Global boom as jobs fears loom

By Jamie Robertson
Presenter, BBC World News

Published
image captionUS Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the dolllar would not be devalued

If everyone was not feeling quite so miserable and worried about losing their jobs, it would be easy to imagine we were in the middle of a boom.

The FTSE and the Dow up over 5% last month.

The US bond markets, which very often move in an opposite direction from equities are still in record territory, with yields falling to unprecedented levels, particularly for short dated Treasuries.

Commodity prices are on a bull run, spurred partly by China's continuing demand for raw materials and partly because of investor demand: the dollar is the only thing that is falling and commodities are a natural hedge against the decline.

Weaker dollar

One of the less believable incidents of last month was the US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner saying that the US was not going to devalue the currency.

A week or so later and the Federal Reserve embarks on its second massive exercise of Quantitative Easing, fondly known as QE2, the effect of which is to - yes - weaken the dollar.

Now, I know the Federal Reserve is independent, but the chances that the White House will step in to reverse its effect and support the currency by some kind of fiscal tightening is, well, unlikely.

He has not yet quoted President Nixon's Treasury Secretary John Connally and said "the dollar is our currency but your problem", but if actions speak louder than words, well, he has said it.

Trading partners, and holders of large dollar reserves, are taking note, and are none too happy.

Indian boom

image captionIndia is booming as investment floods in

So the effects of America's QE2 reverberate around the world.

They were being felt well before they were announced this week, and the markets loved the idea.

Printing money should of course allow more funds to be available to invest in businesses, increasing spending and provide the fuel the US economy needs.

However, investors have other targets.

Commodities are one. Emerging markets are another.

Take one example: India. At the beginning of the year a few analysts predicted the Sensex would reach 20,000 by year end.

Two months to go and we are above 20,800.

Foreign investors had invested a record $19.4 bn in Indian equities by the beginning of October, already way ahead of the previous record of $17.7bn for the whole of 2007.

There may well be an argument for continuing good news on the India economy, but the weight of money is playing more than its fair share in the market.

Self sustaining bubbles?

"Quantitative easing is the main reason why equities are shooting up," according to Justin Urquhart Stewart of Seven Management.

"Is it because the cheap money will drive economic growth through higher borrowing and investment and spending?

"The plain answer is no, because the fundamental problem is the US housing market, and with poor old Jo Schmo home owner, flat on his back and unable to pay his mortgage and losing his house, he is not going to be able to spend the kind of money that is needed to revive the economy."

Are higher stock prices a problem?

Not at all says the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke.

Writing in the Washington Post, he says "higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending", which, when taken to its logical conclusion, would suggest that bubbles are self sustaining.

Uncertain outlook

All of which begs the question; where is this investor driven boom going, if it's not driven by fundamentals?

Inflation is one answer, and indeed, there is renewed interest in the US government's Treasury Inflation Protected Securities: an auction on Thursday saw yields halving from the level two months ago as investors snapped up the bonds that offer a hedge against inflation.

Another answer is a second banking crisis.

In Europe,Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that highly indebted Eurozone countries will be forced to restructure their debt in a process of "managed insolvency" and that their creditors will need to take large "haircuts".

The debt that the banks piled on with such abundance, having been transferred to the public sector, looks as though it's going to be coming back to the banks.

A slowdown in China may be another accident waiting to happen - trade and currency wars, inspired by an aggressively weak dollar, may be yet another, or perhaps just the gentle slowing down of corporate profits as spending cuts start to bite.

There are simply too many potential triggers to ignore.