Wed, Mar 18, 2009 - Page 12 News List

GDP to contract 3%: economist

FAR FROM OVER While the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch economist said markets in the US and Asia may pick up this year, the global economic crisis is not over yet

By Elizabeth Tchii  /  STAFF REPORTER

Bank of America Securities-­Merrill Lynch expressed pessimism for Taiwan’s economy and forecast a GDP contraction of 3 percent this year at its 12th Asian Tech Conference yesterday.

For this year, the newly merged investment bank saw little in terms of aggressive fiscal policy, as well as the unlikelihood that government budget spending could deliver a promised 2 percent stimulus effect. Additionally, depreciation of the NT dollar was on the horizon as well, Timothy Bond, chief Asia economist at Bank of America Securities-Merrill Lynch Research told the audience.

“Although sustainable growth is there for Taiwan in 2010, there is still no domestic consumption,” Bond said.

The chief economist said the worst of the crisis hasn’t appeared yet on the global scene. In other words, unexpected bad news may continue to pop up everywhere, he said.

However, in the short term, Bond envisions a pick up in markets in both the US and Asia, when inventory digestion runs its course in the first two quarters of the year, and natural consumption resumes in the latter half of the year.

For China in particular, Bond has seen upstream production spikes in cement, steel, money growth and credit, which are all positive signs. He also saw inter-regional trade start to turn around in the second half of the year.

But by no means was the global economic crisis over, he said.

“In order for worldwide sustainable growth to return and in particular [in] Asia, the American and European policymakers need to get it right and developed countries need to normalize first,” he said.

Moreover, even when that happens, Asian countries need to realize that developed markets can no longer be long-term drivers of growth, he said.

Bond named three reasons why Asia has suffered minimally from this credit crisis, as Asian companies are typically under-leveraged, consumer savings are high and countries run external surpluses. These are lessons the US and Europe need to learn, he said.

For Bond, successful US and European policies include a return of increased banking liquidity, useful macroeconomic policy and re-capitalization of large, solvent financial institutions. The smaller insolvent ones should simply fade away in the war for survival, he said.

“Realistically, recovery will not happen in the US for the next three to five years, as re-balancing for US consumers has just begun,” Bond said.

The savings rate for the US is currently 3 percent, Bond sees 8 percent as the recovery benchmark and to reach that figure, “either income needs to increase by 5 percent, unlikely in the short term, or consumption needs to fall by 5 percent,” he said.

So far, he said, the most successful government support has come from China of all places, perhaps because top-down policies don’t need consensus and don’t need to run through any length of bureaucratic time line.

Although Bond averages a 1.5 percent global GDP retraction for this year, this figure is not balanced across the board as he sees the US contracting 3 percent, China growing at 8 percent and emerging markets hovering at around 3 percent.

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