Vision of the future? See Japan’s past

MacroScope is pleased to post the following from guest blogger Ian Bright. Bright is senior economist at ING and winner of the 2008 Rybczynski Prize from the UK Society of Business Economists. He says here that bank lending’s future can be seen in Japan’s past — and it is not good for the would-be borrower. 

“There is anger in many countries that banks are not lending money. Or more correctly, they are lending less than people want.

There is nothing new in this. Even before the failure of Lehman Brothers and the collapse of the global financial system, banks were tightening lending criteria. We even saw people who paid off their credit cards each month have them withdrawn. Small companies found that the criteria used to value the assets backing loans were made more onerous.

When the financial system virtually collapsed, governments provided money and central banks lowered rates. Many thought that this would increase the ability to get loans from banks. Indeed some governments made efforts to link the provision of public money to increased loans to particular groups, such as small businesses and homeowners.

But that is not what is happening. Banks are still reluctant to lend. And, really, nobody should be surprised.

UK heading for second downturn?

MacroScope is pleased to post the following from guest blogger Julian Chillingworth. Chillingworth is chief investment officer of UK investor Rathbones. He questions here whether Britain will face a second downturn shortly after struggling out of recession.

Are we likely to witness a two-tier recession in the UK?  Perhaps not a recession but certainly a secondary downturn. A vast number of people have enjoyed lower mortgage payments and a level of job security, but will this last?

The UK is in somewhat of a unique position in so far as it faces a regime change, with some obvious ramifications for policy.  However, whoever takes the seat (most likely the Tories) must still cut back public expenditure and raise taxation, both within the context of high unemployment.

More than green shoots

MacroScope is pleased to post the following from guest blogger Stewart Armer. Stewart is head of socially responsible investing at Fortis Investments. He outlines here how huge stimulus plans could boost sustainable economic development. His team blogs on this issue at SRI Blog.

While we are still debating if the worst is over, it has become clear that economic crisis has turned into an opportunity for sustainable economic development.

Our recent analysis of the fiscal stimulus packages of G-20 countries shows that almost half of the announced spending will be spent on the environment and social sectors.  The major recipients include healthcare ($333 billion), sustainable transport ($209 billion), education ($151 billion), social housing ($95 billion), clean and efficient energy ($84 billion), and clean water and air ($68 billion).

No swift turnaround in euro zone

MacroScope is pleased to post the following from guest blogger Sarah Hewin. Sarah is senior economist at Standard Chartered Bank and here outlines why she sees no swift turnaround in the euro zone economy.

Overnight indexed swap rates –- which I prefer to Libor, given high liquidity premia — are indicating a tightening of monetary conditions from Q1 next year. But I expect policy rates to stay low through 2010.

True, there have been some signs that the worst of the euro zone recession is past -– rising PMI indicators, improving expectations, a pick-up in exports and orders. Nevertheless, the turnaround in sentiment has been relatively recent (mostly in the last month or so, compared with clear signs of a U.S. improvement since early in the year) and remains choppy, with German businesses still downbeat, particularly on the current situation.

South Africa sovereign risk

MacroScope is pleased to post the following from guest blogger Peter Attard Montalto. Peter is emerging market economist at Nomura International and here outlines why he is cautiously constructive on the issue of sovereign risk in South Africa.

Recent events in South Africa have sent some conflicting signals to investors about sovereign risks. On the one hand there was some regulatory flip-flopping over the Vodacom listing given objections from the union organisation COSATU, which raised questions about the influence of unions in Jacob Zuma’s administration. On the other hand the sovereign issuing some $1.5 billion was highly successful and oversubscribed.

With Zuma recently elected on a platform of change for his domestic audience and continuation of old policies when speaking to investors, there is a raft of new ministers and new ministries and quite a bit of policy uncertainty. No foreign investor will deny South Africa’s need to address serious social problems of inequality, housing, jobs and education through a more developmental state agenda. However investors I speak to simply want to see that this is not at the expense of the productive sectors of the economy.

UK house prices close to a trough?

MacroScope is pleased to post the following from guest blogger Simon Ward. Simon is chief economist of Henderson Global Investors in London and previously worked for New Star Asset Management and Lombard Street Research. His own blog is Money Moves Markets.

UK house prices are no longer expensive relative to a measure of “fair value” based on rents. Prices fell significantly below fair value during the major house price busts in the 1970s and 1990s but a big undershoot is unlikely in the current downturn because low interest rates will limit forced selling.

The notion that housing is no longer overvalued is controversial because the house price to income ratio remains far above its average since 1965. This average, however, is unlikely to be a good guide to fair value because the ratio has trended higher over time, reflecting factors such as improving quality, the pressure of an expanding population on constrained supply and a high income elasticity of demand for housing.