Will governments be forced to exit from ‘stimulus?’

August 25th, 2009

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Currently, there’s a belief in the financial markets that the worst of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) is over and that it’ll be blue sky from now on. Indeed, it is possible that the the US economy may see a positive GDP growth in the next few quarters to come.

But here, as contrarians, we see a different picture. As we quoted the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Bank for International Settlements (BIS) warning on stimulus spendings, the ‘green shoots’ of growth is largely contributed to government bailouts, ‘stimulus’ spendings, money printing and cheaper money (e.g. zero interest rates in US).

Make no mistake about this: Government interventions cannot be sustained forever without increasing negative consequences in the longer term. Governments cannot ‘stimulate’ the economy. In fact, the word ‘stimulus’ is the most misleading word in economics lexicon because it conveys the idea of a surgeon ‘stimulating’ a heart into self-sustained beating. In reality, what government interventions did was to put the economy on a crutch. The longer the economy leans on the government crutch, the more dependent it will be on the government. Eventually, the government will become the economy. For those who haven’t already, we encourage you to read Preserving jobs at all costs leads to economic stagnation and Are governments mad with ?stimulating??.

Letting the economy lean on crutches indefinitely will result in decreasing economic health as time goes by. Furthermore, there’s always the risk that the side-effects will pressure governments to remove the crutches. As we quoted the BIS in Bank for International Settlements (BIS) warning on stimulus spendings,

Perhaps the largest short-term risk associated with the expansionary policies is the possibility of a forced exit. Monetary and fiscal authorities of the major economies have so far been relatively unconstrained in their ability to follow expansionary policies. This need not last. An extended period of stagnating economic activity could undermine the credibility of the policies in place. Governments may find it hard to place debt if market participants expect the underlying balance to remain negative for years to come. Under such circumstances, funding costs could rise suddenly, forcing them to cut spending or raise taxes significantly.

How will a pressure for a “forced exit” from crutches (bailouts, stimulus, money printing and cheaper money) happen? We can look no further than China as an example where ‘stimulus’ is most effective. As we wrote in Will August 2009 be the top for the year in China?,

Forcing credit growth in this case does not result in economic ?stimulation.? Instead, the result was a dangerous asset price bubble. Apparently, the Chinese government flipped its position and decided to rein in the bubble before it’s too late.

China is right now in a dilemma. Turning the credit tap off will result in many projects failing, which in turn will result in bad debts. Not turning the credit tap off will result in price inflation and asset price bubbles.

The problem with economic crutches is that there will be negative side-effects. It is only a matter of time before excess liquidity leaked into asset and commodity prices. Initially, this may not be a problem. But as we saw last year (see Who is to blame for surging food and oil prices?), this will eventually result in acute problems of price inflation (unless the next deflation pressure comes, for which it will be déjà vu again). If governments decide to withdraw the economic crutches, they risk letting the already weakening economy fall into deflation. If they decide not to withdraw them, they risk letting acute price inflation run amok.

What is likely to happen is that governments will attempt to walk on the middle ground by pretending to ‘fight’ inflation (e.g. raising interest rates too slowly and talk tough on inflation) and support the economy at the same time, hoping that the economy will turn out fine. It may work initially, but it’s a matter of time before the public will see through it.

Tougher times is ahead for everyone.

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