Opinion

The Great Debate

from James Saft:

Pension savers get the boot

From Dublin to Paris to Budapest to inside those brown UPS trucks delivering holiday packages, it has been a tough few weeks for savers and retirees.

Moves by the Irish, French and Hungarian governments, and by the famous delivery company, showed that in the post-crisis world retirees, present and future, will be paying much of the price and taking on more of the risk.

This goes beyond merely cutting back on pension benefits, rising to actual appropriation of supposedly long-term retirement assets to help fund short term emergencies.

Let's start with Ireland, which is kicking in 10 billion euros from its National Pensions Reserve Fund into an 85 billion euro package of support for its banks.

Trust me, this does not reduce the risk profile of the NPRF, which was set up as a sovereign wealth fund to help pay for state retirement benefits.

California voters back weakened climate law

-The opinions are the author’s own-

California voters on Tuesday rejected a measure to suspend the state’s innovative climate change law. But the state’s emission trading scheme has been substantially diluted to buy off opposition from energy-intensive industries and allay fears about job losses.

If it is true that “as California goes, so goes the nation”, the past 10 days have confirmed the lack of political support for tough emissions curbs.

The survival of California’s cap-and-trade scheme has kept alive hopes for enacting a patchwork of state and regional schemes in the absence of a federal program. Supporters hope establishing even a diluted system will lay the groundwork for a program that can be toughened as the economy improves.

U.S., China and eating soup with a fork

-The opinions expressed are the author’s own-

Are economists the world over using an outdated tool to measure economic progress?

The question, long debated, is worth pondering again at a time when two economic giants, the United States and China, are sparring over trade, currency exchange rates and their roles in the global economy.

In the run-up to U.S. mid-term elections on November 2, politicians from both parties, for different reasons, blamed trade with China for American job losses. China responded with irritation and hit back by accusing the U.S. of “out of control” printing of dollars tantamount to an attack on China with imported inflation.

Foreclosures, capital and sickening cures

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

A dilemma at the heart of the response to the financial crisis is that the antidote to so many ills actually causes the symptoms to worsen.

Take for examples bank capital levels and the chaos surrounding home mortgage foreclosures.

Both issues are the fruit of the same tree: the desire to do things quickly, cheaply and with minimal safeguards.
And both, if you want to fix them, are probably going to slow the economy and lower asset prices in the short term.

There is no such thing as inflation

In 1987, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher whipped up a firestorm of criticism from her opponents on the left when she told a magazine reporter that “there is no such thing as society”, only individual men and women, and families.

The interpretation of those comments remains fiercely controversial. From the context it is not certain the prime minister was clear what she was trying to say.

But according to one interpretation the prime minister was encouraging her listeners to look beyond the impersonal aggregate of “society” to the individuals behind it.

The wrong sort of inflation

Chairman Ben Bernanke’s Fed is beset by demons of its own design.

Terrified by memories of the 1930s and Japan’s more recent experience in 1990s and 2000s, the academics who now dominate the Federal Open Market Committee display a hyperactive compulsion to tinker with monetary policy in a bid to solve all the problems besetting the U.S. economy.

But if inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon, as Milton Friedman argued, Fed policy has a smaller role in solving real-economy problems such as a gaping trade deficit, moribund housing market, sluggish growth and joblessness.

Expectations of another substantial round of quantitative easing (QE2) have gone too far for the Fed to pull back now. The Fed must press ahead or risk a massive, disorderly correction across all asset classes (bonds, equities, commodities and currencies).

Euro zone faces QE2 pain test

QE2 — a second round of quantitative easing — means that soon the U.S., Japan and Britain will all be busily exporting their deflation, raising the question: Just how much pain can the euro zone take?

If by November we have three of the largest economies printing money and buying up their own debt, the outcome — in fact the intention — will be to drive their currencies lower against their trading partners, opening new international markets for their goods and, by raising the price of imported goods, fighting deflation before its debilitating psychology can take hold.

That is the plan, at any rate, and, unless something else happens, it will force the euro up against all major currencies, including, as it is tied to the dollar, the Chinese yuan. The euro has risen about 9.5 percent against the dollar in the past month, a trend that ultimately will murder European exporters and its stock market.

QE2 to speed triumph of emerging markets

While “decoupled” is not the same as “immune”, look for growth and investment performance in emerging markets to be better than in the sclerotic developed world.

In the short term emerging markets will be free riders as the U.S. launches the second round of quantitative easing. A portion of the stimulus generated by “QE2″ will inevitably leak cross border, while the risks of the gambit will fall almost entirely on the U.S. and on dollar-denominated assets.

QE2 is designed to work in two ways: to stimulate investment by making it cheaper to borrow money and to lift consumption by boosting asset prices.

The post-bubble world: what’s next?

The American Enterprise Institute is hosting a panel with Nouriel Roubini and Reuters contributor Chris Whalen on “living in the post-bubble world: what’s next?” It is being livestreamed today from 2pm – 4pm ET. You can watch the video of it here:

From AEI’s website:

Americans are living in the wake of the great credit bubble of the twenty-first century. They have experienced the crisis of its collapse, massive increases in government intervention and debt, and now more uncertainty. What’s next? Are we in for a long slog, or will the economy rebound? What will happen to housing prices, mortgage defaults, commercial real estate, the banking system, and post-bubble Europe? Will we have defaults on sovereign debt? Deflation? How big will the Fed’s balance sheet get? What steps should be taken now? These and related questions will be discussed by our panel of economic and financial experts.

The debate is moderated by AEI fellow and former president and chief executive officer of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago Alex J. Pollock. Other panelists are:

China runs circles round adversaries

If the global currency war was a baseball game, they would have to invoke the “slaughter rule” and send China home the winner.

Motivations and consequences aside, China is so adroit in melding diplomacy, jawboning and action to keep the value of its currency low that you have to feel something approaching compassion for its plodding adversaries from the U.S., Europe and Japan.

China’s latest well played move is its pledge to use some of its massive foreign currency reserves to support poor Greece, which the markets widely believe will default some fine day, European Union support or not.

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