James Saft

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.

The preliminary HSBC/Markit purchasing managers’ index for China fell to 51.1 in May from a final reading of 51.8 in April, holding in expansionary territory above 50 but amidst growing evidence that China is coming off the boil. Chinese demand for raw materials and semi-finished products has been one of the global economy’s principal supports, but now a monetary policy tightening campaign may be gaining traction.

The Chicago Fed national index, derived itself from 85 economic indicators, came in at negative 0.45 in April compared to 0.32 in March. There are numerous signals of an industrial slowdown in the U.S., while the housing market continues to weaken, threatening financial stability and consumer spending.

Housing means QE is here to stay

Jan 6, 2011 17:45 UTC

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

A very poor outlook for housing will hold the U.S. economy back in coming months, making it very unlikely that the Federal Reserve will be able to step back from their emergency room monetary measures.

A genuinely encouraging run of data and very strong asset markets has encouraged some to argue that the Fed’s policy will prove to have been too much for too long, but housing stands out as the one asset market that has failed to respond encouragingly to the adrenaline of quantitative easing.

The Fed acknowledged this in the minutes of their December monetary policy meeting, listing a litany of factors holding housing back and stating:

Enter the era of dollar devaluation

J Saft
Nov 4, 2010 17:42 UTC

We’ve entered a new era in global financial markets: the U.S. is intentionally devaluing the dollar.

For the U.S., which has long espoused a strong dollar but in reality had a policy of benign neglect, this is the equivalent of pushing the big red eject button in the jet cockpit: something big is going to happen and we will have to see how it will work out.
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday moved to open a second round of quantitative easing, pledging to purchase a total of $600 billion of longer-dated Treasuries between now and the end of the second quarter of next year. As well, the Fed will reinvest $250-300 billion in the same period, meaning that the central bank will be buying up $110 billion a month in Treasuries and creating a like amount of new money out of the ether.

Perhaps the principal way QE will boost the economy, the Fed hopes, is by lowering effective interest rates, enticing investors to move into riskier assets, some of which may generate inflation and jobs. As well there is the wealth effect; the old canard of spending more because your retirement account and house have gone up in nominal terms.