Monday, August 31, 2009

Economy: "Our quarter-century penance is just starting"

Our old pal, The Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writes on a continuum that ranges from morose to suicidal. Here he is at his despondent best:

ever in modern times has there been such a flat contradiction between the euphoria of markets and the stern warnings of officialdom at central banks and financial watchdogs.

Corporate credit has seen the steepest rally in almost a hundred years, according to Morgan Stanley. Hedge funds are reviving the final bubble play of early 2007, writing put options on long-dated "volatility" contracts to wring out extra profit.

It is as if the Great Contraction – as the Bank of England now calls it – was just a random shock, as if we should naturally expect "V-shaped" resurgence to take us back to where we were. Yet that is what precisely we are being told will not and cannot happen.

"The current financial crisis is unlike any others," says the Bank for International Settlements. Lasting damage has been done. The "cumulative output loss" is likely to reach 20pc of GDP in the major economies.

The message is the same at the International Monetary Fund. "The world is not in a run of the mill recession. The crisis has left deep scars. In advanced countries, the financial systems are partly dysfunctional," said Olivier Blanchard, the Fund's chief economist.

Mr Blanchard said an IMF study of post-War banking crises led to an unpleasant finding. "Output does not go back to its old trend path, but remains permanently below it."

Then the sting: we are exhausting the limits of fiscal stimulus. "The average ratio of debt to GDP in the G-20 economies was high before the crisis, and is forecast to exceed 100pc in the next few years".

We cannot add debt, so the IMF says we must draw down our future pensions and future health spending to keep today's economy afloat. "A modest cut in the growth rates of entitlements can buy substantial fiscal space for continuing stimulus."

Shouldn't bulls be sobered that the bastion of hard-nosed orthodoxy feels the need to talk in such terms, or that White House officials are preparing the ground for another round of emergency spending even as it reveals that fiscal deficits will reach $9 trillion over the next decade. This is $2 trillion worse than feared in March, and based on rosy growth assumptions.

It has certainly alarmed US retail tycoon Howard Davidowitz. "As a country we are out of control, we're in a death spiral," he said....MORE