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Chinese Debt Could Cause Emerging Markets to Implode

CHINESE DEBT COULD CAUSE EMERGING MARKETS TO IMPLODE

The novel coronavirus has brought the world economy to a grinding halt. Global growth is set to fall from 2.9 percent last year into deep negative territory in 2020—the only year besides 2009 that this has happened since World War II. Recovery will likely be slow and painful. Government restrictions to prevent the virus from resurging will inhibit production and consumption, as will defaults, bankruptcies, and staffing cuts that have already produced record jobless claims in the United States.

But not all countries will bear the pain of the global recession equally. Low-income countries suffer from poor health infrastructure, which inhibits their ability to fight off the coronavirus, and many of them had dangerously high debt levels even before the pandemic necessitated massive emergency spending. Foreign investors are now withdrawing capital from emerging markets and returning it to the rich world in search of a safe haven. As a result, countries such as South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria are seeing their currencies plummet in value—making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to service foreign loans.

Faced with the threat of financial ruin, poor countries have turned to multilateral financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The IMF has already released emergency funds to at least 39 countries, and by the end of March more than 40 more had approached it for help. The World Bank has fast-tracked $14 billion for crisis relief efforts. Yet even as they offer extraordinary amounts of aid, the IMF and World Bank know that these sums won’t be nearly enough. For that reason, they called on Group of 20 creditor nations to suspend collecting interest payments on loans they have made to low-income countries. On April 15, the G-20 obliged: all of its members agreed to suspend these repayment obligations through the end of the year—all members except one, that is.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Recession Begins: Q1 GDP Plunges 4.8%, Biggest Drop Since The Financial Crisis

Recession Begins: Q1 GDP Plunges 4.8%, Biggest Drop Since The Financial Crisis

With news that the Gilead Remdesivir trial had reportedly met its primary endpoint hitting “coincidentally” just seconds before the Q1 GDP print, and with newswires initially reporting the GDP erroneously as a positive 4.8% print, it was clear that the real number would be a disaster, and sure enough moments later newswires reversed and reported that Q1 GDP was in fact, a worse than expected negative 4.8%, the biggest drop since March of 2009, and officially marking the start of the US recession.

Perhaps in response to demands from the White House, the BEA was quick to note that “the decline in first quarter GDP was, in part, due to the response to the spread of COVID-19, as governments issued “stay-at-home” orders in March. This led to rapid changes in demand, as businesses and schools switched to remote work or canceled operations, and consumers canceled, restricted, or redirected their spending. The full economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be quantified in the GDP estimate for the first quarter of 2020 because the impacts are generally embedded in source data and cannot be separately identified.”

Developing

Insuring against catastrophe: The coronavirus predicament

Insuring against catastrophe: The coronavirus predicament

People insure themselves against many types of potential catastrophes: a house fire, a car accident, the untimely death of a spouse, a serious health problem. For other unexpected expenses, prudent people, as we say, save money “for a rainy day.” For some reason people and governments have chosen not to insure themselves (individually or collectively) against two catastrophes that have been much in the news lately: pandemics and large investment losses.

There is a connection, of course, for the two are tightly coupled. Here are some of the similarities between the two:

  1. Both occur at irregular and sometimes very long intervals.
  2. Both require careful thought and regular financial outlays to hedge against.
  3. Despite persistent warnings from experts, most people (and governments) did not act on such warnings.
  4. Now that the worst has occurred, many investment advisors and governments say, “No one could have seen it coming”—even when such a statement can be proven immediately false with easily obtained video evidence!

Will we learn from our current experience?

The answer in some cases will certainly be no because the incentives in our system encourage those in high places to act imprudently. Executives of publicly traded companies have spent trillions of dollars buying back shares of their own companies in order to goose stock prices and make their stock options more valuable—without regard for the need for cash reserves to make it through a recession.

One case that’s making the news is that of the U.S. airline industry. In the past five years the industry as a whole spent $45 billion on stock buybacks in order to enrich top management and shareholders. Now, the industry is asking for $50 billion from taxpayers to bail out profligate managers and their companies. Wouldn’t it be nice if they were asking for only $5 billion instead?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Worst Recession in 150 Years

Worst Recession in 150 Years

Worst Recession in 150 Years

The stock market had another big day today, spurred by the Fed’s massive recent liquidity injections.

But you really shouldn’t be terribly surprised by the rally. Even the worst bear markets see substantial bouncebacks. And you can expect the market to give back all of its recent gains in the months ahead as the economic fallout of the lockdowns becomes apparent.

This bear market has a long way to run. And we could actually be looking at the worst recession in 150 years if one economist is correct. Let’s unpack this…

My regular readers know I have a low opinion of most academic economists, the ones you find at the Fed, the IMF and in mainstream financial media.

The problem is not that they’re uneducated; they have the Ph.D.s and high IQs to prove otherwise. I’ve met many of them and I can tell you they’re not idiots.

The problem is that they’re miseducated. They learn a lot of theories and models that do not correspond to the reality of how economies and capital markets actually work.

Worse yet, they keep coming up with new ones that muddy the waters even further. For example, concepts such as the Phillips curve (an inverse relationship between inflation and unemployment) are empirically false.

Other ideas such as “comparative advantage” have appeal in the faculty lounge but don’t work in the real world for many reasons, including the fact that nations create comparative advantage out of thin air with government subsidies and mercantilist demands.

Not the Early 19th Century Anymore

It’s not the early 19th century anymore, when the theory first developed. For example, at that time, a nation that specialized in wool products like sweaters (England) might not make the best leather products like shoes (Italy).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Worst. Recession. Ever.”

“Worst. Recession. Ever.”

When Harry Met Comic-Book-Guy

Worst global downturn since the Great Depression” says the IMF. Actually, it’s potentially worse than that.We are seeing credible (initial) claims in the UK and US that millions/tens of millions are going to be unemployed – again taking us back to black & white memories of long queues of the jobless holding signs saying “Will Work For Food.”

We are also seeing calls for GDP to collapse by up to a third in the presumed Q2 trough in the UK and the US, as just two examples, which in the space of months would already take us to the kind of depths plunged back in the 1930s (and actually this will be the worst recession since the 18th century according to one UK report.) Moreover, in a world far more economically-integrated today than it was in the 1930s, what happens in the (smaller) West will rapidly hit the (larger) rest.

As will the virus itself, of course. What is to stop it rampaging through Africa and South Asia, as just two examples? “Heat!” we have been told. Yet besides the fact that Covid-19 is transmitting in Indonesia and Singapore we see a report today that French scientists have found some strains of the virus can survive long exposures to temperatures of up to 60c, and it takes almost boiling point to kill it. Another (non-peer reviewed) study from Australian and Taiwanese researchers based on samples from India has shown Covid-19 is already mutating, shifting its mechanism used to bind to human cells – the paper concludes “This means current vaccine development…is at great risk of becoming futile.” Moreover, a Chinese scientist is warning of a serious risk of a second global wave of Covid in November – exactly the pattern seen in the 1918-19 Spanish Flu.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Oil Tumbles After IMF Slashes Global Growth Forecast

Oil Tumbles After IMF Slashes Global Growth Forecast

As if oil prices needed any more help on their downward spiral towards the teens, The IMF just slashed global growth to the worst since the ’30s.

“This crisis is like no other,” Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s chief economist, wrote in a foreword to its semi-annual report.

“Like in a war or a political crisis, there is continued severe uncertainty about the duration and intensity of the shock.”

As Bloomberg notes, The International Monetary Fund predicted the “Great Lockdown” recession would be the steepest in almost a century and warned the world economy’s contraction and recovery would be worse than anticipated if the coronavirus lingers or returns.

In its first World Economic Outlook report since the spread of the coronavirus and subsequent freezing of major economies, the IMF estimated on Tuesday that global gross domestic product will shrink 3% this year.

That compares to a January projection of 3.3% expansion and would likely mark the deepest dive since the Great Depression. It would also dwarf the 0.1% contraction of 2009 amid the financial crisis.

Of course, there is the hockey-stick recovery with IMF anticipating growth of 5.8% next year, which would be the strongest in records dating back to 1980, it cautioned risks lay to the downside. 

The grim projections are a stark reversal from the IMF’s outlook less than two months ago (on Feb. 19, the fund told Group of 20 finance chiefs that “global growth appears to be bottoming out.”)… and now…

“Many countries face a multi-layered crisis comprising a health shock, domestic economic disruptions, plummeting external demand, capital-flow reversals and a collapse in commodity prices,” the IMF said.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What the Sunrise Will Show

What the Sunrise Will Show

A storm blew in late last night, dropping trees and powerlines and sweeping the porch of all chairs, bowls, and benches. At 5 a.m. I took a short walk to take stock of the yard and barnyard areas before returning to my desk to type this post. Now, waiting for sunup to take full inventory of the damage seems to echo the world at large: we are all waiting with apprehension for what lies in the wake of the storms.

It is not often that this blog can be accused of prescience, but on February 1st I wrote this:

This past week, off the farm for work, I chanced into a conversation with a computer scientist experienced in modeling disease outbreaks. For a couple of hours, we parsed the data of the coronavirus, looked at his modeling of the numbers, discussed the true fragility of a global economy. He had, with the exception of his current trip, canceled all work-related travel for the next eight weeks. The system will be overloaded during that period, he predicted. 

I found myself wondering if it was wrong to find a kernel of hope in the prospect of a global slowdown built on the bones of a possible pandemic. Ten years after the great recession brought housing expansion in our valley to a halt, the maw of our species is being stuffed once again as wooded lots are bulldozed and foundations laid. This frenzy too may end only with the close of the day. The sun sets on everything, eventually.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Stockman: This Is Not Your Grandfather’s Recession…

Stockman: This Is Not Your Grandfather’s Recession…

Based on the shocking 6.6 million of new unemployment claims, we’d bet they’ll be some explosive political fireworks soon in this country about Covid-containment versus keeping the main street economy alive. There have now been an unprecedented, off-the charts 9.96 million new unemployment claims in the last two weeks.

For point of reference, it took fully 28 weeks to generate the same level of cumulative new claims after the beginning of the Great Recession. During that interval, the largest weekly number was 387,000 during the week of March 29, 2008.

Even when you scroll forward (not shown) to the worst week after the Lehman Bankruptcy meltdown commenced on September 15, the peak number was only 665,000 during the week of March 28, 2009. So today’s new claims number was 10X higher!

So, yes, some politically incorrect pundit is likely to note that there are now:

  • 47 jobless workers for every confirmed coronavirus case;
  • 320 jobless for every hospitalization; and
  • 2,112 jobless for every coronavirus death.

Moreover, it virtually certain that cumulative initial claims will hit 20 million before the end of April, thereby doubling the above ratios. That is to say, do they really want 100 jobless workers for every case of a bad winter flu?

Well, yes, it seems that our establishment betters can’t get rabid enough urging on a total shutdown of the US economy.

Indeed, the thinly disguised subtext in the whole daily MSM narrative for the last couple of days has been that the benighted governors of the Red States are not doing their part to order their economies into instant cardiac arrest. But it took the perennially obnoxious liberal columnist for the New York Times, David Leonhardt, to come right out and say it.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How bad will Canada’s COVID-19 recession be?

How bad will Canada’s COVID-19 recession be?

2 million jobs could be at stake, and the economy could shrink by more than it did in 2009

Stock markets have been waylaid by the virus as the global economy slows to a crawl. This NYSE trader has watched as the Dow Jones has lost more than a third of its value in the past month. (Richard Drew/The Associated Press)

The black swan has landed. 

The novel coronavirus pandemic is well underway worldwide, but it wasn’t until this month that Canadians started coming to grips with the economic pain it can bring, in addition to its heavy human toll.

Economists are struggling to come up with best guesses as to what might be coming. There’s still a lot that they — and we — don’t know. But the picture they’re painting for Canada’s financial future is already bleak.

GDP could significantly contract

At a minimum, the Conference Board of Canada is assuming that most industries across the country will be essentially shut down for at least six weeks.

If they take an optimistic view and assume that’s enough to contain the outbreak, even that short term pain will make a major dent in the country’s total output, a metric known as the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.

Should this relatively mild scenario come to pass, Canada’s economy would eke out a tiny 0.3 per cent growth for 2020 as a whole as things ramp up in the latter half of the year. That’s far from booming — Canada’s economy grew by 1.6 per cent last year, for example — but it’s preferable to other alternatives.

Retail workers have been laid off in droves this month as lockdowns have caused a dramatic reduction in demand for the consumer goods they sell. (Matias Delacroix/The Associated Press)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Will The Corona Virus Trigger A Recession?

Will The Corona Virus Trigger A Recession?

As if waking up to an economic nightmare, investors see headlines like these and many others flashing across their Bloomberg terminals:

  • Facebook says Oculus headphone production will be delayed due to virus
  • Apple extends country wide store closing for another week
  • Foxconn delays iPhone production
  • Qualcomm cuts production forecast due to virus uncertainty
  • Starbucks announces China store closures through Lunar New Year, uncertain when they may reopen
  • US Steel flashes a warning of a cut in demand
  • Nike shoe production halted
  • Under Armour missed on sales, and their outlook is weak. They partially blamed the Corona Virus outbreak.
  • IEA forecasts drop in oil demand this quarter- first time in a decade

The seemingly never ending list of delays, disruptions, and cuts rolls on from retail to high technology. Even services are impacted as flights and train trips are canceled within and to and from China.  While some technology-based services are provided over the Internet service, restaurants, training, and consulting, as examples, must be performed in person.  Manufacturing operations require workers to be at the factory to produce products. Thus, manufacturing is much more acutely affected by quarantines, shutdowns, transportation disruption, and other government actions. 

It is as if an economic tsunami is rolling over the global economy. China’s economy was 18 % of world GDP in 2019.  For most S & P 100 corporations, the Asian giant is their fastest growing market at 20 – 30 % per year.  Even more critical, China has become the hub of world manufacturing after entering the World Trade Organization in 2000. Over the past two decades, U.S. corporations have relocated manufacturing to China to leverage an inexpensive labor force and modern business infrastructure.

Source: The Wall Street Journal – 2/7/20

Prior to the epidemic, world trade had begun to slow as a result of the China – U.S. trade war and other tariffs.  World trade for the first time since the last recession has turned negative. 

It Is Easy to Overreact to the Chinese Coronavirus

It Is Easy to Overreact to the Chinese Coronavirus

Recently, a new coronavirus has been causing many illnesses and deaths. The virus first became active in Wuhan, China, but it has already spread to the rest of China. Scattered cases have been identified around the rest of the world as well.

There are two important questions that are already being encountered:

  • How much of an attempt should be made to limit the spread of the new virus? For example, should businesses close to prevent the spread of the virus?
  • Should this disease be publicized as being far worse than flu viruses that circulate each year and cause many deaths among the elderly and people in poor health? The median age of those dying from the new coronavirus seems to be about 75.

Unfortunately, there aren’t easy answers. We can easily see the likely outcome of under reaction. More people might die of the disease. More people might find themselves out of work for a couple of weeks or more with the illness. We tend to be especially concerned about ourselves and our own relatives.

The thing that is harder to see is that reacting too vigorously can have a hugely detrimental impact on the world economy. The world economy depends on international trade and tourism. China plays a key role in the world economy. Quarantines of whole regions that last for weeks and months can have a very detrimental impact on the wages of people in the area and profits of local companies. Problems with debt can be expected to spike. The greater the reaction to the coronavirus, the more likely the world economy will be pushed toward recession and job loss.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Last Hurrah” for Central Bankers

“Last Hurrah” for Central Bankers

“Last Hurrah” for Central Bankers

We’ve all seen zombie movies where the good guys shoot the zombies but the zombies just keep coming because… they’re zombies!

Market observers can’t be blamed for feeling the same way about former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke.

Bernanke was Fed chair from 2006–2014 before handing over the gavel to Janet Yellen. After his term, Bernanke did not return to academia (he had been a professor at Princeton) but became affiliated with the center-left Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Bernanke is proof that Washington has a strange pull on people. They come from all over, but most of them never leave. It gets more like Imperial Rome every day.

But just when we thought that Bernanke might be buried in the D.C. swamp, never to be heard from again… like a zombie, he’s baaack!

Bernanke gave a high-profile address to the American Economic Association at a meeting in San Diego on Jan. 4. In his address, Bernanke said the Fed has plenty of tools to fight a new recession.

He included quantitative easing (QE), negative interest rates and forward guidance among the tools in the toolkit. He estimates that combined, they’re equal to three percentage points of additional rate cuts. But that’s nonsense.

Here’s the actual record…

That QE2 and QE3 did not stimulate the economy at all; this has been the weakest economic expansion in U.S. history. All QE did was create asset bubbles in stocks, bonds and real estate that have yet to deflate (if we’re lucky) or crash (if we’re not).

Meanwhile, negative interest rates do not encourage people to spend as Bernanke expects. Instead, people save more to make up for what the bank is confiscating as “negative” interest. That hurts growth and pushes the Fed even further away from its inflation target.

What about “forward guidance?”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Expect low oil prices in 2020; tendency toward recession

Expect low oil prices in 2020; tendency toward recession

Energy Forecast for 2020

Overall, I expect that oil and other commodity prices will remain low in 2020. These low oil prices will adversely affect oil production and several other parts of the economy. As a result, a strong tendency toward recession can be expected. The extent of recessionary influences will vary from country to country. Financial factors, not discussed in these forecasts, are likely also to play a role.

The following are pieces of my energy forecast for 2020:

[1] Oil prices can be expected to remain generally low in 2020. There may be an occasional spike to $80 or $90 per barrel, but average prices in 2020 are likely to be at or below the 2019 level. 

Figure 1. Average annual inflation-adjusted Brent equivalent oil prices in 2018 US$. 2018 and prior are as shown in BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Value for 2019 estimated by author based on EIA Brent daily oil prices and 2% expected inflation.

Figure 2 shows in more detail how peaks in oil prices have been falling since 2008. While it doesn’t include early January 2020 oil prices, even these prices would be below the dotted line.

Figure 2. Inflation adjusted weekly average Brent Oil price, based on EIA oil spot prices and US CPI-urban inflation.

Oil prices can temporarily spike because of inadequate supply or fear of war. However, to keep oil prices up, there needs to be an increase in “demand” for finished goods and services made with commodities. Workers need to be able to afford to purchase more goods such as new homes, cars, and cell phones. Governments need to be able to afford to purchase new goods such as paved roads and school buildings.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Recession Ahead: An Overview of Our Predicament

Recession Ahead: An Overview of Our Predicament

Many people have the impression that recessions come from financial missteps, such as the US subprime loan fiasco. If energy is involved at all, the problem comes from high oil prices as supply becomes inadequate to meet demand.

The real situation is different. We already seem to be on the road toward a new crisis; this crisis is likely to be much worse than the Great Recession of 2008-2009. This time, a major problem is likely to be energy prices that are too low for producers. Last time, a major problem was oil prices that were too high for consumers. The problem is different, but it is in some ways symmetric.

Last time, the United States seemed to be the epicenter; this time, my analysis indicates China is likely to be the epicenter. Last time, the world economy was coming off a high growth period; this time, the world economy is already somewhat depressed, even before hitting headwinds. These differences, plus the strange physics-based way that the world economy is organized, explain why the outcome seems likely to be worse this time than in 2008-2009.

I recently explained what I see as happening in a presentation for actuaries: Recession Likely: Expect a Bend in Trend Lines. This post is based on this presentation, omitting the strictly insurance-related portions.

The big thing that the vast majority of people do not understand is how important energy is to the economy. Because of this issue, I started my presentation with this slide:

Slide 3

After an opportunity for discussion, I offered the explanation that the role of food for humans is very much parallel to the need for energy of various types for the world economy. Food provides people with the energy required if they are to have the ability to think, move and speak.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

5 More Signs That The Global Economy Is Careening Toward A Recession

5 More Signs That The Global Economy Is Careening Toward A Recession

The global economy is already in the worst distress that we have seen since 2008, and it appears that the global slowdown is actually picking up pace as we head into 2020. And this is happening even though central banks around the world have been cutting interest rates and pumping massive amounts of money into their respective financial systems. The central bankers appear to be losing control, and it certainly wouldn’t take much of a push for this new crisis to evolve into a complete and utter nightmare. The U.S. economy hasn’t been hit quite as hard as economies in Asia and Europe have been, but without a doubt things are slowing down here too. Corporate earnings have been falling quarter after quarter, auto loan delinquencies just hit a record high, the Cass Freight Index has declined for 11 consecutive months, and we just witnessed the largest drop for U.S. industrial production since 2009. Everywhere around us there is bad economic news, but most Americans are still completely oblivious to what is happening.

In this article, I am going to share even more evidence that a global economic slowdown has already begun. When you add these numbers to all of the other numbers that I have been sharing in recent weeks, it becomes impossible to deny that something major is taking place.

The following are 5 more signs that the global economy is careening toward a recession…

#1 It is being projected that global auto sales will be down approximately 4 percent this year. According to CNN, this will be the second consecutive year that global auto sales have fallen…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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