HSBC fears world recession with no lifeboats left

The world authorities have run out of ammunition as rates remain stuck at zero. They have no margin for error as economy falters

The world economy is disturbingly close to stall speed. The United Nations has cut its global growth forecast for this year to 2.8pc, the latest of the multinational bodies to retreat.

We are not yet in the danger zone but this pace is only slightly above the 2.5pc rate that used to be regarded as a recession for the international system as a whole.

It leaves a thin safety buffer against any economic shock – most potently if China abandons its crawling dollar peg and resorts to ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policies, transmitting a further deflationary shock across the global economy.

A sweep of historic data by Warwick University found compelling evidence that economies are more likely to stall as they age, what is known as “positive duration dependence”. The business cycle becomes stretched. Inventories build up and companies defer spending, tipping over at a certain point into a self-feeding downturn.

Stephen King from HSBC warns that the global authorities have alarmingly few tools to combat the next crunch, given that interest rates are already zero across most of the developed world, debts levels are at or near record highs, and there is little scope for fiscal stimulus.

“The world economy is sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats to use in case of emergency,” he said.

In a grim report – “The World Economy’s Titanic Problem” – he says the US Federal Reserve has had to cut rates by over 500 basis points to right the ship in each of the recessions since the early 1970s. “That kind of traditional stimulus is now completely ruled out. Meanwhile, budget deficits are still uncomfortably large,” he said.

HSBC’s Mr King says the global authorities face awful choices if the world economy hits the reefs in its current condition. The last resort may have to be “helicopter money”, a radically different form of QE that injects money directly into the veins of economy by funding government spending.

It is a Rubicon that no central bank wishes to cross, though the Bank of Japan is already in up to the knees.

The imperative is to avoid any premature tightening or policy error that could crystallize the danger. As Mr King puts it acidly. “Many – including the owner of the Titanic – thought it was unsinkable: its designer, however, was quick to point out that ‘She is made of iron, sir, I assure you she can’.”

Full article: HSBC fears world recession with no lifeboats left (The Telegraph)

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