Opinion

James Saft

China’s great divergence

Oct 13, 2011 18:15 UTC

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

China may be about to teach the world another lesson about what happens when speculative money learns that its favored markets aren’t panning out.

In the U.S. in 2007 the subprime bubble collapsed into a still-smoldering heap when borrowers and speculators realized that real estate was topping out.

In China speculative investments including so-called “private lending” don’t promise an exact repeat but have enough elements in common to make the two situations rhyme.

One possible side effect: in a worst-case scenario the yuan CNY= might actually start to fall against the dollar.

A fascinating report released this month by Hong Kong-based strategists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch led by David Cui laid out the dynamics.

Waiting for labor’s gains

Oct 4, 2011 21:51 UTC

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

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Right about now, even the most committed capitalist investor ought to be hoping for one thing: that labor soon has the upper hand.

That’s because the whole edifice: the global economy, the consumption-based developed economies and the share prices they power are crumbling because average workers simply haven’t got enough earning and buying power to play their central role.

Wages in the U.S., for example, have been stagnant for the best part of 40 years, during which time the consumption merry-go-round has only been kept spinning through a combination of artificially high asset prices and spending borrowed money.

Welcome to the global slowdown

May 24, 2011 14:21 UTC

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

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — With QE2 set to end in five weeks and with Greece rolling downhill towards default, the world is not best placed to withstand a weakening economy.

That, however, is exactly what looks to be happening, as Asian demand is hit by a cooling China and a struggling Japan.

Let’s take a look at the evidence:

Japan’s economy shrank by 0.9 percent in the three months to March, battered by the earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear fiasco.

Good riddance to dollar hegemony

May 19, 2011 14:52 UTC

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

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — While the U.S. will fight it kicking and screaming, the dollar’s upcoming fall from its central global role will be a blessing all round.

The World Bank on Tuesday predicted that the dollar will lose its place by 2025 as the principle global reserve currency, to be supplanted by a multipolar world where it, the euro and the yuan will share top billing.

First off, things have come to a sorry pass when the dollar is going to lose out to two currencies of which one, the euro, many people worry may cease to exist, and the other, the yuan, isn’t even properly convertible.

China’s sugar rush may be ending

May 17, 2011 14:51 UTC

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

There are signs that China’s stupendous debt-fueled boom is cooling, posing new risks for global growth and markets.

The People’s Bank of China on Thursday raised the bank reserve requirement ratio to a record 21 percent, a rise of a half a percentage point and the fifth so far this year. The move, effectively a tightening of monetary policy, comes as inflation at 5.3 percent remains high and industrial output slides, albeit to a still high 13.4 percent in the year to April.

China is an economy addicted to investment, a sort of fun house mirror of the U.S.’s addiction to consumption, with an astounding 93 percent of GDP growth in 2009 attributable to investment.

Triumph of gold, the anti-investment

Apr 21, 2011 12:23 UTC

In investing, extreme behavior is becoming more mainstream every day.

How else can we interpret the extraordinary moves by the University of Texas’ endowment fund to not only buy nearly $1 billion of gold, equal to about 5 percent of its assets, but to insist on taking physical delivery of the precious metal.

Things really have come to an interesting juncture when the second-largest academic endowment in the U.S., managed and advised by sober, rational people, decides that what they need is insurance against getting, in essence, robbed, via inflation, by fiscal and monetary policy.

Little wonder that gold futures went above $1,500 per ounce for the first time on Wednesday, driven by a laundry list of concerns starting with a falling dollar and not ending with the growing chance of “debt restructuring” (well, default, if you insist) by Greece.

A financial widening, not deepening

Mar 3, 2011 13:23 UTC

While Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner prepares for a “financial deepening” he hopes will be a boon to U.S. banks, we may be steering instead for broader, shallower waters which will drive down margins in financial services and favor simplicity.

Geithner told The New Republic that he sees a coming boom for demand for financial services from emerging markets as a newly affluent middle class seeks new and more sophisticated financial products.

“I don’t have any enthusiasm for … trying to shrink the relative importance of the financial system in our economy as a test of reform, because we have to think about the fact that we operate in the broader world,” Geithner said.

Currencies: war, tragedy or farce?

Feb 8, 2011 12:46 UTC

Call it what you like — war, tragedy or farce — but the disagreement over global currency exchange rates shows no sign of coming to a peaceful negotiated agreement.

Asked last week if loose Federal Reserve monetary policy was to blame for inflation in emerging markets, Ben Bernanke stoutly denied that it was anything to do with him, maintaining in central banker-speak that he’d been tucked up in bed at home at the time.

“I think it’s entirely unfair to attribute excess demand pressures in emerging markets to U.S. monetary policy, because emerging markets have all the tools they need to address excess demand in those countries,” the Fed chief told reporters assembled at the National Press Club in Washington.

Much depends on, gulp, German consumer

Jan 13, 2011 13:10 UTC

If the euro is going to survive without a Depression, German consumers are going to have to behave in ways that are, well, distinctly un-German.

While attention is focused on the suffering that the euro zone debt debacle is inflicting on the weak and the political anger the costs of bailouts are engendering among the strong, it is important to understand that the belt-tightening won’t just be a Gaelic and Mediterranean phenomenon.

German consumers will (rightly) regard events as likely to increase their taxes while doing precious little for their incomes and job prospects. If they react to this like Americans and spend like there is no tomorrow, well then, perhaps the euro zone can handle the local recessions in the Austerity Provinces. If, on the other hand, Germans behave anything like the way they have in the past, they will save more and only increase spending marginally, if at all.

China hike could help risk assets elsewhere

Dec 30, 2010 15:43 UTC

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

China’s Christmas day interest rate hike may prove to be bad for global growth but good, at least for a time, for risky assets.

From that perspective, the Chinese policy change could end up being a much-needed helping hand to Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, who has engineered a policy partly aimed to boost economic growth through the false miracle of asset price inflation.

The Chinese rate hike, taking the benchmark interest rate up by a quarter of a percentage point, signals an increased willingness by Chinese authorities to do what they must to dampen the party domestically. The move increased the one-year lending rate to 5.81 percent and one-year deposit rate to 2.75 percent.

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