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Why the Credit Crisis is Far From Finished

Stock-Markets / Credit Crisis 2008 Apr 29, 2008 - 04:18 AM GMT

By: John_Mauldin

Stock-Markets Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleThis week in Outside the Box we look at two brief essays which give us different perspective on the Continuing Crisis. The first is by Mohamed El-Erian, the co-chief executive and co-chief investment officer of Pimco. His book, 'When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change', will be published by McGraw Hill in June, and it will be on my summer reading list. El-Erian argues in the thought-provoking piece from the Financial Times that the crisis is still far from finished, and that those who think we are returning to more placid times may be surprised when volatility suddenly becomes even more pervasive.


This week's reading should be very helpful and thought-provoking. I hope you enjoy this read as much as I did.

John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box

Why This Crisis is Still Far From Finished

By Mohamed El-Erian

During the past few weeks we have seen a growing number of market participants predict an end to the dislocations that erupted last summer and claimed victims throughout the financial system and beyond. While their predictions are understandable, they are premature. The dynamics driving the disruptions are morphing and may again move ahead of both the market and policy responses.

The optimistic view is based on two distinct elements. First, that the de­leveraging process is reaching its natural end as valuations stabilize and institutions come clean about their losses and raise capital; second, that a series of previously unthinkable policy responses have been effective in restoring liquidity to the financial system.

Both views have merit. Financial institutions, particularly in the US, have recognized the scale of the problem and are taking remedial steps. Just witness the recent round of capital raising by Citigroup , Merrill Lynch , JPMorgan and Wachovia . At the same time central banks in Europe and the US have opened up their financing windows, expanding the size of the financing, the range of institutions that can access it and the list of eligible collateral.

Yet, consistent with what we have seen since last summer, the dislocations are entering a new phase. As such, bold reactions on the part of policymakers may, once again, prove to be too little and too late.

Persistent financial dislocations have now caused the real economy to become, in itself, a source of potential disruption. During the next few months there will be a reversal in the direction of causality: the unusual adverse contamination by the financial sector of the real economy is now morphing into the more common phenomenon of recessionary forces threatening to undermine the financial system.

Economic data in the US have taken a notable turn for the worse . Most im­portantly, the already weakening employment outlook is being further undermined by a widely diffused build-up in inventory and falling profitability. History suggests that the latter two factors lead to significant employment losses.

Pity the US consumers. Their ability to sustain spending is already challenged by the declining availability of credit, a negative wealth effect triggered by declining house values, and a lower standard of living as the result of higher energy and food prices and a depreciating dollar. Job losses will accentuate the pressures on consumers, leading to income declines and a further loss of confidence.

While the financial system has taken steps to enhance balance sheets, they speak essentially to addressing the consequences of excessive leveraging and imprudent financial alchemy. As such, the nasty turn in the real economy may fuel another wave of disruptions that, this time around, would also have an impact on mid-size and smaller banks.

It is thus too early to declare the end of the turmoil that started last summer. Instead, during the next few months we may witness a new phase of dislocations, led this time by the real economy. The blame game will intensify; political pressure will continue to mount; momentum will build for greater and broader regulation of financial activities within the banking system and beyond.

The focus will also be on the reaction of policymakers. Here the outlook is mixed. The good news is that the crisis is now moving to an area where traditional policy tools are more effective. This is in sharp contrast to the situation of the past few months, where central banks were forced to use instruments that were too blunt for the purpose at hand.

But there is also bad news. The sharp slowdown in the US real economy will occur in the context of continued global inflationary pressures. As such, the Federal Reserve's dual objectives - maintaining price stability and solid economic growth - will become increasingly inconsistent and difficult to reconcile. Indeed, if the Fed is again forced to carry the bulk of the burden of the US policy response, it will find itself in the unpleasant and undesirable situation of potentially undermining its inflation-fighting credibility in order to prevent an already bad situation from becoming even worse.

It is still too early for investors and policymakers to unfasten their seatbelts. Instead, they should prepare for renewed volatility.

 

By John Mauldin

John Mauldin, Best-Selling author and recognized financial expert, is also editor of the free Thoughts From the Frontline that goes to over 1 million readers each week. For more information on John or his FREE weekly economic letter go to: http://www.frontlinethoughts.com/learnmore

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Copyright 2008 John Mauldin. All Rights Reserved
John Mauldin is president of Millennium Wave Advisors, LLC, a registered investment advisor. All material presented herein is believed to be reliable but we cannot attest to its accuracy. Investment recommendations may change and readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. Opinions expressed in these reports may change without prior notice. John Mauldin and/or the staff at Millennium Wave Advisors, LLC may or may not have investments in any funds cited above. Mauldin can be reached at 800-829-7273.

Disclaimer PAST RESULTS ARE NOT INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS. THERE IS RISK OF LOSS AS WELL AS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR GAIN WHEN INVESTING IN MANAGED FUNDS. WHEN CONSIDERING ALTERNATIVE INVESTMENTS, INCLUDING HEDGE FUNDS, YOU SHOULD CONSIDER VARIOUS RISKS INCLUDING THE FACT THAT SOME PRODUCTS: OFTEN ENGAGE IN LEVERAGING AND OTHER SPECULATIVE INVESTMENT PRACTICES THAT MAY INCREASE THE RISK OF INVESTMENT LOSS, CAN BE ILLIQUID, ARE NOT REQUIRED TO PROVIDE PERIODIC PRICING OR VALUATION INFORMATION TO INVESTORS, MAY INVOLVE COMPLEX TAX STRUCTURES AND DELAYS IN DISTRIBUTING IMPORTANT TAX INFORMATION, ARE NOT SUBJECT TO THE SAME REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS AS MUTUAL FUNDS, OFTEN CHARGE HIGH FEES, AND IN MANY CASES THE UNDERLYING INVESTMENTS ARE NOT TRANSPARENT AND ARE KNOWN ONLY TO THE INVESTMENT MANAGER.

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