“The world economy remains in ‘intensive care’ six years after the financial crisis kicked off. With underlying problems remaining unfixed, something has to give” writes Clem Chambers, CEO of ADVFN.com, Europe’s leading stocks and shares information site and author of titles including ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Value Investing’.
In the good old days – i.e the two decades before the credit crisis – markets of the developed world had broken away from the yoke of government.
The 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s had seen Europe’s growth stunted by the inefficiencies that come with central planning, nationalisation, fixed exchange rates and general political meddling in economic affairs.
The subsequent lengthy boom of the 1980s and 90s was driven by several factors, including good demographics, the end of the Cold War and the technological developments.
Looking forward, it’s difficult to see any replacements for these drivers.
Today, the developed world is again being driven by what amounts to central planning, this time via interest rates and budget deficits. Efficient markets have ceased to operate. Economics are framed not by economic realities or market pressures but by political edict.
If you are a trader this is heaven, if you are an investor this is hell.
A clear example of this is typified by the US presidential election. In the past, the outcome would be already a certainty – Obama would be re-elected. Only the most abject residents of the White House do not get a second term.
Obama is far from certain to be re-elected – it’s he who will carry the can for the weak US economy.
In ‘normal’ times, Mitt Romney would be a trailing outsider in the polls and the forward-looking markets would be responding with confidence – in other words, this would be a bull market year. This is now not a certainty at all. In the new reality, a win by Romney could spell all sorts of trouble.
For a start, if Romney wins he will have a blank check to slam the fiscal breaks on the US economy. He will have been voted in to do just that – save America from bankruptcy by closing the cash floodgates. He will also be able to blame the blood bath on his predecessor. A Romney win will be awful for the markets at least for the first year or two.
With the world economy in intensive care this kind of ‘risk’ is just the sort of thing that can crash the markets, which are, by nature, fragile and volatile, easily manipulated by macro-economic governmental strategies.
The flailing world economy remains a long way from true recovery. The French and US elections will help ascertain how far.
The elections in France kicked off at the end of April. If Francois Hollande is elected – seemingly a near certainty according to polls – it does not bode well for those who see the euro as a stable currency. A socialist government apparently prepared to make its population, rather than global markets, fund its budget deficit conjures up scenarios that beggar belief.
Meanwhile, if Obama follows other world leaders dragged by the electorate into retirement, how will the Republicans respond to the challenge of reining in a runaway profligate country? Not only is the US government budget out of control, so is the country’s trade balance.
While the economy might be recovering, the historic levels of the US twin deficits show no sign of moderating to recognisable or sustainable levels. Something has to give. Would a victorious Romney kick the can down the road and risk a single term Presidency or pull the house of straw down, blame Obama and rely on being seen as a rebuilder?
Problems relating to the fiscal and trade balances of the developed world – i.e the key economic issues of the larger crisis – are so titanic that piecemeal solutions seem unlikely. The financial crisis is currently rolling into its 6th year. It is far from the end. Not until the developed world gets its trade and fiscal budgets back in line will it be over; this is a long way off.
This outcome is not in the hands of markets, where it would be allowed to automatically rebalance, instead it is in the hands of governments which have slowed and stifled an economic correction. If governments of the developed world do not move to bring their economies into balance, at some point markets and economies will seize up. We have seen it in Greece and to a lesser extent Ireland, Portugal and Iceland.
To get the world out of financial ‘intensive care’ and back to reality something new has to happen. It seems the electorate is reaching out for something new rather than suffer the interminable agonies of the known.