Opinion

The Great Debate

from Ian Bremmer:

Why the U.S. is not—and never will be—Japan

By Ian Bremmer
The opinions expressed are his own.

Though I’ve already written about the recent Munk debate in Toronto elsewhere, it’s worth taking some space to expand on my position, and why the U.S. truly is not going to experience a Japan-style lost decade of economic stagnation.

(The debate was on this resolution: Be it resolved North America faces a Japan-style era of economic stagnation. I joined Larry Summers in arguing the Con side against Paul Krugman and David Rosenberg.)

Let’s start with the political realities: Japan experienced 50 years of single-party rule. In the last 22 years, the country has had 17 prime ministers. Recently, the Democratic party there defeated the long-time incumbents, the Liberal Democrats, only to find that they had no idea how to govern the nation. They had no idea how the ministries worked, no relationships with industrialists or financial institutions, no grasp on the levers of power in society, and no strong policy apparatus. If the U.S.’s political situation looks bleak, consider that alternative.

In fact, the political situation in the U.S. may not be pretty or easy to watch, but it’s functioning. The President and Republicans continue to hammer out centrist deals on issues like tax hikes and the debt ceiling, albeit at the last possible minute after much gnashing of teeth. Ignore naysayers who say that budget supercommittee doom is coming; a deal will likely get done. And after the presidential election, things will get even better. That’s because Republicans are almost certain to retain the House and take the Senate. Whether Obama or the likely GOP candidate Romney wins the election, their dealings with a unified legislative branch will become far easier than the current divided government.

Our stable government is why foreign investors continue to flood into the dollar. Paul Krugman may have argued at the Munk debate that a strong dollar is what’s harming the U.S. economy, by making the country less internationally competitive, but I believe the confidence that foreign and sovereign investors continue to show in US debt outweighs that negative. Ask yourself what the better scenario is: a strong dollar that puts us at a slight relative disadvantage, or a pullout of investment dollars in the U.S. altogether? Investors continue to make bets in dollars, and that’s good for us. Yes, gold has risen dramatically in recent years, but "gold" is not a country. When investors need security and stability in currency, only the U.S. can still claim to provide it.

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?

Global rebalancing to weaken dollar, quietly

– Neal Kimberley is an FX market analyst for Reuters. The opinions expressed are his own –forex

Twenty-four years ago, major nations called for depreciation of the dollar to rebalance the global economy. Now, as another effort at rebalancing looms, the dollar will again bear the brunt — though officials will try to ensure its fall is less dramatic this time.

That’s the implication of President Barack Obama’s announcement this week that he will push world leaders for a new global “framework” in which the United States would cut its huge trade and budget deficits.

For Chinese exporters, grass is greener abroad

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

The U.S.-China tire dispute threatens to spill into other sectors and squeeze Chinese exporters’ already razor-thin margins further. It might seem mind-boggling to many that Chinese manufacturers are still hanging on to weak overseas markets even though the domestic economy looks much healthier and surely offers more potential.

But there are structural reasons why the grass is greener outside China. The risk of not getting paid, or getting paid late, is significantly lower when dealing with foreign buyers. The cost of international shipping has dropped so much that it can be cheaper to send goods over the Pacific Ocean than across the country.

In addition, selling to large buyers such as Wal-Mart creates volumes large enough to compensate for weak margins. Moreover, Chinese exporters get all sorts of export rebates and local government incentives which help to lower their costs.

from The Great Debate UK:

Obama risks South-American style economic decline

richard-wellings- Richard Wellings is Deputy Editorial Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Argentina should be an object lesson for the U.S.

A century ago, it was one of the richest countries in the world. Today, it has fallen far behind Europe and North America, after a hundred years marked by long periods of recession.

Faced with economic crisis, for example during World War I and the Great Depression, Argentina’s politicians turned to socialism. Lame-duck industries were subsidised and protected from competition, and policy was often driven by powerful vested interests such as the trade unions.

from The Great Debate UK:

The economy: reasons to be miserable

Laurence Copeland- Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Is the crisis over yet?

In the last 3 months, the Dow and the FTSE have each risen by about 25 percent, the Standard & Poor's 500 by a third. House prices appear to be stabilising in the UK. Stress-tested and backed by seemingly unlimited government funding, the banks are lending again (if only to each other), so that 1-month libor is down to only 0.3 percent.

In the Far East, the Chinese economy may be growing again, and even Japan may have pulled out of its nosedive. The oil price has recovered from its lows.

from The Great Debate UK:

A bet against Castro’s immortality

REUTERS-- Neil Collins is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own --

LONDON, April 23 (Reuters) - "Practically everyone who follows Latin American events agrees that Castro's end is near." Thus one Laurence W Tuller, writing in 1994 in his manual on high-risk, high-reward investing. Defaulted Cuban government bonds had jumped on hopes of a settlement to allow the country back into the international capital markets.
Today, former leader Fidel Castro's end is 15 years nearer, but he's still there, albeit in semi-retirement, and holders of these pre-Castro bonds with a face value of around $200 billion are still waiting. Castro's regime kept good records, but have paid no interest, and ignored redemption dates since his revolution half a century ago.
Few Americans can remember why their administration has been so beastly to Cuba for so long.
Those who can mostly live in Florida, a key swing state, and many risked everything to get out of Cuba. They do not want to see their investment devalued by hordes of their former compatriots simply walking off the Delta Airlines flight from Havana.
Last week U.S. President Barack Obama eased the squeeze somewhat. Americans can now visit Cuba, but only if they have relatives there.
This gesture has re-ignited the bondholders' old hopes. Past settlements of defaulted sovereign bonds have tended to pay about half the total of accrued interest plus principal, so the buyers see plenty of upside.
Exotix, a specialist trader in "frontier markets", says its price for a typical Cuban bond instrument has risen from around 9 cents on the dollar at the start of this month to 14 cents on April 23.
Mind you, the spread is wide, the market thin and as events crowd in on the President, he might feel there are more pressing problems than to risk upsetting those key-voting Floridian Cubans.

from Global Investing:

Robin Hood in reverse?

Thirty-first U.S. President Herbert Clark Hoover once said: "Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt."

Governments around the world are borrowing heavily to finance their fiscal expansion – unprecedented in size and scale – to prevent severe economic downturn.

However, outspoken independent economist Roger Nightingale thinks fiscal stimulus will not work.

Bleak outlook for U.S. oil refiners

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

Even by the standards of a deep-cyclical industry, the “golden age” of oil refining has proved remarkably brief, lasting no more than three years, before giving way to a new dark age.

Particularly in the United States, refiners have returned to the state of chronic unprofitability that plagued the industry before 2005.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

America’s expanding war in Pakistan

U.S. military operations crossed another threshold in Pakistan this week when a Predator ‘drone’ aircraft fired missiles into Bannu area in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), away from the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas where it has conducted raids with impunity.

Attacking the self-governing and semi-autonomous FATA on the Afghan border, considered a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban,  is one thing. Targeting the North West Frontier Province, or settled areas as Pakistanis call it, is quite another.

This is a  province governed by the national assembly - unlike the tribal areas which are not subject to the national assembly - and therefore  represents an expansion of U.S. operating area into Pakistan proper.

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