Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Long Journey Ahead

Wolfgang Munchau tells us that the unwinding of global economic imbalances may take many years.
Global Adjustment Will be Long and Painful
...It is no accident that our multiple crises – property, credit, banking, food and commodities – have been happening at the same time. The simple reason is that they are all part of same overriding narrative. The mother of all these crises is global macroeconomic adjustment – a rare case, incidentally, where the word “crisis” can be used in its Greek meaning of “turning point”.

It is a huge global macroeconomic shock. How long the financial part of the crisis will go on will depend to a large extent on how bad the economic part of the crisis gets.

The economic part of the story started more than a decade ago with a liquidity-driven global boom. Property, credit and equity bubbles were all part of this.

So was a Ponzi scheme that later became known as Bretton Woods II, a gravity-defying design that allowed the US to run persistent current account deficits. The dollar surplus in the newly industrialised countries was recycled back to the US and European markets, where various categories of asset prices were driven up and banks lured into excessive risk-taking. It could not last, and did not.

If excess liquidity was the ultimate cause of this crisis, the real estate sector was its most important driver. Experience shows that housing cycles are long and symmetrical: downturns last as long as upturns. We also know from the past that house prices undershoot the long-term trend on the way down, just as they overshoot it on the way up. You can see this quite easily when you look at long-run time series of inflation-adjusted house prices for several countries.

The last property downturn in the US and the UK lasted some six years. This is not a prediction of what will happen this time, more like a best-case scenario – because this bubble has not only been more intense than previous ones; it has also bubbled on for longer. But even if we take six years as an estimate of the peak-to-trough period, that means the housing downturn will last until 2012 in the US and a couple of years longer in the UK...
Read the rest here.

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