The story of the Chinese economic miracle is well known. Since opening its economy in the 1980’s, China has followed an export led development model to become the world’s factory, leading exporter and second largest economy. The 2008 Olympic opening ceremonies gave China an opportunity to showcase its success to the world, including with a miraculous display of firework footprints marching across the sky. But in China all is not as it first appears. It turned out the firework footprints seen on televisions weren’t really fireworks, but rather CGI special effects. Similarly, a closer inspection of the Chinese economic miracle reveals some financial special effects at work.
The Federal Reserve has painted itself into a corner, where there is no easy way out. The current global monetary system is headed for trouble. Dangers around rising inflation coupled with a weak employment environment, aka stagflation, are building. America already has the weak job market, and now as my previous post pointed out there are warning signs that the Fed’s latest policy moves are translating into inflationary forces. Having already focused on some of those signs, I am going to take a moment here to describe the dynamics of the problem. Although the leaders of the Fed not surprisingly argue there is nothing to worry about, there are three compelling reasons to believe otherwise.
It is increasingly clear that the arrangements at the center of the world’s monetary system are fraying. On Monday Standard & Poor’s cut its outlook on the credit rating of the United States to negative indicating there is a very real possibility for a downgrade. By Tuesday gold prices topped $1,500 an ounce. Also last Friday China admitted inflation was picking-up steam, as it announced an official annual uptick of 5.4 percent that almost surely understates the true amount. On the European front Moody’s downgraded Ireland’s credit rating last Friday. That action followed earlier comments from Germany’s finance minister that Greece may default on its debts. All of this came despite the world being in the midst of an economic recovery.
There has been a lot of worrying in financial markets over the past few months. In fact quite a long list of looming disasters has been assembled. Will destabilization in the Middle East, especially if unrest reaches Saudi Arabia, send oil prices skyrocketing and the global economy spiraling? Could this wave of unrest spread to China? Will the earthquake in Japan trigger a financial crisis in that country, as more debt is added to an already formidable mountain of debt? Is Bill Gross signaling a debt crisis in the U.S. is eminent, as he pilots the world’s largest bond fund out of U.S. Treasuries? Irrespective of the U.S. Treasury market is a wave of defaults on its way in the municipal bond market? And what about real estate—are we now on our way to a second bottom with prices headed for a 20 percent or greater decline?