Opinion

The Great Debate

Welcome to the Teenies, sorry about those returns

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-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.

It will be a great decade in which to have credit skills; even if the ratings agencies escape meaningful reform, everyone is going to want to do their own homework and a shrinking banking sector will open up highly profitable opportunities for alternative avenues of credit.

Investment - Just as the last decade started with dot-comfever and ended with unease, the next one will be all about reconciling oneself to moderate returns and figuring out who is hurt worst by a world of slower growth, less volatility and less debt. My theory is that a balance sheet recession means growth in the developed world for the next few years will be restrained at best. The past few months have been heady, but don’t be fooled, it will be very hard work to make an overall portfolio return even 8 percent. As those expectations slowly deflate, pension fund risk will become much more important in investing. General Motors will not be the last icon partially brought down by its obligation to retirees.

A rising tide of capital controls

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

Easy money in the United States, a falling dollar and growing flows of funds seeking better returns in emerging markets are touching off a new round of capital controls in hot emerging markets, a trend that could accelerate and will at the very least increase market volatility.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, really; loose money in the developed world is helping to spur investment into emerging markets, driving currencies up and making local exports less competitive for countries which, unlike China, aren’t hitching a free ride as the dollar declines.

Inflation may be a threat for many of these, but with the global economy still struggling, it certainly won’t feel that way to policy makers.

Africa and the global economic crisis

- Jorge Maia is head of Research and Information for Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, established in 1940 to promote economic growth and industrial development. The opinions expressed are his own –

Serious shockwaves are hitting Africa’s shores as the global economic crisis unfolds.

The extent and depth of the damage is extremely difficult to assess or project, but it is clear that the pattern of financial flows associated with investment, lending and trading activity has been dramatically altered, with detrimental economic and social implications for the continent at large. The adverse impact has been gradually spreading from a regional perspective – a serious setback to Africa’s recent growth performance, which had averaged 6 percent a year from 2003 to 2008.

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