Will Banks and Financial Markets Recover in 2009?

NEW YORK – Global financial markets in 2008 experienced their worst crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Major financial institutions went bust; others were bought up on the cheap or survived only after major bailouts. Global stock markets fell by more than 50%; interest-rate spreads skyrocketed; a severe liquidity and credit crunch appeared; and many emerging-market economies staggered to the International Monetary Fund for help.

So what lies ahead in 2009? Is the worst behind us or ahead of us? To answer these questions, we must understand that a vicious circle of economic contraction and worsening financial conditions is underway.

The United States will certainly experience its worst recession in decades, a deep and protracted contraction lasting about 24 months through the end of 2009. Moreover, the entire global economy will contract. There will be recession in the euro zone, the United Kingdom, Continental Europe, Canada, Japan, and the other advanced economies. There is also a risk of a hard landing for emerging-market economies, as trade, financial, and currency links transmit real and financial shocks to them.

In the advanced economies, recession had brought back earlier in 2008 fears of 1970’s-style stagflation (a combination of economic stagnation and inflation). But, with aggregate demand falling below growing aggregate supply, slack goods markets will lead to lower inflation as firms’ pricing power is restrained. Likewise, rising unemployment will control labor costs and wage growth. These factors, combined with sharply falling commodity prices, will cause inflation in advanced economies to ease toward the 1% level, raising concerns about deflation, not stagflation.