The World Should Fear a US Slowdown

I am in the camp that believes the US will soon enter a period of economic stagnation or recession, which will significantly cut growth in most parts of the world. To elaborate, I am posting the following excerpt from the recent Quarterly Review and Outlook, Second Quarter 2007 from Hoisington Investment Management:

It is incorrect to believe that the rest of the world is strong enough to boost our exports and keep our economic activity on an even keel in the face of a slowdown in U.S. consumer spending. Importantly, real exports constitute only about 11% of economic activity, versus 68% for real PCE. Thus, a massive lift in exports would be needed to keep the economy expanding in the face of consumer retrenchment. However, the statistics and economic history suggest that world growth causality runs from the U.S. to the world, not vice versa. The World Bank provides a breakdown of world GDP in real terms (Table 1).

HIM2007Q2NP.pdf (5 pages)

At present, the world is a mix of rapidly growing and significantly underperforming economies, with the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries on the high growth side and Japan, the United States, and those closely aligned with the U.S. on the slow side. The rest are largely somewhere in between these strong and weak groups. The United States accounts for 31% of world GDP with Japan next in line with 14.1%, meaning these two countries account for 45.2% of total world output. The BRIC countries, on the other hand, control 10% of global output. Although Mexico and Canada diverge from the United States over shorter intervals, over the long run they are tied to the fortunes of the United States. Adding those figures to the United States and Japan boosts the total to 49.3% of global GDP, a figure that easily rises to about 50% if one takes into account the Latin American countries influenced more by the United States than any other country.

But even this analysis is not a complete description of the impact of the United States on the global economy. A main source of Chinese growth is their burgeoning trade surplus, most of which is with the United States. According to official Chinese figures, the Chinese had a record trade surplus for the first half of this year of $112.5 billion, with $73.9 billion or 65% with the United States. U.S. records indicate that its deficit with China is bigger than the official Chinese figures show. The boost to Chinese GDP is even greater when one takes into account the foreign trade multiplier, or indirect economic effects. It then becomes clear that the Chinese trade surplus against the U.S. has been a powerful stimulant to their economy. They will indeed feel the slowdown in U.S. consumption. The U.S. trade deficit also plays a major role in domestic economic growth for India and Brazil, not to mention Europe.

Econometric studies provide important insight into the global impact of the U.S. economy. These studies have shown that U.S. imports increase $2 for each $1 rise in income, but that U.S. exports go up just $1 for each $1 gain in foreign income. Thus, when U.S. consumption is accelerating the world economy is a major beneficiary, but when it slows, as it is now doing, the rest of the world will lose forward momentum. This relationship explains why U.S. domestic demand leads the domestic demand in the large foreign economies by six to nine months (Chart 3).

HIM2007Q2NP.pdf (5 pages)-1

In the second quarter real domestic final sales slumped in the United States and U.S. imports fell, aligning with the econometric studies. Industrial production has contracted for three straight months in Japan, and Germany registered a net decline over the past two months. Thus, the process of transmitting U.S. weakness to the rest of the world has begun.

Investors holding foreign stocks hoping for protection from a US economic contraction might be disappointed.

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