The Global Economy: From New Normal to New Abnormal

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The current state of the global economy often is referred to now as the New Normal — a period of almost painfully slow if predictable economic progress. How long this will last remains at the front of many investors’ minds, and the answer could be more complicated than anyone thinks.

In a new article at the Institutional Investor website, Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini describe a “New Abnormal,” which they say is “a period in which every market assumption must be questioned and the wise investor is prepared to be surprised.” The main attribute of this new state of affairs is the lack of leadership to take collective action on the biggest problems facing all countries. The focus of political action has withdrawn behind domestic walls.

The surprises are the result of a global economy that depends for growth on “unpredictable” emerging market nations. Bremmer and Roubini examine in some detail the positives and negatives of the BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and now South Africa.

Overall, they believe that Brazil is a “good bet.” The article likely was written before recent demonstrations broke out in Brazil related to a hike in public transportation prices. Still, the country’s president remains popular and her opposition has been weak, both preconditions to stability.

The most important of the BRICS, of course, is China. Bremmer and Roubini state that the critical variable in the New Abnormal is the relationship between the United States and China. That relationship, in turn, depends to a large extent on how secure China’s new leadership feels about its hold on power domestically and “the durability of [its] belief that a peaceful world and a stable global economy will strengthen it.”

Bremmer and Roubini’s main point is that the next shock to the global economy likely will be the only time that the countries included in the G-20 can bring themselves to focus on wider global issues rather than domestic ones. Every such shock will be handled in an ad hoc manner and every surprise likely will have a different solution. Welcome to the New Abnormal.

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