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BIS: Global Economy Near a "Tipping Point"

The Unsustainable has Run its Course

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted June 30, 2008

 

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According to a report released today by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) the global economy has reached a "tipping point". The result says the group may be a far deeper crisis than is expected and a bout of deflation in the world's biggest economies.

The BIS, widely known as the central bankers' bank, said that food and energy inflation, high household debt, and a pullback in credit could lead to a slowdown in global growth.

Moreover, according to the BIS, deflation may be the ultimate worry after an episode of high inflation.

Nonetheless, its prescription calls for higher rates to tackle inflation said BIS General Manager Malcom Knight. 

"Clearly, the downside risks for future growth complicate the task of monetary policy," he said in a speech to the BIS annual meeting. "But there must in the end be a forceful response to confront the danger that inflation expectations could rise appreciably, with all the attendant problems that would bring."

 

Here the skinny on the report.

From the Telegraph by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard entitled: BIS slams central banks, warns of worse crunch to come

 

"A year ago, the Bank for International Settlements startled the financial world by warning that we might soon face challenges last seen during the onset of the Great Depression. This has proved frighteningly accurate.

The venerable body, the ultimate bank of central bankers, said years of loose monetary policy had fuelled a dangerous credit bubble that would entail "much higher costs than is commonly supposed".

In a pointed attack on the US Federal Reserve, it said central banks would not find it easy to "clean up" once property bubbles have burst.

If only we had all listened to the BIS a long time ago. Ensconced in its Swiss lair, it has fired off anathemas for years, struggling to uphold orthodoxy against the follies of modern central banking.

Bill White, the departing chief economist, has now penned his swansong, the BIS's 78th Annual Report, released today. It is a disconcerting read for those who want to hope the global crisis is over.

"The current market turmoil is without precedent in the postwar period. With a significant risk of recession in the US, compounded by sharply rising inflation in many countries, fears are building that the global economy might be at some kind of tipping point," it said.

"These fears are not groundless. The magnitude of the problems yet to be faced could be much greater than many now perceive," it said. "It is not impossible that the unwinding of the credit bubble could, after a temporary period of higher inflation, culminate in a deflation that might be hard to manage, all the more so given the high debt levels."

Given the constraints under which the BIS must operate, this amounts to a warning that monetary overkill by the Fed, the Bank of England, and above all the European Central Bank could prove dangerous at this juncture.

Dr White says the US sub-prime crisis was the "trigger", not the cause of the disaster. This is not to exonerate the debt-brokers. "It cannot be denied that the originate-to-distribute model (CDOs, CLOs, etc) has had calamitous side-effects. Loans of increasingly poor quality have been made and then sold to the gullible and the greedy," he said.

Nor does it exonerate the watchdogs. "How could such a huge shadow banking system emerge without provoking clear statements of official concern?"

But there have always been excesses in booms. What has made this so bad is that governments set the price of money too low, enticing the banks into self-destruction.

"The fundamental cause of today's emerging problems was excessive and imprudent credit growth over a long period. Policy interest rates in the advanced industrial countries have been unusually low," he said.

The Fed and fellow central banks instinctively cut rates lower with each cycle to avoid facing the pain. The effect has been to put off the day of reckoning.

They could get away with this as long as cheap goods from Asia kept a cap on inflation. It seduced them into letting asset booms get out of hand. This is where the central banks made their colossal blunder.

"Policymakers interpreted the quiescence in inflation to mean that there was no good reason to raise rates when growth accelerated, and no impediment to lowering them when growth faltered," said the report.

After almost two decades of this experiment - more or less the Greenspan years - the game is over. Debt has reached extreme levels, and now inflation has come back to life."

To read the full BIS Report click here.

But don't do it before you go to bed.

The introduction is entitled: The unsustainable has run its course.

That about sums it up in a nutshell

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