Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Break-Up of Chimerica

. Sunday, December 21, 2008

Niall Ferguson, with all kinds of good stuff:

We are living through a challenge to a phenomenon Moritz Schularick and I have christened “Chimerica.”1 In this view, the most important thing to understand about the world economy over the past decade has been the relationship between China and America. If you think of it as one economy called Chimerica, that relationship accounts for around 13 percent of the world’s land surface, a quarter of its population, about a third of its gross domestic product, and somewhere over half of the global economic growth of the past six years.

For a time, it was a symbiotic relationship that seemed like a marriage made in heaven. Put simply, one half did the saving, the other half the spending. Comparing net national savings as a proportion of Gross National Income, American savings declined from above 5 percent in the mid 1990s to virtually zero by 2005, while Chinese savings surged from below 30 percent to nearly 45 percent. This divergence in saving patterns allowed a tremendous explosion of debt in the United States, for one effect of the Asian “savings glut” was to make it much cheaper for households to borrow money than would otherwise have been the case.

Of course that "arrangement" is unraveling, as the Great Adjustment progresses. There is more:

Among the other developed economies, both the Eurozone and Japan are already officially in recession, ahead of the United States. The European situation is especially precarious because, contrary to popular belief, European banks are in worse shape than their American counterparts. Average bank leverage in the United States is around 12:1. In Germany the figure is 52:1. Short-term bank liabilities are equivalent to 15 percent of U.S. GDP; the British figure is 156 percent. Indeed, the United Kingdom runs a real risk of being Greater Iceland—an economy crushed by a super-sized financial sector.

Emerging markets, too, have been hammered harder by the crisis than the “decoupling” thesis promised. In the year to the end of October 2008, the U.S. stock market declined by 34 percent. But Brazil’s was down 54 percent, China’s 58 percent, India’s 64 percent and Russia’s 66 percent. When Goldman Sachs christened these four countries the BRICs, they little realized that their equity markets would one day be dropping like bricks. These figures are scarcely good advertisements for the more regulated, state-led economic models favored in Beijing and Moscow.

The financial crisis is especially bad news for energy exporters: not only belligerent Russia, whose leaders yearn for a reconstituted Soviet empire, but also those other thorns in the side of the United States, Iran and Venezuela. Any oil price below $94 a barrel is bad news for Venezuela’s fragile finances; any price below $55 spells trouble for Iran.

What does it mean? The U.S. is actually remarkably well-positioned to ride out this storm compared almost every other country; whether developed or emerging, more or less regulated, net importer or exporter. Remember that when you hear that
The American Century is over, or capitalism is dead, or any other similar sentiment.


The Break-Up of Chimerica




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