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Pendulum swing from globalization to protectionism?

By Vince Hooper - posted Tuesday, 29 August 2017


The world economic and financial system has undergone a dramatic transformation since the early 1980s when financial liberalization took hold in developed world, then swept the developing world by storm. Prior to this mammoth regime switch, the world was tied up in a straight-jacket of socialistic economic policies that came hand in hand with the Bretton-Woods fixed exchange rate accord, which needed strict international government economic co-ordination.

Throughout the 1980s the liberalization phase was accompanied by a lowering in the variability of key macroeconomic variables. This was termed as “The Great Moderation”. However, the lowering of the volatility of the global macro-economy was not connected with a lowering of global stock and market instability. In 1987, the was the October Stock Market Crash, in 1994 there was the global market crisis, in 1997/8 there was the Asian & Emerging Financial Market Crisis, then 2007/8 was the Global Financial Crisis and 2011 Greek/Euro Crisis. The big question now must be when is the next one? And will it be connected to the current wave of de-Globalization or increased protectionism in the world?

We are now at a stage where the pendulum is swinging firmly back to greater regulation, monitoring and socialistic tendencies. Globalization is on the retreat. Recently, the FT released a report highlighting the decrease in international capital flows across frontiers by about 2/3rds across the board, the research being conducted by McKinsey Global Institute. Given that the strength of the concept of Globalization has been directly proportional to global capital flows, this reduction gives some idea about the state of globalization today.

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The McKinsey Report highlights a collapse in intercountry bank lending, which reflects a movement towards more equity based financing, as well as a narrowing of trade balances which reflects growing trade protectionism. In addition, a ‘schizophrenic’ Trump, in terms of US foreign policy is advocating greater trade protectionism, withdrawal from global climate accords and the Mexican wall – he has also committed the US to greater military intervention around the globe. More recently more troops for Afghanistan and the possibility of military intervention in Venezuela, but this in recent days is proving to be unaffordable. There is currently the threat of a government shutdown in the US.

When did Globalization really begin its retreat?

The 1997/8 crisis is worth further scrutiny as in my mind this is when Moral Hazard sprit escaped from the Genie’s Lamp and became a global pandemic disease. Moral hazard is a scenario where the banker’s always become winners in the global financial system because acting unethically they issue risky loans which they receive big commissions for. When things go wrong the tax-payers have to bail out the banks, else become even worse off via fronting a global economic collapse that was experienced in the 1930s when the banks in America were allowed to fail. Moral Hazard is a situation when heads the bankers win, tails the tax-payer loses.

In 1997, a boutique hedge fund in the US relying heavily on derivative contracts, LTCM Long-term Capital Management, setup by Nobel Prize winners Professors Merton and Scholes went bust. This firm had exposures in the global economy of over a trillion dollars, starting out with $4 billion of investors’ capital. The collapse of LTCM threatened the collapse of the global financial system because of its massive interconnectedness with larger financial institutions. The bail out of LTCM was coupled with the IMF issuing loans with strict conditions to Emerging Markets.

With 1997/8 crisis, the Moral Hazard Genie was never screwed tightly back in the lamp because Moral Hazard became a major feature of 2007/8 crisis, associated with another dangerous phenomenon ‘Too Big to Fail’. Indeed, with less Global Banks than before the crisis, the banking industry has become more oligopolistic with the heightening of both moral hazard and the ‘too big to failure’ phenomenon. In addition, the world economy has not undergone the painful process of deleveraging. Central banks around the globe still have a dangerous amount of bad loans on their balance sheets that are toxic.

QE Quantitative Easing has distorted the risk-return relationship in all global markets that led to the Commodity Market collapse in 2015, where global financial institutions, prevented from manipulating the global real estate market, turned their attention to playing commodities. A spectacular casualty of this was Glencore. Recently, Senior Economists at the IMF International Monetary Fund detailed the exposure of US banks to the oil industry at TOFS The Oil, Finance and Shipping Symposium 2016, Chatham UK. Indeed, worldwide, exposure of banks to the oil and gas sectors has become a major issue in contemporary times.

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In effect, QE is Monetary Socialism and has encouraged greater moral hazard since 2010. There have been numerous rounds of QE with each round becoming less effective and causing damage to the global economy. It is interesting that the captains of monetary socialism are often the individuals advocating greater liberalization through free market capitalistic reforms.

China has recently tried to thwart the outflow of both portfolio and FDI Foreign Direct Investment by ineffectively introducing capital controls. This can be perceived as a form of protectionism.

And so Globalization is on the retreat, the swing towards socialism and protectionism, despite blips is unstoppable. Only when Moral Hazard is expunged from the global financial system, interest rates normalized and the world undergoes debt deleveraging will the world economy recover its long-term growth trajectory. It is very hard to unravel the damage already caused by excessive moral hazard, QE and low interest rates without friction-igniting a full blown global financial crisis.

You cannot have your cake and eat it. Protectionism brings renewed problems of a military instability due to nationalism as has been shown in the past. Well established economic theories advocate a misallocation of resources in a protected global trade environment. The management of globalization by predominantly the US, the IMF International Monetary Fund and World Bank has been very poor. We’ve made our bed. Now we have to lie in it.

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About the Author

Vince Hooper is a British/Australian citizen and an expert and consultant in international finance to major multinational enterprises. He publishes in top journals like the International Journal of Forecasting, on volatility. He has served on the faculty at the Australian National University and the Australian School of Business. He has organized two major symposiums on the global financial crisis in Australia [2008] and Britain [2012] appropriately titled the “Time Varying Correlation and Volatility Symposium” which has enjoyed participation and input by world leading financial economists with coverage by the BBC. He has been a contributor to the AFR, SMH and ABC amongst other leading media on the Euro, the GFC, as well as financial market regulation. As Managing Director of Plymouth Videoconferencing Services he is establishing educational programmes in Brunei, China, Kazakhstan and the Middle East for Australian and UK Institutions.

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