Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Questions from Barry Ritholtz

Barry Ritholtz has posed 12 questions related to current global economic situation to the readers. It has incited lot of interesting responses all must read. Here are my 2 dollars (no cents any more!) on the topic.

US Consumer spending, Housing
From first principles, US consumer spending should reduce until the time incomes become greater than interest cost, food and basic expenses. US housing loans are non-recourse loans (as I understand it) –hence jingle mail is best solution to get rid of the liability. Other loans, particularly credit card loans, might become a threat. To make an impact on the economy, this change requires strong-willed cost cutting across the population. This implies that downturn in US will be both prolonged and deep.

Can US avoid this debt trap?
There is a possibility that through structuring, financial engineering US can get out of this situation. It needs a creative solution involving legal, financial and regulatory skills put together. Following ideas can help define a solution:
  • The human life is finite but firms’ life is infinite.
  • All dues need not be paid back and all debt cannot be waived off
  • The process of repayment of dues may be unfair – some people may choose to pay more than their share. (One example is taxes – taxes are unfair payments between individuals) In addition, some organizations will bear larger losses.

Inflation – how much, how soon, how to avoid
The excess money supply created over the past decade has to manifest itself. For long, this excess money remained contained with few resulting in a crop of billionaires, few sovereign wealth funds and overall salary hikes. After a certain passage of time, this wealth has to trickle down. This is what is happening currently. This will continue until such time the excess wealth exists. Wealth contraction can help correct inflation problem quickly. It implies currency revaluations, deep stock market corrections or pricking of asset bubbles. But this will create a lot of pain for the most important class of people politically – the influencers.

Employment – worse still to come – but totally avoidable
Employment is function of jobs available and skill availability. There is a strong mismatch here. If you don’t have skills jobs will move where skills are available. But will the low-skills jobs come back to you? US, in my humble opinion, needs a stronger manufacturing. That will take-off only if US dollar is correctly priced. We have already seen employment spurts with dollar falls.

Credit Crunch – impact on financial sector
Financial sector has itself to blame with the way it handled the excess money supply. Financial sector will go through salary rationalization, product rationalization, management control rationalization – in simple words it needs to go through Business process re-engineering. All financial companies need to talk to James Champy en masse. There is a lot of cost to be cut in these companies.

US Politics and war
The outcome of US election will have no impact on the crises. The current crises and possible solutions require unreasonably high skills of diplomacy. The potential for wars for forcible resolution of economic litigation will soon increase and pose direct threat to world peace. This will be most inconvenient for US. World economies will not take US opinion courtesy of Iraq and Afghanistan experience. It will take a real leader – a statesman – to sort out this mess without the war pains. I believe Hillary Clinton is lucky to have missed the nomination.

In Sum
We are going through one of the worst phases of economic history. No doubt we will come out of it. The only question is will we come out wiser?