Party like it’s 1999

Courtesy of FTAlphaville, Lombard Street has a note out called “Party like it’s 1999″ which nicely captures our emerging global dynamics:

The world today is reminiscent of 1998, when the Asian and Russian crises and Japanese recession combined with good US growth and a booming stock market to generate the tech-bubble. The US looks like the only major ‘game in town’, having adjusted from its 2007-08 ills and resultant budget deficits. We expect US growth at a healthy 3-4% pace. Other buoyant parts of the world in 2014 include Britain, Mexico and industrial, if not commodity-orientated, Canada. As in the ‘90s, the emerging markets (EMs) will remain under pressure.

A modest upswing in US Treasury yields has already exposed the vulnerabilities of ‘deficit’ EMs, while the ‘surplus’ EMs – notably China – have overvalued exchange rates and/or are vulnerable to further declines in commodity prices. Unfortunately, Europe will not fare as well as it did in the 1990s. Lacking domestic sources of strength, the euro area will continue to stagnate, with the risk that deflationary pressures in the periphery spread to the core. Meanwhile, Japan will continue to scoop demand out of the rest of the world, with its Abenomics-led competitive devaluation also stealing growth from the future.

…The global recovery from the financial crisis has been uneven. The US is the only major economy that has adjusted fully. Private-sector deleveraging is now complete and the housing market is recovering. The real exchange rate has also fallen sharply and the government has made substantial progress reducing its budget deficit – in fact, it could soon be in surplus.

The export-led growth model has always relied on the US as the ‘consumer of first resort’. But this no longer works because the US real exchange rate is at its lowest since WWII and its private and public borrowing are now constrained. As a result, the export-led EMs’ high investment has to earn its return from seriously inadequate consumer spending.

…In response, China’s options over the next few years range from business as usual to full financial reform. In the reform scenario, which Beijing has now committed to, China could have a very rocky couple of years. Capital could flow out and the yuan fall. Voluminous bad loans would need recapitalisation: the exit of capital would undermine the deposit base of the banks and drive up nominal (though not real) interest rates. ‘Metal-bashing’ would be discouraged. The falling yuan might sustain exports, benefiting the Pacific Rim and other suppliers, but it would sharpen the global competition for a low real exchange rate in a deflationary world.

If Beijing gets cold feet and abandons reform,China will only grow fitfully as it applies repeated bouts of artificial stimulus. Capital will continue to try to escape, but with only modest success. In this scenario, China would hurt global growth, with the potential for sharp falls in investment and only modest export/import growth. Those countries that are hoping to export to China – Germany, Japan and the Asian ‘tigers’ would face significant disappointment.

…Renewed US competitiveness in a rebalanced economy is likely to spur an investment-led recovery in 2014. More of what America consumes will be produced at home. The US is best placed to outperform, with GDP growth accelerating to 3-4%. But it won’t be the global locomotive of the past.

…The US dollar is now competitive, crucially against the Chinese yuan and the other Asian currencies. Relatively cheaper labour and energy place the US – the second largest manufacturer in the world – in a great position in a world of deficient consumer demand.The US is likely to see a much lesser rate of off-shoring production and a rising wave of re-shoring. This trend has only just begun. The fortuitous development of cheaper shale energy in the US is not to be underestimated either. Natural gas from shale is much cheaper in terms of oil equivalent and the incentives to develop it are huge. This major US energy transformation should ensure not only cheaper energy but also a strong flow of capital spending into improving the distribution infrastructure.

…Growth should also prove durable, as inflation will not be a concern for some time. The economy still has significant spare capacity, while an acceleration in GDP could also pull up the economy’s potential growth rate. Energy prices and the US dollar will exert downward pressure on inflation, thanks to shale fracking and America’s relative growth outperformance. Subdued inflation is likely to keep policy rates ultra low for some time.

…Importantly, even when the Fed decides to raise interest rates in response to a sustained revival in growth, this will not derail the economy because it is no longer plagued by excessive levels of debt.

Hmm, well, a little optimistic on US deleverageing. If all of that were true we wouldn’t still have the Fed printing its butt off would we? But in general terms the note is right, I think.

For more on this see my own member’s note today.

David Llewellyn-Smith
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  1. I kind of agree, factory USA is back in business, trouble is world wide there is still a “demand deficit” yet the path forward is creating new production capacity with much higher levels of automation. The obvious solution is to dispose of your least efficient operations and redeploy that capital in the newly competitive factory USA.

    Hard to argue with the business logic but it’s creating a disturbance that will ripple around the world, it’ll mean capitulation followed by capacity consolidation. Think of Holden as one of the first dominoes to fall, then look at all the other inefficient auto manufactures in the world. Efficient capacity will replace inefficient capacity, in a structurally weak global market, that’s guaranteed to result in an ugly business/political environment as politico’s struggle to maintain manufacturing relevance for their respective countries.

    Fun times ahead!

  2. “Hmm, well, a little optimistic on US deleverageing. If all of that were true we wouldn’t still have the Fed printing its butt off would we?”

    What other choice do they have anytime they even talk about stopping the presses the US markets get a little shaky. Seems like the Fed has painted itself into a corner.

  3. They didn’t mention us here in NZ. According to vested interests, our economy is booming. Inflation is on the rise, wages are going to go up, interest rates will follow and our terms of trade is at a forty year high. Yup, NZ is going so well, in fact, that we’ll bail out the rest of the globe with our superior economic performance. It’s the place to be. 🙂

  4. Jumping jack flash

    The major difference between then and now is about 20x larger debt piles, expensive food, Thatcherism, and unnecessarily expensive energy sucking down every spare dollar we have.

    Apart from those few minor things, spend up big and party down with whatever is left in your wallet after bills! Woo!