Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dr. Doom: Macroeconomic Policy Is Limited

Nouriel Roubini says the U.S. is facing similar macroeconomic policy constraints as Japan did after its real estate and equity bubble crashed in 1989:
First, monetary policy – however aggressive – is like pushing on a string when you have a glut of capacity and credit/insolvency rather than just illiquidity problems. Second, fiscal policy has its limits in a worlds where you are already the biggest net debtor and net borrower in the world and where you need to borrow this year $2 trillion net ($2.5 trillion gross) to finance your fiscal deficit while every other country (including your traditional lenders/creditors) are now running large fiscal deficits with the risk of a sharp back-up in long-term interest rates once the tsunami of new US Treasuries hits the market (see the back-up in Treas yields in the last 10 days and the scary signal it sends about coming dislocations in the US Treasuries market). Third, the US is taking an approach to bank recap and clean-up that looks more like Japan (convoy system and delayed true clean-up as the necessary pain to shareholders and unsecured creditors of banks is avoided/delayed) than the successful Swedish outright takeover/nationalization process. Fourth, the market friendly approach case-by-case approach to the necessary debt reduction of insolvent private non-financial agents (corporate for Japan, households for the US) will be too slow as working out one household at the time the debt overhang of 15 million insolvent households will take years when a systemic debt overhang requires an across the board debt reduction (as in Mexico and Argentina) that is not politically feasible – so far – in the US.

Thus, even if the US were to do everything right and fast enough (on the monetary, fiscal, bank cleanup and household debt reduction) we would still have a severe two year U-shaped recession until early 2010 with a weak recovery of growth (1% or so that feels like a recession even if you are technically out of it) in 2010-2011. But if the US does not do it right this severe U-shaped US and global recession may turn into a nasty multi-year L-shaped near depression like the one experienced by Japan. We don’t have to go back to the Great Depression (when output fell over 20% and unemployment peaked over 25%); even a stag-deflation and Near-Depression like the Japanese one would be most severe for the US and the global economy. And while six months ago I was putting the odds of this L-shaped near-depression at 10% or so such odds have now risen to one third...

No wonder he is called Dr. Doom.

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