The answer to the 1998 financial crisis was to slash borrowing costs across the globe so that we all over-leverages and misallocated our capital. On that occasion it was junk dotcom investments and property. In 2008 another crises and the same solution. The fact is that the world has been misallocating capital for decades, led by Governments freed from prudence by the abandonment of the gold standard in 1971.
With each crisis that crops up, the solution is simply to print more money and to get folks to take on even more debt. You owe too much – heck borrow some more. And so capital is misallocated and bubbles grow ever bigger. But at some stage the party ends. It will. The current set up is simply unsustainable.
And so what will be the black swan event that causes the mother of all reality checks? If offer four runners and riders. Inevitably if one occurs it will trigger the others. And it will probably be a fifth black swan that no-one has thought much about that starts the party. But here goes.
1. The Chinese property bubble. I have written before on numerous occassions about just how mammoth this is and how it really can knock the Chinese (and thus the worlds) economy for six. The answer of the authorities to the slowdown in the PRC in 2012 was to pump more hot air into this bubble. It has to be my top black swan bet. Read this piece out yesterday on Zero Hedge if you doubt me.
My major work from September 2012 on China, the misallocation, fraud an inevitably of a crash is HERE
2. A market refusal to buy US T Bonds in an auction. The US Government is three years away from having a balance sheet like that of Greece just before the crisis. An economically illiterate President and, to show balance, a spineless Republican party in Congress just cannot get to grips with what is happening. The US today is like sick Britain at the end of WW1. But it will take the US far less time than we took to see its currency tank. At some stage folks will refuse to stump up cash for a debt that yields sod all and is clearly unrepayable and unsupportable.
3. Sovereign default across Europe accompanied by widespread Civil unrest. The only folks buying Spanish debt right now are the Spanish state pension funds. Oooh lucky Spanish state pensioners. But those funds are tapped out. Spain is bust and its economy is enjoying an EU austerity driven spanking session which Max Mosley could only dream of. It is not just Spain. Italy, Greece, Portugal are in the same mess. The Irish economy and society has been beaten to a pulp in the name of fiscal responsibility and yet could still collapse. France is heading the wrong way fast as is the UK. The collapse of the Euro as we know it has to be an odds on bet it is a matter of how it occurs.
4. The Arab spring moving to Saudi Arabia. A regime with no legitimacy is kleptocratic, autocratic and barbaric. It bribes the people with a fraction of the nation’s wealth and panders to radical Islam in a most unhealthy sort of way but it is unloved. One day it will fall. Revolution in the world’s largest oil producer could perhaps trigger unforeseen events elsewhere.
Hey, maybe we can all carry on spending beyond our means, leveraging up as individuals and as States for a good while yet. We have been kicking this can down the road for decades so maybe we can carry on for another few decades. Or maybe not. One day something will happen and we will find our noses against the wall at the end of the Cul-de-sac. That day may be sooner than we think.
For more thoughts from Tom Winnifrith follow him on twitter @tomwinnifrith