By Nouriel Roubini
The question I am asked most often nowadays is this: are we back to 2008 and another global financial crisis and recession?
My answer is a straightforward no, but that the recent episode of global financial market turmoil is likely to be more serious than any period of volatility and risk-off behaviour since 2009. This is because there are now at least seven sources of global tail risk, as opposed to the single factors – the eurozone crisis, the Federal Reserve “taper tantrum,” a possible Greek exit from the eurozone, and a hard economic landing in China – that have fuelled volatility in recent years.
First, worries about a hard landing in China and its likely impact on the stock market and the value of the renminbi have returned with a vengeance. While China is more likely to have a bumpy landing than a hard one, investors’ concerns have yet to be laid to rest, owing to the ongoing growth slowdown and continued capital flight.
Second, emerging markets are in serious trouble. They face global headwinds (China’s slowdown, the end of the commodity super cycle, the Fed’s exit from zero policy rates). Many are running macro imbalances, such as twin current account and fiscal deficits, and confront rising inflation and slowing growth. Most have not implemented structural reforms to boost sagging potential growth. And currency weakness increases the real value of trillions of dollars of debt built up in the last decade.
Third, the Fed probably erred in exiting its zero-interest-rate policy in December. Weaker growth, lower inflation (owing to a further decline in oil prices), and tighter financial conditions (via a stronger dollar, a corrected stock market, and wider credit spreads) now threaten US growth and inflation expectations.
Fourth, many simmering geopolitical risks are coming to a boil. Perhaps the most immediate source of uncertainty is the prospect of a long-term cold war – punctuated by proxy conflicts – between the Middle East’s regional powers, particularly Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran.
Fifth, the decline in oil prices is triggering falls in US and global equities and spikes in credit spreads. This may now signal weak global demand – rather than rising supply – as growth in China, emerging markets, and the US slows.
Weak oil prices also damage US energy producers, which comprise a large share of the US stock market, and impose credit losses and potential defaults on net energy exporting economies, their sovereigns, state-owned enterprises, and energy firms. As regulations restrict market makers from providing liquidity and absorbing market volatility, every fundamental shock becomes more severe in terms of risk-asset price corrections.
Sixth, global banks are challenged by lower returns, owing to the new regulations put in place since 2008, the rise of financial technology that threatens to disrupt their already-challenged business models, the growing use of negative policy rates, rising credit losses on bad assets (energy, commodities, emerging markets, fragile European corporate borrowers), and the movement in Europe to “bail in” banks’ creditors, rather than bail them out with now-restricted state aid.
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Nouriel Roubini, a professor at NYU’s Stern school of business and chairman ofRoubini Global Economics