The Great Debate UK

from Anatole Kaletsky:

When illogical policy seems to work

It’s cynical, manipulative and hypocritical – and it looks like it is going to work. How often do you hear a sentence like this, to describe a government initiative or economic policy?  Not often enough.

The media and a surprisingly high proportion of business leaders, financiers and economic analysts seem to believe that policies which are dishonest, intellectually inconsistent or obviously self-interested in their motivation are ipso facto doomed to fail or to damage the public interest. But this is manifestly untrue. The effectiveness of public policies and their ultimate desirability is in practice judged not by their motivations, but by their results.

Which brings me to the real subject of this column: the improving outlook for the world economy and why many economists and financiers cannot bring themselves to acknowledge it. Let me begin with a striking example anticipated in this column back in March: the boom in house prices and debt-financed consumption that the British government is pumping up in preparation for the general election in May 2015.

In the British budget announced on March 20, George Osborne, the British finance minister, announced a spectacular pre-election giveaway: a program of highly leveraged mortgage lending guaranteed by the government with the stated intention of pumping up British household debt by up to £130 billion. The enormity of this number can be gauged by translating it into an equivalent stimulus relative to the size of the U.S. economy: $1.7 trillion.

from Reuters Investigates:

China’s rebalancing act puts consumer to the fore

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consumerWal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, now has 189 stories in China, according to its website. Soon it will have many more.  The U.S. chain has announced plans to open a series of "compact hypermarkets", using a bare-bones model developed in Latin America, the Financial Times said.

Wal-Mart stores are a bit different than the one's you might find in, say, Little Rock Arkansas. They sell live toads and turtles for one thing, The Economist reported. But they also sell the appliances, gadgets, and housewares that Wal-Mart stores merchandise everywhere.

Crisis, what crisis?

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– The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

 Crisis, what crisis? That could be motto for the election manifestos published by Britain’s main political parties this week. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives addressed the country’s fiscal crisis head-on.

The UK should not waste its fiscal crisis

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hugodixon–  The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own  –

 The UK should not waste its fiscal crisis. As Britain embarks on its election campaign, this is a perfect opportunity to engage in radical tax and spending reforms designed not just to restore the country’s fiscal balance but to boost its long-term productivity and competitiveness.

from The Great Debate:

Welcome to the Teenies, sorry about those returns

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-James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-

As we say goodbye to a decade so abysmal it never even earned a nickname, it is time to take bets on how the coming 10 years will shape up in economics and financial markets.

Welcome, then, to the Teenies, a word that will describe the decade as well as the small returns in financial markets and the shrinking financial sector it will bring.

from The Great Debate:

An emerging opportunity in U.S. housing

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James Saft Great Debate -- James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own --

Deep breath. Ok, here goes: For the first time in a very long time U.S. housing might actually be a reasonable buy on a five-year view.

As a long-time housing bear and someone who believes there is still considerable pain to come in the U.S. economy and banking system that is quite a hard thing to say.

from The Great Debate:

Let housing find its clearing price

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James Saft Great Debate -- James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own --

The U.S. government should just get out of the way and allow the crash in U.S. housing; the market is too big, has too far to fall and Americans' finances are too strained.

President Barack Obama's measures, unveiled on Wednesday, are part of a $275 billion plan to try and stabilize the housing market and prevent foreclosures. It aims to encourage lenders and their agents to cut repayments for homeowners in difficulties to lower, more affordable levels as well as other steps.

from UK News:

Housing market: what is your prediction?

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One thing looks to be sure this year - the housing market has further to fall. Some of the gloomiest predictions are for a further 20 percent slump before a recovery may set in.

Our own Reuters poll of 37 analysts at UK banks, published today, predicts that prices are likely to drop by about 11 percent this year and that it will take until 2010 before it gets better.

from Reuters Editors:

And the band played on: covering the economic crisis

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dean-150I recently visited one of the most frightening sites on the Web—the place where I look at my shrinking retirement account.

As I calculated the investment loss since the steep decline in the markets began, and particularly since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid-September, some questions arose (in addition to: Will I ever be able to retire?).

from The Great Debate:

Even UK guarantee can’t stop housing crash

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James Saft Great Debate -- James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own --

Britain needs to reflate its mortgage markets to save its economy and its banks. Problem is, few want to borrow and there is precious little money to lend.

British property prices are down about 15 percent in a year and mortgage approvals are down 52 percent. Given the freeze in the securitization market and the scarcity of savings in Britain, new net mortgage lending may even fall below zero in 2009, according to James Crosby, former head of UK mortgage bank HBOS, who authored a government report on the mortgage market.

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