‘Dr. Doom’ Nouriel Roubini warns of painful stagflation caused by a new cold war with China and the ‘balkanization’ of the global economy
A new cold war between the United States and China threatens to balkanize the global economy and fuel painful stagflation in the West, warned Nouriel Roubini.
The highly respected economist, nicknamed Dr. Doom for predicting the last global financial crisis, said the two superpowers are in the process of extricating themselves from mutual interdependencies that are increasingly seen as security risks.
On one side, Washington aims to tear apart existing trade routes and build new ones with its closest allies, Roubini argued in an interview on Wednesday. Beijing, for its part, plans to insulate itself from potential Western economic sanctions by gradually decoupling from the U.S. dollar.
“We’ve gone from free trade to secure trade, from offshoring to friend-shoring, from just-in-time supply chains to just-in-case,” the NYU professor emeritus told Yahoo Finance Live. “These things are costly, they reduce global growth and increase cost of production.”
After the collapse of the West’s last systemic rival, the Soviet Union, the resulting Pax Americana ushered in an economic boom based on the primacy of free markets, liberal democracy, and the rule of law. Multinational corporations could arbitrage the best of a country’s competitive advantages, whether that be research and development or cheap and plentiful labor, driving down their manufacturing costs as part of the deflationary trend toward globalization.
In the process, however, these ensuing economic linkages created a web of interdependencies that now means China is the dominant supplier of critical resources like rare earth magnets, refined lithium, and monocrystalline silicon, which are needed for the green and digital transformation.
The West is also reliant on Taiwan as the sole supplier of its most advanced logic chips, forcing it to arm the small island nation to deter a possible invasion by its larger neighbor across the strait.
Commerce to suffer from unwinding efficient global supply chains
As a consequence, last week U.S. trade representative Catherine Tai said Washington sought closer economic ties with its allies to counter the rising threat posed by Beijing’s hegemonic ambitions.
Breaking the economic links with systemic rivals like China and Russia would lead to less efficient commerce through the “balkanization of global supply chain,” he argued.
Meanwhile China is negotiating with pariah state Russia to buy Moscow’s oil and gas without resorting to the dollar as a means of exchange—cutting the U.S. out of the equation in the process.
“Unfortunately, the cold war between the U.S. and China is getting colder by the day,” Roubini said.
Sensing the rising risk of war, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett already offloaded the bulk of his stake in Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the largest chipmaker by volume and the only source of bleeding-edge silicon.
Losing reserve currency status exposes U.S. to its twin deficits
Establishing the yuan as the second global reserve currency would give China more protection against economic retaliation should it seek to expand through military means much as Moscow has.
“They’re worried that the kind of sanctions we imposed on Russia—if there was a conflict or escalation over, say, Taiwan—could be imposed on China, and China has over a trillion dollars of reserves that are in dollar,” the economist told Yahoo News. “So they need to have a unit of account, a means of payment, a store of value, that is an alternative to the U.S. dollar.”
The rise of the yuan would be bad news for Americans, who are only able to finance their consumption thanks to the willingness of other countries to constantly buy U.S.-dollar-denominated assets like Treasury bonds—which are effectively nothing more than government-backed IOUs—in return for their goods.
Should it no longer be the issuer of the world’s sole reserve currency, the U.S. would find itself competing with China as a haven for excess foreign capital. Borrowing costs would rise and Americans would no longer be able to enjoy the same lifestyle they do now.
“That means less financing of our own twin fiscal and current account deficits, when we still have very large stocks of private and public debt,” Roubini said. “That can push higher the cost of financing for the United States.”
Worst of the banking crisis still to come
Roubini echoed recent comments that the current crisis of confidence in the lending sector is not over, as too many banks suffered a trifecta: losses on their securities portfolio, a drop in the value of their loan book, and heavy exposure to the ailing commercial real estate market.
Many regional institutes in his view remain unable to offer their clients attractive enough interest rates to prevent a depositor flight to more profitable and ultra-safe money market funds.
“The worst in terms of severe banking stress is still ahead of us,” Roubini told Yahoo Finance.
The resulting credit crunch will tip the U.S. economy into a recession later this year, he predicted, as the Federal Reserve is ill-equipped, in his opinion, to deliver on its dual mandate of low inflation and maximum employment while rescuing banks.
Roubini voiced his concern that with core consumer prices continuing to tick higher, rising one-tenth of one percent to hit an annual rate of 5.6% in March, the U.S. could see the worst of the 1970s in terms of inflation and the worst in terms of insolvency following the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.
“You have only one policy instrument, in this case the fed funds rate, to hit three targets—price stability, growth and financial stability,” he said. “To me that looks like mission impossible.”
People in China are so worried about the economy they’re asking for divine intervention
China’s post-Covid reopening was supposed to be the stimulant that the world needed. But after an early burst of activity, growth in the world’s second largest economy appears to be stalling.
Disillusioned by the deteriorating economic outlook, young people are flooding to Buddhist and Taoist temples to pray for divine intervention in securing jobs, getting into good schools or becoming rich overnight.
Data released this week showed Chinese exports fell 7.5% in May from a year ago, much more than expected, as global demand waned. Factory activity contracted again last month, and youth unemployment stands at a record high.
Economic uncertainty has driven temple visits and tourism to new heights, according to analysts and travel websites.
“No school-going, no hard-working, only incense-burning” has been a popular hashtag on social media since March, referring to a growing trend among young people in China who escape a pressure-cooker society by going to temples to pray for luck.
“Incense-burning youth” has become the number one catchphrase in China’s tourism industry this year, according to a survey jointly conducted in April by Qunar.com, a travel website, and Xiaohongshu, an Instagram-like app, which looked at the top travel trends.
The jobless rate for people between 16 and 24 years old reached a record 20.4% in April, according to official statistics.
The youth unemployment rate could get even worse as a record 11.6 million college students enter the already tough job market this summer, as the education ministry estimated earlier this year.
Different temples tend to attract different types of worshippers. The Yonghe Temple in Beijing, also known as the Lama Temple, which caters to the Tibetan Buddhism faith, is a popular site for those looking for career or financial success.
It recorded the biggest increase in visitors of any temple in the country in March and early April, up 530% from the same period last year, according to Qunar.
Lots of incense burning
China is officially an atheist nation, but it recognizes five faiths: Buddhism, Taoism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Islam. The first two religions are an essential part of Chinese culture, with tens of thousands of temples and monasteries across the country.
Temple visits have surged this year more than fourfold from a year ago, according to recent data from Qunar and Trip.com, another travel site. About half of the visitors are people in their 20s and 30s, according to the sites.
“Under pressure about school, jobs, marriage and relationships, more and more young people are turning to traditional culture, such as temple prayer and blessings, to relieve stress,” said Yang Yan, an analyst with Chinese brokerage firm Nanjing Securities.
Social media has also fueled the boom in temple tourism, as young people like to share their experiences on social networks, she added.
Emei and Jiuhua are two of China’s famous “four sacred mountains of Buddhism,” home to the country’s largest Buddhist temples and cultural heritage sites.
Emei Mountain in southwestern Sichuan province received 2.48 million visitors between January and May, up 53% from the same period in 2019, before any pandemic restrictions were imposed.
Emei Shan Tourism, which provides travel services around the mountain, has enjoyed soaring sales, posting a record $9.8 million in net profit in the first quarter, up 262% from the same period in 2019.
Its stock surged 44% over the past 10 trading sessions, becoming one of the best performers on Chinese stock markets during the period.
Anhui Jiuhuashan Tourism Development, which runs the Jiuhua Mountain scenic area in central Anhui province, also shattered quarterly sales records.
Its revenue for the January-to-March period jumped 43% from the same period in 2019 and was the highest since its 2015 listing. Its shares were up 34% over the past 10 trading sessions.
Taoist sites have also seen strong growth in worshippers.
Longhu Mountain in Jiangxi province, one of the birthplaces of Taoism, received 4.73 million visitors during the first quarter, up 47% from the same period in 2019.
Wudang, another famous Taoist site featured in the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” recorded a 23% jump in visits for the January-to-March period compared with 2019.
Besides praying to deities for career success, supplicants are seeking luck in winning the lottery.
The Communist Party banned gambling in China when it took power in 1949. But the government runs two types of lotteries to raise money for sports events and welfare projects.
Lottery sales hit 50.33 billion yuan ($7.1 billion) in April, up 62% from a year ago, according to data released by the finance ministry in late May. That’s the highest sales for the month of April in a decade.
“It’s clearly a real-life placebo,” analysts at Hangzhou-based Caitong Securities wrote in a research report Sunday. In medical research, the placebo effect is the experience of feeling better after a dummy pill or treatment
During uncertain economic times, more people tend to seek solace in faith or other comforting activities such as buying lottery tickets, raising pets, attending concerts or spending time on hobbies such as anime or comics, the analysts said.
“The core attraction of buying lottery tickets is to bring people solace,” they added.
Are we in a recession right now? What economists have to say – USA TODAY
Over the past year, economists have proclaimed that the U.S. is headed toward recession so relentlessly, you might think we’re already knee-deep in a slump.
But the economy has been remarkably resilient and, though wobbly at times, has repeatedly defied forecasts of a downturn. Economists, in turn, have continued to push out their estimates of when a recession will begin.
Yet forecasters still say there’s a 61% chance of a mild slide this year, according to those surveyed by Wolters Kluwer Blue Chip Economic Indicators.
All this begs the question: Are we in a recession now?
What happens in a recession?
Many Americans are familiar with the informal definition of a recession: Two straight quarters of declining gross domestic product, which is the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S.
But the real litmus test is more subtle. A recession is “a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy that lasts more than a few months,” according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. NBER looks at a variety of indicators, particularly employment, consumer spending, retail sales and industrial production. The non-profit group often announces when a recession has begun and ended months after those milestones have occurred.
GDP fell each of the first two quarters of 2022 but much of the drop was traced to changes in trade and business inventories – two categories that don’t reflect the economy’s underlying health.
Why do economists expect recession?
Over the past 14 months, the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates at the fastest pace in 40 years to bring down inflation. Typically, when the Fed hikes rates so aggressively, borrowing to buy a home, build a factory and make other purchases becomes much more expensive. Economic activity declines, the stock market tumbles and a recession results.
Was there already a recession?
No. During the pandemic, households amassed about $2.5 trillion in excess savings from hunkering down at home and trillions of dollars in federal stimulus checks aimed at keeping workers afloat through layoffs and business closures.
As a result, Americans have a big cushion of savings to help them weather high inflation and interest rates. They’ve whittled down much of those excess reserves but about $1.5 trillion still remains, according to Moody’s Analytics.
Consumers also still have lots of pent-up demand to travel, go to ballgames and dine out now that the health crisis has receded. So while consumption has flagged, rising just 1% annualized at the end of last year, it bounced back and grew 3.8% in the first quarter.
Also, both households and businesses have historically low debt levels, Moody’s says, and so they’re not burdened by high monthly debt service payments.
Back in a bull market: As stocks pass a key milestone, here’s what you should know
Are we in a recession right now?
The vast majority of top economists say no. Housing has been in the doldrums, with home prices starting to decline, because of high mortgage rates. And manufacturing activity has contracted for seven straight months, also in part because of high rates that have dampened business capital spending.
But consumer spending, which makes up about 70% of GDP, has been surprisingly healthy, jumping 0.5% in April after adjusting for inflation.
As a result, the most critical economic indicator- employment – has stayed strong, with the public and private sector adding an average of 283,000 jobs a month from March through May. Also, longstanding labor shortages have led many businesses to hold onto workers instead of laying them off despite faltering sales.
All told the economy has lost some steam but it’s not shrinking. GDP grew at a 1.3% annual rate in the first quarter. And it’s projected to grow 1% in the current quarter, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Will there be a recession in 2023?
Most economists still expect a recession in the second half of the year. They say the Fed’s high interest rates eventually will be felt more profoundly by consumers and businesses. At the same time, banks are pulling back lending because of deposit runs that led to the collapse of several regional banks early this year.
Perhaps the most reliable indicator of a coming recession is an inverted yield curve. Normally, interest rates are higher for longer-term bonds than shorter-term ones because investors need to be rewarded for risking their money for a longer period.
But the yield on the 2-year Treasury bond has been well above the 10-year Treasury for months. That’s been a consistent signal of recession because investors move money into safer longer-term assets – pushing their prices up and their yields down – when the economic outlook grows dimmer.
US and Allies Condemn Economic Coercion With Attention on China
(Bloomberg) — The US and five major allies condemned economic coercion and non-market policies regarding trade and investment in a joint declaration that didn’t cite China by name but clearly had Beijing in mind.
The six countries expressed concern about practices that they say “undermine the functioning of and confidence in the rules-based multilateral trading system.”
The message from the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the UK carries no economic consequences and mirrors one released by Group of Seven nations after a meeting of leaders last month.
A US Trade Representative official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity before the statement’s release, said China has been the biggest perpetrator of the behavior condemned in the declaration.
The official mentioned China’s decision to cut off trade with Lithuania in 2021 after that Baltic nation allowed Taiwan to establish a diplomatic office there as an example of the kind of economic coercion that the declaration singles out.
Read More: G-7 Eyes China With New Joint Effort Against Economic Coercion
In response to a reporter’s question, the official rejected any comparison to the US, which has become one of the most prolific purveyors of measures that could be seen as economic coercion, chiefly through financial sanctions and limits on technology exports to countries including China.
US sanctions occurred in accordance with US laws and procedures, and in light of relevant rules and norms, the official said. The declaration makes explicit that it didn’t apply to actions that have “a legitimate public policy objective.”
“These legitimate public policy measures include: health and safety regulations, environmental regulations, trade remedies, national security measures and sanctions, and measures to protect the integrity and stability of financial systems and financial institutions from abuse,” according to the declaration.
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