It’s been a few years since I’ve written here, so I thought I’d start by going back and reading some of my old posts.
U.S. real-estate slowdown will have global consequences: Interest rates, U.S. bond prices, U.S. consumer confidence, dollar exchange rates (and hence the offshoring business), combined with the huge (and increasing) U.S. trade deficit are all pieces of a fragile domino game. This game could easily turn ugly if the U.S. real estate market accelerates its slowdown, or even worse, turns out to be a bubble. Bad news in the U.S. housing market could trigger a global recession.
(From Predictions for 2006 from an Indian perspective on VentureWoods, emphasis added)
This seems all remarkably prescient and oracle-y now, and I almost made a suitably massive upgrade to my ego. But like recent Sensex rallies my ego quickly came crashing down when I read some of my other predictions – e.g. Yahoo will start catching up with Google (Hope is eternal, and I might yet come back to gloat).
But lets get back to more important things:
There seems to be a tendency amongst many to regard a recession as a finite event, associated with a numerical reduction in GDP or stock market values. Business writers seem to compare a recession with a winter, where you hunker down (“cash is king”) and hibernate on minimal life support – after all, spring is just around the corner.
That might be a useful survival strategy, but it misses the bigger point – recessions (and especially this one) are discontinuities with totally unpredictable consequences (gosh I sound like a Nassim Taleb fanboy). To continue my useful but terribly flawed nature analogy, recessions are not like winters, but more like the Ice age that made the dinosaurs extinct. Like the Ice Age, this recession has already essentially destroyed the US Investment Bank business model.
What other changes will this Ice Age bring? I see a few possibilities:
1. Currency changes – The hegemony of the US financial industry (and the financial industry in general) is over. As I write this, the G-20 is meeting to discuss what could very well be the birth of Bretton-Woods II. A covert agreement to safely achieve a massive devaluation of the US Dollar is not out of the question (what will the Rupee do ?). Nor is it impossible to envision the emergence of an alternate reserve currency (or more likely a basket).
2. Consumer changes – We have lived, learned and grown up in a world where the world (now mostly China) manufactures and the US consumes. That world has changed. The US consumer is now on life support. She might live for a long while more, but that vitality and voracious appetite is unlikely to return. For the sake of my mental well-being I prefer to not imagine the consequences of this to the Chinese economy.
3. Fiscal policy changes – The ghost of Keynes is stirring – World governments will unleash the mother of all fiscal (deficit) spending rather than allow deflation to take hold. This sort of worldwide government stimulus is unprecedented, and its implications (or even its effectiveness) are unknown at this point. Will all the stimulus go into productive areas of the economy or will it be gambled away ?
4. Political landscape changes – The current bonhomie between nations and “global co-operation to solve the crisis” is very fragile and based on mutual fear. The Doha talks fiasco shows that developing nations are no pushovers now. There is a real chance that this “united in fear” sentiment could morph into a very ugly blame game. The parallels of the current situation to the Nixon Shock (when the French demanded gold from the US in return for dollars) are eerie and very scary.
So my question to the readership of this blog is this – does anyone see these changes too ? And more importantly, what other seismic shifts do you see occurring in our economic and business landscape ?
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