By Mohamed El-Erian
The opinions expressed are his own.
With the European crisis continuing to dominate the news, many people now realize that today’s global economy faces an unusually uncertain outlook. Indeed, Europe’s turmoil is but one of the multiple global re-alignments in play today. What may be less well recognized is the extent to which specific sectors are already changing in a consequential and permanent manner.
This is particularly true for global finance where volatility has increased, liquidity is evaporating, and the role of government is pronounced but inconsistent. This is a sector where the functioning of markets is changing, along with the outlook for institutions. The implications are relevant for both economic growth and jobs.
The recent volatility in financial markets – be it the dizzying swings in equities around the world or the fragmentation of European sovereign bonds – far exceeds what is warranted by the ongoing global re-alignments. We are also seeing the impact of a consequential shift in underlying liquidity conditions – or the oil that lubricates the flow of the credit and the related ability of savers and borrowers to find each other and interact efficiently.
Facing a range of internal and external pressures, banks seem to be limiting the amount of capital that they devote to market making. Combine this with the natural inclination of many market participants to retreat to the sidelines when volatility and uncertainty increase, and what you get is a disruptive combination of higher transaction costs, reduced trading volumes, and abrupt moves in valuations.
We are also witnessing a loss of trust in instruments that many market participants – from corporations to individual investors and institutional ones – use to manage their balance sheet risks. The reduced ability to hedge current and future exposures is even forcing some to transition from using markets to manage their “net” exposures to simply reducing gross footings.