Tea Leaf: The ABCs of the global economy

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 18 2012 1:00 p.m. MST

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This is the companion piece to Domestic ABCs of Dec. 13, 2011. In looking back to similar pieces six and 12 months ago, it’s amazing how little has changed

America — The concept of “decoupling” has drawn a lot of attention in recent months as the American economy has strengthened somewhat, while Europe, China and India slow down.

Banks (European) — One of the major incentives for German and French leadership to throw hundreds of billions of euros at Greece, Ireland and Portugal? German and French banks own massive amounts of bonds issued by the smaller nations.

China — Yes, the economy has slowed a bit, but 8.9 percent growth since last year’s fourth quarter is not exactly shabby. Legit concerns about overheated real estate markets exist.

Dollar — Many forecasters previously thought the euro would rise in prominence versus the dollar … not exactly. The dollar will remain the global community’s primary currency for years to come.

Europe — Here’s thinkin’ the Germans and the French wish they had never heard of the “European integration” concept. A recession is looming … if not already begun.

Fed — This nation’s central bank and many others continue to think up new ways to keep the global economy from falling on its face … not an easy task.

Germany — Wants smaller euro nations to get serious about deficit reduction before it hands over many more billions of euros as “loans.” Chancellor Angela Merkel doesn’t want to play this costly game again anytime soon.

Hunger — A child starves to death every six seconds somewhere in the world. Can’t we work together to stop this travesty?

Inflation — Higher oil and food prices have hurt hundreds of millions of people around the globe, while most global Interest rates remain at historic lows.

Japan — Very sluggish economic growth (at best) over the past 20 years, after powerful performance in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Tens of millions of Japanese citizens wonder what happened?

Korea (North) — Massive failure of this centrally planned economy leads to frequent “saber rattling.” Will new leadership help at all? Meanwhile, the South Korean economy continues to prosper.

Latin and South America — Growth prospects from mild to solid, with Brazil leading the way. Excessive government bureaucracy and corruption in the region limits gains.

Mexico — Even as drug cartel violence dominates the headlines, economic growth has been the best in 10 years. Greater employment opportunities at home are most welcome.

Neighbor to the North — Canadian economic growth has slowed in recent months after solid gains during 2010. By many measures, this nation outperforms its southern neighbor.

Oil — Major advances in exploration and production technology should help keep prices under control over the longer-term horizon. At the same time, what happens in Northern Africa and the Middle East still counts big-time.

Politics — A number of nations have moved to the right in recent elections, with an eye toward reversing some of the massive government expansion of prior years. The U.S. this year?

Quagmires — As before, there never seems to be a shortage. Today’s list includes Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, the Sudan and Syria.

Russia — Want to “do business” in Russia? The payment of bribes to get most anything done is commonplace.

Socialism — Margaret Thatcher said it best … and it applies to Europe. ... “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

Travel — Spending on global tourism remains solid, even as visitors largely avoid political “hot spots.” Those visiting the U.S. are big spenders.

U.S.A. — Nearly three times the size of China’s $5.5 trillion annual economy … with one-fourth as many people. In my book, that says American workers are roughly 10-12 times more productive.

Volatility — Pick any descriptor … economic … financial market … political.

WWW — The World Wide Web continues to be both amazing and cluttered with junk. Still, estimates suggest we have tapped only 10 to 20 percent of the Internet’s potential. Global companies using it are expected to save in excess of $1 trillion in operating costs during the next three years.

eXports — Heaven forbid you gather a room full of economists! The only thing we will largely agree on is that steps to build bridges to trade are positive … steps to build barriers to trade are not.

Young people (around the world) — Facing a rising tax burden in coming decades to finance the retirement years of baby boomers (and boomers’ parents) if minor changes are not soon made.

Zones (trading) — As before, Asian, European, and North American trade zones will dominate trade flows.

Jeff Thredgold is the only economist in the world to have earned the CSP (certified speaking professional) international designation, the highest earned designation in professional speaking. He is also economic consultant to Zions Bank.

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