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Posts Tagged ‘uk economic crisis’

United Kingdom Officially Enters Double Dip Recession

April 25th, 2012 Comments off

For the first time in about 40 years, the UK has gone into a double dip recession. London’s Office for National Statistics reported a 0.2 percent contraction in GDP in Q1 of 2012. That drop, following a 0.3 percent fall in Q4, represents two consecutive months of economic contraction, meeting the technical definition of an economic recession.

The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said, “It’s a very tough economic situation. It’s taking longer than anyone hoped to recover from the biggest debt crisis of our lifetime… over many years this country built up massive debts, which we are having to pay off.”

That sums of the UK’s economic and fiscal conundrum, and that of other advanced economies. The austerity measures required to trim back government deficits represent a fiscal drag on the economy. That in turn retards economic growth and reduces government revenues, countering the intended goal of the austerity measures. On the other hand, maintaining high deficit spending is unsustainable. The politicians have created problem that defies solution.

                 

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UK Economy Slides Backwards in Last Quarter of 2010

January 27th, 2011 Comments off

According to the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics, the British economy contracted by 0.5 percent in Q4 of 2010. The ONS data came as a deep shock to the British economic and political establishment.  Expectations were that the UK economy would continue a pattern of weak growth during the last three  months of last year. By any stretch of the imagination, this is not good economic news.

The UK’s prime minister, David Cameron, already has his spin-masters working overtime. The official explanation is that “the weather” caused the contraction in Q4. However, even if the weather is taken out of the picture and the ONS data adjusted accordingly, the Q4 result would still show no growth. Undoubtedly, the UK coalition government is hoping that the ONS will eventually “revise” the Q4 number upwards. However, no matter how the politicians spin the news, the UK economic crisis remains intractable.

What is especially distressing about the ONS number is that the draconian spending cuts that have been formulated by Cameron’s government had not yet kicked in during the period in which Q4 economic statistics were being tabulated. With the British economy seemingly on the verge of a double-dip recession, the sharp cuts in public spending will prove to be a powerful pro-cyclical policy measure. The likely result is a renewed recession, resulting in a drop in tax receipts for the British government, ultimately defeating the stated purpose of the sharp fiscal cuts. In essence, the UK economy is caught in a dangerous fiscal trap, which the most recent ONS data for Q4 clearly illuminates in all its dark reality.

 

UK Austerity Budget Points to Continuing Fiscal and Economic Crisis

June 23rd, 2010 Comments off

As expected, George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer in the new British coalition government, unveiled an emergency budget aimed at tacking the UK’s massive structural fiscal deficit. It is being described as the toughest UK budget since the age of austerity that followed in the immediate postwar period after the Second World War. It features a rise in the VAT to 20%, increased income and capital gains taxes, public service wage freezes and across the board programmatic budget cuts. The question that stands is this: will it work?

In my view, as explained in my book (Global Economic Forecast 2010-2015: Recession Into Depression) the United Kingdom, as with many other advanced economies, is in a fiscal and demographic trap. It’s national debt has skyrocketed to almost 70% of GDP; even with the Osborne budget cuts, continuing deficits will send this ratio towards 100% of GDP in the near future. With an aging population, meagre real economic growth at best and an economy that, like a heroin addict, has become dependent on its fiscal deficit fix, the UK economy is in such a trap.

Cut public spending dramatically, warn the critics, and the British economy will enter a double dip recession, and they are right. A renewed economic contraction will diminish tax revenue, largely defeating the purpose  of budget cuts and increased levels of taxation. However, continuing the neo-Keynesian debt folly is even more calamitous, for it will inevitably lead to a total fiscal collapse of the UK.

The real lesson is that the wild spending spree engaged in by policymakers in response to the global economic and financial crisis was flawed, and should have been curtailed before public debt to GDP ratios exploded to unsustainable levels. It is now too late to avoid severe economic pain. The only option left is determining which path will incur the least suffering on society.

Will British General Election Save UK Economy From Collapse?

April 7th, 2010 Comments off

The die is now cast; as expected, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has seen the Queen, following political tradition, and announced with Her Majesty’s blessing the dissolution of Parliament and the holding of a general election on May 6. Brown, the incumbent Labour Party leader of a nation that has been among the worst afflicted by the global financial and economic crisis, faces an uphill fight against the challenger and likely winner, Conservative Party leader David Cameron. What may be the wild card in the election is the possibility of a hung Parliament, with neither leading party able to garner a majority of seats, leaving the  Liberal Democrats of Nick Clegg as the improbable power brokers.

There is one overriding issue in the UK’s 2010 general election: the economy. It is a basket case, buried in public debt. Everyone in the British establishment, albeit political or financial, knows that the massive British government deficits, currently running at 13% of GDP (a higher figure than that currently afflicting Greece), are unsustainable. Despite the rhetoric from all sides of the UK political spectrum, however, no one really has a realistic solution.

The UK is in a fiscal paradox. If it raises taxes or cuts public spending to reduce the deficit, that will probably be the kiss of death for a weak and artificially induced economic recovery. Unfortunately, continuing the massive deficits are not an option; the bond market will see to that. Gordon Brown assures the British taxpayers that if they trust Labour once again after 13 years in power, his team will magically cut the deficit as a proportion of GDP by 50% within four years, while restoring economic growth and national prosperity. This is clearly an absurd campaign promise, but David Cameron’s ambiguous assurances that “improved efficiencies” can reduce spending without cutting public services are equally disingenuous.

The UK confronts a fiscal trap, as I point out in my book, “Global Economic Forecast 2010-2015: Recession Into Depression.”  The risk of a double dip recession, unsustainable public debt and deficits as a proportion to national GDP, and an aging demographic requiring increased levels of funding for pensions and benefits that the UK cannot afford, point to a fiscal collapse by 2012. The only question I believe the 2010 UK general election will really decide is on whose watch does the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland achieve national insolvency.

UK Economic and Debt Crisis Approaches Dangerous Tipping Point

March 14th, 2010 Comments off

Amid the clamour over the Greek debt crisis, a far more perilous threat to the global economy is becoming increasingly apparent. The global economic and financial crisis has wrecked havoc on the United Kingdom’s public finances, with no clear path to salvation.

Consider the following statistics. Greece has a GDP of approximately $350 billion, compared with $2.2 trillion for the UK. In other words, the Greek economy is only 16% the aggregate size of Great Britain’s. The proportion of Greece’s annual deficit to GDP is 12.5%, a figure that has triggered the current Greek sovereign debt crisis and panic search for a bailout formula within the Eurozone. Yet, in the much larger UK economy, the deficit to GDP ratio has reached 13%, an even higher level than for Greece, which has aroused so much fear among global investors and policymakers. Furthermore, while the UK’s official public national debt comprises 68% of GDP, a figure lower than America’s and much lower than with Greece, that level of indebtedness is accelerating at a rapid rate. It must be recalled that only three years ago the UK national debt to GDP ratio was only 38%, and with double digit deficits now an inescapable fiscal reality in the United Kingdom, it seems almost certain that the nation’s public debt will exceed 100% of GDP within the next three years. Furthermore, it is widely believed by analysts and investors that off balance sheet public debts (as was similarly revealed in relation to Greece’s current debt crisis) and unfunded contingent liabilities significantly add to the official figures.

What do these dismal statistics tell us about the future trajectory of the UK’s profound sovereign debt and economic crisis? Consider what Kornelius Purps, fixed income director at UniCredit, Europe’s 2nd largest bank, told the British newspaper,The Daily Telegraph; “Britain’s AAA-rating is highly at risk. The budget deficit is huge at 13% of GDP and investors are not happy. The outgoing government is inactive due to the election. There will have to be absolute cuts in public salaries or pay, but nobody is talking about that.”

In effect, the UK economy is at a dangerous tipping point. Massive public indebtedness occurred as a result of the government’s bailout of its banks, yet businesses remain afflicted by a severe credit crunch. Massive stimulus spending has added enormously to the deficit, but the only result has been suspect figures that, if interpreted most optimistically, show that the UK’s economy has essentially flatlined after incurring a sharp contraction in economic output during the height of the global financial crisis.

The predictable outcome, as alluded to by Kornelius Purps, is that in the future the UK’s treasury gilts will be unable to finance the nation’s prodigious borrowing needs with historically low interest rates. At some point, perhaps sooner than many realize, interest rates on the UK’s debt instruments will rise precipitously. This will occur while GDP growth is at best sluggish. Sharp reductions in public spending will almost certainly tip the economy back into deep recession, further constricting revenue  and maintaining London’s fiscal imbalance. However, the alternative is even more unpalatable. The sovereign bond market will demand increasingly higher yields, leading to a fiscal reality that is unsustainable. Ultimately, the United Kingdom will face the real prospect of national insolvency, with all the predictable dire consequences.

 
This grim trajectory has an even darker meaning for the United States. As bad as the UK’s fiscal situation is, America’s is far worse. Its annual deficit to GDP ratio is only marginally lower than Great Britain’s. Furthermore, its national debt to GDP correlation is significantly higher. More importantly, the average period of turnover on the United Kingdom’s debt is 14 years, compared with a mere four years on U.S. Treasuries. Once bond yields start to rise, the short term structure of America’s national debt will incur a vast increase in annual interest payments.

It seems to this  observer  that it is only a matter of time before the UK sinks into an irreversible sovereign debt cataclysm, with the United States not far behind. Anyone who believes that the same political establishment and financial elites that have led both nations to this hellish fiscal precipice can now lead us to a sustainable solution is, in all probability, being excessively hopeful.

Will the UK Follow Greece in Facing a Severe Debt Crisis?

February 24th, 2010 Comments off

The British pound sank like a stone as the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, issued a grim warning during testimony before the UK Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee. The central fiscal problem is the £178 billion annual deficit incurred by Gordon Brown’s government in the midst of the global economic crisis.

Mervyn King indicated that the Bank of England will have to continue with quantitative easing in the face of the massive government deficits, sending negative signals to investors as to the stability of the nation’s currency. He warned that both the current government, and a likely new government to succeed Brown after the next British general election, must send a clear message to the markets that they have a credible plan to significantly reduce the nation’s fiscal deficits.

I think the current breed of politicians, in the UK and elsewhere, haven’t a clue how to address the massive, unsustainable deficits that plague virtually every major and advanced economy. Which means that it is only a matter of time before the UK, and then the US, follow in the footsteps of Greece down the road of national insolvency.