Thursday, May 7, 2009

Global Crisis ‘Vastly Worse’ Than 1930s, Taleb Says (Update1)

By Shiyin Chen and Liza Lin

May 7 (Bloomberg) -- The current global crisis is “vastly worse” than the 1930s because financial systems and economies worldwide have become more interdependent, “Black Swan” author Nassim Nicholas Taleb said.

“This is the most difficult period of humanity that we’re going through today because governments have no control,” Taleb, 49, told a conference in Singapore today. “Navigating the world is much harder than in the 1930s.”

The International Monetary Fund last month slashed its world economic growth forecasts and said the global recession will be deeper than previously predicted as financial markets take longer to stabilize. Nouriel Roubini, 51, the New York University professor who predicted the crisis, told Bloomberg News yesterday that analysts expecting the U.S. economy to rebound in the third and fourth quarter were “too optimistic.”

“Certainly the rate of economic contraction is slowing down from the freefall of the last two quarters,” Roubini said. “We are going to have negative growth to the end of the year and next year the recovery is going to be weak.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told lawmakers May 5 that the central bank expects U.S. economic activity “to bottom out, then to turn up later this year.” Another shock to the financial system would undercut that forecast, he added.

‘Big Deflation’

The global economy is facing “big deflation,” though the risks of inflation are also increasing as governments print more money, Taleb told the conference organized by Bank of America- Merrill Lynch. Gold and copper may “rally massively” as a result, he added.

Taleb, a professor of risk engineering at New York University and adviser to Santa Monica, California-based Universa Investments LP, said the current global slump is the worst since the Great Depression that followed Wall Street’s 1929 crash.

The Great Depression saw an increase in global trade barriers and was only overcome after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies helped revive the U.S. economy.

The world’s largest economy may need additional fiscal stimulus to emerge from its current recession, Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, told Bloomberg News yesterday.

“We’re going to get to the point where recovery is just not soaring and they’re going to do the same again,” he said. “We’re going to have a very slow recovery from here.”

Fiscal Stimulus

The U.S. economy plunged at a 6.1 percent annual pace in the first quarter, making this the worst recession in at least half a century. President Barack Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus plan into law in February that included increases in spending on infrastructure projects and a reduction in taxes.

Gold, copper and other assets “that China will like” are the best investment bets as currencies including the dollar and euro face pressures, Taleb said. The IMF expects the global economy to shrink 1.3 percent this year.

Gold, which jumped to a record $1,032.70 an ounce March 17, 2008, is up 3.6 percent this year. Copper for three-month delivery on the London Metal Exchange has surged 55 percent this year on speculation demand will rebound as the global economy recovers from its worst recession since World War II.

Commodity prices are also gaining amid signs that China’s 4 trillion yuan ($585 billion) stimulus package is beginning to work in Asia’s second-largest economy. Quarter-on-quarter growth improved significantly in the first three months of 2009, the Chinese central bank said yesterday, without giving figures.

Credit Derivatives

China will avoid a recession this year, though it will not be able to pull Asia out of its economic slump as the region still depends on U.S. demand, New York University’s Roubini said.

Equity investments are preferable to debt, a contributor to the current financial crisis, Taleb said. Deflation in an equity bubble will have smaller repercussions for the global financial system, he added.

“Debt pressurizes the system and it has to be replaced with equity,” he said. “Bonds appear stable but have a lot of hidden risks. Equity is volatile, but what you see is what you get.”

Currency and credit derivatives will cause additional losses for companies that hold more than $500 trillion of the securities worldwide, Templeton Asset Management Ltd.’s Mark Mobius told the same Singapore conference today.

“There are going to be more and more losses on the part of companies that have credit derivatives, those who have currency derivatives,” Mobius, who helps oversee $20 billion in emerging-market assets at Templeton, said at the conference. “This is something we’re going to have to watch very, very carefully.”

Taleb is best known for his book “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.” The book, named after rare and unforeseen events known as “black swans,” was published in 2007, just before the collapse of the subprime market roiled global financial institutions.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chen Shiyin in Singapore at; Liza Lin in Singapore at

Last Updated: May 7, 2009 05:35 EDT

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