2013

Off the keyboard of Monsta666

 

 

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So 2012 has ended and we can look forward to another year tentatively wondering if 2013 will finally be the year when TEOTWAWKI arrives. In a morbid kind of way we find ourselves in a most peculiar position; on the one hand we wish for extra time to get some extra preps in but on the other we almost wish for it to come and finally get rid of the doomer fatigue that seems to plaguing the old veteran doomers. I know it is next to impossible predicting what will come in 2013 with any degree of certainty. In fact predicting such stuff is largely a fool’s game which could explain why economists and politicians like to base their careers on such predictions. Still, despite this fact I am willing to lay my neck on the line and try and predict what may come about in the following year. I just hope my predictions are not so bad so I end up being a head shorter.

USA

The beginning of the year promises to start with a bang as we get front row seats on how the fiscal cliff will be handled. Even now I wonder as I type this on December 30th whether I have started too early with the guessing game and should allow the year to end properly before dishing out the predictions to see if a deal is finally made on the eleventh hour. If the worst does indeed come to pass we can expect a series of ($370 billion) tax hikes and ($230 billion) spending cuts which will amount to about $600 billion.[1] Seeing as that is half the entire deficit one has to wonder how that will affect the economy. I should add that the main thing that has kept the US afloat has been this wild deficit spending, without it we are likely to see a big plunge in growth rates if we can even believe the massaged GDP numbers. According to Filch Ratings they are saying that this fiscal cliff could cut world GDP growth in half.[2] And toadd to all these fiscal cliff dramas is the fact that Timothy Geithner recently stated that the US will hit its debt ceiling of $16.394 trillion on December 31st 2012 and can only extend this limit by two months at which point the US would default so at this point congress will have to decide on what to do about the fiscal cliff AND debt ceiling.[3]

What seems most likely to me is the debt ceiling will be raised while the payroll tax holiday will be allowed to expire; people will need to make more payments towards Medicare, long-term unemployed benefits will end and people will see a hike in personal taxes. To me I predict and this is only based on a hunch that the Bush-cuts, at least for the vast majority of Americans, will be extended for a little longer. However if we are to assume the worst then the combination of taxes rises will cost the average American $3,500 or $2,000 for middle-earners which consist of 60% of the population.[4] Scary numbers and the results should be pretty predictable if this cliff really comes to pass. One need only look at the experiences of the UK and other European countries who engaged in cuts to see what will happen. Not only did those cuts cause a recession but they did not even reduce the budget as much as promised. In fact if the subsequent recession is bad enough then deficits could even rise on the count of lower tax revenues and higher expenses that need to be paid for the rising unemployment. On this end I predict the deficit will be cut but only to about $900-800 billion.

As for broader US energy situation, I foresee softening prices for oil with WTI oil prices likely to remain around the $90 mark and may even dip as low as $75 if the fiscal cliff induced recession really bites hard, a bold prediction perhaps especially coming from a peak oiler. The shale gas situation should see some more dramas developing here as the rig count for gas has consistently been dropping throughout this year.

US Active rigs engaged in oil/gas drilling, according to Baker Hughes.[5]

 

Seeing as these shale gas wells have such steep decline rates it seems quite possible that a peak of natural gas production will come at some point in 2013. As a result I predict natural gas prices to exceed $5 per million BTUs. These higher natural gas costs are likely to raise energy bills for the average US consumer thus reducing discretionary incomes even further. Speaking of high costs the drought of 2012 is also likely to lead to an inflation in food prices although I do not expect it to hit the wallets of the American too badly, the ones that are likely to suffer the most from these food price hikes are the people who live in poorer nations that rely on US food exports.

So with all those points put into consideration, I predict a recession coming (official one that is) for the US how big it will be is an interesting question…

UK

2013 promises to offer much of the same as 2012, despite an almost year long recession that only showed growth in the quarter following the Olympics Cameron seems hell bent on carrying out further austerity measures. It is all done under the misguided belief that spending cuts will reduce the colossal deficit. It doesn’t take a genius to see this strategy has clearly failed in mainland Europe but in typical Tory fashion which takes clear abandon of common sense they will consider the UK a special case that is different to the irresponsible pigs. Problem is the fundamentals of high debt:

UK Public Debt with growth projections until 2015.[6]

 

And exploding deficit says there is not much difference between the two and despite assertions to the contrary these cuts have done nothing to bring the deficit down. England’s deficit for the financial year of 2012/13 is projected to be even higher than the financial year of 2011/12. For those unfamiliar the austerity measures only began in earnest in 2012.

UK budget deficit according to ONS sources[7] with projected 2012/13 deficit calculated by extrapolating current deficits from first seven months of 2012/13 financial year.[8]

 In fairness to Cameron as big as the public debt problem is it is not the main issue. You see if you aggregate British private and public sector debt then the amount comes to 507% GDP![9] What’s more it maybe even as high as 900% if you want to include liabilities and obligations such as public sector pensions.[10] That is no typo! It is all the product of an economy that is too heavily centred on banks not to mention having a debt based monetary system (again no word in the media or schools about how money is REALLY made) but that is another story that deserves its own tale… To put this into perspective the PIIGS states of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain have total debt loads of 356%, 663%, 314%, 267% and 363% respectively.[9] The only thing staving Britain from bankruptcy is the low interest rates it pays on bonds but those low rates can’t last forever especially if foreign investors finally catch on we are broke… It would seem the EU crisis can have some unintended benefits for Britain!

In any case with higher energy bills, petrol, housing and food prices coupled with anaemic growth in wages it is hard to see anything but another year of recession. Overall I predict the economy will contract over the full course of the year but “official” unemployment will hover around the same total which is 7.8% or 2.51 million people.[11] I should add however that this unemployment is clearly massaged as many unemployed people will be shifted into training programs that go nowhere or the unemployed will be encouraged to become “self-employed” for one hour a week… In addition some of the people on job seekers will be booted out of their benefits. Nothing will really change as a result of these shenanigans but Cameron can at least look smug with the outstanding improving figures these games will produce.

I can see the papers trumpeting any news that suggest extra jobs are being created; the thing they will be loath to mention is the fact most of these jobs are part-time or worse zero contract hour jobs which pay hardly anything. It continues to amaze me how senior economists such as Stephanie Flanders can continue to be baffled that service jobs paying £6 an hour for 30 or less hours a week cannot create a recovery! It is times like this where I almost want to hide the fact I studied economics…

As for the energy situation in England well the island is mostly tapped out. The North Sea continues to post double digit decline rates (this year it is 18%) and could even dip below 1mb/d next year which is a far cry from its peak of 2.7 mb/d in 1999.[12] Hardly any mention of this in the media but it will have a significant effect on the economy as we will need to import more expensive oil (assuming demand does not fall) and that will increase the trade AND fiscal deficit. The same story holds true for natural gas although as usual the government has the hair brained idea that UK fracking of shale gas can somehow solve that problem. In any case the overall energy strategy for the UK can at best be described as muddled and the name of the game seems to be denial. If we can deny the worsening energy situation hard enough then maybe, just maybe, it will go away and solve itself. Alas it is never so. My advice, look at the energy bills as an indicator of how much gas and oil this country has. The onward trend is up. Oil prices have only levelled off recently due to the poor economy and the continued postponing of the planned rises in fuel tax duty. We can expect those breaks in fuel duty to end going into January 2013 however.[13] My prediction for UK gas prices is it will top £1.50 a litre for unleaded petrol at some point in 2013.

 EU

I am almost at a loss to say what will happen in the EU. Upon reflection of 2012 I am actually a little surprised by how well the people from the PIIGS nations are taking austerity considering the sky-high unemployment and worsening future outlook. It cannot last and it is only a matter of time before Europe experiences its own “Arab Springs”. Saying that I do not see an implosion of the Euro as an imminent event so I am predicting there will still be a Euro come the end of 2013. Super Mario has made his intentions very clear that he will buy bonds in unlimited quantities to keep European banks afloat.[14] While I am not suggesting this can ever be the ultimate solution I do think if Mario keeps true to his words then the sinking ship should hold for another year. Italian and Spanish bonds which are arguably the most important factors to consider have declined in recent months in light of this news so it is having its intended effect.[15]

What’s more the temporary rescue funds provided used to help Greece, Ireland and Portugal will become permanent with the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). This coupled with the relaxation of meeting various fiscal targets and the likely restructuring (politically correct way of describing a default) of Greek debts should ensure some measure of stability so that this charade can go on a little longer. Sure these measures are never a REAL solution but they do buy time which is what can kicking is all about. I am sure if need be extraordinary measures will be taken to safe to the Euro as there is no way the Euro will collapse on the year Merkel runs for election this coming November.

As always though, it is the issue of growth that will continue to be an issue that can undermine all the plans mentioned above. I don’t think it really counts as a prediction to say Greece, Spain and Italy will experience further recessions as austerity measures continued to bite. What becomes harder to predict is how Germany and some of the northern states will fair. The Bundesbank currently projects that growth for the German economy will be around 0.4% in 2013.[16] Considering how these predictions are invariably over optimistic I will stick my neck out on this one and predict an overall recession for Germany in 2013. Could get burnt as the call is a little dicey but let us see how things fair out, eh?

Far East

The Far East, which for the purpose of this article consists of the Asian tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) plus China and Japan. These economies are generally regarded by many pundits as the future of the world economy with the influence of west waning in favour of the east. Indeed some go so far to claim that the 21st century will be the Asian century in the same token the 20th century was the US and 19th UK. Yet when we look back on 2012 we find the growth rates of several of these economies have been slipping.

To take the poster child of Asia let us look at China which posted a robust growth rate of 7.2% for the last quarter (if you can even believe the numbers). While this may sound impressive it has been the seventh consecutive quarter of declining growth.[17] However seeing as much of their governmental figures are manufactured to the extent that even Li Keqiang – the favourite to become the next head of state – suggests that the figures are manmade[18] we might need to consider that maybe, just maybe these numbers are bogus. As usual most of the mainstream press seem to ignore this inconvenient fact preferring to side with the China bulls. Fact is the best way to gauge China’s economic performance is not through GDP numbers but by monitoring electricity production/consumption, rail cargo volume and bank lending (as recommended by Li Keqiang).[18]  On that front China’s performance has not been doing so well with some regions reporting a 10% year-on-year decline. It remains to be seen how accurate this form of measuring is but what we can say is that since 2008 China has depended less on exports and more on investments to drive its economy. What is more investment now makes up a whopping 48% of GDP. To put this into context Japan and South Korea; who are other export driven economies that are also heavily dependent on fixed capital investments reached a peak investment rate of just under 40% of GDP.[19]

Such a high investment figure suggests there is likely to be numerous bubbles as there an oversupply AND misallocation of capital, witnesses the ghost cities, bridges to nowhere and empty malls as proof of this wasted industrial capacity. So what do I predict for 2013 for China you ask? Well the Chinese government will NEVER report negative growth numbers so I can only predict growth if I hope to be right. However I do think China will actually grow in real terms not by much but some however since we can say the numbers are so fudged we will never really know how right (or wrong) my prediction will be, well I suppose there is always the chance of another Chinese revolution and in that case I would definitely be wrong if I predicted growth. But I don’t think the time has come for that… Yet!

As for the other economies of Asia Japan continues to experience more woes with recessions and more surprising their balance of trade going negative for a number of quarters. For an export nation to have the value of their imports exceed exports for numerous months can only be described as a disaster. To stop the rot newly elected president Shinzō Abe has pledged to fully open the money printing press spigot to devalue the yen.[20] In addition in an attempt to shore excess imports of fossil fuels and bring back the trade deficit to the positives he has foolishly pledged to restart Japan’s nuclear plants. I guess nuclear disasters don’t have the impact they once had or consensus based group think is unusually strong in Japan… In any case despite such measures I do not predict many good things for the land of the rising sun and see another recession in 2013 with Abe being the next prime minister to pass through the revolving doors of Kantei soon after 2013. Some people suggest that Japan will be the surprise package that implodes financially due to its burgeoning public debt levels of 235.8% GDP but I do not see that crisis happening in 2013 later certainly but not now.[21] For the crisis to really take effect bond rates need to rise and since about 90% of bonds are held by Japanese investors [22] the risk of interest rates rising quickly are not high, for now. The number of foreigner holders of Japanese bonds is rising however due to the fact that Japanese pension pay-outs to pensioners now exceeds pension contributions from existing employed workers so in time interest payments on bonds will rise.[23]

The Asian tigers should see more promising growth and I expect them to show more positive results for 2013 so I will make a fairly bullish prediction and say that growth for these economies will exceed about 3%. A fun fact to keep in mind is that South Korea’s economy is heavily based on big conglomerates which are known as chaebol in South Korea. In fact the five largest chaebol control 57% of the GDP of South Korea so if you want to monitor the countries fortunes just look out for how Samsung, Hyundai, LG, SK and Lotte are performing.[24]

Global Summary

It is hard to make any firm bets on what the outlook for the global economy will be for 2013 especially since the whole fiscal cliff issue has yet to be resolved. What we can say with some degree of certainty is the economic conditions in Europe are likely to worsen as further austerity measures are applied. Greece has been in a solid recession for many years and there is little evidence to think why this should not continue. As for the other PIIGS nations, wage reductions will be made in order to make the southern European states more competitive but this will lower economic output and increase unemployment. Expect to see more protests and strained nerves as the economic troubles we have seen in Greece begin to spread in earnest to Spain and Italy and as always low economic growth will lead to more bank problems/bails outs. These lower wages will also harm Germany who is a major exporter to these regions and since those nations are poorer they will buy less BMWs.

Poor performances in Europe is also likely to negatively impact other exporting nations such as China and the Asian tigers so growth is likely to slow there as well. Japan on the other hand will continue losing ground to its competitors so at best they will see further stagnation but more likely there will be another recession. The low interest rates in Japan and its perception as a safe haven will insure the Yen remains strong much to the chagrin of its exporting industries.

As for overall growth of the world economy, it is likely that there will be some growth overall but it will be small and it will be less than what we have seen for 2012. I will not discount the possibility of an outright global recession especially if the fiscal cliff is handled poorly in the US. Other issues to be aware of is the effects of the 2012 drought which is likely to lead to food inflation across the globe. The poorer countries in Africa the Middle-East and India will suffer to a disproportionate degree to these higher food prices. This will lower growth in those regions as incomes become squeezed and we cannot discount the possibility of food riots erupting in localised regions if prices rise high enough.

On the energy front 2013 should mark a few interesting landmarks namely that global coal consumption is likely to exceed oil for the first time in 60 years. This has come about because oil production since 2005 has roughly plateaued at 74mb/d while coal production has ramped up due to high growth of Asian nations which primarily use coal for electricity generation.

However these Asian nations have not just increased their consumption of coal, they have also increased their thirst for oil and 2013 should also mark the time when total oil consumption of the developed OECD countries will fall below 50% which will be an unprecedented event.

Predicting oil prices for 2013 will be a challenge, on the one hand you have rising demand with a constrained supply which will serve to higher prices but at the same time the on-going demand destruction in the West will lower prices. As a result I predict that average Brent prices of oil will for the most part stagnant at around $110 for the year which has been the average price for 2012. I cannot say with any certainty when we will leave the plateau in global crude oil production but according to the grapevine the year I keep hearing is 2015 which finally enough is what a former expert in the IEA is suggesting.[25] In any case, global oil net exports are likely to decrease over 2013 as has been the general trend since 2005.[26]

References:

[1] = US Senate leader Harry Reid voices fiscal cliff fear (BBC)
[2] = All-out U.S. ‘fiscal cliff’ could cut world growth in half: Fitch (REUTERS)
[3] = Geithner: Debt Limit of $16.39 Trillion Will Be Met New Year’s Eve (CNSNews)
[4] = Q&A: The US fiscal cliff (BBC)
[5] = Rotary Rig Count (Baker Hughes)
[6] = Total Planned* Public Spending (UK Public Spending)
[7] = Office for National Statistics (ONS) data
[8] = Osborne Says He Needs More Time to Rid U.K. of Budget Deficit (Bloomberg)
[9] = Total Debt in Selected Countries Around the World (Global Finance)
[10] = The End of Britain (MoneyWeek)
[11] = UK unemployment falls by 82,000, says ONS (BBC)
[12] = North Sea oil tax revenues fall offers glimpse into a diminishing future (the guardian)
[13] = Labour loses fuel rise delay vote (BBC)
[14] = All hope not lost (The Economist)
[15] = Spanish Bond Yields Drop to 8-Month Low (Bloomberg)
[16] = Bundesbank Slashes 2013 German Growth Forecast to 0.4% (Bloomberg)
[17] = China’s economy slows but data hints at rebound (BBC)
[18] = China’s GDP is “man-made,” unreliable: top leader (REUTERS)
[19] = Capital controversy (The Economist)
[20] = Yen Weakens to 20-Month Low on Abe BOJ Pledge; Euro Drops (Bloomberg)
[21] = IMF urges Japan to tackle debt problem (Financial Times: Google headline name to see full story)
[22] = OECD: Japan Public Debt in ‘Uncharted Territory’ (Wall Street Journal)
[23] = Japanese pension assets fall as payouts exceed contributions (Pensions & Investments)
[24] = Business as usual for South Korea’s chaebol under Park (Yahoo! News)
[25] = Oil will decline shortly after 2015, says former IEA oil expert (The Oil Drum)
[26] = Updated “Gap” Charts, using annual data through 2011 (The Oil Drum: westexas)

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