Opinion

The Great Debate

Dubai will pay for Abu Dhabi aid

Alexander Smith– Alexander Smith is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —

Abu Dhabi is not going to crow publicly over Dubai’s troubles. But it will use the opportunity to assert control over its upstart neighbor. The price for Abu Dhabi’s help could be prize assets like airline Emirates. Dubai has little choice but to do what it is told.

Dubai is unable to service the $80 billion debt it has amassed during its meteoric rise to wannabe global financial hub. Oil-rich Abu Dhabi holds the political and financial trump cards. Not only is it the capital of the United Arab Emirates, its ruler is head of the UAE’s seven desert states — squeezed between Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Dubai’s success threatened the balance of power between the two emirates. Abu Dhabi has developed quickly, but not at the speed of Dubai, where until a year ago new skyscrapers popped out of the desert every few days.

A property market crash and the end of free-flowing credit have taken their toll. Abu Dhabi has already lent Dubai at least $10 billion and another $5 billion indirectly via two of its banks. That won’t be the end of it. Dubai has nowhere else to turn, particularly now it has alienated the international capital markets by admitting it can’t meet the debts of flagship holding company Dubai World. Abu Dhabi can afford to bail out Dubai, but it has not been immune to losses itself and won’t be signing blank checks.

from Rolfe Winkler:

Krugman and the pied pipers of debt

Investors are celebrating an incipient "recovery," but the interventions responsible are sowing the seeds of a more violent contraction down the road. The problem, quite simply, is debt. We've accumulated record amounts, yet many economists tell us we need more.

Leading the charge is Paul Krugman. He exhorts us to borrow our way back to prosperity, but he doesn't acknowledge that his brand of Keynesian economics ignores debt's consequences. If you look at a chart of America's total debt burden, he's leading us over a cliff.

(Click chart to enlarge in new window)

public-and-private-debt-burden

The problem begins with the flawed way Krugman and other economists measure well-being. Primarily, they look at measures of activity, like GDP. These tell us how much people spend, but say nothing about where we get the money.

Japan, nominally lost, not really so

Al Breach was Russia economist with UBS and Goldman Sachs and is currently managing partner of TheBrowser.com. The views expressed are his own.

albreachHOSTENTAL, Switzerland – How bad was Japan’s “lost decade”? As we look east for clues as to the possible fate of western economies, it is worth dwelling on what actually happened, and not just how it was reported.

Japan’s stock market bubble burst at the end of 1989, and house prices started to fall about a year later. Asset prices at the peak were wildly inflated. Stock prices were trading at ratios of well above 50 times boom-time earnings, while the total value of housing represented around 300 percent of GDP.

from Commentaries:

Debt on autopilot

At first glance this week's budget projections paint President Obama as a spendthrift. The White House itself offered a grim glimpse of a future in which U.S. debt more than doubles to $17.5 trillion in a decade -- an increase of nearly $10 trillion.

Merely servicing the U.S. debt will cost more than America currently spends on either defense or social security.

But the yawning deficit can't be blamed on Obama -- or for that matter, on Bush or on the financial crisis. Instead the government's finances are locked on autopilot, with entitlement programs driving the country towards a fiscal crisis.

from The Great Debate UK:

Darling gambles with Britain’s credit

REUTERS-- Neil Collins is a Reuters columnist. Christopher Fildes is a guest columnist. The opinions expressed are their own --

LONDON, April 22 (Reuters) - The Treasury is the UK government's finance ministry. There are many other government departments, but in the years since 1997, all have been turned into subsidiaries of the Treasury, the power base of Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he was chancellor.
His ambition was to micro-manage in every one of them. Today we saw the true cost of this disastrous experiment. All major countries have serious problems with their government deficits, but the most entrenched of Britain's are home-made.
Britain's public finances, which had been deteriorating for years, are wrecked. Even on his successor's rose-tinted projections, they will not return to a balanced Budget for at least the next nine years.
Given that no Treasury projection for more than three or four years out bears any resemblance to reality, and given the there will have been at least two elections between now and then, this is a post-dated cheque drawn on the Bank of Fantasy.
Alistair Darling has learned at the feet of the master of obfuscation, double counting and footling detail. So we heard all about the green recovery, from a government that sees no contradiction between raising the cost of fuel and granting tax concessions to North Sea explorers. There may be more oil there, but for the state, this is now a dry well.
The Chancellor did not dare say what he and his advisers really think about the green-tinted scheme wished on them by Peter Mandelson, the Trade Secretary, to scrap your old banger for 2,000 pounds towards a new one.
At least they managed to limit the damage to a single year. If your car is not 10 years old by next March, it will be junked in the ordinary way.
Junk is what the last Treasury forecast has now become. It's barely five months since Darling's last emergency package. It looked like a work of fiction then, and now there's no doubt. In his Budget a year ago, he was expecting to borrow 43 billion pounds in 2008/09, crowing that the previous peak was much higher, at 7.8 percent of gross national product. The sum would come down after that.
By November, there was no crowing. The projected borrowing requirement was 78 billion pounds, and was going up, to 118 billion in the following year, not down. Even those horrible figures have now been left far behind. Last year he needed 90 billion pounds, and in 2009/10, he says, it will be 175 billion pounds, or 12.4 percent of GNP.
The forecast is then for a fall, although not by much. In 2010/11 he - or his successor - will still be 173 billion pounds short of balancing the books.
So in three years the government will have borrowed 5,600 pounds for every man, woman and child in the country. That's over 20,000 pounds for what the prime minister routinely calls the average hard-working family.
In any business, from a corner shop to a multi-national, this arithmetic would be immediately fatal to those who had put it forward. Their credit would be ruined, and the business's credit could not be restored while they were still in charge.
Britain's credit is ultimately expressed in the external value of sterling, as Brown himself has said. The pound has already been devalued informally by a greater amount than the two previous formal devaluations in 1967 and 1992.
The short-term effects have been mostly benign, but the possibility of a flight from the currency is always there. This Budget makes it a little more likely.
In this context, everything else is detail. The biggest detail is the attack on what Darling describes as "those who gained the most". This is a sop to his fractious party in parliament.
From next April anyone earning over 150,000 pounds a year will be paying 51.5 percent on every extra pound earned, the highest rate in Britain for 21 years. They will also lose their tax-free allowances and half the tax relief on their pension contributions.
The small print betrays that the government is relying on these measures to bring in 7 billion a year, sometime in the middle distance. This looks as unconvincing a forecast as any in Darling's portfolio. Well-paid labour is highly mobile nowadays, and will go where the prospects are high and the taxes low.
Nothing else in the 250 pages of the Budget Report is worth a row of green beans. Even the Treasury can't put a price on the measure to reduce VAT on children's car seat bases.
Despite its name, "enhanced capital allowances" will actually raise more money -- 10 million pounds, or enough to run the government machine for about eight minutes.
Thrashing around for something cheerful to say, Darling kept telling us how much worse off other people were. To assert that "we and other countries have been battling against a succession of shocks which have hit the world economy" suggests that our luckless planet had crossed orbits with a large economic meteorite.
The former chancellor, now prime minister, assumed the sun would shine forever, and that he had somehow managed to suspend the usual rules of economics -- or as he himself put it, "no more boom and bust." In recent years, he produced growth by borrowing, pouring the money into the public services for ever-decreasing returns.
Each time he borrowed more than he had forecast. Now the bill has arrived, and it's plain that neither he nor his successor has the slightest idea of what to do. Marc Ostwald of Monument Securities summed it up within minutes: "a Budget of tinkering with the public sector financial sector meltdown, with no substance or obvious strategy whatsoever."
One day the Treasury will remember how to mind its own business, under a chancellor who grasps that until the public finances are put in order, nothing else will go right. The longer the wait, the worse will be the reckoning.

U.S. and UK on brink of debt disaster

John Kemp Great Debate-- John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

The United States and the United Kingdom stand on the brink of the largest debt crisis in history.

While both governments experiment with quantitative easing, bad banks to absorb non-performing loans, and state guarantees to restart bank lending, the only real way out is some combination of widespread corporate default, debt write-downs and inflation to reduce the burden of debt to more manageable levels. Everything else is window-dressing.

To understand the scale of the problem, and why it leaves so few options for policymakers, take a look at Chart 1 (https://customers.reuters.com/d/graphics/USDEBT1.pdf), which shows the growth in the real economy (measured by nominal GDP) and the financial sector (measured by total credit market instruments outstanding) since 1952.

Financial crisis is greatest threat to international security

Paul Rogers is Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University and Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group. Any views expressed are his own.

Paul Rogers

Unless global responses are made to the current economic crisis, the biggest threat to international security will be the impoverishment of hundreds of millions of people, leading to radical and violent social movements that will be met with force, resulting in still greater conflict.

Oxford Research Group’s 2008 International Security Report, The Tipping Point?, published on 13 November, points to some improvements in security in Iraq in the past year as well as the potential for major changes in US policy in South West Asia with an incoming Obama administration.  It also finds that the recent deterioration in East West relations after the Russian intervention in Georgia in August can be reversed, but its main conclusion is that it is the global financial crisis that is now the most dangerous threat to international security.

Ten commandments for the first 30 days in office

juan-enriquezJuan Enriquez is managing director of Excel Medical Ventures and the author of “As The Future Catches You.” Any opinions expressed are his own.

There are two ways of viewing this debt crisis. One is that it is simply a temporary dislocation in the credit markets and a liquidity problem. The second is that it is a crisis triggered by subprime lending, accentuated because most people still can’t afford their houses, and compounded because almost every bad loan was highly leveraged. If it is the second type of crisis, one should remember: if trapped in a ditch full of debt, quit digging.

We are piling debt on debt. U.S. consumers are tapped out. Net household savings have gone negative. Corporate debt, particularly derivatives exposure, has reached truly dangerous levels. (Outstanding derivatives exceed $655 trillion. The U.S. economy is around $13 trillion). Government indebtedness is also approaching levels that exceed even those reached in the Depression and World War II. Add these three sources of debt together and the U.S. already owes almost four times its GDP. Now we are adding trillions in bailouts and face rocket-fueled mandatory spending programs. These trends may end up being fatal if we do not act. Right now.

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