Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Watch Chrystia on ABC’s This Week

Peter Rudegeair
Sep 26, 2011 18:57 UTC

Yesterday Chrystia sat down with PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian, Washington Post columnist George Will, and former Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Austan Goolsbee on the set of ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour. Here’s the video of their discussion about the latest developments in the European debt crisis, China’s economic slowdown, and other dangers facing the global economy today:

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Also, be sure to check out El-Erian’s op-ed on Europe’s crisis that Reuters published today.

Readers’ questions for El-Erian

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 1, 2011 00:09 UTC

As Chrystia threatened at the end of her interview with Mohamed El-Erian today, we’ve compiled all the questions our readers submitted via the Newsmaker blog and Twitter and e-mailed them to him. El-Erian will be flying to Europe tonight after he finishes up his business in New York, and while we do hope he gets a little sleep, we also hope he stays up long enough to answer all of your questions.  We’ll post his answers right here once we receive them.

Global Markets

Are the current “mixed signals” by the various markets similar to the ones you said were being transmitted before the financial crisis, and do you think that the current stock market trading activity signals caution, confidence or complacency? (from i8emallup)

Are the markets too complacent about potential risks to growth (disturbance in global production chains, fiscal tightening) and inflation (Japans expected demand for resourses, continued strength in China, core EMU)? (From Michael D-R)

Your cleanest dirty shirt

Chrystia Freeland
Mar 31, 2011 19:10 UTC

To Mohamed El-Erian, the world’s major reserve currencies — the dollar, the euro, and the yen — are a bit like your dirty laundry; every shirt is dirty, but compared to the alternatives, they historically have been the “cleanest dirty shirts.”  El -Erian thinks that arrangement will not last forever.  He tells Chrystia that a long-term trade that PIMCO likes is a long position in the currencies of the successful emerging markets — the clean shirts — funded by the currencies of the U.S., the EU, and Japan.

El-Erian forecasts a medium-term weakening of the yen as Japan will repatriate more funds than the market currently expects in order to finance reconstruction.  Of the three options Japan has for funding reconstruction — borrowing, repatriating funds, or monetizing debt — repatriation has the fewest risks.  With a debt-to-GDP ratio well north of 200% and a diminished credit rating of AA-, borrowing money or monetizing debt could each cause a rise in Japan’s interest rates.

In the near-term, though, before Japan can think about reconstruction it will have to muddle through the immediate aftereffects of the tsunami: a one-off destruction of wealth and a 25% reduction in Japanese energy generation.  El-Erian pointed out that auto companies and tech firms around the world continue to announce production slowdowns due to the tsunami’s of supply chains — just two days ago Ford announced a temporary shutdown of a factory in Belgium in order to preserve car parts.  His biggest worry is the “stagflationary wind” that’s blowing from Japan towards the rest of the global economy.

The bond vigilante speaks

Chrystia Freeland
Mar 31, 2011 18:22 UTC

Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon has previously written that “if you wanted to put a face to the famous bond vigilantes, it would probably feature that famous moustache” of PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian.  Well, this morning Chrystia sat down with this famous bond vigilante for an hour-long Thomson Reuters Newsmaker interview and asked him why PIMCO decided to dump all of its holdings of U.S. government bonds earlier this month.  Here’s what he had to say:

Everything you buy and hold must have value; it’s that simple…  And our estimation at the time was that there was better value elsewhere…  Now if the valuations of Treasuries change — and it has been changing; they have been getting cheaper — we will revisit that.  But when we looked at what else was available, you have Treasury-like instruments that offer you a lot more value than Treasuries.  You have government instruments in other countries that offer you more value.  We made a portfolio decision that said at these prices we find better value elsewhere in the fixed-income market for this mutual fund, and as it turned out, that was the right decision to make.

El-Erian listed three concerns PIMCO had about the market for U.S. bonds.  First, the Fed, which has been buying 70% of new Treasury issuance in its second round of quantitative easing, will cease it purchases in June, and it is unclear who will step in to buy Treasuries at current prices.  As El Erian said, “when you can’t identify a buyer, you don’t want to hold that instrument.”  Second, El-Erian doubts that Washington can find a political solution to the U.S.’s medium-term fiscal problem in the near future.  Finally, U.S. inflation is a worry for PIMCO.  Though increases in the prices of food and energy have yet to feed back into core inflation, El-Erian’s experience investing in emerging markets has taught him that the convergence point between headline and core inflation will be higher this time around than it has been in recent decades.

The Authoritarian International goes on the defensive

Chrystia Freeland
Feb 4, 2011 15:00 UTC

It has been a bad couple of weeks for what Vitali Silitski, a political scientist, calls the Authoritarian International.

Mr. Silitski is from Belarus — a good background for studying authoritarian rulers — and he is a student of the troubling way in which the world’s autocrats responded to the “color” revolutions in some former Soviet republics a few years ago by increasing repression at home and forming a loose international support group.

China is the star of this Authoritarian International, with its robust growth guided by a government that quashed the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests but now wins plaudits even from many Western business leaders who concede that it is often better at getting things done than querulous democracies.

Mohamed El-Erian: A period of major global realignment

Chrystia Freeland
Dec 3, 2010 18:13 UTC

Mohamed El-Erian, PIMCO’s CEO, is #45 on Foreign Policy’s list of the 100 Top Global Thinkers of 2010. He tells Chrystia that his big idea is a “recognition that we are living in a period of major global realignment.”  This rapidly changing environment favors emerging markets, which are accustomed to periods of upheaval, as well as businesses, which have the metrics and flexibility required to make quick course corrections. The developed world has been hobbled by years of inertia, he says, and is at a disadvantage in responding to these global shifts.

In El-Erian’s eyes, being an outsider is fundamentally connected to being a top global thinker.  He credits his unconventional background — growing up in Egypt, studying four different schools of economics at Cambridge, and analyzing emerging markets for 15 year at the IMF — with his ability to spot the realignment in world economic growth towards the developing world.

El-Erian attributes PIMCO’s success to its heterodox culture — the investment giant’s motto is to be “constructively paranoid,” and once a year management invites a “shadow” investment committee to its Newport Beach offices to second-guess the portfolio managers’ investment decisions.

Video: The next big ideas of six financial luminaries

Chrystia Freeland
Dec 1, 2010 15:49 UTC

In conjunction with her essay in Foreign Policy‘s Top Global Thinkers issue, Chrystia interviewed six of the financial luminaries that made the list:

MIT’s Daron Acemoglu, Yale’s Robert Shiller, PIMCO’s Mohamed El-Erian, Columbia’s Joseph Stiglitz, the University of Chicago’s Raghuram Rajan, and NYU’s Nouriel Roubini.

Reuters and Foreign Policy will be showing these interviews over the next coming days.  This one is a compilation of the above six global thinkers.

‘We can’t say they didn’t warn us’

Chrystia Freeland
Nov 29, 2010 17:54 UTC

Chrystia wrote an essay for Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers Issue on the economists and financiers whose ideas survived the financial crisis:

In a letter to shareholders written just after the dot-com bust, Warren Buffett observed, “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” The 2008 financial crisis had a similar effect on our economic and financial gurus: It revealed whose thinking was based on whiggish, End-of-History assumptions about the essential triumph of Western democratic capitalism and whose mental framework admitted the possibility of radical disruption. The thinkers whose intellectual — and maybe even psychological — starting point was that Western market democracy is neither perfect nor eternal turned out to be much better at foreshadowing the financial crisis, and it is those thinkers whose ideas are the most relevant today, in the uncertain, post-crisis world.

These specialists in uncertainty are a broad church: They range from academic economists who saw the crisis coming, like New York University’s Nouriel Roubini and the University of Chicago’s Raghuram Rajan, to philosophers of finance like George Soros and Mohamed El-Erian, who have made huge market bets, as well as intellectual ones, on how bubbles are formed and how they burst. One striking similarity between many of them is that they have seen regime change up close.

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