Economic crisis: What is the end game?

11th October 2011

How grim are things going to get?

Yesterday various reports told us the UK was bottom of the global confidence league, 43% of finance directors were preparing for a second recession while companies had delayed or cancelled £4.7bn of spending, reports the Daily Telegraph. "Today we report the OECD's leading indicator falling for the seventh month in a row, pointing to a slowdown, and the British Chambers of Commerce warning on stagflation."

Mindful Money asks commentators what they think will happen:

While we don't know if the recent injection of more QE will do any good, we do know that it automatically invites stagflation into our economy by pushing the pound down, say commentators.

According to Mindful Money economist blogger Shaun Richards, the most likely outcome if both politicians and central banks continue with the policies that they have now is, indeed, stagflation.

But he adds: "Those who look at the past I think miss an important point which is that it doesn't have to be 10% inflation to hurt people. A continuation of 5% a year combined with wages only rising say 2% will gradually turn the screw. Let's face it this has been happening already for the last couple of years so in general people are poorer."

Investors Chronicle says that Andrew Sentence, a former member of the BofE MPC believes that inflation is a bigger concern for the UK economy than a recession."High inflation and slow growth are inextricably linked."

What happens if stagflation hit?  

Stagflation is a term which is formed by joining the words stagnation and inflation. It is used in modern macroeconomics to give a description of a period of uncontrollable price inflation combined with sluggish output growth. Stagflation raises unemployment.

The last time stagflation held the western world in a seemingly lethal grip was 30 years ago in the 70s and 80s, and it is threatening to emerge from the shadows again. Such fears are dismissed as irrelevant by those in favour of pumping money into the economy through quantative easing (QE), which they think will stimulate growth and avoid the dreaded ‘double-dip' recession. But so far, this policy has failed to prompt the necessary growth.

Thursday's announcement of another £75billion worth of  QE played well with the stock market, but it is unlikely to cause much cheer for long. On the contrary it threatens to stoke inflation even higher, and meanwhile, there is the threat that growth stagnates.

"Stagflation" remains a word not uttered in the polite company of the financial world.

"But there remain only a few more tumblers to fall into place for a return to that awful word that conjures up images of the "malaise days" of the late 1970's and early ‘80s, where rising inflation and slumping employment tramped down economic growth," says CNBC,

However, some economists believe stagflation isn't something to fear at present.

Azad Zangana, European economist at Schroders, says: "While the current environment feels like a typical stagflationary environment, this is set to be temporary. The outlook is more positive as we expect inflation to fall from its current level back down to below 3%, mainly due to the passing of the VAT effect from the start of 2011.

"Meanwhile, we forecast growth to improve in the second half of 2012, and so the balance between real and nominal growth will improve. To conclude that we are entering a fully fledged stagflationary period, we would need to see significantly stronger inflation and wage inflation, and a continuation of weaker growth as seen in the 1970's. In our view, this is unlikely to occur."

What other threats may there be?

Another danger, however, is the rising threat of hyper-inflation. Shaun Richards says: "Whilst the self proclaimed "financial geniuses" persist in buying every gilt they can find there is a danger of this. Also it is the nature of things that when problems happen these days with the speed of trading it happens so fast that it is better not to run the risk at all. But I see this as rising but still low.

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