Japan – Down the Rabbit Hole

For all we complain about low growth and dimming prospects here in the US, it’s a problem that has plagued the developed world. If anything, we’re doing quite well, thank you. Europe is still struggling to get out of the depression, with high unemployment – especially among their youth. China and other developing nations appear to have hit a wall, unable to round the corner and step up to developed nation status.

And then, there is Japan. “Basket Case” doesn’t begin to describe it.

We last checked in with them over three years ago when Shinzo Abe became Prime Minister and instituted what has been called “Abenomics”. Call it “Supply Side” if you want, as it emphasized growth in the money supply and a cheap Yen to stimulate growth in production. Call it “A license to print money by the Bank of Japan (BOJ)” if you’re a cynic.

But the problems in Japan are much more severe – they are demographic and social. Without a wholesale restructuring they are as doomed now as they have been for an entire generation. There’s a lesson here for everyone.

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Franc-ly You Must be Kidding

Last Friday the ongoing “Currency War” claimed an unlikely casualty – Switzerland, a nation best known for being solid in money and neutral in war. The central bank had to remove the ties to the Euro under pressure from foreign investors and the result was an upward explosion of 39%, before settling in at 15%, in the Swiss Franc (CHF, known by its French name Confédération Helvétique).

That may sound like good news for the alpine nation, and it is if you are holding a lot of CHF in a bank account. But if you make precise equipment or other things that the Alpine nation is known for, your stuff just got 15% more expensive. Managing this situation is going to be a tough one for the Swiss, certainly, but it’s a disaster for those who borrowed money from their famously solid and discreet banks.

It’s also an earthquake that rattles our whole idea of “globalism”.

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Austerity Goes Down

How’s that austerity workin’ for ya?  Just as sequestration takes hold here in the US, Europe is looking to go the other way, releasing more Euros (and even Pounds) in order to get things going again.  The new US “policy” of budget balancing, backed into without thinking, is now being formally abandoned by everyone else.

There is probably some kind of requirement that any blog on economics has to write about Europe every so often, even if nothing new is happening.  But today there may well be something worth writing about as the Central Banks develop the whiff of panic that has been absent so far.   As Japan becomes more urgent and the US shoots itself, Europe has some tough choices to make.  What, or better yet can, they do?

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