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Recession is definitely over…
Jim Hamilton says the recession is definitely over after the recent GDP data. My guess was that the recession ended sometime between June and September in 2009.
WSJ ponders on what impact the criminal charge against Goldman will bring to the firm:
As Goldman Sachs Group faces legal challenges, watch the firm’s top ranks.
Goldman shares fell 9% Friday on news that federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into whether Goldman, or its employees, committed securities fraud. The probe isn’t surprising, given the allegations laid out several days ago in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil lawsuit. But investors now have to contemplate what potential legal outcomes might mean for Goldman.
The best and wholly plausible scenario for Goldman is that the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office doesn’t indict anyone. This could dent the credibility of the SEC case and affirm management’s strategy of responding forcefully to the agency’s allegations. However, it could be a long time before prosecutors’ intentions are known. Investors may have to wait before they can completely discount the nuclear option, the indictment of Goldman as a firm.
Another outcome: Goldman employees, not the firm, get hit with criminal charges. Goldman might feel confident any charged employees will be vindicated, especially since prosecutors lost their case against former employees of Bear Stearns Asset Management. But if legal uncertainties keep pressure on Goldman stock, shareholders, who recently became vocal over compensation at the firm, might become restive.
Investors may then look for a way to accelerate an end to the legal uncertainty and perhaps even push for trading to be de-emphasized. That could raise questions over the future of top-level executives, given that several have trading backgrounds and have tilted Goldman toward that business.
Still, Goldman has been around for over 140 years—and, as savvy traders will tell you, sometimes you have to ride the bumps for things to pay off over time.
Musing on world economy with Joe Stiglitz
Poor countries pay for undervalued Yuan
Arvind Subramanian of Peterson Institute argues that weak Yuan acts as export subsidy and import tariff, the US gets to enjoy cheaper imports at Chinese expense, but the ultimate victim of China's currency policy is poorer developing countries.
It Is the Poor Who Pay for the Weak Renminbi
by Arvind Subramanian, Peterson Institute for International Economics
China's exchange rate policy has largely been viewed through the prism of global imbalances. That has had three unfortunate consequences. It has allowed China to deflect attention away from its policy. It has obscured the real victims of this policy. And it has made political resolution of this policy more difficult.
No sooner is China's exchange rate policy criticized for creating global imbalances, and hence contributing to the recent global financial crisis, than the door is opened for China to muddy the intellectual waters. Why single us out, the Chinese say? Why not the other surplus-running countries such as Japan or Germany or the oil exporters? And, in any case, countries on the other side of the imbalance—namely, the large current account deficit-running countries—should carry the greatest responsibility for pursuing irresponsible macroeconomic and regulatory policies that led to "excessive consumption." This debate cannot be settled. But inconclusiveness is just what China needs—and creates—to escape scrutiny of its policies.
The second consequence of the global imbalance perspective is that it has created an opposition between current account deficit and current account surplus countries, which has become a slanging match between the United States and China. But an undervalued exchange rate is above all a protectionist trade policy, because it is the combination of an import tariff and an export subsidy. It follows therefore that the real victims of this policy are other emerging market and developing countries—because they compete more closely with China than the United States and Europe, whose source of comparative advantage is very different from China's. In fact, developing countries face two distinct costs from China's exchange rate policy.
In the short run, with capital pouring into emerging market countries, their ability to respond to the threat of asset bubbles and overheating is undermined. Emerging market countries such as Brazil, India, and South Korea are loath to allow their currencies to appreciate—to dampen overheating—when that of a major trade rival is pegged to the dollar.
But the more serious and long-term cost is the loss in trade and growth in poorer parts of the world. Dani Rodrik of Harvard University estimates that China's undervaluation has boosted its long-run growth rate by more than 2 percent by allowing greater output of tradable goods, a sector that was the engine of growth and an escape route from underdevelopment for postwar successes such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Higher tradable goods production in China results in lower traded goods production elsewhere in the developing world, entailing a growth cost for these countries. Of course, some of these costs may have been alleviated by China's rapid growth and the attendant demand for other countries' goods. But China's large current account surpluses suggest that the alleviation is only partial.
These emerging market victims of China's exchange rate policy have remained silent because China is simply too big and powerful for them to take on. And this despite the fact that disaffected constituencies now encompass not just companies but also central bankers, who have found macroeconomic management constrained by renminbi policy.
Hence the third consequence. By default, it has fallen to the United States to carry the burden of seeking to change renminbi policy. But it cannot succeed because China will not be seen as giving in to pressure from its only rival for superpower status. Only a wider coalition, comprising all countries affected by China's undervalued exchange rate, stands any chance of impressing upon China the consequences of its policy and reminding it of its international responsibilities as a large, systemically important trader.
It is time to move beyond the global imbalance perspective and see China's exchange rate policy for what it is: mercantilist trade policy, whose costs are borne more by countries competing with China—namely other developing and emerging market countries—than by rich countries. The circle of countries taking a stand against China must be widened beyond the United States to ramp up the pressure on it to repudiate its beggar-thy-neighborism. But progress also requires that the silent victims speak up. Emerging market and developing countries must do a "Google" on China.
Musing on China’s real estate bubble
More than 60 percent of investors surveyed by Bloomberg on Jan. 19 said they viewed China as a bubble, and three in 10 said it posed the greatest downside risk. Read full report here.
Every recession is different, so is every bubble. Here are some thoughts I wanted to share:
1. China's real estate bubble will burst; government stimulus only delays the day of reckoning, but won't be able to prevent it;
2. The impact will not be great enough to slow down China's long term economic growth. This is because,
a) China has high savings rate, and the household balance sheets are not highly leveraged;
b) China is a developing country — it grows at a much faster pace than developed economies;
c) China's huge population and its demand for urban housing will mitigate the impact.
3. Similar to Japan, China's real estate bubble was fueled by currency appreciation expectation. In China's case, the fixed exchange rate system coupled with the fastest economic growth in the world simply invite currency speculation and attract short-term capital inflows. A big chunk of these short-term money found its way into real estate market, although China has tight capital control.
Europe’s shakiest to safest
Following my previous post on Ring of Fire, here is a chart from Economist Magazine that gives you an idea of which countries stand as the riskiest in Europe, if debt crisis were to hit.
Why did Europe blink?
WSJ's analysis on Greece bailout:
The decision by European leaders to offer Greece support, albeit unspecified, likely owed more to fears for the weakened European banking system and its ability to supply credit to a fragile recovery than fraternal concern for a struggling neighbor.
Understand China’s financial system
Disentangle China's 'complex' financial system (source: Economist Magazine).
No surprise here —the deep connections between bankers, and China's Communist Party members, and their sons and daughters.
To be fair, every system is evolutionary, and it takes time to improve. But there is no way to guarantee China's financial system will become more transparent. This does not look good to me.