Opinion

The Great Debate

The end of the Davos consensus

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

James Saft Great Debate It’s not exactly a wake, but participants at this year’s World Economic Forum have witnessed many of their most cherished beliefs being challenged, upended and sometimes ground in the mud.

Think of it as the “Davos Consensus,” a loose alignment of principles that held sway in this Swiss mountain resort and in large parts of the world over the past decade.

This consensus, which generally favoured the market over the state, “light-touch” regulation of financial services and the free flow of goods and capital across borders, is somewhere between on the defensive and in full, not always organised retreat.

What is a lot less clear is what might replace it.

It’s true that the global economic crisis and the debt bubble that preceded it did not deliver on much of the promises made by defenders of globalisation and market forces. Instead it was one of the biggest misallocation of resources in history; to housing and consumption that either wasn’t needed or really couldn’t be afforded.

Is the executive pay bubble popping?

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

Signs are it won’t just be the salaries of bankers coming under fire.

An unusual array of forces are combining to make it very likely that top tier pay may be structurally falling, rather than simply taking a cyclical dip during a downturn.

Take it for granted that pay in the financial sector will fall. A combination of increased government ownership and a shrinking businesses taking fewer risks with other people’s money will see to that.

Nationalization: Terrible but inevitable

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

Nationalization of weak banks in Britain and the United States may be preferable to current plans for insurance and soft “bad banks” schemes which risk being swamped by future losses as assets, especially real estate, continue to crater.

An insurance program, getting banks to identify their riskiest assets to the government which will insure them for a fee, is one of the main planks of a UK plan to bail out banks unveiled this week.

As Big Brother steps up, time for credit

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

Want to do well out of the rolling and ever expanding bailouts? Hold your nose, buy corporate credit and try not to read any news for the next five years.

First off, let’s get one thing clear: the prospects for companies in Europe and the U.S. are absolutely awful and many will default, quite probably more than in any post-war recession.

Betting on the unthinkable in the euro zone

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

Some crises bring partners closer together. Some, as investors in the euro zone are likely to discover this year, drive them further apart.

Look for rising tensions about fiscal and monetary policy among the bloc’s 16 member nations, and for a bigger penalty to be imposed on the euro and some euro zone assets against the possibility of a breakup or a secession from the currency group.

Pension assumptions hitting the wall

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

That 8 percent annual return on investment you and your pension fund manager were banking on is now looking almost as optimistic as Madoff’s magic 12 percent, as deleveraging and deflation bite.

With extremely low or negative interest rates and everyone from consumers to banks trying to shed debt and assets at the same time, what seemed like reasonable projections for a mixed portfolio of stocks, bonds and other assets are now substantially too high.

Of boom, bust but maybe not the Black Death

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

As the crisis has deepened we’ve had to search farther back in history for precedents, and with deflation at hand much of the debate now centers on how similar the next while will be to the Great Depression.

But what if, rather than the 1930s, we ought to be thinking about the revolutionary crisis of the 18th century, or even further back to the 14th century lending and spending spree that ended with the Black Death?

UK suffers from banks’ Darwinian hibernation

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

Britain’s banks are fulfilling their Darwinian role, to survive, rather than their economic one, to lend, and there is no easy or painless way out.

A glance at the latest Bank of England Credit Conditions Survey makes grim reading, with yet another marked tightening of lending conditions to households and businesses. Loans are harder to get and more expensive where available, which is hardly surprising given rising defaults and a hardening view that the UK will suffer a long and deep recession.

We are all Madoff investors

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

It was perhaps inevitable that we ended 2008, the year we learned we were up the creek, with a great financial scandal: the Madoff Ponzi case.

What is even more remarkable is the way in which the alleged fleecing of many billions of dollars from wealthy people and charities — investors who should have known better or employed people who did — serves as a mirror for the broader culture, showing how we went wrong and where we are left now that we realize our errors.

How will the Fed get off its Tiger?

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

The Federal Reserve and U.S. economy have two considerable risks now that quantitative easing is at hand: keeping the dollar from a disorderly decline and figuring out how to dismount from the tiger.

The Fed has cut interest rates to a range of zero to 0.25 percent and said it would use “all available tools” to get the economy growing again, including buying mortgage debt as well as exploring direct purchases of Treasuries.

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