34,000 more out of work in Eurozone


BRUSSELS: Unemployment in the eurozone remained at record highs in August and the number of people out of work climbed again, highlighting the human cost of the bloc’s three-year debt crisis.

Joblessness in the 17 countries sharing the euro was 11.4% of the working population in August, which was stable compared with July on a statistical basis, but another 34,000 people were out of work in the month, the EU’s statistics office Eurostat said yesterday.

That left 18.2 million people unemployed in the eurozone, the highest level since the euro’s inception in 1999, while 25.5 million people were out of a job in the wider 27-nation European Union, Eurostat said.

The debt crisis that began in Greece in 2010 and has spread across the eurozone to engulf Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and the much bigger economy of Spain has devastated business confidence and sapped companies’ abilities to create jobs.

A European-wide drive to cut debts and deficits to try to win back that lost confidence has led governments to cut back spending and lay off staff, while stubbornly high inflation and limited bank credit are adding to household’s problems.

Joblessness could go beyond 19 million by early 2014, or about 12% of the eurozone’s workforce, according to a new study by consultancy Ernst & Young, predicting that rate to rise to 27% in indebted Greece. That compares with 24.4% in the country in June, the latest data available.

“In this difficult environment, companies are likely to reduce employment further in order to preserve productivity and profitability,” the report said.

Eurozone manufacturing put in its worst performance in the three months to September since the depths of the 2008/2009 financial crisis, with factories hit by falling demand despite cutting prices, a survey showed yesterday.

The International Monetary Fund expects the eurozone’s economy to shrink 0.3% this year and only a weak recovery to emerge next year that will generate 0.7% growth.

But the joblessness picture also obscures wide regional variations. In Austria, unemployment is the eurozone’s lowest at 4.5% in August, a slight fall from July, while Spain has the highest rate at 25.1% in the month.

While a bursting of a real estate bubble in Spain and the end of a decade of credit-fuelled expansion in Greece account for difficulties in the Mediterranean, policymakers still face the challenge of trying to revive growth across the bloc.

The recession in the eurozone is due to the tough consolidation course in the peripheral countries, weaker global demand and the high uncertainty coming from the sovereign debt crisis,” Commerzbank economist Christoph Weil wrote in a recent research note.

Eurozone and UK central bankers will likely leave policy unchanged at their meetings this week, but both will announce additional measures to help their moribund economies before the year’s end, according to a poll. – Reuters

Debt crisis in Europe will affect rest of the world


The economic crisis in Europe is deepening and may get worse, with worrisome effects on the rest of the world.Jose Manuel Barroso, David Cameron

Eurozone crisis: high-stakes gamble as David Cameron warns Greek voters.David Cameron and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso talk before a session at the Nato summit in Chicago. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

THE economic situation in Europe has worsened considerably in the past week, giving rise to a very worrisome situation.

The ramifications of a full-blown crisis are serious not only for Europe but also the rest of the world.

The recent Greek elections saw the citizens proclaiming their anger towards the austerity policies tied to the European-IMF bail-out package, by repudiating the two major parties and giving the small anti-austerity Syriza party second place.

The elections came in the midst of a greatly deteriorating condition. Greece has 22% unemployment, 50% youth unemployment, GNP is falling steeply, and public debt will remain high at 160% of GDP next year despite the recent bailout and debt-restructuring measures.

The leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, who swept to the forefront of Greek politics on the wind of protest against the austerity measures imposed by creditors, wants to re-negotiate the terms of the bailout.

He thinks his insistence on this will eventually force the creditors to change the terms, with Greece remaining in the Eurozone.

But many analysts think that the response to this demand from the EU and IMF would be to stop further loans and force Greece to exit the Euro. In a second election in mid-June, Syriza is expected to do even better and a messy Greek loan default and Euro exit are now seen as more than just possible.

In a Eurozone exit, Greece would re-introduce a local currency, and after Greeks change from their Euros, a depreciation of the new currency is expected to happen.

News report indicate that some capital flight from Greece is already taking place, as Greeks fear that their present Euro-denominated assets would lose value after conversion to the local currency.

Meanwhile, Spain was last week desperately trying to avoid a run on banks after the government was forced to partly nationalise Bankia, the second largest bank, followed by rumours of such a run.

The value of bad loans held by the banking sector rose one third in the past year to 148 billion Euro and Moody’s downgraded the credit rating of many Spanish banks.

The Spanish finance minister Luis de Guindos said the battle for the Euro is going to be waged in Spain, implying his country is now in front in trying to prevent the Greek crisis from infecting other European countries and bringing down the Euro.

The spreading crisis throws into doubt the policies in most European countries that have in recent years focused on drastically cutting government spending to reduce the budget deficit in an attempt to pacify investors and enable a continued flow of loans.

This reversed the coordinated policy of fiscal reflation that the G20 leaders agreed on in 2009 to counter the global crisis. It contributed to the rapid recovery.

Since then economists and politicians alike have been debating the merits of Keynesian reflationary policies versus a resumption of IMF-type fiscal austerity.

The movement towards recession in Europe as a whole and deep falls in GNP in bail-out countries like Greece has boosted the arguments of the Keynesians.

But key leaders such as Angela Merkel of Germany and David Cameron of Britain are still convinced of the need to stick to austerity.

The victory of the new French President Francois Hollande and the stunning polls performance of the Syriza party in Greece indicate that the public wind has shifted radically against austerity, and that a change may be on the cards.

The stopping of loans to Greece would lead to an economic collapse, with government debt default, bank runs, re-denomination of local contracts to local currency and default on external contracts denominated in euro, in a scenario painted by Wolf.

A Greek exit could trigger bank runs and capital flight in Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain and beyond, causing collapse in asset prices and large GNP falls.

A decisive European response is needed, such as the European Central Bank providing unlimited loans to replace money taken out in bank runs, capping of interest rates on sovereign debt, Eurobonds and abandoning austerity-centred policies.

But if these policies are not taken, the Eurozone may disintegrate, with one study suggesting GNP falls on 7% to 13% in various countries, and if a full Eurozone break up takes place there could be a freeze in the financial system, a collapse in spending and trade, many lawsuits and Europe facing a situation of political limbo.

The impact on the world would be worse than the Lehman collapse. Though the implication is that this should not be allowed, a Greek exit would greatly increase the likelihood of these dangers.

If Greece leaves, the Eurozone will have to change fundamentally but if that is impossible, large crises will be repeated in a nightmare.

There would have to be a choice between a stronger union of European countries (which many do not like) or endless crises in future, or a break up now. No good choices exist, concludes Wolf.

The scenarios and predictions detailed above in the Wolf article are pessimistic, but may also be realistic not only because of the current economic situation, but also the apparent lack of conditions for a political solution.

Watching from the sidelines, with no ability to influence developments, many in the developing countries are disturbed by the turn of events. It will likely lead to a weakening of the global economy at best and a full blown crisis at worst, with the developing countries at the receiving end in terms of trade downturn, financial reverberations, and declining incomes and jobs.

It is apparent, once again, that a global forum should exist where all countries can discuss developments in the global economy and contribute their views on what needs to be done.

In the inter-connected world, policies and events in one part (especially in the core countries) affect all others.

Global Trends By MARTIN KHOR

Related posts:

UK bank governor warns of eurozone crisis ‘storm’ 

The euro crisis just got a whole lot worse 

Unemployment Fuels Debt Crisis

Eurozone unemployment hits record 10.9% as manufacturing slumps to recession!


Eurozone unemployment hit a record in March, with Spain’s 24.1% rate setting the pace.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Unemployment in the eurozone rose to 10.9% in March, another sign of the broad economic weakness and possible recession across the continent.

The unemployment rate across the broader 27-nation European Union remained at 10.2% in March, according to a organization report Wednesday.

But the 17-nation eurozone unemployment edged up from 10.8% in February. The EU and eurozone rates are the highest since the creation of the common euro currency in 1999.

There are now 13 nations in Europe struggling with double-digit percentage unemployment, led by a 24.1% rate in Spain, which was a record high, and 21.7% in Greece.

The rising jobless rates are primarily blamed on the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis, which has forced governments to take tough austerity measures to cut spending.

There are 12 countries in Europe that have had two or more consecutive quarters in which their gross domestic product has dropped — a condition many economists say define a recession. Nine of the countries are in the eurozone, and three use their own currency.

The United Kingdom, which had an 8.2% unemployment rate in its most recent reading, is the largest economy now in recession.

The entire EU and and eurozone are widely believed to be in recession as well, a fact likely to be confirmed when their combined GDPs are reported on May 15.

Even some of the healthier countries in Europe are likely to meet that criteria, including Germany, the EU’s largest economy and one in which unemployment is 5.6%, the fourth-lowest rate on the continent.

German GDP declined 0.2% in the fourth quarter and many economists are forecasting another drop in the first quarter, suggesting Germany could be in recession soon.

http://i.cdn.turner.com/money/.element/apps/cvp/4.0/swf/cnn_money_384x216_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=/video/news/2012/03/08/n-job-fair-unemployment.cnnmoney

By contrast to Europe, the U.S. unemployment rate has been steadily falling, reaching 8.2% in March. The jobless rate here reached a 26-year high of 10.0% in October 2009, but it has declined in six of the last seven months, shaving almost a full percentage point off the 9.1% rate of last August.

Economists surveyed by CNNMoney forecast that the rate will stay unchanged in the April jobs report this Friday, while hiring is expected to pick up to a gain of 160,000 jobs

By Chris Isidore @CNNMoney ,  Newscribe : get free news in real time

Eurozone manufacturing heads towards recession

Greece-EU

(BRUSSELS) – Gloom over eurozone manufacturing deepened in April, highlighting the impact of policies to control budgets and signalling recessionary pressures, a Markit survey showed on Wednesday.

A key index of activity based on a survey by Markit fell to almost the lowest level for three years.

Markit publishes closely watched leading indicators of economic activity and in its latest survey for its purchasing managers’ index the firm said: “The eurozone manufacturing downturn took a further turn for the worse in April.”

The adjusted manufacturing PMI figure, closely watched as an indicator of economic trends, fell to 45.9 from 47.7 in March.

A figure of below 50 points to contraction and Markit noted that “the headline PMI has signalled contraction in each of the past nine months.”

The chief economist at Markit, Chris Williamson, said: “Manufacturing in the eurozone took a further lurch into a new recession in April, with the PMI suggesting that output fell at (a) worryingly steep quarterly rate of over 2.0 percent.”

He said that “austerity in deficit-fighting countries is having an increasing impact on demand across the region” and that “even German manufacturing output showed a renewed decline.”

Williamson commented that the latest forecast from the European Central Bank “of merely a slight contraction of GDP (gross domestic product) this year is therefore already looking optimistic.”

He added: “However, with the survey also showing inflationary pressures to have waned, the door may be opening for further stimulus.”

His remarks highlight controversy over policies in many countries to correct budget deficits and heavy debt to install confidence on debt markets where governments borrow.

There are increasing warnings that the eurozone must raise economic growth, but opinions differ on the best route, with some saying that budget austerity opens the way to structural reform and competitiveness and others saying that extra stimulus is essential.

Markit said that “the April PMIs also indicated that manufacturing weakness was no longer confined to the region’s geographic periphery.”

In Germany, which has the biggest economy in the eurozone and has shown broad resilience to downturn elsewhere, Markit also noted a setback.

“The German PMI fell to a 33-month low, conditions deteriorated sharply again in France and the Netherlands also contracted at a faster rate,” it said.

Markit said: “There was no respite for the non-core nations either, with steep and accelerating downturns seen in Italy, Spain and Greece. Only the PMIs for Austria and Ireland held above the 50.0 no-change mark.”

Markit said that manufacturers reported weak demand from clients inside and outside the zone and this had hit even German companies.

The worsening outlook for eurozone manufacturing was also affecting the job market, Markit said, just as eurozone data put the unemployment rate at a record high level.

In manufacturing “job losses were reported for the third straight month in April, with the rate of decline the sharpest in over two years,” Markit said on the basis of its survey. – AFP.

Related posts:

Unemployment Fuels Debt Crisis

Global recession grows closer as G20 summit fails in

US no longer ‘AAA’, Eurozone the next?

Eurozone seeks bailout funds from China

Eurozone unemployment hits new record

Unemployment Fuels Debt Crisis


Job-seekers wait outside a job center before opening in Madrid, Spain. Spain’s jobless rate has more than doubled since 2008 after the collapse of a real estate market that fueled a decade of economic growth. Photographer: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg

Surging unemployment rates from Spain to Italy and Greece are threatening efforts to quell the region’s debt crisis and keeping bond yields close to record premiums relative to benchmark German bunds.

Joblessness is soaring as European nations reduce spending, igniting strikes and protests from Athens to Madrid. Unemployment in Spain surged to almost 24 percent, pushing the euro-region level to 10.8 percent in February, the highest in more than 14 years. Italy’s rate is at 9.3 percent, the most since 2001, hampering efforts to spur economic growth.

Deepening recessions in Italy and Spain contributed to a five-week slide in Italian and Spanish bonds as the shrinking tax base helped lead to both countries raising their deficit targets. The yield premium investors demand to hold Spanish 10- year debt over German bunds reached a four-and-a-half-month high this week.

“The higher the jobless rate, the more that has to be spent on benefits, creating the potential for a negative spiral,” said Christian Schulz, an economist at Berenberg Bank in London and a former ECB official.

Berenberg Bank predicts euro-region unemployment will peak at 11.5 percent in September, he said.

The extra yield investors demand to hold Spanish 10-year bonds rather than similar-maturity German securities was 411 basis points yesterday, compared with an average 130 during the past five years. The rate has risen more than 80 basis points this year. The spread was 376 basis points for Italy and 1,072 basis points for Portugal.

Youth Joblessness

Spain’s jobless rate has more than doubled since 2008 after the collapse of a real estate market that fueled a decade of economic growth. The country is now home to more than one third of the euro-region’s jobless and more than half of young people are out of work.

Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards protested on March 29 in a general strike against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s overhaul of labor market rules and the deepest budget cuts in at least three decades that are pushing the economy deeper into its second recession since 2009.

“Spain faces formidable challenges, especially concerning youth unemployment,” European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn told lawmakers at the European Parliament in Strasbourg Wednesday.

Italy’s jobless rate rose to the highest in more than a decade in February and the International Monetary Fund forecast on April 17 that unemployment will reach 9.9 percent this year. Italian bonds reversed morning gains yesterday after the government cut its growth forecasts and abandoned a goal to balance the budget next year.

Estimate Revisions

Italy’s gross domestic product will contract 1.2 percent this year, more than twice the previous forecast, and the deficit will end next year at 0.5 percent, more than the 0.1 percent previously forecast. The Italian announcement came six weeks after Rajoy abandoned Spain’s deficit goal for next year.

Joblessness in both countries may worsen as the recession deepens and rigid labor market laws are overhauled. Rajoy passed in February a plan to make it cheaper for employers to let workers go, while Italy gave companies more leeway to fire workers without fear of court-ordered reinstatements.

“High unemployment means a very dissatisfied electorate and makes it difficult to get stuff done,” said Padhraic Garvey, head of developed market debt at ING Groep NV in Amsterdam. “It makes it significantly more difficult to pass austerity measures and exacerbates a difficult situation.”

Rajoy’s Challenges

Rajoy probably will face further unrest if he’s forced to implement more budget cuts to meet ambitious deficit goals. His government has now pledged to reduce the shortfall to 5.3 percent of GDP in 2012 from 8.5 percent in 2011 and by more than 2 percentage points next year to get within the EU’s 3 percent limit. Despite a raft of austerity last year, the country achieved a deficit reduction of less than 1 percentage point.

Falling joblessness in Germany underscores the widening gap between the resilience of the euro-region’s largest economy and the so-called periphery. The nation’s adjusted jobless rate slipped in March to a two-decade low of 6.7 percent, according to the statistics office. While the 17-member euro-region economy will shrink 0.4 percent in 2012, Germany’s economy probably will grow 0.7 percent, according to economists’ forecasts compiled by Bloomberg.

“The divergence between Germany and the other economies is here to stay,” said Christoph Rieger, head of interest-rate strategy at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt. “It provides a structural reason for spreads to stay wider, regardless of what other progress is made on containing the crisis.”

Greek Elections

In Greece, where official data showed unemployment climbed to 21 percent in January, elections scheduled for May 6 may produce a hung parliament, raising questions about the nation’s ability to implement its austerity measures. The nation’s 2 percent bond due in February 2023 trades at about 25 cents on the euro.

In Portugal, where the government forecasts the unemployment rate will average 13.4 percent this year, up from 12.7 percent in 2011, Soares da Costa SGPS SA, Portugal’s third- biggest publicly traded construction company, said it’s expanding abroad and eliminating jobs at home, where it faces a slump in government infrastructure spending.

“High and rising unemployment is likely to impact at a political level and may make the reforms more difficult to undertake,” said Eric Wand, a fixed-income strategist at Lloyds Banking Group Plc in London. “If the political desire to reform comes in to doubt, then the market wouldn’t like that. There’s good scope for the crisis to get worse in the near term, the economies are still on pretty shaky ground and there’s a lot of political risk.”Daniel Tilles at dtilles@bloomberg.net.

Moody’s declares Greece in default of debt


Bond credit rating agency says EU member has defaulted on its repayments as it secures biggest debt deal in history.

Moody’s Investors Service has declared Greece in default on its debt after Athens carved out a deal with private creditors for a bond exchange that will write off $140 billion of its debt.

Moody’s pointed out that even as 85.8 per cent of the holders of Greek-law bonds had signed onto the deal, the exercise of collective action clauses that Athens is applying to its bonds will force the remaining bondholders to participate.

Overall the cost to bondholders, based on the net present value of the debt, will be at least 70 per cent of the investment, Moody’s said.

“According to Moody’s definitions, this exchange represents a ‘distressed exchange,’ and therefore a debt default,” the US-based rating firm said.

For one, “The exchange amounts to a diminished financial obligation relative to the original obligation.”

Secondly, it “has the effect of allowing Greece to avoid payment default in the future.”

Ahead of the debt deal, Moody’s had already slashed Greece’s credit grade to its lowest level, “C,” and so there was no impact on the rating.

Moody’s said it will revisit the rating to see how the debt writedown, and the second Eurozone bailout package, would affect its finances.

However, it added, at the beginning of March “Moody’s had said that the risk of a default, even after the debt exchange has been completed, remains high.”

Source:Agencies

The gloomy outlook takes its toll


What Are We To Do by LIN SEE-YAN

About one-half of European Financial Stability Fund already committed or utilized

 

WITH every passing day, the shelf-life of eurozone’s rescue package is getting shorter. On July 21, eurozone leaders agreed to a second Greek bailout (see Greek Bailout Mark II: It’s a Default in this column on July 30, following the first, Greece is Bankrupt on July 2). European parliaments have yet to complete ratification to expand the 440 billion euros bailout fund (European Financial Stability Fund or EFSF). Already, talk has shifted to expanding the EFSF in the light of escalation of the crisis.

Frankly, the fund is just not large enough to halt the contagion. It’s a matter of market confidence really the larger, the better. About one-half of the fund is already committed or utilised with more demands coming on. Greece will miss the deficit targets for this year and next despite austerity, showing the drastic steps taken to avert bankruptcy are not enough. The crisis is boiling over. Eurozone ministers have since delayed the release of 8 billion euros cash scheduled for Oct 13, threatening to revisit the deal where private bondholders may be asked to take a higher “haircut”. This has rattled markets and raised fears of an imminent messy default. Estimates are that with a 60% haircut (21% now) for private bondholders, Greek banks would suffer another 27 billion euros write-down, wiping out their capital. Inevitably, the fall-out will have much wider repercussions.

The contagion

The world economy once again stands on a knife’s edge. As finance leaders gathered at end-September, they all want to look forward. But markets and investors are forcing them to peer down the precipice into the abyss as growth in advanced economies slackened sharply and emerging nations grappled with inflation in the face of a fast deteriorating eurozone debt crisis, wondering how to make the needed adjustments to restore confidence. Continuing uncertainty and worries about the global economic outlook fuelled a rush into safe assets. The eurozone is seen to be on the brink of recession. Its prospects have been hit by sharp falls in consumer and business confidence as well as fiscal austerity measures across the continent and pessimism about US growth. Germany’s slowdown is worrisome because of its role as Europe’s powerhouse.

Gathering pessimism came to a head as global equities tumbled on Sept 22 as the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) gloomy outlook (“there were significant downside risks to the economic outlook”) caused investors to sell stocks in a widespread flight to safety. UK’s FTSE (All World) Index fell by as much as 23% from its May high, signifying a bear market as it fell through the 20% threshold. US and UK stocks were not yet in bear territory but German and French equities have since been there. The sell-off was mooted by a big move into government bonds. Benchmark German 10-year bond yields hit an all-time low of 1.65%, while US Treasuries fell to 1.77%, the lowest level since 1946. On a day reminiscent of 2008, Asian stocks and currencies tumbled reflecting foreign capital repatriation, with the Indonesian stock market plunging 9%, the Australian dollar falling below US dollar parity, and the Hong Kong Hang Seng index settling at its lowest point since July ’09.

Amid market tumult, investors were left wondering what to do in October. The 3rd quarter had been painful and volatile. The Dow finished the quarter down 12.1%; the S&P’s 500 fell 14%. Many had hoped for a 2nd half rebound after spring’s “soft-patch”, only to be confronted with worries of a possible double-dip recession. There is also a new fear: weakness in emerging market economies, especially China. During the 3rd quarter, markets were tossed to and fro on a daily (even hourly) basis, reflecting developments in Europe and United States. In August and September, the Dow industrials rose or fell by more than 1% on each of 29 days; on another 15 days, the daily moves were more than 2%. The last time the market saw this was in March/April ’09. The “fear index” (Vix volatility index) reflecting market instability was up 160% over the 3rd quarter, finishing at 40% (normal 15%-20%) on end September.

The problem is Europe

The damage was worse in Europe. The main German and French stock indices both lost more than 25% of their value in the 3rd quarter, the largest quarterly loss since 2002. Asian stocks also took a pounding, experiencing double-digit losses. The Hong Kong Hang Seng index lost 21%. Even gold usually the refuge suffered a collapse in September from its record high in August. The safety was in US Treasuries, German bunds and UK gilts. Yields didn’t matter for now it’s just preservation of capital. As I see it, the sovereign risk crisis is compounded by much weaker growth among the “core” nations, and increasing market stress. In the United States, it has just managed to avoid recession, with little buffer to insulate itself from any fallout from an European event. Complications can also come from a busting bubble in the Chinese property market, rattling Chinese banks with ripple effects on world markets.

US and European stocks tumbled when markets opened in the new 4th quarter, with S&P’s 500 entering the bear market as Europe postponed a vital tranche drawing to debt-stricken Greece. Wall Street fell about 2% on Oct 3, extending decline to a 13-month low as investors feared the crisis would lead the United States into a new recession. With this drop, the benchmark S&P’s 500 had fallen past 20% putting it in bear territory. In Europe, banking stocks dived as investors slashed their exposure on worries authorities are unable to contain the debt crisis. The Stoxx Europe 600 index tumbled 2.8%, hitting its lowest since Oct ’08; Stoxx Europe 600 banks finished 4.3% lower. Euro-zone’s problem is one of market confidence rather than solvency. In Asia, most regional markets in the 3rd quarter suffered their biggest falls since the Lehman’s collapse in ’08, with Tokyo losing 11% and Hong Kong 21%. Since then, Korea dropped 3.6%, Hong Kong another 3.4%, India’s Sensex 1.8%, the Nikkei, 1.1% and Australia, 0.6%. Italy’s latest downgrade a 3-notch cut by Moody’s to A2 with continued negative outlook reflected as much euro-zone’s inability to spur market confidence, as it does Italy’s failure to promote growth. Without a comprehensive response to the crisis, the risk of a downward spiral remains. In the past days, European stocks posted hefty gains as policymakers were reported to be prepared to help recapitalise European banks, estimated at 100-200 billion euros. Priority remains with Spain and Italy which are basically solvent, but lacks credibility. The prospect of the IMF coming-in alongside EFSF to buy Spanish and Italian bonds boosted sentiment.

Default by Greece?

Greece will miss the targets set just two months ago. The 2012 approved budget predicts a deficit of 8.5% of GDP for ’11, well short of the 7.6% target. For ’12, the deficit is set at 6.8%, short of the target of 6.5% reflecting the sluggish economy. Its 8.5% target remains a challenge in the current environment. GDP is expected to fall by 5.5% in ’11 pushing unemployment to 16%, and a further GDP shrinkage of 2%-2% is in prospect. The ’11 shortfall meant Greece would need another 2 billion euros just to bridge the gap. Greece is now off-track, reflecting disappointing revenues and missed targets. On Sept 21, it acted to raise taxes, speed-up public lay-offs, and cut some pensions. Ongoing austerity measures are already deeply unpopular.

My mentor and teacher at Harvard (Marty Feldstein) believes the only way out is for Greece to default and write down its debt by at least 50%. This strategy of default and devalue is standard fare for nations in Greece’s shoes. But this hasn’t happened because “Greece is trapped in the single currency.” So why are the political leaders trying to postpone the inevitable? He offered two sensible reasons: (i) banks and other financial institutions in Germany and France have large exposures to Greek debt, and time is needed to build capital; and (ii) default would induce sovereign defaults in other countries and runs on their banks. The EFSF is just not large enough to bail out Italy and Spain. Europe’s politicians hope to buy enough time (2 years) for Spain and Italy to prove they are financially viable. As I see it, both these nations don’t have another two years to prove their worth. The markets will decide the fate of Greece (and possibly Spain and Italy), not the other way around.

The shadow of recession

International Monetary Fund’s September forecast pointed to growth in emerging economies exceeding 6% in ’11 and ’12, but with the advanced nations sliding to below 2%. On current trends, the latter prediction is perhaps closer to 1%. I think the outlook for the eurozone is deteriorating fast: at best, they are already in the throes of a severe slowdown; at worst, a relapse into recession. The European Commission recently stated growth is at a virtual standstill, with eurozone GDP rising by 0.2% in 3Q’11 and 0.1% in 4Q’11. Pain will be most intense in the south (no growth in Italy in ’11 and ’12) where the pressure of austerity is greatest. But the “core” economies are also hurting. IMF estimated German growth would slow down from 2.7% in ’11 to 1.3% in ’12. The short-term outlook is even worse. According to Markit Economics, eurozone’s factory activity fell to a 25-month low of 48.5 (a reading below 50 indicates contraction). Indications are economic conditions will deteriorate. Germany’s index fell in September with overall activity just above 50 the worst performance in two years. France’s index stood at 48.2; Italy, 48.3 both in contraction territory. Eurozone contractions reflected lacklustre domestic demand and falling export sales. More sluggish growth will make it harder to achieve fiscal targets. Rising risk of recession will damage efforts to deal with the crisis.

The Fed’s latest assessment is for the US economy to falter needs to be taken seriously. Citing anaemic employment, depressed confidence and financial risks from Europe, its chief urged Congress not to cut spending too quickly in the short-term even as they grapple with fiscal consolidation over the medium-term. The IMF expects the United States to grow by 1.5% in ’11 (less than 1% in 1H’11) and 1.8% in ’12. The short-term outlook isn’t looking better. Indeed, the business cycle monitoring group ECRI concluded last week that the US economy is tipping into a new recession. Latest data are mixed after a dismal August. US manufacturing managed to keep expanding and employment strengthened in September but the tone has not been sufficiently robust to dispel fears of another downturn. Sure, United States was not in recession in 3Q’11 but the lack of new orders remains of concern. While even sluggish job growth is welcome, the government’s belt-tightening is likely to prove a significant drag on the economy. The Fed’s commitment to ensure recovery continues will re-assure. But if Europe falters badly, there is little the Fed can do.

Housing ignored

Over the past 35 years, housing had added value to the GDP. Empirically, in the two years following most recessions, housing adds about 0.5%point to US GDP growth. So far, the contribution has been negative. This is so because: (i) home prices dropped 2.5% this year; since its ’05 peak, home prices have fallen 31.6%; (ii) United States lost US$7 trillion (close to one-half of GDP) in the value of homes they own: homeowners equity has since fallen to 38.6% of home values; (iii) home-starts are at an all time low and still falling. The housing bust weighs heavily on consumers making them more reluctant to spend. Innovative ways to unleash housing are needed.

Looks like the world remains in a bad shape. It is also a dangerous place with growing uncertainty, high volatility and increasing social unrest. Europe in particular is in a high risk gamble. I worry European politicians may learn the hard way in trying to outsmart the markets.

> Former banker, Dr Lin is a Harvard educated economist and a British Chartered Scientist who now spends time writing, teaching & promoting the public interest. Feedback is most welcome; email: starbizweek@thestar.com.my

When great nations go broke !


Why Not? By Wong Sai Wan

Populist decisions and fear of election backlash are the surest way a country would go bankrupt.

TAXI drivers went on strike against the issuing of more licences as part of austerity measures adopted by the government by parking their vehicles on the highway leading to the airport.

Another government had to sell off its embassies in 11 countries to raise RM300mil because it could no longer afford to keep them.

And in a third country, the government is in a tussle with its elected representatives as the country (USA) hurdles towards defaulting on its US$14.5tril (RM43.4tril) debt.

No, none of the countries referred to is Malaysia. Instead, the striking taxi drivers were in Greece, the embassy selling country is Britain and of course with such a huge debt, the third is the United States.

It’s frightening to think how these three countries – at one time or another was the greatest country of a certain generation.

In ancient time, Greece was the centre of the universe for everything ranging from democracy to sciences to world conquering feats by its leaders like Alexander the Great.

But it can no longer live on its past glories as it wallows in its own Greek tragedy.

Its economy, the 27th largest in the world, is in ruins just like the things that Greece is most famous for.

Britain – once called by everyone as the United Kingdom or Great Britain – had the largest empire in the world just a century ago with colonies in every continent. Malaysia was once its colony.

The British claimed the industrial revolution as its own and is rightly credited for turning manufacturing into becoming the mainstay of the global economy.

It is now a shadow of its glory days and at best is the rabble rousers in the European Union (EU) zone. Gone are its colonies in every far-flung corner of the world that kept its super economy running.

Now the British have even got to putting for sale its huge Chancery in Kuala Lumpur because it would be cheaper for the High Commission to operate out of a commercial building.

As for the United States, wasn’t it the leader of the free world and the fatherland of industrialisation where hardwork is always rewarded with ample financial gain?

But now the country is bogged down with wars on various fronts from Libya to Afghanistan.

Yes, the United States is still the No 1 country in the world as far as the economy size is concerned but for the first time in the past century, everyone else – especially China – is catching up quickly.

The Americans owe more money to everyone than anyone has in the past.

Go to the website http://www.usdebtclock.org/ and you will get the real time feeling of how much the land of the brave and free owe the rest of the world.

It will probably take hundreds of PhD thesis to explain what went wrong for these three nations but suffice to say that successive governments did not do enough to prevent their economies from falling into such a dark hole.

On top of that politics has played a strong role in pushing these economies into even darker places.

Political opponents in these countries, especially in the United States and Greece, have been playing a game of one-upmanship on every issue.

Even now on the brink of economic ruin, these politicians continue to play the game.

As for Greece, there are enough MPs there who want to play the popular game of not going ahead with the agreed austerity drive because it is supposedly too painful for its people.

But wasn’t it their foolhardiness that brought Greece to this position in the first place.

What was the hurry for Greece to join the single Euro monetary system? It was obvious that it was not ready to meet the standards set by the technocrats in Brussels (where the EU is headquartered). The same can be said of Ireland, Spain, Portugal and many of the old eastern block countries.

It is hoped that the Greek government will stand firm against pressures from the likes of the taxi drivers and proceed with the unpopular austerity measures.

As for the United States, the rivalry of Republicans and Demo-crats is threatening to send the world into possibly the biggest depression ever as there is less than 10 days left before America defaults on that huge debt.

The Republicans, who control the House of Representatives are refusing to approve President Barack Obama’s proposed budget on the debt ceiling because they claim it would hurt the American economy (read the rich).

If they default, the entire world can look forward to decades of depression as lenders will panic and demand all nations to repay their debts immediately.

Our national debt stood at RM233.92bil last year or 34.3% to the Growth Domestic Product.

It used to be worse but some of the debts were repaid in the last decade when the ringgit gained in strength.

Yes, surprisingly our country’s debt is not a huge mountain as some people would like us to believe, but what is worrying is the lack of support for efforts to reduce it further.

A sure way of doing it is by reducing subsidies.

In 2009, it was reported that the Government spent RM74bil in subsidies ranging from social projects to energy and food. This translates to an annual subsidy of about RM12,900 per household.

Cutting back on subsidies would be unpopular with the people. The negative reaction to the floating of the premium petrol prices and the allowing of energy prices to rise are examples of the backlash the Government has gotten from its efforts to reduce its subsidy spending.

The most popular comments against Malaysia’s spending cuts has been to ask the Government to reduce the leakages before even thinking of cutting back on subsidies.

Of course, it does not help the Government’s plans that in the past there has been ample evidence of such leakages.

Something must be done to convince the people there is a total war against wastage including using unpopular means. Why not?

After all, the most important lesson from the Greece, Britain and United States stories is that being popular will only guarantee election victories that will eventually lead to financial disasters.

> Executive editor Wong Sai Wan has been through three recessions and fears the fourth the most.

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