MacroScope

from Davos Notebook:

Groundhog Day in Davos

groundhog

The programme may strike a different  note -- this year's Davos is apparently all about Shared Norms for the New Reality -- but much of the discussion at the 41st World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos this month will have a distinctly familiar ring to it.

Last January, the five-day talkfest in the Swiss Alps was dominated by Greece's near-death experience at the hands of the bond market and recriminations over the role of bankers in the financial crisis, as well as worries about China's rapid economic ascent and a lot of calls for a new trade deal.

Fast forward 12 months and not much has changed.

Ireland has joined Greece in the euro zone's intensive care unit and Portugal and  Spain are getting round-the-clock monitoring. The annual round of bankers' bonuses is once again stirring up trouble. China looms larger than ever on the global stage, after overtaking Japan in 2010 to become the world's second-biggest economy. And trade ministers who signally failed to make headway last year say they really must get down to business when they meet on the sidelines of Davos this time round.

For a sense of the deja vu, take a look at the WEF's latest hot-off-the-press report on Global Risks -- a 50-page tome on the spider's web of interconnected threats now facing the world. Not much progress in addressing them has been made, it seems. Government debt and the danger of sovereign default remains top of the risk hit-list, alongside macroeconomic imbalances, the fragility of the economic recovery and resource limits. It is a very similar litany as a year ago.

Worryingly, while the threats remain all too visible, the report's authors conclude that the world is now uniquely vulnerable to any further shocks in the wake of the financial crisis.

from The Great Debate:

Ask the World Bank President

Robert ZoellickRobert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, and a man who believes that 2009 will be a "dangerous year", will be speaking on March 31st and has agreed to take questions from Reuters readers.

Zoellick has been outspoken during the current economic crisis predicting the first shrinking of the economy since the '30s, warning that increased government spending will simply create a 'sugar high' until banks' toxic assets are dealt with properly, and urging a tougher stand against protectionism.

But the World Bank's primary focus is on helping developing nations and alleviating  poverty. Earlier this month it published research showing that the spreading crisis will push 46 million more people into poverty in 2009 on top of 130-155 million pushed into poverty in 2008.

Waiting for the G20 to….?

Finance ministers and central bankers from the G20 meet this weekend in the English countryside to discuss the world’s financial and economic crisis. With this in mind, MacroScope asked a number of economists what they want to see from the meeting and the G20 summit to follow later and what they expect to see.

The answer, in short, appears to be that much is needed but not much expected.

Paul Mortimer-Lee, head of market economics, BNP Paribas:

“There will be progress on agreeing that regulation needs to be more effective and more effectively co-ordinated on a global scale but I am unconvinced we are going to go a long way further.  Some populist posturing on bank bonuses etc should be expected. The less is achieved in other areas the more this will get played up. On bank recapitalisation, they will all agree strong capital is a good thing, but in no way do I expect a concerted plan — it’s driven by events and the exigencies of the local banking system.

“I would like to see progress on the international financial architecture/the IMF and its resources. Maybe we’ll get some new facility and some agreement on more new cash … but a radical overhaul requires the power structure to be rejigged — more power to the (emerging economies) and less to Europe. This is not something European politicians will want to be high profile when it comes out.”

Winners in a trade war

Trade protectionism – or at least the threat of it — has raised it head as the global economy has declined, bringing with it all the historical fears about the Great Depression. Consider the flurry of concern about a “Buy American” clause in one of the U.S. stimulus bills.

It is traditionally assumed that widespread protectionism would most hurt the biggest economies, the United States and Japan. But Barclays Capital analyst David Woo says this is not so and that Russia, Canada, Australia and Sweden are the most vulnerable.

Woo studied various factors that would play on the effect of protectionism on a country, from openness and flexibility to its dependence on trade and it savings.

Echoes of 1933

Will President Barack Obama attend the summit of the Group of 20 rich and emerging countries in early April, hosted by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown to tackle the financial and economic crisis?

The working assumption is he will, on one of his first foreign trips as president. But there is still no official confirmation.

At the G20 summit in Washington on Nov. 15, Obama’s transition team stuck strictly to the rule: “There is only one president at a time”, and the president-elect did not meet any of the foreign summiteers.

from Global News Journal:

China, and the slowdown showdown

America caught a cold and now China has one too. 

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said on Monday that the Fund could cut its forecast for China's economic growth in 2009 to around  5 percent. To think that only last year China was galloping at a double-digit clip. It's staggering, and it's worrying.

Worrying, for one thing, because  - as the Heritage Foundation's Derek Scissors puts it - "the American economic slump is running into the Chinese economic slump, creating the conditions for a face-off between Beijing and the U.S. Congress, possibly leading to destabilization of the world's most important bilateral economic relationship". 

He argues that the new U.S. administration, confronted with a record-breaking bilateral deficit and soaring unemployment, could impose prohibitive tariffs or erect other barriers to Chinese goods. The EU, Japan and others would then be permitted by WTO rules to raise barriers against a diversion of Chinese goods to protect their markets, and "some form of Chinese retaliation is certain".