fundamentals are fundamentals but human emotion can change momentum more than any form of credit easing can. To dao that we need to look more are the upside and limit the volume - we know bad news sells and correct domesday perfect storm prjections make economists famous overnight - but even a stopped cock is right twice a day - call it enough and it might well happen. Where i work in london its the first year in a long time we have come back to work with some sense of optimisim, we are aware of the risks, what we are trying to do is promote the opportunities. Mr Roubini, i would ask for you to examine the fundamentals and to counter this article with your reasons to be optimistic - if we really cant find any at all then perhaps we should draw up the bridge, man the battlements and await the prohecy that is yet again financial armageddon

    2. CommentedVictor Morris

      Painful deleveraging might counterballance inflation. What to watch is the change in the petrodollar arrangement.

    3. CommentedTimothy Williamson

      These are good points Nouriel. My concern is that we are not looking forward with a long range purpose or vision, but are rather expending energy de-constructing currnet and recent historical problems. This is all very good, but when we put the pieces back together after de-construction, we tend to do so linerarly. The economy though is complex and non-linerar and requires a metacognitive shift in thinking.

      Though I agree that there is a need to study systemic patterns, as our world becomes more and more interconnected beyond traditional borders the need also increases for a big visionary purpose or project toward which vast segments of our GLOBAL society can direct effort and energy.

      Recently, I did a study on three big projects from the past to look for common characteristics. Those three projects were the Panama Canal, the Manhattan Project, and Kennedy's Landing a man on the Moon project. There are two parts. The first part linked here is presentation. The second part is the full report linked in the presentation.

      http://bit.ly/XS6M8C Human Complexity-Creating Sustainable Local Growth

      Tim Williamson

    4. Portrait of Pingfan Hong

      CommentedPingfan Hong

      Another piece quite consistent with the title you have earned. Nevertheless, I am wondering about the consistency between your analysis of the economic woes in developed economies and your analysis of the problems in emerging economies. In the former, you seem to blame the free market, or a lack of more fiscal stimulus for the anaemic growth, while in the latter, you criticize strong government intervention in emerging economies. No one is Doing a correct thing. In your view, can the world do something right at all?

    5. CommentedYK Chang

      Very thoughtful article! Risks are shown from the US, Europe, China, to Middle East and other emerging economies. The problem, I think, is where to find growth. Without it, the world economy will go around vicious cycle form debt to quantitative easing. We're in a very thick mist, dismayed at economic failure, let alone political failure. Whenever we face confusion, we need to rely on history, where we can find some hints and sigh with a little relief that such a calamity always happens, but humankind always find a way to circumvent it. It's time to pull ourselves up and remind ourselves that "we can do it". Hit the road to find "HOW"

        CommentedTimothy Williamson

        @YK Chang - Here's a way toward a better more prosperous and peaceful future in a hyper-connected world http://bit.ly/XS6M8C


        Tim Williamson

        CommentedLuke Ho-Hyung Lee

        @YK Chang - Could I suggest you see this article for "HOW"? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hohyung-/hidden-flaw-holding-back_b_2218943.html

    6. Commenteddonna jorgo

      reading your article i have to say ..USA problem after president B.H. OBAMA SWERE IN WHITE HOUSE all the MIDDLE EAST oil will be to USA.profit.
      EU have political problem and i think will continue for long time because UK are right for the long term economic truble EU have .
      JAPAN is one country with ''synithia'' inflation long term too.
      IF the economu will fix with this ''RITHMO'' i have to believ in MIRACLE .
      Israel is not the only state who IS NOT AGREE with NUCLEAR TO IRAN ..
      JEWISH STATE is very strong and because others trying to have up hand ..
      about the economic situation in global i am agree with you
      I THINK structura economice is in phase for change and this is important will take time with pain for the poor people ..(dead) and pain for the middle class people (in hospital)
      thank you