The past week has shown that the subprime credit mortgage crisis in the US has metastasized into something bigger, and is spreading into other parts of the economy, and is now beginning to affect bond markets in the US. This is a worst-case scenario gradually unfolding before our eyes, and the Fed under Bernanke and the politicians seem unable to do anything to stop it, which is why they talk so little about it.
The issue made me think about something. Several years ago, a report was issued (I believe it was Goldman Sachs), which said that the Chinese economy would become the same size as the US economy by 2040 based on current trends. The key term here is “based on current trends”, something which almost never happens, as things almost never continue smoothly in politics and economics.
The present crisis in the US is causing what I call a double shrinkage. The size of the economy is shrinking as highly-leveraged credit derivatives are slowly worked out of the system. As these derivatives, which were as good as cash just two years ago, creating more money in the system than the Fed are worked out of the economy, the GDP of the US economy will shrink. It is not a question of whether it will shrink, it’s just a question of how much. That is something the market, the politicians and policy-makers are figuring out.
But it does not shrink just on the GDP level, it also shrinks on the US dollar level, which has been losing value steadily, and will likely continue to lose value as US interest levels fall. (The problem for the Fed is that although interest rates have fallen, US banks have tightened up their lending qualifications.) This means that US goods will become cheaper, and more foreigners will go to the US to buy real assets.
Roger Ehrenberg has written an excellent article about what US headlines will look like over the next 2-3 years on his Information Arbitrage blog. No wonder that even companies like Apple are looking overseas for sales growth in the face of slow growth in the US market.
This takes me back to the report which talked about China overtaking the US economy by 2040. The report did not take into account the shrinking of the US economy on both the GDP and currency levels. If the Chinese economy continues to grow and the US economy shrinks, isn’t it likely that the Chinese economy will overtake the US economy much sooner than 2040?
Of course, there are a lot of variables. Can China continue to grow at a brisk pace without a healthy US consumer economy buying Chinese exports? And what can the Chinese government do to curb inflation, which is growing faster than in the past 15 years?
We will find out…eventually.