September really is like a New Year. Not only does school get into full swing, but everyone is back and work – and the real trading begins. Maybe that’s the reason that financial crises are more likely to start in the Autumn than in any other season.
Let’s be clear: I am not looking for a wholesale world economic crisis to unfold anytime soon. I do, however, think that the world economy is a little shaky right now, and there are a lot of things that are going to come together to cause some volatility over the next few months, and that investors need to understand them.
Here are my top five ‘Things That Could be a Problem for the Global Economy’ :
Well, what else could I start with? Yes, the policy-makers have pledged to make things work, and yes the most recent plan by the ECB to buy bonds will help. Still, Europe is in recession and the Eurozone is unlikely to look the way it does now a few years from now. That means the risks coming from Europe are not over, not by a long shot.
With Europe as weak as it is, the rest of the world desperately needs China to a source of strength. Sadly, the last batch of numbers shows this economic powerhouse struggling and growth at the lowest in three years. Policymakers have made some effort to boost growth – in July they cut the key lending rate for the second time in a month - but they are moving slowly lest they re-ignite an already crazy property market.
It is so far so good for commodity prices (and stocks) but a little more slowing from China could hit hard.
3. The U.S. Fiscal Cliff
Tick-tock: unless some major compromises are reached in Washington, the U.S. falls off the ‘fiscal cliff’ in a matter of months. The term refers to the menu of tax hikes and spending cuts that will go into effect at the beginning of 2013 as a deficit measure, and the corresponding havoc they would cause. Unless something changes, the U.S. is headed into at least a short recession- or maybe a longer one – in 2013.
Chances are there will be some kind of band-aid measures to stop the worst of the damage – but look for some slowing just the same.
4. Oil Prices
Since the end of the Second World War, there have been 11 U.S. recessions - and eleven of them have been preceded by sharply higher oil prices. Which makes sense: the U.S. consumer sector accounts for about 70 perent of total U.S. GDP, and the generally speaking, there is not a whole lot of room in U.S. budgets to pay more to fill up the car (let alone the SUV).
If the U.S. sees a surge in growth and incomes, rising oil prices may not matter too much. Barring that scenario, even if Europe and China keep chugging along and there is a compromise reached on the fiscal cliff, high oil prices could pull the U.S. economy into a downturn anyway.
5. Lender Caution
Not that you can really blame them, but since the end of the last recession lender have been notoriously careful about issuing credit. That’s why interest rates at generational lows – and even at zero in some cases – are not sparking global growth the way they should be. Canada, by the way is a bit of an exception ot the rule – the Bank of Canada’s second quarter Senior Loan Officer Survey showed lending standards loosening up a bit – but that’s probably because our lenders were cautious to start with.
If things get shakier over the next few months, credit could get squeezed even more –in North America, and around the world too. That is not good news for the economy or the markets.
Now, none of this is to scare anyone out of the market or to have them pulling their money out of financial institutions. Still, better to understand and monitor the risks than to blindsided if Autumn gives us more than falling leaves.
We have heard a lot about the squeezed middle over the past few years. For the most part, the statistics have focused on the fact that average income have been stagnating (or declining) in both the U.S. and Canada.
A close look at the numbers reveals that the number of middle income earners in Canada is shrinking. Thing is, I'm not exactly sure that's as dire as it sounds.
It is about Europe this week – yes again – or then again maybe it won’t be. Here’s where we are: the situation as regards Greece is not getting any better, and there is a realistic chance that, everybody’s efforts (and money) notwithstanding, they are going to exit from the Eurozone. So yes, it is a tricky time for European markets, which is to say global ones too.
Here's a quick quiz - which would you rather do: 1) Live in poverty or 2) Live with your spouse? A lot of baby boomers seem to be choosing (1), although they may not actually know it. Trouble is, boomers are ending their marriages in droves, and splitting up what are really very inadequate retirement assets. So just when it seemed that the baby boomers could not make the dream of retirement even more elusive, they have apparently found a way to do so.
Here's an interesting item from on a possible softening of China's one-child policy. Faster population in China will not necessarily be the salvation of that economy, and faster economic growth from China will not necessarily be the salvation of the world economy - but it would at least be a start.
Last time, I talked about who the middle-young ratio (ratio of 40somethings to 20somethings in the population) correlated with financial market activity in the U.S. and Canada. A population with a lot of 40somethings poured money into the stock markets through the 1990s, then a slightly older one held back a little on equities. The demographics certainly are not the whole story behind why the markets dipped over the past few years, but they were most certainly a contributing factor.