Opinion

The Great Debate

Who wins in U.S. vs Europe contest?

In these days of renewed gloom about the future of Europe, a quick test is in order. Who has the world’s biggest economy? A) The United States B) China/Asia C) Europe? Who has the most Fortune 500 companies? A) The United States B) China C) Europe. Who attracts most U.S. investment? A) Europe B) China C) Asia.

The correct answer in each case is Europe, short for the 27-member European Union (EU), a region with 500 million citizens. They produce an economy almost as large as the United States and China combined but have, so far, largely failed to make much of a dent in American perceptions that theirs is a collection of cradle-to-grave nanny states doomed to be left behind in a 21st century that will belong to China.

That China will rise to be a superpower in this century, overtaking the United States in terms of gross domestic product by 2035, is becoming conventional wisdom. But those who subscribe to that theory might do well to remember the fate of similar long-range forecasts in the past. At the turn of the 20th century, for example, eminent strategists predicted that Argentina would be a world power within 20 years. In the late 1980s, Japan was seen as the next global leader.

The latest pessimistic utterances about Europe were sparked by a debt crisis in Greece which raised concern over the health of the euro, the common currency of 16 EU members. Plus U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to stay away from a U.S.-EU summit scheduled for May in Madrid, with a new EU leadership structure that should have made it easier to answer then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s famous question: “Who do I call when I want to talk to Europe?”

There are still several numbers to call in the complex set-up, giving fresh reasons to fret to those crystal-gazers who see the future dominated by the United States and China, the so-called G-2.

from The Great Debate UK:

Signs are positive for markets and economy

SCHWAB.IMG_4329-Kully Samra is UK Branch Director at Charles Schwab. The opinions expressed are his own.-

There is no doubt that since the lows in March 2009 the U.S. market has rallied massively. However, at Charles Schwab we believe that whilst economic progress will continue, we must look to the months ahead with some caution.  We remain optimistic regarding the equity markets in the longer term and the economy in the short term, but recognise that increased volatility will likely characterise 2010.

Over the last month, we’ve certainly experienced a sense of this increase in volatility in the US markets and we would stress the importance of a diversified portfolio and an appropriate asset allocation that matches one’s risk tolerance in order to combat this. Investors should also ensure that they assess and rebalance their portfolios to fit the market conditions.

Sluggish investment will hamper recovery

– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Unable to rely on the wounded consumer, the outlook for U.S. growth in the next three years depends on business investment and exports to take up the slack when stimulus programmes wind down.
Ultra-low interest rates will help. But with the economy struggling to work off a huge overhang of unused real estate assets, and not much sign of investment elsewhere, investment spending is set to remain sluggish, condemning the economy to a weak recovery in the medium term.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other senior U.S. officials have already warned the rest of the world can no longer rely on over-indebted U.S. consumers as the principal source of global growth. There is no choice but to rely on investment and exports to take up more of the burden.

Fed redux: Making policy behind the curve

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

With clear signs the U.S. and world economies have returned to growth, investors are trying to guess when the Federal Reserve will begin to raise interest rates again.

Voting to maintain the federal funds target at 0.00-0.25 percent at this week’s meeting, the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) reiterated that low rates of capacity utilisation, subdued inflation trends and stable inflation expectations were “likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rates for an extended period”.

There’s no way to hedge politics

Ben Bernanke in peril and the Volcker crackdown on proprietary trading by banks show two truths of the current dispensation: there is no effective hedge against politics and the reflation trade rests on fragile foundations.

Neither of these realities is particularly good for financial markets and neither is going away any time soon.

Both, too, are utterly related not just to each other, but to the Senate election in Massachusetts which installed a Republican into what had been a Kennedy seat, in the process terrifying Democrats who fear they will be sunk by association with a set of policies perceived to be favoring Wall Street.

Fed stuck doing the heavy lifting

-James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-
With employment weak and consumer credit weaker, look for extended official measures to support the U.S. economy.

Recent data show that despite emerging glimmers in manufacturing, de-stocking having reached its limit, and some strong showings globally, the U.S. recovery is far from self-sustaining.

With Congress serving as an effective roadblock to a comprehensively expanding fiscal stimulus, the heavy lifting, if any is to be done, may fall on monetary policy and “off balance sheet” forms of stimulus.

Icelandic, Greek sagas show sovereign risks

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

Developments in cash-strapped Iceland and Greece nicely illustrate two themes for 2010: sovereign risk and financial balkanization.

Iceland is balking at crushing terms demanded as part of its making whole overseas depositors in its ruined banking system, while Greece is involved in a game of chicken with the euro zone authorities over how, when and with whose assistance it heals its fiscal difficulties.

Bernanke’s fearful asymmetry

saft2.jpg – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —

Ben Bernanke may minimize the role of monetary policy in the housing debacle, but he minimizes two key factors: the effect of low rates and the Fed’s policy of cleaning up after but not popping bubbles had on risk-taking.

In what amounts to a defense of his own and Alan Greenspan’s legacy, Bernanke maintains that low interest rates didn’t cause the bubble, which he says required a regulatory rather than monetary solution.

Welcome to the Teenies, sorry about those returns

saft2.jpg
-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.

So, let’s run through some themes for the 2010s:

Banking – The decade will end with meaningful reform of banking in place, but what is not clear is if this happens soon or only after a new banking crisis brought on by an unwillingness to take tough steps now. The likelihood is that regulation limits leverage and causes the share of the economy captured by financial services to shrink. It will be a lousy decade to be a shareholder, but given the government backing, perhaps not a bad one to be a bondholder.

from The Great Debate UK:

A year of austerity looms in 2010

david-kuo_motley-foolthumbnail-David Kuo is director at the Motley Fool. The opinions expressed are his own.-

If you thought 2009 was as bad as things will get, then think again: 2010 could be worse. It is likely to be a year of enforced austerity with both the government and households making obligatory cuts to their budgets.

High on the government’s agenda will be reducing the Budget deficit, if the UK is to avoid the embarrassment of having its sovereign debt rating cut by rating agencies. This will have a knock-on effect on households, which could see their disposable incomes slashed by hikes in both direct and indirect taxes.

There are two possible ways for the government to reduce the Budget deficit. The first is to increase tax revenues and the second will be to slash expenditure – both of which will have an adverse impact on the economy. There is a third, which is to raise revenue through the sale of state assets. These may include the Royal Mint, the nations stake in part-nationalised banks, and anything else the Chancellor might find lurking at the back of the wardrobe.

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