Japan

I recently looked at what happened to private financial balances inside the eurozone. Today’s post looks at what happened to the current account deficits. It fills out the broad story of the eurozone’s across-the-board shift into becoming a very large capital exporter. It is complementary to an excellent post by Gavyn Davies, who addresses the sources of the ongoing adjustment.

As it happens Michael Pettis, professor at Peking University, and author of the excellent book, The Great Rebalancing (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013) has a complementary post.

In this, he argues that Spain had no choice over what happened to it during the 2000-07 period, given the deliberate policies of Germany, which were aimed at generating a large current account surplus (“improving competitiveness” being the normal way of talking about this form of structural mercantilism). If one’s principal trading partner is seeking to generate a huge current account surplus and so exporting capital, he argues, then a country is effectively forced into running the counterpart deficits, whatever the consequences.

I agree with this analysis of what happened. Indeed, I have argued along these lines for several years, in trying to explain the roots of the eurozone crisis, which is a balance-of-payments cum financial crisis, of which fiscal deficits are a symptom, not, except in the case of Greece, a cause. Read more

What can we see in the world economy in 2012? Risks galore, is the answer.

The debt crisis of the high-income countries is already four and a half years old. Yet it shows no sign of abating, particularly in the eurozone. While emerging and developing countries are in reasonably robust condition, they would be vulnerable to an intensification of the crisis, which could hit them via several channels: trade, finance and remittances. Many countries – both high-income and developing – are in a weaker condition than they were in 2008 and would, accordingly, find it harder to respond effectively.

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The conventional wisdom in both Japan itself and the west is that the country has an unmanageable public debt problem. I find this quite unpersuasive. All the country needs to do is generate, say, expectations of 3 per cent inflation and the public debt problem should melt away like snow. But the longer it waits the bigger the ultimate adjustment will need to be.

In 2010, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Japan will pay net interest of 1.1 per cent of gross domestic product on net financial liabilities of 105 per cent of GDP. Since 2000, Japan’s average rate of deflation (on the GDP deflator, the widest measure of inflation) was 1.2 per cent. So let’s treat the expected real rate of interest on Japanese government borrowing at 2 per cent. Read more