Opinion

The Great Debate

The perils of cliff-diving

The fiscal cliff is a danger to the economy.  Some have argued that cliff diving is benign either because the cliff itself is an illusion – it is really a gentle slope – or because policymakers have the cartoon-like power to reverse going over the cliff without hitting the abyss.

Both arguments miss the key role that would be played by financial markets.  Cliff diving would have a significant impact on financial markets, impairing asset values, exacerbating credit stringency and amplifying the direct effects on the Main Street economy. These effects cannot be “unwound” by retroactively legislating away the fiscal cliff.

Taken at face value, the fiscal cliff is a large negative policy shock.  The tax increases are nearly $400 billion and the spending cuts about $145 billion.  The total, $540 billion is roughly 3 percent of gross domestic product.   For perspective, trend economic growth now appears to be less than 2 percent — but certainly nowhere close to 3 percent.

If one uses the multiplier estimates of Christina Romer and Paul Romer – roughly three – going over the fiscal cliff would trigger a decline in the economy of $1.6 trillion – roughly 10 percent of GDP. This would be biggest year-to-year decline since 1932.

But there are good reasons to take that with a grain of salt, however. First, the size of multipliers is controversial, and they may be much smaller.  But even a multiplier of 1 yields a $540 billion decline – a recession of 3 percent.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Twisted Sister and the Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve's "Operation Twist" has set the literary- and musical-allusion juices flowing.  It is all about the Fed selling or not rolling over short-term debt and buying long-term bonds instead in order to keep borrowing costs low.

But that is frightfully dull for economists, analysts and reporters trying to get attention for their work. So, so far we have heard:

-- "Let's Twist Again", a reference to the 1960's Chubby Checker record about the dance craze . Problem is that the second line is "Like we did last summer", and the Fed did nothing of the sort, launching plain old quantative easing instead.

from Global Investing:

Solar activities and market cycles

Can nature's cycles enrich our finance and market theories?

Market predictions based on the alignment of the sun, moon and the earth and other cycles could help investors stay disciplined and profit in economic storms, says Daniel Shaffer, CEO of Shaffer Asset Management.

SPACE/SUN

Shaffer writes that sunspot activities show that the sun has an approximate 11-year cycle and as of March 31, 2009, sunspot activity has reached a 100-year low (this, interestingly, coincides with a cycle low in equity markets, reached sometime mid-March in 2009).

But a low in solar activity seems to be followed by a high. Scientists are predicting a solar maximum of activity in sunspots in 2012 that could e the strongest in modern times, according to Shaffer.

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.

from MacroScope:

The end of capitalism

Hard to imagine with financial markets still buoyant and newspapers full of tales of bonus greed, but there is still the possibility that captialism will end.  At least there is according to prestigious investment consultants Watson Wyatt in their latest study called "Extreme Risks".

The firm listed the demise of the system of private ownership as one of 15 threats to investors and the global economy that probably won't happen but which it reckons are worth worrying about anyway. The idea behind the report is that such things as climate change, the break up of the euro zone and war are always worth being included in an investment risk management process.

As for the future of capitalism:

In our view, the most likely scenario is moving along from one end of a spectrum where market is king (minimum regulation) towards the other end, where we could see more onerous regulations and government intervention in, and control of, the economy. The extreme risk, however, is the demise of the capitalist system and the end of the market as the primary means of resource allocation.

from The Great Debate UK:

Is a bubble burbling in financial markets?

JaneFoley.JPG-Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

The discrediting of the efficient markets theory in the aftermath of the financial crisis appears to have been accompanied with growing support for the view that rather than efficient in nature, financial markets are predisposed towards the formation of bubbles.

A bubble can simply be defined as an occurrence that begins when the price of an asset has been driven significantly above it "fair" value. According to the efficient markets theory this would not happen.

Don’t believe the hype

MARKETS-STOCKS/– Neil Unmack and Agnes T. Crane are Reuters columnists. The views expressed are their own —

By Neil Unmack and Agnes T. Crane
When some of the most influential financial thinkers of our time failed to call one of the biggest bubbles since the Great Depression before it burst, a little skepticism about the recent run-up in stocks is a healthy antidote to the cheerleading that typically accompanies big gains.

Given the enormous size of the last bubble, the current round of inflation in financial markets perhaps should be called by another name — maybe “bubblette” would better suit the times.

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.

Get ready for the “Great Immoderation”

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

The recession will soon be dead, laid to rest alongside the idea of the “Great Moderation”, a set of hopeful assumptions that underpins expectations about economic growth and asset valuations.

This, when investors, bankers and executives ultimately realise it will cause them to pull in their horns, take less risks and be less willing to pay high prices for assets.

The recovery will feel familiar: lousy

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

The good news that the United States cannot keep contracting the way it has been is not to be confused with a return to robust expansion, a point financial markets eventually will grasp.

Consumers, the mainspring of the U.S. economy, will see the cash from government stimulus slip through their fingers but will still face very ugly personal balance sheets and a brutal job market. Their party is not going to get started again for some time.

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