Thursday, September 26, 2013

Economist warns GFC fallout yet to hit as world marks Lehman Brothers collapse anniversary

Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, economists are warning the worst fallout from the global financial crisis is yet to hit Europe and parts of Asia.

The concerns come as the US Federal Reserve decides just when to start scaling back its massive economic stimulus program, which has so far succeeded in keeping much of the world from falling back into crisis.

The Fed shocked financial markets when it decided to delay any slowdown in the money printing.

Tim Hodgson is senior investment consultant at the global pension fund advisors Towers Watson.

He argues that the current era of cheap and easy money from central banks might need to be extended.

"I think it's changed more than just the financial world. But there's a lot of repair still to do," he said.

"So it's clear that despite progress in banking systems to get risky assets off balance sheets, improve tier-one capital ratios, I don't think anybody thinks that banks are home and dry yet, particularly, I would argue, in Europe."

Audio: Europe, Asia still at risk from GFC fallout (The World Today)

He says the economy - and broader society - is yet to recover from the Lehman Brothers collapse.

"Never before in history have we had this level of monetary stimulation ,and for growth to be so disappointing," he said.

"The growth response to the level of stimulation says to me that the old linkages that we expected are broken."

Monetary measures cannot continue forever
An important question, Mr Hodgson say, is how long global monetary intervention can continue.

"I suspect it might last longer than we expect," he said.

"Where's the improvement going to come from? Where's the reset mechanism? There's still a lot of deleveraging to do. The European banks haven't really succeeded in deleveraging to any material extent. Australia - the households haven't deleveraged. So I'm not sure that we're on a healing process yet."

We often look at the global recovery through what is happening with Fed decisions in the United States, or what might be happening in Europe with the eurozone crisis.

In reality, emerging economies such as India are exposed to the day when all this cheap and easy money is going to be wound back.

Certain emerging markets benefited massively from that liquidity," Mr Hodgson said.

"The slight drawback, or the threat of drawback from the withdrawal of the Fed stimulus, has seen certain emerging countries really suffer massively."

And he warns that there will be serious social consequences if living standards do not improve.

"In a sense, what's happening in the likes of Spain is remarkable because historically, youth unemployment over 50 per cent of the population," he said.

"That has historically been associated with reasonably significant social unrest.

"And yes, as these economies adjust, it is perfectly possible that we'll see social tensions rise. I'm expecting geopolitical tensions to rise."

It is unclear exactly how long it will take the global financial crisis to run its course.

"It's a kind of five to ten year, maybe 15 year workout phase," he said.

"It's not all doom and gloom because the system adapts and the human spirit is generally forward looking and generally optimistic and I'm pretty sure that we will work through this and there will be a brighter dawn. But it might not be in 2014."

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