Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bill Gross on the outlook

Bill Gross says that the economy faces a period of de-leveraging, de-globalising and re-regulation. This is an unwinding of what we have seen over the last couple of decades. It will take some time and it will be painful.

I. Future of the Global Economy
The future of the global economy will likely be dominated by delevering, deglobalization, and reregulating, yet if so, it is important to state at the outset that we do not envision a mean reversion, cyclically oriented future, but instead a new world where players assume different roles, and models relying on bell-shaped/thin-tailed outcomes based on historical data are less relevant. Historical models look backward while modern-day finance is being fast forwarded and reconstituted almost as we speak.

Delevering – The prior half-century of leveraging and the development of the amorphous shadow banking system was growth positive. Major G-10 economies became dominated by asset prices and asset-backed lending most clearly evidenced in housing markets. Excess consumption was promoted, and investment based on that consumption followed in turn. Savings rates in many countries including Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. fell towards zero as the reliance on rainy day thrift faded. Deleveraging of business and household balance sheets now means those trends must reverse, and as they do, growth itself will slow, bolstered primarily by government spending as opposed to the animal spirits of the private sector.

This topic is one which literally could take hours to discuss, and at PIMCO forums and Investment Committee meetings, it does. There are those of us here as well as highly respected economists outside of PIMCO who would suggest destruction as opposed to slow growth, and they may have a minority, but not insignificant, case. Much depends on the effectiveness of policy responses and the simplistic answer to a simplistic question. Can global financial markets and the global economy heal by pouring lighter fluid on an already raging fire? Can too much debt be cured by the issuance of even more debt? Must the debt supercycle come to an end by crashing and burning or does the world keep breathing with a whimper instead of a bang? We shall see, but there is a near certain probability that the financially based global economy of the past half-century will not return, nor will we experience the steroid driven growth excesses that it facilitated.

Deglobalization – Lost in the wondrous descriptions of finance-dominated, Bretton Woods-initiated, global growth has been the adrenaline push provided by global trade and indeed portfolio diversification into a multitude of markets – developed or developing. Yet historians point out that globalization is not an irreversible phenomenon – witness the aftermath of WWI and nearly three decades of implosion. Now the beginning signs of trade barriers – “Buy American” and “British jobs for British workers” among them – as well as government support of locally domiciled corporations (banks and autos) suggest an inward orientation that is less growth positive. Additionally, “financial mercantilism” is an added threat – a phenomenon that speaks to growing pressure on banks to retreat from international business and concentrate on domestic markets.

Reregulation – Academics, politicians, investors, central bankers and everyday citizens are questioning the economic philosophy that idolized free markets and their ability to self-regulate. The belief in uncapped and unregulated incentives producing unlimited upside but nearly always cushioned downside losses is fading. While Sarbanes-Oxley was a well publicized but relatively toothless response to the dot-com bust of nearly a decade past, today’s politicians have gained the upper hand, driven by a citizenry that has recognized the unbalanced, disproportionate distribution of incomes. The efficient market thesis, so prevalent in academic theory and market modeling is now in retreat, and perhaps rightly so. In its place, we will experience less efficient but hopefully less volatile economies and markets – monitored and controlled by government regulation. Executive compensation, of course, is just the poster child. Government ownership and control of vital financial and manufacturing institutions will politely be described as “industrial based” policy and “burden sharing,” but we should have no doubt that we will move significantly away from the free market model that has dominated capitalistic countries for the past 25 years.

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