Category Archives: Advanced economies

10/1/16: Crisis Contagion from Advanced Economies into BRIC

New paper available: Gurdgiev, Constantin and Trueick, Barry, Crisis Contagion from Advanced Economies into Bric: Not as Simple as in the Old Days (January 10, 2016). 

Forthcoming as Chapter 11 in Lessons from the Great Recession: At the Crossroads of Sustainability and Recovery, edited by Constantin Gurdgiev, Liam Leonard & Alejandra Maria Gonzalez-Perez, Emerald, ASEJ, vol 18; ISBN: 978-1-78560-743-1. Link:


At the onset of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-2008, majority of the analysts and policymakers have anticipated contagion from the markets volatility in the advanced economies (AEs) to the emerging markets (EMs). This chapter examines the volatility spillovers from the AEs’ equity markets (Japan, the U.S and Europe) to four key EMs, the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The period under study, from 2000 through mid-2014, reflects a time of varying regimes in markets volatility, including the periods of bubble, the Global Financial Crisis and the European Sovereign Debt Crisis, the Great Recession and the start of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. To estimate volatility cross-linkages between the advanced economies and BRIC, we use multivariate GARCH BEKK model across a number of specifications. We find that, the developed economies weighted return volatility did have a significant impact on volatility across all four of the BRIC economies returns. However, contrary to the consensus view, there was no evidence of volatility spillover from the individual AEs onto BRIC economies with the exception of a spillover from Europe to Brazil. The implied forward-looking expectations for markets volatility had a strong and significant spillover effect onto Brazil, Russia and China, and a weaker effect on India. The evidence on volatility spillovers from the advanced economies markets to emerging markets puts into question the traditional view of financial and economic systems sustainability in the presence of higher orders of integration of the global monetary and financial systems. Overall, data suggests that we are witnessing less than perfect integration between BRIC economies and advanced economies markets to-date.

30/12/15: Blink by 25bps, chew through billions: U.S. rates ‘normalization’

In a post yesterday, I mentioned USD3 trillion hole in global bonds markets looming on the horizon as the U.S. Fed embarks on its cautious tightening cycle. Now, couple more victims of that fabled 'normalization' that few in the markets expected.

First up, U.S. own bonds:

Source: @Schuldensuehner 

As noted, US 2-year yields are now at 1.09%, their highest level since April 2010 and roughly double January 2015 average. Now, estimated interest on U.S. federal debt in 2015 stood at around USD251 billion for publicly held debt of USD13,124 billion. Now, suppose we slap on another 0.55%-odd on that. That pushes interest payments on publicly held portion of U.S. debt pile to over USD323 billion. Not exactly chop change...

And another casualty of 'normalization' - global profit margins per BCA Research:
"Over the past two decades, the G7 yield curve has been an excellent leading indicator of global margins. Currently, not only are short-term borrowing costs becoming prohibitive, at the margin, but the incentive to raise debt and retire equity to boost EPS is diminishing. This suggests that profit margins have likely peaked for the cycle."

Here's a chart showing both:
Source: BCA Research

Now, absence of margins = absence of capex. And absence of margins = profits growth on scale alone. Both of which mean things are a not likely to be getting easier for global growth.

Now, take BCA conclusion: "Finally, global junk bonds are pointing to a drop in equities in the coming months, if the historical correlation holds. Indeed, we are heeding the bond market’s message, and are concerned about margin trouble and the potential for an EM non-financial corporate sector accident: remain defensively positioned."

In other words, given the leverage take on since the crisis, and given the prospects for organic growth, as well as the simple fact that advanced economies' corporates have been reliant for a good part of decade and a half on emerging markets to find growth opportunities, all this rates 'normalizing' ain't hitting the EMs alone but is bound to under the skin of the U.S. and European corporates too.

Good luck trading on current equity markets valuations for long...

30/11/15: WarningSignals on Secular Stagnation Threats

The readers of this blog know that I have been covering the twin theses of Secular Stagnation (long-term trend in slowdown of global growth) consistently over recent years.

Here is an interesting summary of the theses and literature on it, with extensive references to this blog (among other sources):!Where-are-we-on-Secular-Stagnation/covf/565464fb0cf29e70f2253e70.

My own view summarised most recently here:

4/10/15: Secular Stagnation and the Promise of the Recovery

An unedited version of my recent requested guest contribution for News Max on the issue of secular stagnation (July-August 2015).

Secular Stagnation and the Promise of the Recovery

Recent evidence on economic growth dynamics presents a striking paradox. As traditional business cycles go, recovery period following a prolonged recession should follow certain historical regularities. Shortly after exiting a recession, growth in productivity, output, investment and demand accelerates and exceeds pre-crisis growth.

These stylized facts are absent from the data for the major advanced economies to-date, prompting three distinct responses from the economic growth analysts. On the one hand, there are proponents of two theories of secular stagnation – an idea that structurally, long-term growth in the advanced economies has come to a grinding halt either due to the demand side collapse, or due to the supply side exhausting drivers for growth. On the other hand, the recovery bulls continue to argue that the turnaround reflective of a traditional recovery is likely to materialize sometime soon.

In my opinion, neither one of the three views of the current economic cycle is correct or sufficient in explaining the lack of robust global recovery from the crises of 2007-2009 and 2011-2014. Instead, the complete view of today’s economy should integrate the ongoing secular stagnation thesis spanning both the supply and the demand sides of the global economy.

The end game for investors is that no traditional indexing or asset class approach to constructing investor portfolios will offer a harbor from the post-QE re-pricing of economic fundamentals. Instead, longer-term strategy for addressing these risks calls for investors targeting smaller clusters of opportunities in sectors that can be viewed as buffers against the secular stagnation trends. Along the same lines of reasoning, forward-looking economic policymaking should also focus on enhancing such clustered opportunities.

Investment-Savings Mismatch

The demand-based view of secular stagnation suggests that the global growth slowdown is linked to a structural decline in consumption and investment, reflected in a decades-long glut of aggregate savings over investment.

This theory, tracing back to the 1930s suggestion by Alvin Hansen, made its first return to the forefront of macroeconomic thinking back in the 1990s, in the context of Japan. By the early 1990s, Japan was suffering from a demographics-linked excess of savings relative to investment, and the associated massive contraction in labor productivity. During the 1980-1989 period, Japan's real GDP per worker averaged 3.2 percent per annum. Over the following two decades, the average was 0.81 percent. Meanwhile, Japan's investment as a percentage of GDP gradually fell from approximately 29-30 percent in the 1980s to just over 20 percent in 2010-2015.

The Great Recession replicated Japanese experience across the majority of advanced economies. Between 1980 and 2014, the gap between savings and investment as percentage of GDP has widened in North America and the Euro area. At the same time, labor productivity fell precipitously across all major advanced economies, despite a massive increase in unemployment.

Some opponents of the demand side secular stagnation thesis, most notably former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, argue that low interest rates create incentives for investment and reduced saving by lowering the cost of the former and increasing the opportunity cost of the latter.

However, this argument bears no connection to what is happening on the ground. Current zero rates policies appear to reinforce the savings-investment mismatch, not weaken it, rendering monetary policy impotent, if not outright damaging.

How can this be the case?

Today's pre-retirement generations are facing insufficient pensions coverage. For them, lower yields on retirement investments, tied to lower policy rates, are incentivizing more aggressive savings, further suppressing returns on investment. Meanwhile, middle age workers face severe pressures to deleverage their debts accumulated before the crisis, while supporting ageing parents and, simultaneously, increasing numbers of stay-at-home young adults.

To address the demand-side of secular stagnation in the short run, requires lifting the natural rate of return on investment, without increasing retail interest rates. This will be both tricky for policymakers and painful for a large number of investors, currently crowded into an over-bought debt markets.

The only way real natural rate of return to investment can rise in the environment of continued low policy and retail rates is by widening the margin between equity and debt returns for non-financial assets and reducing tax subsidies awarded to physical and financial capital accumulation. In other words, policymakers must rebalance taxation systems to support real enterprise formation, entrepreneurship and equity investment, while reducing incentives to invest in debt and financial assets.

Good examples of such policy tools deployment can be found in the areas of gas and oil infrastructure LLPs and property REITs used to fund long-term physical capital investments via tax optimized returns structures. Transforming these schemes to broader markets and to cover non-financial, technological and human capital investments, however, will be tricky.

From the investor perspective, the demand-side stagnation thesis implies that  longer-term investment opportunities will be found in allocations targeting entrepreneurs and companies with organic growth that are debt-light, technologically intensive (with a caveat explained below) and human capital-rich. There are no real examples of such companies currently in the major stock markets’ indices. Instead, the future growth plays are found in the high risk space of start ups and early stage development ventures in the sectors that bring technology directly to end-user engagement: biotech, nanotechnology, remote health, food sciences, wearables, bio-human interfaces and artificial intelligence.

Tech Sector: Value-Added  Miss

The caveat relating to technology investments briefly mentioned above is non-trivial.

Today, we have two distinct trends in technological innovation: technological research that leads to increased substitution of labor with technology and innovations that promise greater complementarity between labor and human capital and the machines.

The first type of innovation is what the financial markets are currently long. And it is also directly linked to the supply-side secular stagnation thesis formulated by Robert Gordon in the late 2000s. The thesis challenges the consensus view that the current technological revolution will continue to fuel a perpetual growth cycle.

Per Gordon, "The frontier established by the U.S. for output per capita, and the U. K. before it, … reached its fastest growth rate in the middle of the 20th century, and has slowed down since.  It is in the process of slowing down further." The reason for this is the exhaustion of economic returns to technological innovation.  Financial returns are yet to follow, but inevitably, with time, they will.

Gordon, and his followers, argue that a sequence of three industrial or technological revolutions explains the historically unprecedented pace of growth recorded since the mid-18thcentury. "The first with its main inventions between 1750 and 1830 created steam engines, cotton spinning, and railroads. The second was the most important, with its three central inventions of electricity, the internal combustion engine, and running water with indoor plumbing, in the relatively short interval of 1870 to 1900.” However, after 1970 “productivity growth slowed markedly, most plausibly because the main ideas of [the second revolution] had by and large been implemented by then.” Thus, the computer and internet age – the ongoing third revolution – has reached its climax in the late 1990s and the productivity gains from the new computer technologies has been declining since around 2000.

Gordon’s argument is not about the levels of activity generated by the new technologies, but about the declining rate of growth in value added arising form them. This argument is supported by some of the top thinkers in the tech sector, notably the U.S. tech entrepreneur and investor, Peter Thiel.

The older generation of players in the tech sector attempted to challenge Gordon’s ideas, with little success to-date.

A recent study from IBM, titled "Insatiable Innovation: From sporadic to systemic", attempted to show that technological innovation is alive and well, pointing to evolving ‘smart’ tech, globalization of consumer markets, and universal customization of production as signs of potential growth capacity remaining in tech-focused sectors.

However, surprisingly, the study ends up confirming Gordon’s assertion. Tech industry today, by focusing on substituting technology for people in production, is struggling to deliver substantial enough push for growth acceleration. The promise of new technologies that can move companies toward more human capital-intensive modes of production remains the stuff of the future. Meanwhile, marginal returns on investment in today’s technology may be non-negligible from the point of view of individual enterprises, but they cannot deliver rapid rates of growth in economic value added over time and worldwide.

Disruptive Change Required

In my view, the reason for this failure rests with the nature of the modern economy, still anchored to physical capital investment, where technology is designed to replace labor. As I noted in a number of research papers and in my TED presentation a couple of years ago, long-term global growth cycles are sustained by pioneering innovation that moves economic production away from previously exhausted factors (e.g. agricultural land, physical trade routes, steam, internal combustion, electricity, and, most recently capital-enhancing tech) toward new factors.

Thus, the next global growth cycle can only arise from switching away from traditional forms of capital accumulation in favor of structurally new source of growth. The only factor remaining to be deployed in the economy is that of human capital.

Like it or not, to deliver the growth momentum necessary for sustaining the quality of life and improvements in social and economic environment expected by the ageing and currently productive generations will require some radical rethinking of the status quo economic development models.

The thrust of these changes will need to focus on attempting to reverse the decline in returns to human capital investment (education, training, creativity, ability to take and manage risks, entrepreneurship, etc) and on generating higher economic value added growth from technological innovation.

The former implies dramatic restructuring of modern systems of taxation and public services to increase incentives and supports for human capital investments and their deployment in the economy.  The latter requires an equally disruptive reform of the traditional institutions of entrepreneurship and enterprise formation and development.

From investor perspective, this means seeking opportunities to take equity positions in companies with more horizontal, less technocratic distributions of management and ownership. Cooperative, mutual, employees-owned larger ventures and firms offer some attractive longer term valuations in this context. Entrepreneurs who are not afraid to allocate wider ranges of managerial and strategic responsibilities to a broader group of their key employees are also interesting investment targets.

Within sectors, companies that offer more flexible platforms for research and development, product innovation, customer engagement and are design and knowledge-rich will likely outperform their more conservative and rigid counterparts over the long run.

The new world of structurally slower growth does not imply lack of opportunities for investors seeking long run returns. It simply requires a new approach to investment allocation across asset classes and individual investment targets. When both, supply and demand sides of the economic growth equation face headwinds, safe harbours of opportunities lie outside the immediate path of disruption, in the areas of tangible real equity closely linked to the potential drivers of future growth.

2/8/15: Global Trade: Welcome to the Economic ICU

An interesting, if short, note on woeful state of global trade flows from Fitch (link here).

The key point is that:

  1. Subject to all the talk about the Global recovery gaining momentum; and
  2. Under the conditions of unprecedented past (and ongoing) monetary policy accommodation around the world'

global trade remains severely compressed from mid-2011 forward.

Most importantly, the rot is extremely broad - across all major regions, with no base support for trade flows.

One of the drivers - EMs lack of internal demand:

However, the EMs are just one part of the picture. Per Fitch, "Since 2012, global export volumes have consistently grown by less than 5%. Performance by value has been even worse due to the fall in global trade prices, again led lower by commodities. In April 2015, global export prices were down 16% year on year."

"There are several structural explanations for the continued weakness in global trade in addition to the GFC’s cyclical effects":

  • Shift toward domestic growth in China - previously thought to be a catalyst for growth in trade via stimulating demand for imports - has had an opposite effect: Chinese producers and consumers are now increasingly sourcing goods and services internally. This was not predicted by the analysts, though I have been warning that this will be a natural outcome of the continued maturing of the Chinese economy away from producing low value added goods toward producing higher value added output. Thus, reliance of Chinese economy on capital and investment goods and services imports from Advanced Economies has declined. And we are witnessing an ongoing emergence of higher value added consumer goods manufacturing in China, which will further compress imports demands by Chinese markets. More significantly, over time, this will lead to even more complex regionalisation of trade, with trade flows becoming increasingly locked within the Asia-Pacific region, leaving more and more producers in the Advanced Economies facing an uncomfortable choice: shift production to the region or witness decline in imports demand. In line with this, there will be losses of jobs in the Advanced Economies and gains of activity in Asia-Pacific. 
  • Fitch points to a policy driver for global trade slowdown: "According to the World Trade Organisation, the use of trade restrictions has been rising since the crisis and trade liberalisation initiatives have slowed relative to the 1990s. Together, these developments may be contributing at the margin to the reduction in elasticity of trade with respect to GDP." Nothing new here, as well. The world is amidst continued debt deflation cycle, with debt-linked protectionism on the rise. This is not just about currency wars, but also about financial repression and structural decline in overall growth.
  • Fitch notes a third driver for trade decline: "There has been a change in the relative weights of domestic demand components, with investment falling compared with consumption and government spending… As investment spending is the most pro-cyclical and import-intensive component of domestic demand, a decline in investment tends to have a larger effect on trade." Again, I wrote before extensively on investment collapse in the Advanced Economies, and the fact that the main drivers for this are not a business cycle nor the Global Financial Crisis, but rather a structural decline in long-term growth (secular stagnation). You can read on this more here:

Fitch note, while highlighting a really big theme continuing to unfold across the global economy, misses the real long-term drivers for the collapse of trade: the world is undergoing deleveraging cycle in terms of Government and private debt, reinforced by the structurally weaker growth environment on both demand and supply sides of the growth equation. The result is going to be much more painful that Fitch (and majority of analysts around) can foresee.