The Global Economy on the Fly

Nouriel Roubini

01 April 2013

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ISTANBULIn the last four weeks, I have traveled to Sofia, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, London, Milan, Frankfurt, Berlin, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Istanbul, and throughout the United States. As a result, the myriad challenges facing the global economy were never far away.
In Europe, the tail risk of a eurozone break-up and a loss of market access by Spain and Italy were reduced by last summer’s decision by the European Central Bank to backstop sovereign debt. But the monetary union’s fundamental problemslow potential growth, ongoing recession, loss of competitiveness, and large stocks of private and public debt – have not been resolved.
Moreover, the grand bargain between the eurozone core, the ECB, and the peripherypainful austerity and reforms in exchange for large-scale financial support – is now breaking down, as austerity fatigue in the eurozone periphery runs up against bailout fatigue in core countries like Germany and the Netherlands.
Austerity fatigue in the periphery is clearly evident from the success of anti-establishment forces in Italy’s recent election; large street demonstrations in Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere; and now the botched bailout of Cypriot banks, which has fueled massive public anger. Throughout the periphery, populist parties of the left and right are gaining ground.
Meanwhile, Germany’s insistence on imposing losses on bank creditors in Cyprus is the latest symptom of bailout fatigue in the core. Other core eurozone members, eager to limit the risks to their taxpayers, have similarly signaled that creditorbail-ins” are the way of the future.
Outside the eurozone, even the United Kingdom is struggling to restore growth, owing to the damage caused by front-loaded fiscal-consolidation efforts, while anti-austerity sentiment is also mounting in Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary.
In China, the leadership transition has occurred smoothly. But the country’s economic model remains, as former Premier Wen Jiabao famously put it, “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.”
China’s problems are many: regional imbalances between its coastal regions and the interior, and between urban and rural areas; too much savings and fixed investment, and too little private consumption; growing income and wealth inequality; and massive environmental degradation, with air, water, and soil pollution jeopardizing public health and food safety.
The country’s new leaders speak earnestly of deepening reforms and rebalancing the economy, but they remain cautious, gradualist, and conservative by inclination. Moreover, the power of vested interests that oppose reformstate-owned enterprises, provincial governments, and the military, for example – has yet to be broken. As a result, the reforms needed to rebalance the economy may not occur fast enough to prevent a hard landing when, by next year, an investment bust materializes.
In China – and in Russia (and partly in Brazil and India) – state capitalism has become more entrenched, which does not bode well for growth. Overall, these four countries (the BRICs) have been over-hyped, and other emerging economies may do better in the next decade: Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia in Asia; Chile, Colombia, and Peru in Latin America; and Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Poland in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Farther East, Japan is trying a new economic experiment to stop deflation, boost economic growth, and restore business and consumer confidence. Abenomics” has several components: aggressive monetary stimulus by the Bank of Japan; a fiscal stimulus this year to jump start demand, followed by fiscal austerity in 2014 to rein in deficits and debt; a push to increase nominal wages to boost domestic demand; structural reforms to deregulate the economy; and new free-trade agreements – starting with the Trans-Pacific Partnership – to boost trade and productivity.
But the challenges are daunting. It is not clear if deflation can be beaten with monetary policy; excessive fiscal stimulus and deferred austerity may make the debt unsustainable; and the structural-reform components of Abenomics are vague. Moreover, tensions with China over territorial claims in the East China Sea may adversely affect trade and foreign direct investment.
Then there is the Middle East, which remains an arc of instability from the Maghreb to Pakistan. Turkey – with a young population, high potential growth, and a dynamic private sectorseeks to become a major regional power. But Turkey faces many challenges of its own. Its bid to join the European Union is currently stalled, while the eurozone recession dampens its growth. Its current-account deficit remains large, and monetary policy has been confusing, as the objective of boosting competitiveness and growth clashes with the need to control inflation and avoid excessive credit expansion.
Moreover, while rapprochement with Israel has become more likely, Turkey faces severe tensions with Syria and Iran, and its Islamist ruling party must still prove that it can coexist with the country’s secular political tradition.
In this fragile global environment, has America become a beacon of hope? The US is experiencing several positive economic trends: housing is recovering; shale gas and oil will reduce energy costs and boost competitiveness; job creation is improving; rising labor costs in Asia and the advent of robotics and automation are underpinning a manufacturing resurgence; and aggressive quantitative easing is helping both the real economy and financial markets.
But risks remain. Unemployment and household debt remain stubbornly high. The fiscal drag from rising taxes and spending cuts will hit growth, and the political system is dysfunctional, with partisan polarization impeding compromise on the fiscal deficit, immigration, energy policy, and other key issues that influence potential growth.
In sum, among advanced economies, the US is in the best relative shape, followed by Japan, where Abenomics is boosting confidence. The eurozone and the UK remain mired in recessions made worse by tight monetary and fiscal policies. Among emerging economies, China could face a hard landing by late 2014 if critical structural reforms are postponed, and the other BRICs need to turn away from state capitalism. While other emerging markets in Asia and Latin America are showing more dynamism than the BRICs, their strength will not be enough to turn the global tide.

Nouriel Roubini, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and Chairman of Roubini Global Economics, was Senior Economist for International Affairs in the White House's Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton Administration. He has worked for the International Monetary Fund, the US Federal Reserve, and the World Bank.

04/01/2013 02:48 PM

Bomb from Brussels

Cyprus Model May Guide Future Bank Bailouts

Many in Europe have come to see Germany, and Finance Minister Wolfgang...

Should the Cypriot bailout become a model for the future? The mere suggestion sent markets tumbling last week. But increasing numbers of European politicians would like to see bank shareholders and investors bear a greater share of crisis risk. The EU may be changing its strategy. By SPIEGEL Staff

Jeroen Dijsselbloem's original game plan was to just keep a low profile. When the 47-year-old Dutch finance minister became head of the Euro Group three months ago, the first thing he did was deactivate his Twitter account. In meetings of the finance ministers of the 17 euro-zone states, he let his counterparts do most of the talking. And whenever he appeared before reporters in Brussels afterwards, he would start with sentences like: "Maybe it's good, if I say something."

Dijsselbloem seemed determined to become the most boring of all the boring bureaucrats in Brussels -- until last Monday, that is, when he did something no one would have anticipated: He detonated a bomb. The way that large depositors and creditors were being drawn into the bailout of Cypriot banks, he said, could become a model for the entire euro zone. In future aid packages, he said, one must look into whether bank shareholders, bond holders and large depositors could participate so as to spare taxpayers from having to foot the bill. He was announcing nothing less than a 180 degree about face.

Cyprus as a model? Dijsselbloem had hardly finished his comments before international news agencies began registering its impacts.

Markets around the world nosedived, the euro sank to a four-month low and EU leaders had to rush into damage-control mode, as did the man who triggered the storm himself. Dijsselbloem backtracked by saying that Cypriot banks were obviously "a special case." Germany's top-selling daily tabloid, Bild, scoffed that Dijsselbloem would get a new nickname in Brussels: "Dusselbloem," the rough equivalent of "Dimwit-bloem."

But the ridicule might prove premature. In reality, Dijsselbloem merely expressed something that many Europeans already think. Whether at the European Parliament or in several Continental capitals, many are saying that the time is ripe for the financial sector to assume a greater share of the costs for rescuing ailing banks.

'Banks Must Save Themselves'

More is at stake than determining just how to deal with insolvent financial institutions. It is about core tenets of the bailout strategy being followed by the EU.

Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, it has primarily been EU taxpayers who have assumed liability for the fallout. Failing banks, such as Germany's Hypo Real Estate (HRE) or Spain's Bankia, were kept on artificial life support while shareholders and creditors were spared. The advantages were enjoyed not only by actors on the global financial markets, but also by major banking centers, such as those in Luxembourg and London, which could count on seeing governments prop up teetering financial institutions.

A growing number of politicians and experts are demanding an end to this arrangement. In the future, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "banks must save themselves." And German central bank board member Andreas Dombret is convinced that the financial sector can only regain health once there are no longer "implicit state guarantees for banks."

These guarantees were one of the fundamental reasons why Germany's state-owned Landesbanken invested in worthless securities, why Irish and Spanish banks financed excessively dubious real estate projects, and why Cypriot banks became a hub for investors with a penchant for tax evasion. The guarantees were also responsible for causing banks' balance sheets to swell to many times the value of their countries' annual economic performance. "It's not that there are just individual lending institutions that are too big to be allowed to fail," Dombret says. "There are clearly entire banking systems for which the same holds true." A country's financial sector, he adds, must be designed so that a national economy can cope with a downturn on its own.

But where is that the case? The balance sheets of Cypriot banks are seven times as large as the island's annual gross domestic product. The ratio is similar in Ireland, even though the banks in these countries have been being downsizing for four years. The imbalance is even more glaring in Europe's smallest countries, such as Malta and Luxembourg, where the bank balance-to-GDP ratio is 8-to-one and 22-to-one, respectively.

Since the outbreak of the crisis, the euro zone has succeeded in pruning back the banks, and their balance sheets are now only 3.5 times the size of the currency union's combined economic performance. But, in recent years, while hundreds of mainly smaller banks have been shut down in the United States, Europeans have closed their eyes to the dangers.

Stepping Into the Breach

Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister and current head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), spoke in Frankfurt on March 19 about the progress that has been made in banking regulations, saying that 20 banks had been "resolved" since 2007 and that 60 have undergone "deep restructuring." Though impressive at first glance, these figures are misleading. Most of the banks were nationalized (such as HRE and Northern Rock), subsumed by other institutions (Sachsen LB) or broken down into smaller units (WestLB). Few have actually disappeared.

More tan anything, however, Lagarde's figures fail to indicate who bore the costs of rehabilitating the banks. "Since the outbreak of the financial crisis," Dombret says, "taxpayers have unfortunately been forced to step into the breach with all difficulties."

Indeed, since 2008, the European Commission has authorized €5 trillion ($6.4 trillion) in aid for the financial sector, equivalent to 40 percent of the EU's combined economic performance. Germany alone has allocated €646 billion to its banks. In the process, private creditors have only been asked to make a modest contribution. For example, the Irish government put four times as much capital into rescuing domestic banks as private creditors did, and the ratio is similar in Spain.

Likewise, shareholders of failing institutions have by no means lost their money in all cases. Owners of shares in Commerzbank, for example, were allowed to retain their stakes even though the bank, Germany's second-largest, received €18.2 billion in state aid.

In many cases, simply too little could be taken from the shareholders to stabilize the institutions. "The Cypriot case vividly shows how little capital resources Europe's banks possess to absorb possible losses," says Harald Hau, 46, a finance expert at the University of Geneva. In his view, the unequal distribution of burdens between bank shareholders and taxpayers is by design -- he speaks of "existing banking socialism."

The banks' lack of sufficient capital has made taxpayers de facto shareholders because they are unfailingly asked to pony up whenever a bank runs into trouble. But unlike the real shareholders, Hau notes, taxpayers are "in no way compensated for this risk."

Including the Creditors

In the case of Cyprus, European leaders have demonstrated for the first time that the burdens can be distributed differently. Laiki Bank, the country's second-largest financial institution, will be dismantled, and the remaining private shareholders of the already largely nationalized bank and its creditors will shoulder its losses. But the plan also calls for bank customers with large deposits to share in the pain for the first time: Deposits above €100,000 will be drawn on to help cover the bank's losses.

"The plan is good because creditors and major depositors will be included," says Daniel Gros, director of the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies. He also believes that the Cyprus solution could become a blueprint for dealing with banks in other EU countries in crisis.

In recent years, Gros continues, banks and their creditors have been bailed out because people have kept in mind the dramatic market turbulences that followed in the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But he thinks people will now say: "Look at Cyprus. The market reacted positively to the plan to close down a major bank and have its creditors bear the costs."

Forcing private creditors to participate in bailing out faltering banks has, to be sure, triggered worries about the possible flight of capital from ailing countries. Bank customers and creditors could "relocate (their money) from the weak to the strongest institutions," says Uwe Burkert, head of credit analysis at the Landesbank Baden-Württemberg, a publicly owned regional bank based in the southwestern German state.

However, the financial markets have so far reacted to the conditions set for bailing out Cypriot banks with surprising calm. Indeed, ever since July 2012, when European Central Bank President Mario Draghi pledged that the EU's central bank would "do whatever it takes to preserve the euro," the situation in economically troubled euro-zone countries has stabilized considerably.

If this calm persists, there is nothing to block the implementation of Dijsselbloem's plans. Indeed, even the European Commission backs them in principle. As early as last June, Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier presented the initial draft of an EU directive on bank liquidation. The draft envisions forcing private investors to bear more of the costs when banks run into trouble. However, Hau, the finance expert at the University of Geneva, criticizes the plan for not clearly specifying exactly which investors will be compelled to participate and in which order.

Dissent from Luxembourg

Precisely this issue is currently being discussed at the European Parliament. "We want to clearly strengthen the position of deposit customers," says Swedish European Parliament member Gunnar Hökmark. Under the proposal, deposits of up to €100,000 would be excluded from any loss participation at a bank. Likewise, any deposits over that amount would only get hit if the losses couldn't be fully covered by a bank's shareholders and other creditors.

But governments and parliamentarians are fighting fiercely over the fine print. Officials representing Finland, the Netherlands and Germany want to pull in the financial sector as quickly and comprehensively as possible. But highly indebted Southern European countries, as well as governments fearing for their domestic financial sectors, are stepping on the brakes.

Luxembourg Finance Minister Luc Frieden, for example, has warned about the dangers of following the Cyprus model of making people with deposits greater than €100,000 help pay for bailouts. "This will lead to a situation in which investors invest their money outside the euro zone," he said. "In this difficult situation, we need to avoid anything that will lead to instability and destroy the trust of savers."

Despite major opposition, backers of Dijsselbloem's strategy believe their chances are improving. This has prompted Carsten Schneider, the budget policy expert for the opposition center-left Social Democrats in Berlin, to call for implementing the rules for winding down banks by 2014 rather than the currently planned 2018. "Societal and political acceptance is ending for the model of bank rescues in which the state protects bondholders and major investors," he says.

Dombret, the Bundesbank board member, likewise believes it would be sensible to push up the introduction of the new rules to 2015. Norbert Berthle, the parliamentary budget expert for Chancellor Merkel's conservatives, acknowledges that, "we first have to pull shareholders and creditors into a bank's rescue."

Dijsselbloem Holds Firm

In the end, however, one must conclude that, while Dijsselbloem's proposal may have been correct, it won't make it easier for EU leaders to resolve the euro debt crisis. On the one hand, the debate is urgently needed to put an end to the banking sector's business principle holding that profits should be privately enjoyed while losses are borne publicly. On the other, the issue threatens to spark new conflicts within the euro zone. Indeed, the dispute over Europe's banking system could soon become just as bitter as that between Northern and Southern Europe.

Either way, Dijsselbloem is determined to wage the battle. Though he has said that he no longer thinks the Cyprus bailout is a good model, he still intends to hold firm to the crux of his approach.

"Now that the situation is more calm and the financial markets seem to have become more steady and easier, we should start pushing back the risks," Dijsselbloem said in an interview with the Financial Times and Reuters last week. "Taking the risk from the financial sector and taking it on to public shoulders is not the right approach."


Translated from the German by Josh Ward

The Chess Game Of Capital Controls

Apr 1 2013, 07:52

by: Jeff Clark

The best indicator of a chess player's form is his ability to sense the climax of the game.

-Boris Spassky, World Chess Champion, 1969-1972

You've likely heard that the German central bank announced it will begin withdrawing part of its massive gold holdings from the United States as well as all its holdings from France. By 2020, Bundesbank says it wants half its gold reserves stored in its own vault in Germany.

Why would it want to physically move the metal from New York? It's not as if US vaults are not secure, and since Germany already owns the gold, does it really matter where it sits?

You may recall that Hugo Chávez did the same thing in late 2011, repatriating much of his country's gold reserves from London. However, this isn't a third-world dictatorship; Germany is a major ally of the US. So what's going on?

Pawn to A3

On the surface, it may seem innocuous for Germany to move some pallets of gold closer to home. Some observers note that since Russia isn't likely to be invading Germany anytime soon - one of the original reasons Germany had for storing its gold outside the country - the move is only natural and no big deal. But Germany's gold stash represents roughly 10% of the world's gold reserves, and the cost of moving it is not trivial, so we see greater import in the move.

The Bundesbank said the purpose of the move was to "build trust and confidence domestically, and the ability to exchange gold for foreign currencies at gold-trading centers abroad within a short space of time." It's just satisfying the worries of the commoners, in the mainstream view, as well as giving themselves the ability to complete transactions faster. As evidence that it's nothing more than this, Bundesbank points out that half of Germany's gold will remain in New York and London (the US portion of reserves will only be reduced from 45% to 37%).

Sounds reasonable. But these economists remind me of the analysts who every year claim the price of gold will fall - they can't see the bigger implications and frequently miss the forest for the trees.


What your friendly government economist doesn't reveal and the mainstream journalist doesn't report (or doesn't understand) is that in the event of a US bankruptcy, euro implosion, or similar financial catastrophe, access to gold would almost certainly be limited. If Germany were to actually need its gold, regardless of the reason, any request for transfer or sale would be difficult. There would be, at the very least, delays. At worst such requests could be denied, depending on the circumstances at the time. That's not just bad - it defeats the purpose of owning gold.

But this still doesn't capture the greater significance of this action. First, it reinforces the growing recognition that gold is money. Physical bullion isn't just a commodity, a day-trading vehicle, or even an investment. 

It's a store of value, a physical hedge against monetary dislocations. In the ultimate extreme, it's something you can use to pay for goods or services when all other means fail. It is precisely those who don't recognize this historical fact who stand to lose the most in an adverse monetary event. (Hello, government economist.)

Second, here's the quote that reveals the ultimate, backstop reason for the move: Bundesbank stated it is a "pre-emptive" measure "in case of a currency crisis."

Germany's central bank thinks a currency crisis is really possible. That's a very sobering fact.

We agree, of course: history is very clear on this. No fiat currency has lasted forever.

Eventually they all fail. Whether the dollar goes to zero or merely becomes a second-class currency in the global arena, the root cause for failure is universal and inevitable: continual and perpetual dilution of the currency.

Some level of currency crisis is inescapable at this point because absolutely nothing has changed with worldwide debt levels, deficit spending, and currency printing, except that they all continue to increase. While many economists and politicians claim these actions are necessary and are leading us to recovery, it's clear we have yet to experience the fallout from spending more than we have and printing the difference. There will be serious and painful consequences, sooner or later of an inflationary nature, and the average person's standard of living will be greatly reduced.

And now there are rumblings that the Netherlands and Azerbaijan may move their gold back home. If this trend gathers steam, we could easily see a "gold run" in the same manner history has seen bank runs. Add in high inflation or a major currency event and a very ugly vicious cycle could ignite.


If other countries follow Germany's path or the mistrust between central bankers grows, the next logical step would be to clamp down on gold exports. It would be the beginning of the kind of stringent capital controls Doug Casey and a few others have warned about for years. Think about it: is it really so far-fetched to think politicians wouldn't somehow restrict the movement of gold if their currencies and/or economies were failing?

Remember, India keeps tinkering with ideas like this already.

What this means for you and me is that moving gold outside your country - especially if you're a US citizen - could be banned. Fuel would be added to the fire by blaming gold for the dollar's ongoing weakness. Don't think you need to store gold outside your country? The metal you attempt to buy, sell, or trade within your borders could be severely regulated, taxed, tracked, or even frozen in such a crisis environment. You'd have easier access to foreign-held bullion, depending on the country and the specific events.

None of this would take place in a vacuum. Transferring dollars internationally would certainly be tightly restricted as well. Moving almost any asset across borders could be declared illegal. Even your movement outside your country could come under increased scrutiny and restriction.

The hint that all this is about to take place would be when politicians publicly declare they would do no such a thing. You could quite literally have 24 hours to make a move. If your resources were not already in place, even the most nimble of us would have a very hard time making arrangements.

Once the door is closed, attempting to move restricted assets across international borders would come with serious penalties, almost certainly including jail time. In such a tense atmosphere, you could easily be labeled an enemy of the state just for trying to remove yourself from harm's way.

The message is clear: storing some gold outside your country of residence is critical at this point, and the window of time for doing so is getting smaller. Don't just hope for the best; do something about it while you still can. The minor effort made now could pay major dividends in the future.

Besides, you won't be any worse off for having some precious metals stored elsewhere.
If you're moved to take action, know that you're not alone. It's critical that you take these first steps now, while you still can.

The best chess players in the world aren't that way because they can see the next move. They're champions because they can see the next 14 moves.

You only have to see the next two moves to "win" this game. I suggest making those moves now before your government declares checkmate.

There's another "great game" when it comes to the precious metals market: the junior mining sector. The truth is, these stocks aren't for every investor - junior miners are more volatile than any other stock on Earth. However, for those who can stomach sudden price swings and are willing to bet against the crowd, right now junior explorers are offering the profit opportunity of a lifetime.