HSBC thinks the world economy has a ‘titanic problem’

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03:  HSBC bank headquarters building in Canary Wharf reflects early morning sunshine on August 3, 2009 in London. HSBC bank has announced a pre-tax profit of £2.98 billion in the first six months of 2009 -  down by a half from 2008.  Barclay's Bank has announced £2.98 billion profit for the first six months of 2009.  (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)


HSBC’s Stephen King is already thinking about the next recession.

In a note to clients on Wednesday, HSBC’s chief economist wrote that the world economy has a “titanic problem” because, King writes, there aren’t enough lifeboats to go around when the world economy sinks again.

Here’s King:

Whereas previous recoveries have enabled monetary and fiscal policymakers to replenish their ammunition, this recovery – both in the US and elsewhere – has been distinguished by a persistent munitions shortage. This is a major problem. In all recessions since the 1970s, the US Fed funds rate has fallen by a minimum of 5 percentage points. That kind of traditional stimulus is now completely ruled out.”

King notes that this far into the recovery, there’s a lack of “traditional policy ammunition.” For instance, treasury yields have not risen, the budget deficit is not falling, and welfare payments are still on the rise.

As for what might trigger the next recession, King highlighted these are the four things:

  • The wage growth we’ve all been waiting for will hurt corporate earnings and reduce the share of corporate profit contributing to US GDP (it also doesn’t help that worker productivity is low.) In turn, households and businesses will lose confidence in the economy, and the “equity bubble” will burst with collapsing stock prices.
  • Non-bank financial systems like insurance companies and pension funds will increasingly not be able to meet future obligations. This will cause a huge demand for liquid assets, forcing people to rush to sell despite no matching demand, triggering a recession.
  • Forces beyond the Federal’ Reserve’s control, including the possibility that China’s economy and its currency could collapse. Weak commodity prices could also cause collapses in several emerging markets, as could continued strength in the US dollar.
  • The Fed could cause the next recession by raising interest rates too soon, repeating the mistakes of the European Central Bank in 2011 and the Bank of Japan in 2000.

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