William White was the only central banker to publicly warn of the risks to the world economy long before the Crisis, when he was chief economist of the Bank for International Settlements (the central bankers’ bank). He also warned of the problems that would be caused by their stimulus programmes as early as September 2009.
A blog reader has now kindly forwarded a lengthy interview with him in Swiss journal Finanz und Wirtschaft where White confirms all the blog’s fears about the current outlook.
The brief extracts below will give you a sense of the dangers that White now sees ahead. You can read the full article by clicking here. Please circulate it as widely as you can.
“William White is worried. The former chief economist of the Bank for International Settlements is highly sceptical of the ultra loose monetary policy that most central banks are still pursuing. «It all feels like 2007, with equity markets overvalued and spreads in the bond markets extremely thin», he warns.
“The honest truth is no one has ever seen anything like this. Not even during the Great Depression in the Thirties has monetary policy been this loose. And if you look at the details of what these central banks are doing, it’s all very experimental. They are making it up as they go along. I am very worried about any kind of policies that have that nature.
“….. The Fed has moved to a completely different motivation. From the attempt to get the markets going again, they suddenly and explicitly started to inflate asset prices again. The aim is to make people feel richer, make them spend more, and have it all trickle down to get the economy going again. Frankly, I don’t think it works, and I think this is extremely dangerous.
“…..You see, we have a lot of zombie companies and banks out there. That’s a particular worry in Europe, where the banking sector is just a continuous story of denial, denial and denial. With interest rates so low, banks just keep evergreening everything, pretending all the money is still there. But the more you do that, the more you keep the zombies alive, they pull down the healthy parts of the economy. When you have made bad investments, and the money is gone, it’s much better to write it off and get fifty percent than to pretend it’s still there and end up getting nothing. So yes, we need more debt reduction and more recapitalization of the banking system. This is called facing up to reality.
“…. It all looks and feels like 2007. And frankly, I think it’s worse than 2007, because then, it was a problem of the developed economies. But in the past five years, all the emerging economies have imported our ultra-low policy rates and have seen their debt levels rise. The emerging economies have morphed from being a part of the solution to being a part of the problem.
“….Investors try to attribute the rising stock markets to good fundamentals. But I don’t buy that. People are caught up in the momentum of all the liquidity that is provided by the central banks. This is a liquidity driven thing, not based on fundamentals.
“…..This is the last of a whole series of bubbles that have been blown. In the past, monetary policy has always succeeded in pulling up the economy. But each time, the Fed had to act more vigorously to achieve its results. So, logically, at a certain point, it won’t work anymore. Then we’ll be in big trouble. And we will have wasted many years in which we could have been following better policies that would have maintained growth in much more sustainable ways. Now, to make you feel better, I said the same in 1998, and I was way too early.
“…..The one person in the US Federal Reserve that was kicking up a real fuss about asset bubbles was Governor Jeremy Stein. Unfortunately, he has gone back to Harvard.
“….. I’ve met so many people who are in the markets, thinking they are absolutely brilliantly smart, thinking they can get out in the right time. The problem is, they all think that. And when everyone races for the exit at the same time, we will have big problems. I’m not saying all of this will happen, but reasonable people should think about what could go wrong, even against a backdrop of faster growth.
“…At the moment what I am most worried about is Japan…. The reason I worry now is that they are much further down the line even than the Americans. What is Abenomics really? As far as I see it, they print the money and tell people that there will be high inflation. But I don’t think it will work. The Japanese consumer will say prices are going up, but my wages won’t. Because they haven’t for years. So I am confronted with a real wage loss, and I have to hunker down. At the same time, financial markets might suddenly not want to hold Japanese Government Bonds anymore with a perspective of 2 percent inflation. This will end up being a double whammy, and Japan will just drop back into deflation…..I have no difficulty in seeing this thing tipping overnight into hyperinflation. If you go back into history, a lot of hyperinflations started with deflation.
“….Housing tends to be the big thing that goes wrong when you have too easy financial conditions.”