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Despite recovery, many of the world's governments are immersed in financial turmoil

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Alex Carrick

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Alex Carrick is Chief Economist for Reed Construction Data. He specializes in economic forecasting and statistical services.

Economists

Several national governments around the world are in severe financial binds, with actual and projected budgetary deficits in double digits as percentages of gross domestic product. Included are the United States, Britain, Spain and Greece. If not fiscal deficits that are the problem, then it’s incipient inflation. How this will play out in interest and exchange rates is anybody’s guess.

Several national governments around the world are in severe financial binds, with actual and projected budgetary deficits in double digits as percentages of gross domestic product. Included are the United States, Britain, Spain and Greece. If not fiscal deficits that are the problem, then it’s incipient inflation. How this will play out in interest and exchange rates is anybody’s guess.

The inflation rate of the United Kingdom in January 2010 jumped to 3.5% from 2.9% the month before. Two of the chief explanations were rising oil prices and an increase in the value-added tax. In any event, the U.K. has ongoing economic problems that equal or exceed the Euro-zone.

The debt-repayment problems of Greece are having repercussions throughout the Euro-currency area. As a result, the Euro has been coming under selling pressure, which is not all bad news since one side effect has been to help the export sales of Germany and some other nations.

Accusations are now flying that New York-based banking firm Goldman Sachs helped Greece hide the extent of its budgetary woes through some fancy footwork. Strict austerity measures will be required for Greece to get back on a sound financial footing. One suggestion has been for the nation to mandate a 10% cut in wages and prices. This would have the same effect as a devaluation, which is not otherwise possible with Greece under the Euro’s umbrella.

As an interesting sidebar, Norway is the only country in Europe with a large budgetary surplus in relation to GDP. It achieves this enviable and exalted state by means of its offshore oil revenue.

Japan’s central bank ponders foreign investor confidence due to its Greece-style debt-bloated economy. Two decades of stimulatory spending to fight deflation have met with little progress. The national debt to GDP ratio is approaching 200%, the highest among all developed nations.

China is worried about inflation. The reserve ratio held by banks has been increased for the second time in a month. That’s because one-fifth of the annual lending target for the whole year was achieved in January alone. Property prices in January climbed the fastest in two years.

China will address its overheating economy through restraining money supply growth and reining in fiscal stimulus. Interest rate increases will come eventually, but a likely first step is an appreciation in the value of the Yuan. Most betting is on about a 5% gain versus the greenback.

China has been a net seller of U.S. government bonds lately. It has now dropped back to second place behind Japan as the largest creditor to the American government. The Chinese government has expressed concern over the nearly $3 trillion shortfall that Washington is budgeting for this year and next year combined. Moreover, the 2010 mid-term elections will make any form of austerity, such as in the form of higher taxes or entitlement spending cutbacks, a tough sell.

It seems that the U.S. dollar does best when growth is either really weak (in which case, foreign lenders are looking for a safe haven) or really strong (a jump-on-the-bandwagon effect). At other times, the prevailing sentiment is to disengage gradually and cautiously from the greenback.

In the midst of all this ongoing global financial upset, and not to understate the budgetary problems of our own various levels of government, Canada is still sitting relatively pretty.

Alex Carrick

Find Canadian construction-related economic articles in Canadian Construction Market News and in the Economic Outlook section of Daily Commercial News. Mr. Carrick also has a lifestyle blog that can be reached by clicking here.

by Alex Carrick

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