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G20 Meeting — Expect Nothing, Prepare for the Worst

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Monday, 30 Mar 2009 10:25 AM Current | Bio | Archive

On the coming G20 meeting on Thursday in London, I would like to say: "Expect nothing, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst."

It will be difficult to rebuild the global financial architecture when countries around the world are struggling to address their own growing economic woes, as we can see a recent abrupt re-emergence of protectionism. It's really alarming that this is the "new" problem, one that wasn't even on last year's G20 agenda.

According to the World Bank, within weeks of the Washington G20 declaration, 17 of the 20 countries represented at the summit put in place nearly 50 protectionist measures. The G20 accounts for 80 percent of world GDP.

I disagree with George Soros — the man who broke the Bank of England by betting against sterling on Black Wednesday, in 1992 — who says the summit is a real "make-or-break" moment for the world economy. It won't happen.

Here is why: The last time world leaders met to sort out global finances, at Bretton Woods in 1944, it took 22 days to reach an agreement. This Thursday in London they have just four-and-half hours to hammer something out.

It's very interesting that the draft of the final G20 communiqué doesn't contain specific plans for a fiscal stimulus package. On protectionism we read: "We will minimize any negative impact on trade and investment of our domestic policy actions including action in support of the financial sector. We will not retreat into financial protectionism." So, it seems from that, everybody is free to make up their own conclusions.

While nobody can deny forces are growing that will seriously undermine the U.S. dollar in the longer-term, it is clear that the greenback has yet to fully relinquish its status as the safe-haven currency of choice. This being the case, a further retracement in EUR/USD and the GBP shouldn't be ruled out. The dollar should do well for the time being.

Now that the White House has rejected the turnaround plans for GM and Chrysler, let's look back a moment on the first estimates of overall Q4 profits that were included in the final report on GDP, one that saw its steepest quarterly decline since the first quarter of 1982.

After-tax profits saw their largest decline since the first quarter of 1994. The Commerce Department said domestic profits of financial firms skidded $178.7 billion in Q4 compared with a $75.5 billion decline in Q3. Non-financial corporations' domestic profits tumbled $89.1 billion in Q4 after increasing $52.1 in Q3.

Shrinking profits are a bad omen for share prices. Until we can see profits turn around, investors should keep that in mind.

Meanwhile, China's National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday that industrial companies' profits in the January to February period fell 37 percent from a year earlier to 219.1 billion yuan, down $32.1 billion, from an increase of 16.5 percent in the first two months of 2008. The trend of declining profits follows a years-long string of 20 percent to 40 percent profit growth.

The statistics bureau also said that state-owned or state-controlled companies' profit in the two-month period fell 59 percent from a year earlier.

An enlightening detail: China Shipping Container Lines Co. Ltd. said last Wednesday that its 2008 net profit fell 96 percent due to the export slump. The company expects excess shipping capacity to push revenue down a further 15 percent in 2009.

My question is: Under these conditions, how could China save the world?

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HansParisis
On the coming G20 meeting on Thursday in London, I would like to say: "Expect nothing, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst." It will be difficult to rebuild the global financial architecture when countries around the world are struggling to address their own...
global,economy
578
2009-25-30
Monday, 30 Mar 2009 10:25 AM
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