There is reason to believe that the coronavirus will not be going anywhere soon. What is more, IMF experts warn that problems that existed before the pandemic will only worsen in the coming decades. One of these problems is the state of the global financial market, which is more susceptible to all kinds of financial bubbles than ever before.
When we talk about financial bubbles, we usually mean a sharp increase in the value of assets in an economic climate that has either stagnated or started to deteriorate. A similar situation is currently unfolding on the American stock market, which is experiencing an extraordinary rise in the value of hi-tech companies against the background of a record drop in GDP (by over 30 per cent in the second quarter of 2020) and a projected budget deficit (−15.5 per cent). This rise has been caused by three factors: 1) a soft monetary policy as a result of the need to service the rapidly growing public and corporate debt; 2) the huge liquid resources at the disposal of legal entities and individuals that are frantically looking for ways to make a profitable investment in anticipation of the increased risks and systemic uncertainties brought about by COVID-19; and 3) the speculative excitement caused by the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution. In order for us to judge how likely the optimistic sentiments of the global financial markets are to change, let us consider the impact of these factors separately.
The Debt as it Stands
A key element of the “new abnormality” that has characterized both the development of the global economy as a whole and the U.S. economy, in particular, is the debt model of economic growth. Investment and business activity has stagnated as interest rates around the world are hovering around zero, while the U.S. dollar (a key reserve currency) stubbornly refuses to depreciate and has even strengthened its value on the forex markets on a number of occasions, despite the fact that the situation at home is worsening. For example, U.S. national debt increased by $4 trillion in the first nine months of 2020, from $22.7 to $26.7 trillion. This is the largest increase in U.S. national debt ever. A considerable amount of this debt is financed through the extraordinary growth of the U.S. stock market, which currently accounts for over half of the combined capitalization of the world’s stock markets. A correction on the stock market (caused by an increase in interest rates, for example) could trigger numerous defaults on debt obligations. According to Fitch Ratings, more defaults were announced in the first five months of 2020 than in the whole of 2019 and may reach record numbers by the end of the year (the current record holder is 2009). And more than half of all corporate defaults around the world have occurred in North America.
Let us recall that the value of financial assets dropped by $50 trillion during the 2008–2009 crisis. However, central banks and the fiscal authorities compensated for these losses by injecting roughly the same amount of liquidity into the market. But the newly created financial resources did not jolt consumer demand, as had been hoped. Rather, they were largely swallowed up by various segments of the global financial market. International portfolio investments alone more than doubled in 2008–2019 – by $35 trillion.
The history of capitalism is not short on examples where the state tried to solve debt problems at the expense of the market, leading to the creation of financial pyramids. In 1720, for example, two giant financial bubbles burst at almost the same time in Europe. In an effort to clear themselves of the massive debts they had accumulated during the War of the Spanish Succession, the governments of France and England encouraged the growth of cash in circulation. This money was pumped into equity securities of Mississippi Company in France and the South Sea Company in England, which were joint-stock companies created with backing from their respective governments. The companies promised their investors huge profits that would come from overseas territories. The proceeds from the sale of shares were used to buy back government debt instruments. The stock market bubbles that appeared in France and Great Britain were the result of the governments trying to rid themselves of their excessive debt burdens and to stimulate their respective economies through inflation and debt-equity swaps. In a way, the current excitement on the U.S. stock market is reminiscent of the situation three hundred years ago.
A New Digital Bubble?
As of late September 2020, the four largest companies in the world by market capitalization were American digital brands: the computer giants Apple and Microsoft and the internet companies Amazon and Alphabet (Google). The total market capitalization of these companies has more than doubled this year to over $6 trillion. “Pessimists” believe that the U.S. over-the-counter (OTC) market is currently experiencing another boom similar to the dot-com bubble that burst in 2000. Meanwhile, “optimists” point to the huge success of FAANG stocks, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google, as justification for the current market explosion. Shares in these companies outperformed the market throughout the 2010s, and prices have soared against the background of the pandemic. They currently make up 23 per cent of the total capitalization of the U.S. S&P 500 Index.
The growth in the market value of these companies is directly related to the activities of private and institutional investors around the world, who invest their savings in banks and various investment funds with their highly developed infrastructure in order to receive guaranteed profits. A number of retail investors have given an additional impulse to the dynamics of the OTC market by purchasing shares in newly created companies in the digital economy that have connected to free trading platforms such as Robinhood.
At the same time, the “optimists” believe that the comparisons with the dot-com bubble of 2000 are not entirely appropriate. A number of arguments support this claim: 1) the ratio between the market value of shares and the total annual profit is lower – 26.9 in September 2020 versus 45.8 in March 2000; 2) companies in the digital economy turn in real profits, as opposed to expected future returns; and 3) Nasdaq OTC hi-tech growth rates are more moderate – 23 per cent per year on average, compared to 43 per cent per year in the seven years before the tech bubble burst in 2000.
The dynamics of the market on the eve of the financial crisis in 2008–2009 were also characterized by an “irrational euphoria” similar to what we are seeing today. Back then, in the depths of the crisis, the G20 introduced a supranational financial monitoring system that was designed to prevent destabilizing spikes and falls in asset prices. However, experience has taught us that regulation cannot keep up with market innovation and is perennially unprepared for new challenges, primarily the digitalization of the global economy.
Technology and Politics
Historically, financial bubbles have tended to form whenever new revolutionary technologies have appeared, be it the invention of railways, electricity, automobiles, etc. Many new technologies have appeared during the Fourth Industrial Revolution (from smartphones and 3D printers to blockchain technologies and artificial intelligence) that have led to the mass automation of business processes and, consequently, the loss of jobs for a large part of the workforce, thus reducing production and operating costs significantly.
At the same time, we have not seen galloping inflation as a natural market reaction during this global crisis (all other things being equal) to the cheap money policy that has dominated the past decade. On the one hand, prices have been kept in check by the pandemic, which has pushed households and companies to hold onto their savings and made consumption more difficult due to the partial blocking of the economy. On the other hand, in the present context, a sizeable portion of the newly created liquidity is immediately swallowed up by the stock market, the U.S. stock market in particular, which continues to grow thanks to the advance funding of new technologies that are being developed at a fantastic pace. Exactly how long such a model can survive depends on at least three factors: 1) whether or not the soft monetary policy of near-zero or negative interest rates pursued by central banks will continue; 2) the ability of the market to adapt to new technological transformations; and 3) the smooth running of the international monetary system based on the U.S. dollar.
As for the latter, its functioning largely depends on the political system in the United States, and on the results of the November presidential elections in particular. One of three things will likely happen after that: 1) the current configuration of the global financial system will remain in place, with a few minor alterations here and there; 2) the existing system will undergo a major upheaval; and 3) the global financial system as we know it will collapse and a new model will take its place.
If the first scenario plays out, then the world economy will most likely continue to function in the same institutional format that we know today. If the second scenario prevails, then the radical reform of the existing system of global institutions could give the RIC countries (Russia, India and China) the bargaining power to insist on more favourable conditions for their integration into the world economy (for example, by moving away from reliance on the U.S. dollar in international transactions, promoting the use of their national currencies more actively, re-evaluating their positions within the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank alongside their partners in BRICS in order to effectively obtain a collective veto power, etc.). The third scenario would make it possible to create regional monetary and financial systems (as full-fledged independent financial structures of the emerging multipolar world) on the basis of various regional financial institutions that already exist, increasing the role of national currencies in mutual settlements and international financial instruments (or through the creation of new international liquidity in the form of national collective settlement monetary units).
Where Does Russia Stand amid the Global Turbulence?
The Russian economy demonstrated greater resilience during the first wave of the coronavirus crisis than the economies of both developed countries and the economies of its partners in BRICS. Despite the sharp decline in world prices for carbon fuel (Russia’s main export), in terms of key macroeconomic indicators, Russia has managed to maintain more stable positions than the G7 countries. As a result, the IMF predicts that Russia will have the lowest budget deficit among the world’s major economies by the end of 2020 (−4.8 per cent), with relatively low unemployment (4.9 per cent).
The Russian Federation is, in a sense, protected from financial bubbles as (unlike the United States) as it is more focused on developing the real sector of the economy rather than the financial sector. At the same time, the main problem of Russia’s integration into the global economy is the lack of stabilizing mechanisms to counter the volatile and hard-to-predict elements of the global financial market. We are talking here about the lack of a reserve currency, something that many countries use to protect themselves against external shocks, especially during periods of global crisis, when the demand for reserve assets rises sharply. Let us consider the following example. Russia has been a net creditor in the global financial system for years. As of year-end 2019, Russia’s external financial assets exceeded its external financial liabilities by $358 billion. Meanwhile, its investment income balance amounted to −$50 billion. This lop-sidedness is down to the fact that Russia places its international reserves in low-yield foreign assets and serves its foreign financial liabilities at higher interest rates. What this means is that the Russian Federation has been subsidizing those countries that issue reserve currencies for years while not always receiving adequate compensation and now living in economic isolation in the form of economic sanctions. In this context, Russia urgently needs to create its own reserve currency similar to the transferable rouble that the Soviet Union used in its trade with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance in 1964–1990 and which existed long before other collective currencies (such as the special drawing rights, the European Currency Unit and the euro) were developed. This mechanism removed a number of inconsistencies at the regional level (the problem of imbalances in particular) that we are now seeing in connection with the use of the U.S. dollar as a means of carrying out international settlements, loans and investments around the world.
An oft-cited report by Goldman Sachs predicts that Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC countries) will all be among the world’s top five economies by 2050 and, tellingly, the stock market is not the main source of financial resources for any of them. A common problem for the BRIC countries is the need to develop the enormous potential of their domestic markets by implementing large-scale infrastructure projects. A kind of dual system of monetary circulation whereby foreign trade is carried out using monetary units of account could help make this happen. Such a model would make it possible to separate the intrinsic value of money (its purchasing power) from its extrinsic value (its exchange rate). This is necessary to prevent newly created value (through the financial market) flowing from regions with low productivity to regions with high productivity. This is precisely what is happening in the Eurozone, and it is deepening the structural imbalances in the single European market. In addition, such a system would help resolve the issue of creating international liquidity without the need to move the national currency out of circulation to form unproductive national reserves or carry out speculative transactions.
The global economy has fallen into the trap of “new abnormality,” where incessantly creating money does not solve pressing socioeconomic problems. Other countries are following in the footsteps of the United States, repeating its domestic policy. This has resulted in the further deepening of social inequalities and imbalances at the national and global levels. Bearing in mind the fact that the United States’ share of global gross domestic product has been falling over the past 20 years, it is entirely possible that the U.S. dollar may be used less frequently in international transactions, even though the exchange rate proves favourable from time to time. To make matters worse, the unusual reaction of the markets to the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve System, along with the growing political tension in the United States, increases the risk of the destabilization of the current financial system. It should be stressed here that global economic leadership has always been tied to the leading countries consolidating their positions in both the economic and financial spheres. Clearly, we have reached the point where the only thing that will help stabilize the world economy in the long term is the more active involvement of the BRICS countries in the functioning of the global financial system.
From our partner RIAC
Finding Fulcrum to Move the World Economics
Where hidden is the fulcrum to bring about new global-age thinking and escape current mysterious economic models that primarily support super elitism, super-richness, super tax-free heavens and super crypto nirvanas; global populace only drifts today as disconnected wanderers at the bottom carrying flags of ‘hate-media’ only creating tribal herds slowly pushed towards populism. Suppose, if we accept the current indices already labeled as success as the best of show of hands, the game is already lost where winners already left the table. Finding a new fulcrum to move the world economies on a better trajectory where human productivity measured for grassroots prosperity is a critically important but a deeply silent global challenge. Here are some bold suggestions
ONE- Global Measurement: World connectivity is invisible, grossly misunderstood, miscalculated and underestimated of its hidden powers; spreading silently like an invisible net, a “new math” becomes the possible fulcrum for the new business world economy; behold the ocean of emerging global talents from new economies, mobilizing new levels of productivity, performance and forcing global shifts of economic powers. Observe the future of borderless skills, boundary less commerce and trans-global public opinion, triangulation of such will simply crush old thinking.
Archimedes yelled, “…give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world…”
After all, half of the world during the last decade, missed the entrepreneurial mindset, understoodonly as underdog players of the economy, the founders, job-creators and risk-taker entrepreneurs of small medium businesses of the world, pushed aside while kneeling to big business staged as institutionalized ritual. Although big businesses are always very big, nevertheless, small businesses and now globally accepted, as many times larger. Study deeply, why suddenly now the small medium business economy, during the last budgetary cycles across the world, has now become the lone solution to save dwindling economies. Big business as usual will take care of itself, but national economies already on brink left alone now need small business bases and hard-core raw entrepreneurialism as post-pandemic recovery agendas.
TWO – Ground Realities: National leadership is now economic leadership, understanding, creating and managing, super-hyper-digital-platform-economies a new political art and mobilization of small midsize business a new science: The prerequisites to understand the “new math” is the study of “population-rich-nations and knowledge rich nations” on Google and figure out how and why can a national economy apply such new math.
Today a USD $1000 investment in technology buys digital solutions, which were million dollars, a decade ago.Today,a $1000 investment buys on global-age upskilling on export expansion that were million dollars a decade ago. Today, a $1000 investment on virtual-events buys what took a year and cost a million dollars a decade ago. Today, any micro-small-medium-enterprise capable of remote working models can save 80% of office and bureaucratic costs and suddenly operate like a mini-multi-national with little or no additional costs.
Apply this math to population rich nations and their current creation of some 500 million new entrepreneurial businesses across Asia will bring chills across the world to the thousands of government departments, chambers of commerce and trade associations as they compare their own progress. Now relate this to the economic positioning of ‘knowledge rich nations’ and explore how they not only crushed their own SME bases, destroyed the middle class but also their expensive business education system only produced armies of resumes promoting job-seekers but not the mighty job-creators. Study why entrepreneurialism is neither academic-born nor academic centric, it is after all most successful legendary founders that created earth shattering organizations were only dropouts. Now shaking all these ingredients well in the economic test tube wait and let all this ferment to see what really happens.
Now picking up any nation, selecting any region and any high potential vertical market; searching any meaningful economic development agenda and status of special skills required to serve such challenges, paint new challenges. Interconnect the dots on skills, limits on national/global exposure and required expertise on vertical sectors, digitization and global-age market reach. Measuring the time and cost to bring them at par, measuring the opportunity loss over decades for any neglect. Combining all to squeeze out a positive transformative dialogue and assemble all vested parties under one umbrella.
Not to be confused with academic courses on fixing Paper-Mache economies and broken paper work trails, chambers primarily focused on conflict resolutions, compliance regulations, and trade groups on policy matters. Mobilization of small medium business economy is a tactical battlefield of advancements of an enterprise, as meritocracy is the nightmarish challenges for over 100 plus nations where majority high potential sectors are at standstill on such affairs. Surprisingly, such advancements are mostly not new funding hungry but mobilization starved. Economic leadership teams of today, unless skilled on intertwining super-hyper-digital-platform-economic agendas with local midsize businesses and creating innovative excellence to stand up to global competitiveness becomes only a burden to growth.
The magnifying glass of mind will find the fulcrum: High potential vertical sectors and special regions are primarily wide-open lands full of resources and full of talented peoples; mobilization of such combinations offering extraordinary power play, now catapulted due to technologies. However, to enter such arenas calls for regimented exploring of the limits of digitization, as Digital-Divides are Mental Divides, only deeper understanding and skills on how to boost entrepreneurialism and attract hidden talents of local citizenry will add power. Of course, knowing in advance, what has already failed so many times before will only avoid using a rubber hose as a lever, again.
The new world economic order: There is no such thing as big and small as it is only strong and weak, there is no such thing as rich and poor it is only smart and stupid. There is no such thing as past and future is only what is in front now and what is there to act but if and or when. How do you translate this in a post pandemic recovery mode? Observe how strong, smart moving now are advancing and leaving weak, stupid dreaming of if and when in the dust behind.
The conclusion: At the risk of never getting a Nobel Prize on Economics, here is this stark claim; any economy not driven solely based on measuring “real value creation” but primarily based on “real value manipulation” is nothing but a public fraud. This mathematically proven, possibly a new Fulcrum to move the world economy, in need of truth
The rest is easy
Evergrande Crisis and the Global Economy
China’s crackdown on the tech giants was not much of a surprise. Sure, the communist regime allowed the colossus entities like Alibaba Group to innovate and prosper for years. Yet, the government control over the markets was never concealed. In fact, China’s active intervention in the forex market to deliberately devalue Yuan was frequently contested around the world. Ironically, now the world awaits government intervention as a global liquidity crisis seems impending. The Evergrande Group, China’s largest property developer, is on the brink of collapse. Mounding debt, unfinished properties, and subsequent public pressure eventually pushed the group to openly admit its financial turmoil last week. Subsequently, Evergrande’s shares plunged as much as 19% to more than 11-year lows. While many anticipate a thorough financial restructuring in the forthcoming months, the global debt markets face a broader financial contagion – as long as China deliberates on its plan of action.
The financial trouble of the conglomerate became apparent when President Xi Jinping stressed upon controlled corporate debt levels in his ongoing drive to reign China’s corporate behemoths. It is estimated that the Evergrande Group currently owes $305 billion in outstanding debt; payments on its offshore bonds due this week. With new channels of debt ceased throughout the Mainland, repayment seems doubtful despite reassurances from the company officials. The broader cause of worry, however, is the impact of a default; which seems highly likely under current circumstances.
The residential property market and the real estate market control roughly 20% and 30% of China’s nominal GDP respectively. A default could destabilize the already slowing Chinese economy. Yet that’s half the truth. In reality, the failure of a ‘too big to fail’ company could bleed into other sectors as well. And while China could let the company fail to set a precedent, the spillover could devastate the financial stability hard-earned after a strenuous battle against the pandemic. Recent data shows that with the outbreak of the delta variant, the demand pressure in China has significantly cooled down while the energy prices are through the roof. Coupled with the regulatory crackdown rapidly pervading uncertainty, a debt crisis could further push the economy into a recession: a detrimental end to China’s aspirations to attract global investors.
The real question, therefore, is not about China’s willingness to bail out the company. Too much is at stake. The primal question is regarding the modus operandi which could be adopted by China to upend instability.
Naturally, the influence of China’s woes parallels its effect on the global economy. A possible liquidity crisis and the opaque measures of the government combined are already affecting the global markets: particularly the United States. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) posted a dismal end to Monday’s trading session: declining by more than 600 points. The 10-year Treasury yields slipped down 6.4 basis points to 1.297% as investors sought safety amid uncertainty. The concern is regarding China’s route to solve the issue and the timeline it would adopt. While the markets across Europe and Asia are optimistic about a partial settlement of debt payments, a take over from state-owned enterprises could further drive uncertainty; majorly regarding the pay schedule of western bondholders amid political hostility.
Economists believe that, while a financial crisis doesn’t seem like a plausible threat, a delayed response or a clumsy reaction could permeate volatility in the capital markets globally. Furthermore, a default or a takeover would almost certainly pull down China’s economy. While the US has already turned stringent over Chinese IPOs recently, a debt default could puncture the economic viability of a wide array of Chinese companies around the world. And thus, while the global banking system is not at an immediate threat of a Lehman catastrophe, Evergrande’s bankruptcy would, nonetheless, erode both the domestic and the global housing market. Moreover, it would further dent Chinese imports (and seriously damage regional exchequers), and would ultimately put a damper on global economic recovery from the pandemic.
Economy Contradicts Democracy: Russian Markets Boom Amid Political Sabotage
The political game plan laid by the Russian premier Vladimir Putin has proven effective for the past two decades. Apart from the systemic opposition, the core critics of the Kremlin are absent from the ballot. And while a competitive pretense is skilfully maintained, frontrunners like Alexei Navalny have either been incarcerated, exiled, or pushed against the metaphorical wall. All in all, United Russia is ahead in the parliamentary polls and almost certain to gain a veto-proof majority in State Duma – the Russian parliament. Surprisingly, however, the Russian economy seems unperturbed by the active political manipulation of the Kremlin. On the contrary, the Russian markets have already established their dominance in the developing world as Putin is all set to hold his reign indefinitely.
The Russian economy is forecasted to grow by 3.9% in 2021. The pandemic seems like a pained tale of history as the markets have strongly rebounded from the slump of 2020. The rising commodity prices – despite worrisome – have edged the productivity of the Russian raw material giants. The gains in ruble have gradually inched higher since January, while the current account surplus has grown by 3.9%. Clearly, the manufacturing mechanism of Moscow has turned more robust. Primarily because the industrial sector has felt little to no jitters of both domestic and international defiance. The aftermath of the arrest of Alexei Navalny wrapped up dramatically while the international community couldn’t muster any resistance beyond a handful of sanctions. The Putin regime managed to harness criticism and allegations while deftly sketching a blueprint to extend its dominance.
The ideal ‘No Uncertainty’ situation has worked wonders for the Russian Bourse and the bond market. The benchmark MOEX index (Moscow Exchange) has rallied by 23% in 2021 – the strongest performance in the emerging markets. Moreover, the fixed income premiums have dropped to record lows; Russian treasury bonds offering the best price-to-earning ratio in the emerging markets. The main reason behind such a bustling market response could be narrowed down to one factor: growing investor confidence.
According to Bloomberg’s data, the Russian Foreign Exchange reserves are at their record high of $621 billion. And while the government bonds’ returns hover at a mere 1.48%, the foreign ownership of treasury bonds has inflated above 20% for the second time this year. The investors are confident that a significant political shuffle is not on cards as Putin maintains a tight hold over Kremlin. Furthermore, investors do not perceive the United States as an active deterrent to Russia – at least in the near term. The notion was further exacerbated when the Biden administration unilaterally dropped sanctions from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. And while Europe and the US remain sympathetic with the Kremlin critics, large economies like Germany have clarified their economic position by striking lucrative deals amid political pressure. It is apparent that while Europe is conflicted after Brexit, even the US faces much more pressing issues in the guise of China and Afghanistan. Thus, no active international defiance has all but bolstered the Kremlin in its drive to gain foreign investments.
Another factor at work is the overly hawkish Russian Central Bank (RCB). To tame inflation – currency raging at an annual rate of 6.7% – the RCB hiked its policy rate to 6.75% from the all-time low of 4.25%. The RCB has raised its policy rate by a cumulative 250 basis points in four consecutive hikes since January which has all but attracted the investors to jump on the bandwagon. However, inflation is proving to be sturdy in the face of intermittent rate hikes. And while Russian productivity is enjoying a smooth run, failure of monetary policy tools could just as easily backfire.
While political dissent or international sanctions remain futile, inflation is the prime enemy which could detract the Russian economy. For years Russia has faced a sharp decline in living standards, and despite commendable fiscal management of the Kremlin, such a steep rise in prices is an omen of a financial crisis. Moreover, the unemployment rates have dropped to record low levels. However, the labor shortage is emerging as another facet that could plausibly ignite the wage-price spiral. Further exacerbating the threat of inflation are the $9.6 billion pre-election giveaways orchestrated by President Putin to garner more support for his United Russia party. Such a tremendous demand pressure could presumably neutralize the aggressive tightening of the monetary policy by the RCB. Thus, while President Putin sure is on a definitive path of immortality on the throne of the Kremlin, surging inflation could mark a return of uncertainty, chip away investors’ confidence: eventually putting a brake on the economic streak.
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