Opinion

The Great Debate

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?

Those worries are largely misplaced. First, it is unlikely to happen any time soon. In order for China to have a trade deficit next year, imports would have to outgrow — or shrink less than — exports by at least 23 percentage points.

In August, exports fell 23.4 percent while imports fell 17 percent. So while the trade surplus is diminishing, a deficit is not around the corner.

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 The Great Debate UK:

Tiptoeing toward economic recovery after Lehman

david-andrews

- David Andrews is director of David Andrews Media, a financial public relations consultancy with high profile fund management and financial services clients based in the UK, Ireland, Cayman Islands, Cape Verde, Beijing, Europe and the U.S. The opinions expressed are his own. -

David is a former financial journalist best known for his weekly Daily Express and Conde Nast ‘Money Matters’ columns.
Few will be lifting a glass to toast the first anniversary of the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers a year ago this week. With billions of dollars under management and thought to be invincible, the private bank was generally regarded as a potential gateway to the riches of Croessus for the ordained Masters of the Universe who prowled its Jackson Pollock-lined corridors.

But when the bank started to drown in the treacherous quagmire of its collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) - a type of structured asset-backed security whose value and payments are derived from a portfolio of fixed-income underlying assets – America’s Federal Reserve elected not to send in the cavalry.

from Commentaries:

Long on volatility, short on meaning

It's hard not to be cynical about what the markets are supposedly telling us this week.

Don't get me wrong, I think markets can be a good barometer for sentiment and a leading indicator for trends before they bubble to the surface.

But their behavior this week suggests that the few traders and investors working during these dog days of summer are more interested in pushing prices around for short-term gain than making a bet on where the economy and financial markets are heading.

from Commentaries:

Japan takes a kinder approach to growth

The victorious Democratic Party of Japan did not put economic growth at the heart of its electoral sales pitch. The party's manifesto mentions "growth" only once. The word "support", by contrast, appears 19 times.

Even so, there are reasons for optimism that the DPJ's softer and more nurturing policies are just what the economy needs.

The global slump provided a painful reminder of the dangers of Japan's export-oriented growth strategy. Output has fallen even faster than in other rich countries, leaving national income at roughly the same level as in the early 1990s.

from Commentaries:

The mirage of U.S. healthcare

On healthcare, the White House is struggling with a political riptide that threatens to drag it into deep water.

Americans, as they contemplate change, have suffered a weakness of nerve. The main reason is that nearly two thirds of Americans are apparently happy with their healthcare coverage, for all its deficiencies. Repeated reassurances from President Obama that those who like the existing set-up will not be forced to change, have had little effect.

A change of tactics may be in order. The administration must do a better job of underlining the glaring defects of the existing system. The genius of the U.S. healthcare is in providing the illusion of value and security. For their own sake, Americans must be encouraged to set aside jingoistic claims about having the best care system in the world and look more honestly at its short-comings.

Let's start with value. Most Americans are blissfully unaware that their healthcare system provides appallingly little value for their money. This is because when it comes to costs, they see only the tip of the iceberg. While companies typically pay about three-quarters of an employee's family premium -- on average $12,680 a year -- individuals ultimately bear the burden. In a free market, companies do not hand over to their workers more than they absolutely have to. Money spent on healthcare is carved out of take-home pay or other benefits.

Recession at half time?

Christopher Swann– Christopher Swann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Recession historians on Wall Street often consider a downturn over when job declines fall to half their peak.

The July employment report, with its revisions, takes us past this milestone. The numbers were better than expected in almost every respect. There was even a tick up in hours worked, especially in manufacturing. The output component of the recession has probably already ended.

The rich are not an easy quarry

Christopher Swann– Christopher Swann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

Cash-strapped politicians are more willing to play Robin Hood than at any time in a generation. Tax rates on the rich may soon hit levels not seen since the 1980s.
The wealthy, alas, are not easy prey. Backed by highly paid lawyers and accountants, no other group is better able to run circles around the taxman. As a result, America’s politicians may get less cash than they bargained for and more economic distortions.

There are many easier and less disruptive ways to get the cash.

Of course, the temptation to launch a direct strike on the rich is understandable. The past three decades have been very good to the affluent. The top 1 percent of earners now account for 19 percent of America’s income, up from 9 percent in 1980. This elite group has also been quiescent, dutifully paying 40 percent of all income tax, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

An abnormal recovery

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

Things in the U.S. economy are moving in the right direction, but the pace will be slow, frustrating and very likely to disappoint investors betting on a rip roaring old-fashioned recovery.

News that the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller 20 City house price index rose for the first time in almost three years in the three months to May was greeted with much rejoicing.
The Case-Shiller data is important and encouraging but not nearly as positive as it looks at first glance.

For one thing, house prices are supposed to rise in the spring; when looked at on a more meaningful seasonally adjusted basis prices are still falling, though at a slower rate than before.

from The Great Debate UK:

Bats and balls the key to economic bounce

simon_chadwick-Simon Chadwick is the Director of the Centre for the International Business of Sport at Coventry University, and runs the blog ‘Daily Sport Thought’ in which he addresses many of the important challenges currently facing sport. The opinions expressed are his own.-

I love sport, I have always loved sport, and I make my living researching, writing and talking about sport. As such, I do not need to be convinced about the social, cultural, psychological and health benefits associated with our engagement in sport. I also do not need any convincing about the economic benefits of sport, although some people will always and inevitably exclaim, "he would say that wouldn’t he!"

Well, it is not me it is actually the United Nations which states that sport may account for as much as 3 percent of global economic activity. It is the European Union that estimates sport to be worth 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). And it is the British government that has recently acknowledged just how significant sport as an industry has become by commissioning research which will result in the development of robust measures for the contribution that sport makes to the British economy. Previous estimates already indicate that sport may generate as much as 2.5 percent of GDP, in which case this means it is an industry bigger than agriculture and not so far behind manufacturing.

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