Foreign Policy Blogs

Wall St Reversion to Mean Threatens Recovery

Wall Street bull

Wall Street bull—-

(FT) We are at the point of maximum confusion in the multi-year transition of the global economy, markets and policymaking. We have left the global growth regime that was driven primarily by debt-financed consumption in the US, but we have not as yet reached a position of more balanced, albeit anaemic, growth. Those who lack a robust anchoring framework, be they investors or policymakers, risk being misled and backtracking to outdated ways of thinking.

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The signs of inappropriate reversion are multiplying. Confusing temporary factors for sustainable ones, a growing number of analysts have extended the ongoing stimulus/inventory bounce to a V-like recovery next year and beyond. The momentum for meaningful financial reform is stalling in spite of clear evidence that financial activities have far outpaced the regulatory infrastructure. And some banks are returning to the bad habits that almost destroyed them.


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Reversion to Mean

Reversion to Mean

This reversion is intimately linked to the inadequacy of the anchoring analytical frameworks. Appropriate frameworks provide important protection against the short-termism that can contaminate markets and policymaking. By contrast, ill-designed frameworks can encourage short-term thinking, leading to market and policy overshoot on the way up and down.  Today’s lack of appropriate anchoring frameworks appears to be exacerbating short-termism. The issue goes well beyond the still-limited appreciation of the multi-year realignment of the global economy, which is gaining momentum. It also relates to tendencies well-documented by behavioural economists – such as framing the problem wrongly and refusing to question past approaches.

Given all this, we would be all well advised to follow the admonition of Mervyn King. Last month, the governor of the Bank of England stated bluntly: “It’s the level, stupid – it’s not the growth rates, it’s the levels that matter here.” Investors have not yet accepted his insight that the absolute levels of income, debt, wealth and unemployment, not just the rates of change, are what matters today. They need to, and soon.

Analysis of key levels in the global economy points to important deviations between desired and actual levels. The outlook for major countries will continue to be driven by the levels of key variables, not their rate of recovery. Consider four examples.

First, consumer indebtedness is still too high relative to income expectations and credit availability, particularly in the US and the UK. This inconsistency will hold back any sustainable bounce in the most important component of aggregate demand.

Second, some banks’ balance sheets are still too geared for the comfort of regulators or their own managers. This will inhibit them from lending to the real economy at a time when certain sectors (such as commercial real estate, but also residential housing) still require significant refinancing, and when consumers need time to work down their excessive debt loads.

Third, unemployment has risen well beyond expectations, and is likely to prove unusually protracted. It will take years for US unemployment to return to its natural rate, even after the natural rate shifted upwards. This will . . .

Read more here.

By Mohamed El-Erian writing for FT.  Published: September 28 2009



Elison Elliott

Elison Elliott , a native of Belize, is a professional investment advisor for the Global Wealth and Invesment Management division of a major worldwide financial services firm. His experience in the global financial markets span over 18 years in both the public and private sectors. Elison is a graduate, cum laude, of the City College of New York (CUNY), and completed his Masters-level course requirements in the International Finance & Banking (IFB) program at Columbia University (SIPA). Elison lives in the northern suburbs of New York City. He is an avid student of sovereign risk, global economics and market trends, and enjoys writing, aviation, outdoor adventure, International travel, cultural exploration and world affairs.

Areas of Focus:
Market Trends; International Finance; Global Trade; Economics