The double-dip risk of risk-avoidance
It may have been three years since it hit hard, but the global financial downturn / GFC / credit crunch still casts a long shadow over Western economies.
Talk of a double-dip recession has been less prominent of late, but could it be that any cause for optimism is somewhat premature? Sadly I think it may.
An awful lot of people I know have been adversely affected financially since 2008. Belt-tightening has, for many, become the new normal. This shift in attitude goes hand-in-hand with a more cautious and risk-averse outlook. An outlook mirrored in the global finance markets.
Banks became more hesitant where lending is concerned. This sparked the oft-mentioned credit crunch.
Are we about to see recent history repeat itself?
Here’s why I think we are. Or at least why it is a possibility.
The world’s major stock markets have been in decline for the last few weeks – a decline which has lately gathered momentum.
As investors look around for alternatives (less risky alternatives) to the volatile stock markets, they turn to some familiar safe harbours. In particular, gold (prices are at record highs) and government bonds from the UK and USA. These too have seen trading prices hit levels not seen for decades.
This performs two functions.
First, as capital flows to governments or is exchanged for gold, there is less of it available generally.
Second, as the price of government bonds rises the yields they offer falls.
That in itself is not bad news for the governments concerned as the cost of servicing their debts levels will fall as a result.
But it is this first point that ought to set alarm bells ringing.
Banks will, simply speaking, have less money available. In fact, typical interbank borrowings have started to fall from six month to three month terms.
Less capital circulating ever faster. Something has to give.
That something is most likely going to be business lending.
Business lending is the lifeblood of all developed economies and it is still on its knees recovering from the winding it received in the post-2008 fallout.
Business confidence too is far from the healthiest it’s ever been. The prospect of struggling to lend from the primary markets will cause some to pull in their horns.
Investment in people, premises, R&D, you name it, could all come under threat. As if it wasn’t already in many instances.
Will there be a second wave of financial turmoil? I have no idea.
Is it likely? Yes, sadly it is.
This is one of those occasions when I really hope I will be proven wrong.
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