Tag Archives: international

A Short Break

I will be taking Saturday through Monday off to spend some time with my family. Hopefully it will be a slow weekend on the economic front.

In the meantime, The New York Times has some overview articles on a few topics we’ve raised recently:

We Are All in This Together

Dani Rodrik has a short, clear post on (a) why countries are tempted to engage in protectionism during recessions and (b) why they shouldn’t. It only uses 1st-semester macroeconomics. The bottom line is that the preferred outcome is for all countries to engage in fiscal stimulus at the same time. The hitch is that most of the developing world can’t afford to. The implication is that it is in the interests of the wealthy countries to find a way to support the developing world.

The Quest for Global Balance

Even with all the chaos in the US economy these days, the G20 summit approaching this weekend is bringing the global financial system to the top of the agenda, at least for the few days. One of the issues of the past few weeks has been volatility in currency prices as (most) countries with overvalued currencies and large current account deficits see their currencies fall. The flip side of this situation is countries with undervalued currencies and large current surpluses – most notably, China. Arvind Subramanian presents one solution in the Financial Times: treat undervalued currencies as a form of trade barrier and manage them through the WTO.

Financial Crises, Political Consequences

Hard economic times have political consequences, many of them unfortunate.

In Argentina, we’ve already seen the government nationalize the private pension system in what many believe to be a naked grab for cash with only a distant relationship to the rule of law.

In Russia, a central government with a war chest of over $500 billion in foreign currency reserves (at least when the crisis started) now has the power to determine which of the billionaire oligarchs will survive and which will be bankrupted. Yesterday the government provided $2 billion (WSJ, subscription required) to the Alfa Group, Mikhail Fridman’s conglomerate, to avoid save him from giving up his 44% stake in a cellular carrier to Deutsche Bank. On Friday, another billionaire will have to come up with $4.5 billion to avoid giving up 25% of the metals company OAO Norilsk Nickel to Western banks including Merrill Lynch and Royal Bank of Scotland, and will likely turn to the government.

Arguably the government’s power in this situation is analogous to the powers the US has granted to the Treasury Department to choose winners in the financial sector. Still, given the other things we know about Russian politics, it is not too far-fetched to see government money used to protect Vladimir Putin’s political allies, impoverish his opponents or nationalize their assets, and keep Russian assets out of Western hands. (Whether the government will have enough money for the job is another question.)

Another likely reaction of governments faced by financial and economic crisis is a return to (or, in many cases, an increase in) protectionism. Richard Baldwin describes how the current state of global trade agreements makes this not only possible but likely, further hurting the global economy.

Finally, there’s (still) Zimbabwe, forgotten by the world, where power-sharing talks are still going nowhere.

Bank Recapitalization Monday

Those of you reading the news may be having trouble keeping all of this morning’s events straight. Here’s a quick summary:

  1. The UK announced specific plans to recapitalize three of its largest banks – RBS, HBOC, and Lloyds TSB – with up to 37 billion pounds of government money. Separately, Barclays announced plans to raise money independent of the government. This seems to be the implementation of a plan that was announced last week.
  2. Mitsubishi finally closed its deal to invest $9 billion in Morgan Stanley, gaining a 10% dividend on its shares (similar to Buffett’s investment in Goldman). This deal, which had been pending for weeks and some had given up for dead, will help boost confidence in Morgan Stanley. Note that unidentified sources have claimed that the US government promised to protect Mitsubishi’s investment; it’s not clear if that’s part of the final deal.
  3. The Federal Reserve and several of its counterparts announced an expansion in the supply of credit to banks around the world in US dollars. The Fed said it will make available as many dollars as the other participating central banks need. They will then lend the money out to their banks against whatever collateral is appropriate under their rules. This is another move to increase liquidity in the financial system; however, for several weeks now it’s been apparent that liquidity alone is not enough to solve the problem.
  4. Following yesterday’s agreement in principle, major Eurozone countries are announcing their rescue plans today, including both bank guarantees and recapitalization. Germany announced 400 billion euros to guarantee bank loans and 80 billion euros for recapitalization; France announced 320 billion for loan guarantees and 40 billion for recapitalization; Spain passed legislation providing 100 billion for loan guarantees and allowing the government to recapitalize banks by buying shares. I believe Italy is expected to make an announcement soon.

In summary, governments are taking the kind of steps that are necessary to halt the crisis. Loan guarantees and bank recapitalization are two of the steps we have been advocating. However, the jury is still out on whether they are coordinated and decisive enough. The much-followed TED spread (a measure of banks’ willingness to lend to each other) is only down by 7 basis points, although that may in part be due to the fact that the bond market is closed in the US today due to a holiday. All eyes are now on Washington, where a more definitive bank recapitalization plan is widely expected. Neel Kashkari, Paulson’s point man on the crisis, said today only that “We are designing a standardized program to purchase equity in a broad array of financial institutions.” (He said a lot of other things on a broad range of other topics.) Finally, this burst of support for wealthy countries’ banks could have unintended effects on emerging markets, as we discussed previously.

Update: Austria, the Netherlands, and Italy are also on board.

Zimbabwe and the Financial Crisis

Or, yet another reason why the financial crisis matters

In Zimbabwe, site of some of the deepest suffering in the world today, Robert Mugabe reneged on a power-sharing deal with Morgan Tsvangirai and the opposition party. Sure, he might have done it anyway, but it’s a lot easier when the world’s attention is elsewhere and every major power has other things to worry about. We rarely comment on non-economic issues, but in hard times, you can watch for more and more behavior like this.

Please comment if you’ve seen other cases of politicians using the crisis as cover for things they might not try otherwise.

Global Crisis: Latest Analysis and Proposals

Our latest analysis and proposals have been published by the Washington Post (print edition Sunday) in an article by Peter and Simon entitled “The Next World War? It Could Be Financial.” If the world’s leading financial powers cannot agree on a coordinated response, it could be “every nation for itself” – a repeat, on a larger scale, of the emerging markets crisis of 1997-98.  We propose six concrete steps that policy makers – beginning with the G7 and IMF meetings this weekend – can take to limit the risks of such an outcome.

Feel free to comment with criticisms or suggestions.