Where do you begin??

by David Taylor

As the year grows a few weeks old, more business headlines have worked their way onto the front pages of our metropolitan broadsheets, and more data is being digested by the country's top analysts and economists. There's just so much of it. And is it all important? Where do you begin?
Well a good place to start is at the top. The World Bank for instance. It's just released a report showing the previously assumed economic growth rates (for the world and for some of the globe's developed economies) ain't going to materialise. Most notably it's cut its global growth forecast for 2012 from 3.6 per cent to 2.5 per cent. That's not confidence inspiring. What the banker to the world's bankers is saying is that this year could likely see a credit squeeze or economic crisis the likes of which will be greater in magnitude than the global financial crisis of 2008/09. Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson has already compared the banking conditions in Europe to that which existed in the lead up to the Great Depression.
So then we look to China, right? That's our great economic saviour. Yesterday it produced some important (and some would argue quite reassuring) economic numbers. Growing at an annual basis of around 9 per cent, it's clear there's no immediate threat of a 'hard economic landing' and it seems plain to me that it stands at the ready to cut interest rates if so required.
We've also just now had a good run of economic data in Germany and the U.S.. Germany's investor confidence figure overnight was encouraging, and the U.S. through up some satisfactory manufacturing data. All important. Given, however, the sheer amount of fiscal and monetary stimulus provided to these countries over the last three years, it's all a bit pathetic.
At some point we also have to come back to the U.S. deficit and debt position. We are likely to face a real threat at some stage this year when U.S. Treasury holders demand much higher rates of return (to counter the ever-growing default risk of U.S. debt) on their IOU's. Combine that with a severe credit crunch in Europe, as Greece - and potentially Spain and Portugal -  become insolvent, and it's every man for himself. Make no mistake that China will also suffer at this point too - unless it has successfully managed to structurally re-adjust its economy to be relatively autonomous with  the rest of the world (relying more on consumption than exports for growth).
Australia, at least for the short to medium term, will be reliant on China. That to one side, our key concerns are on the dollar (the higher it gets the less competitive our all-important mining sector becomes) and the unemployment rate. Without people in jobs, you can kiss the property market good-bye and any meaningful level of economic growth with that. At this point the job losses appear mainly to be centred in retail and finance. As unfortunate as those redundancies are, let's hope that's where it stops.
As was the case through most of last year, a lot is riding on the success of current policy development in the euro zone. A failure to come up with a credible plan or strategy to navigate the region out of its current economic malaise will see the first of the dominos tumble.
David Taylor


The content in my blog is non advisory, please do not interpret this as advice in any way shape or form. These are just my thoughts and nothing I say should be acted upon.

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