The sun is shining over the global economy | Martin Wolf

From Martin Wolf at FT.com:

The world economy is enjoying a synchronised recovery. But it will prove unsustainable if investment does not pick up, especially in high-income economies. Debt mountains also threaten the recovery’s sustainability, as the OECD, the Paris-based group of mostly rich nations, argues in its latest Economic Outlook.

…..Low investment and high indebtedness are not the only constraints the world economy faces. Political risks are also high, as are threats to liberal trade. But raising investment and lowering debt are high priorities. As President John F Kennedy said in 1962, “the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”. It is essential to hack off the overhangs of unproductive private debt bequeathed by the crisis and its aftermath. The transformation will not happen overnight. But we should eliminate the incentives for such risky behaviour.

An excellent summary of the global economy’s strengths and weaknesses. I agree with Martin that low rates of capital investment (which leads to low productivity growth) and high levels of both private and public debt are the major threats to continued growth. And that the time to address it is now.

Click here to read the full article: The sun is shining over the global economy | Martin Wolf

Credit expansion cannot increase the supply of real goods. It merely brings about a rearrangement. It diverts capital investment away from the course prescribed by the state of economic wealth and market conditions. It causes production to pursue paths which it would not follow unless the economy were to acquire an increase in material goods. As a result, the upswing lacks a solid base. It is not a real prosperity. It is illusory prosperity. It did not develop from an increase in economic wealth [i.e. the accumulation of savings made available for productive investment]. Rather, it arose because the credit expansion created the illusion of such an increase. Sooner or later, it must become apparent that this economic situation is built on sand.

Hat tip to John Hussman

Ludwig von Mises: The Causes of Economic Crisis (1931)

Anemic Business Investment Indicts U.S. Policies | Cato @ Liberty

Daniel J. Ikenson at the Cato Institute highlights the declining share of global investment attracted to the US as developing countries grow more competitive:

The good news is that the $3.5 trillion of foreign direct investment parked in the United States accounted for 17 percent of the world’s direct investment stock in 2011 – more than triple the share of the next largest single-country destination. The troubling news is that in 1999 the United States accounted for 39 percent of the world’s investment stock.

Politicians need to be aware that they are competing, as a country, for new investment against a myriad of other attractive options.

Unlike ever before, the world’s producers have a wealth of options when it comes to where and how they organize product development, production, assembly, distribution, and other functions on the continuum from product conception to consumption. As businesses look to the most productive combinations of labor and capital, to the most efficient production processes, and to the best ways of getting products and services to market, perceptions about the business environment can be determinative.

Their focus should be on minimizing red tape, lowering taxes, stabilizing exchange rates and ensuring competitive prices for basic goods and services. Failure to adapt could lead to a dearth of new investment and the consequent problems now evident in Southern Europe.

Read more at Anemic Business Investment Indicts U.S. Policies | Cato @ Liberty.

STEPHEN ROACH: America Can’t Keep Relying On Spending To Drive The Economy – Business Insider

STEPHEN ROACH highlights the importance of capital investment in any US recovery:

Over the last 18 quarters, annualized growth in real consumer demand has averaged a mere 0.7%, compared to a 3.6% growth trend in the decade before the crisis erupted…… Consumption typically accounts for 70% of GDP (71% in the second quarter, to be precise). But the 70% is barely growing, and is unlikely to expand strongly at any point in the foreseeable future. That puts an enormous burden on the other 30% of the US economy to generate any sort of recovery.

Capital spending and exports, which together account for about 24% of GDP, hold the key to this shift. At just over 10% of GDP, the share of capital spending is well below the peak of nearly 13% in 2000. But capital spending must exceed that peak if US businesses are to be equipped with state-of-the-art capacity, technology, and private infrastructure that will enable them to recapture market share at home and abroad. Only then could export growth, impressive since mid-2009, sustain further increases. And only then could the US stem the rising tide of import penetration by foreign producers.

via STEPHEN ROACH: America Can't Keep Relying On Spending To Drive The Economy – Business Insider.

FedEx CEO on How Tax Policy Weakens U.S. Economy – WSJ online

FedEx CEO Frederick W. Smith talks about how capital investment and lowering corporate tax rates are the main solutions to creating U.S. jobs. He speaks with WSJ’s Alan Murray at Viewpoints West.

EconoMonitor » All Feasts Must Come to an End: China’s Debt & Investment Fuelled Growth

Satyajit Das: New lending by Chinese banks in 2009 and 2010 was around 40% of GDP. New bank loans in 2009 and 2010 totalled around $1.1-1.4 trillion, an increase from $740 billion in 2008. Total outstanding loans in the economy have jumped by nearly 50 per cent over the past two years.

Around 90% of this lending was directed towards investment in building, plant, machinery and infrastructure by State Owned Enterprises (“SOE”). In 2010, China allocated over $2.6 trillion to investment expenditure – the highest proportion of GDP of any major economy in the world. According to the World Bank, almost all of China’s growth since 2008 has come from “government influenced expenditure”.

via EconoMonitor : EconoMonitor » All Feasts Must Come to an End: China’s Debt & Investment Fuelled Growth, Part 1.

Business Sector Is More Open for Business – Real Time Economics – WSJ

The business investment momentum is continuing into 2012. New orders for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft–a proxy for future business spending–increased 2.9% in December, reversing the two previous monthly drops. The backlog of unfilled orders is also on the rise. Fulfilling that pent-up demand means more industrial production in 2012.

via Business Sector Is More Open for Business – Real Time Economics – WSJ.

Candidates Mold Economic Teams – WSJ.com

The Cain campaign, in addition to Mr. Lowrie, lists a handful of advisers who helped craft his plan for “Opportunity Zones.” The zones are designed to help distressed communities by offering lower tax rates to attract businesses and allowing more flexibility on rules such as the minimum-wage law.

via Candidates Mold Economic Teams – WSJ.com.

I have seen this tried before. The low tax rates or incentives attract industries that are labor intensive but not capital intensive. When the subsidies are later removed, many of the businesses move on. If you want them to stay, you have to create incentives for capital investment that cannot be easily re-located.

….Otherwise provide training and incentives for people to move to where the work is.

It’s Man vs. Machine and Man Is Losing – WSJ

Since the recession ended, businesses had increased their real spending on equipment and software by a strong 26%, while they have added almost nothing to their payrolls.

via It’s Man vs. Machine and Man Is Losing – Real Time Economics – WSJ.