Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Continental Model

In New York and London the financial industry jobs have vanished and government solvency along with them. The New York City and State governments face extended years of multi-billion dollar deficits. Britain has the lowest interest rates ever set by the Bank of England in its 315 year history.

Britain and America bet heavily on the financial services economy. The bet has not turned out well. The failed investment house Shearson Lehman might as well represent an entire banking sector that has disappeared overnight. Has the economic bet on services left the British and American economies less able to weather the recession? Are economies which retained a much larger portion of their manufacturing industries more resilient?

Over the past 30 years the American and British economies have traded their manufacturing jobs for work in all types of services. The banks, investment houses and hedge funds of London and New York were only the best known of an entire services sector that came to dominate both economies. Services tend to be knowledge intensive businesses, better able to take advantage of the information revolution and its efficiencies. The older labor intensive manufacturing industries were moved to low wage countries, often by the original American or British firms. Countless manufacturing jobs from England and the United States were moved to China, India, Malaysia and other emerging market countries as their firms sought greater efficiency and profits from lower costs.

The economic model practiced in the United States and Britain is often criticized on the continent and in the European Monetary Union (EMU) for its willingness to tolerate economic dislocation and unemployment in pursuit of efficiency, flexibility and productivity. It is called the Anglo-Saxon model for its supposed rapacious tendencies, with little protection or concern for workers or those displaced by its creative ferment. The term Anglo-Saxon recalls the tribes who conquered England and the ‘civilized’ Romanized Britons in the fifth century. The centralized French and German economic systems are the spiritual descendants of that Roman Imperial model.

Germany France and Italy have been more solicitous of their homegrown manufacturing firms. Fewer jobs have been moved overseas by their industrial companies. But has this autarkic tendency helped preserve jobs and consumer demand within the EMU market and its individual countries? Will it help them weather the recession?

The worldwide recession struck employment first and hardest in the financial sector. But this crisis is no respecter of economic model or good intentions. It has hit the euro area’s three largest economic forcefully, despite their more extensive manufacturing base.

Industrial output in the EMU was negative in eight of the ten months to November last year. In Germany output fell at an annualized rate of 15.1% in the three months to November; in France the drop was 14.5%; in Italy 19.5%. Unemployment is rising, from 7.2% at the beginning of 2008 to 7.8% in November the last month for which statistics are available. It will go higher in 2009.

Consumption is falling worldwide. Britain and the United, the main export markets for European manufacturers are in a consumer recession. Emerging markets too are buying less and investing less in their own productive capacity. The demand for capital goods is down around the globe.

In the Eurozone the recession is also being felt in restrained consumption. The saving rate in the EMU is higher than in the Anglo-Saxon economies but rising unemployment and the air of pervasive gloom is keeping consumer out of the stores. European consumer confidence is at record lows. And the negative outlook is affecting services as well; the December Services Purchasing Managers Index registered a record low. Services are not going to rescue the Eurozone economy.

The slowdown is driving government deficits higher around the globe and Europe is again no exception. The budgets of the smaller EMU countries are already under stress. Standard and Poor’s, the rating agency, has already downgraded Spain’s and Greece’s credit rating and put Portugal and Ireland under review. Germany officials have said they expect their deficit to be over the Maastricht 3% limit before recovery takes hold.

The European manufacturing sector, larger and to some degree more protected than the US and British versions has proven to be no refuge from the destructive forces of the recession and the financial crisis.

The ECB has been guilty of similar miscalculation. Until President Trichet’s admission last July that economic growth was far slower than expected the bank had maintained a standoffish attitude to the credit crisis. It had preferred to believe that the crisis was the product of lax US regulation and overheated housing markets. Surprisingly enough the ECB comments before the January 15th 50 basis point cuts had been hinting at a rate pause. The decline in the euro prior to the cut was clear evidence market skepticism for the ECB hints.

Once again events have overtaken EMU and ECB official expectations. The protected EMU industrial model has not saved European jobs. It has not sustained consumption or consumer spending. Trichet has all but promised a rate cut in March. This time the markets will take him at his word.

FX Solutions, LLC

1 comment:

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