Opinion

The Great Debate

Can recovery and credit crunch coexist?

jamessaft1.jpg(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

New studies from the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank show that, whatever else, a recovery in the economy is not being supported by a resumption in bank lending, raising concerns about how exactly growth will become self-sustaining when official stimulus ebbs.

The ECB last week released its loan survey showing banks tightened credit yet again for businesses and consumers, though at a less severe rate than in the previous quarter. Much was made of the fact that banks said they expected to ease terms to businesses, but not individuals, slightly in the last three months of the year.

Days later the Fed was out with its own survey, and again the news is getting worse more slowly, which must mean it is time to pop open the tap water. Banks are tightening terms and conditions to large firms, though fewer are doing so than before. Of course we should be thankful for small mercies, but the fact remains that this is a relative rather than an absolute survey, which means that even if fewer are being tougher the vast majority are being just as tight with money as they were three months ago when things were very tight indeed.

But wait, I can almost hear you ask, banks are making money again. If not making loans, what are they doing with it? Funny you should ask, they are lending it to the government. According to Fed data October marked the first time in years that banks held the same amount in Treasuries and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds as they did in commercial and industrial loans. Business loans have plunged 18 percent in a year, while Treasury and agency bonds are up 8 percent.

Banks are choosing to lend to the government and to government-backstopped mortgage firms because they see it as the best way to survive: hunker down, take fewer risks and content yourself with the thin gruel and thin margins of taking deposits and lending to the entity insuring those deposits. It’s a good way to get solvent but it will take a terribly long time.

from The Great Debate UK:

When firms “Too Big to Fail” fall

Amid the turmoil of the 2008 financial crisis a myriad of events unfolded that the general public knew nothing about, writes New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin in a new book titled "Too Big to Fail."

Wall Street fell from the dizzying heights of good fortune to calamity in a matter of months. To a large degree it's still to early to tell whether financiers and politicians involved made the right choices.

"At its core 'Too Big to Fail' is a chronicle of failure -- a failure that brought the world to its knees and raised questions about the very nature of capitalism," writes Sorkin in his behind-the-scenes account.

Defeats doom climate bill in ’09

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

Resounding defeats for Democratic Party gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey on November 3 have killed any lingering hope Congress will enact climate change legislation this year, and may doom the prospect of passing a cap-and-trade bill this side of the 2010 mid-term elections.

Prospects for eventually passing legislation may now depend on winning Republican support with nuclear loan guarantees and more offshore drilling.

China must avoid a Japanese-style bubble

WeiGucrop.jpg – Wei Gu is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own –

Everyone agrees that China’s economy must be rebalanced, but few have bothered to delve into the costs. Japan’s experience has shown that even well-meant changes could sow the seeds for a bubble.

China cannot stay with its current economic model forever. But as the economy has become extremely unbalanced, to some extent even more so than Japan’s in the 1980s, rocking the boat too much risks tipping it over. Instead of rushing into changes, it would be better to make reforms gradually.

from The Great Debate UK:

Why is the UK still in recession when the U.S. isn’t?

Recent U.S.  gross domestic product data show the world's biggest economy emerged from recession in the third quarter, while in the UK data show that in the same period Britain's economy contracted.

British economist and author John Kay theorizes that Britain is mired in its worst recession on record in part because government support has not been evenly distributed across sectors.

"We've poured money into the financial sector -- by and large the financial sector in Britain is doing OK," he said.  "But very little of that is getting through to small and medium-size businesses out there in the rest of the economy."

from The Great Debate UK:

Can emissions be tackled without Copenhagen deal?

Even if a deal is reached among political delegates at the upcoming United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen, it is unlikely to set out specific emission targets, says Mike Hulme, author of "Why We Disagree About Climate Change" and a professor at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

"What we've done with climate change is to attach so many pressing environmental concerns to the climate change agenda that trying to secure a negotiated multilateral agreement between 190 nations is actually beyond the reach of what we can achieve," he argues.

Hulme, who will take part in a debate hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs in November about carbon emission policies and economic activity before he heads to the Copenhagen conference, discussed his views with Reuters.

Dollar faces long journey downward

cr_lrg_108_jamessaft1.jpg

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

Even putting aside the spectacular but hard-to-measure risks of a financing crisis or the loss of its special status, the dollar faces really serious headwinds from boring old fundamentals.

The dollar has been weak for months and markets have been fretting over a host of big picture worries.

Perhaps the world’s oil exporters will stop using the dollar as the medium for petroleum trade. Or maybe the so-far patient and docile buyers of Treasuries will finally turn jittery. Either could be a disaster for the dollar, but you don’t need conspiracies or crises to be bearish on a currency from a country which on some measures has run the largest-ever deficit between what it imports and what it sells abroad.

from The Great Debate UK:

You never know when rates will rise

David Kuo-David Kuo, Director at the financial website The Motley Fool. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Go on. Admit it. You didn’t see it coming, did you? You never thought a member of the G20 nations would dare to break ranks and raise interest rates this soon.

But Australia has done just that. The Central Bank of Australia has increased the cost of borrowing by 0.25 percent to 3.25 percent. It is doing what it thinks is right for the country regardless of what the rest may think. Now, Asian countries, keen to avert another bubble, may follow Australia’s lead and ratchet up interest rates before long.

from UK News:

Roger Bootle throws capitalism a life preserver

Problems sparked by the financial crisis have not gone away, but have been transferred to the public sector, economist Roger Bootle posits in his new book.In "The Trouble With Markets: Saving Capitalism from Itself" Bootle argues that in large measure, the underlying cause of the financial crisis was the result of an idea that markets work, and that governments do not."Despite the trillions of dollars lost, and despite the worries of millions of people, more than this -- much, much more -- is at stake," Bootle writes. "For this crisis has delivered the killer blow to an idea that has underpinned the structure of society, framed the political debate, and moulded international relations for decades."Bootle, director of Capital Economics and an economic advisor to business accountancy firm Deloitte, reflects on the pitfalls of the corporate system and puts forth his ideas on the future of capitalism.He discussed his book and his economic predictions with Reuters at his London office.

Imagine when China runs a trade deficit

WeiGucrop.jpg– Wei Gu is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own —

If current trends continue, China might swing to a trade deficit in the not-too-distant future. Given that China has enjoyed more than a decade of strong exports, this may sound a bit far-fetched. But even if it happens, this would not necessarily be something for the world to worry about.

Some economists have recently sounded alarm bells about the possibility of a Chinese trade deficit. They argue that if the Chinese current account surplus shrinks, it would leave Beijing with less spare cash to buy U.S. Treasury bonds. Then who would fund the U.S. budget deficit — and, by implication, U.S. consumers?

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