For only the third time since the Industrial Revolution, the world may be entering a long-term growth cycle that will lift all economies simultaneously, driving bond yields and commodity prices higher, according to leading economists attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The depth and scope of the expansion will be a focus for discussion at this week’s annual meeting of the WEF. Evidence of a broadening global recovery will enable U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, investor George Soros and 2,500 political, business and academic leaders to shift their emphasis away from crisis- fighting. Yet doubts remain over how much rich nations will be able to benefit from growth which is increasingly driven by the emerging world.
With the economic and investment outlooks “much better” than in recent years, “people are talking about how to get back to business as normal and what comes next,” said Jitesh Gadhia, a delegate to the conference and the London-based senior managing director at Blackstone Group LP, which runs the world’s largest buyout fund.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc., PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and London’s Standard Chartered Bank are among the financial companies sending executives to the meeting. Their economists predict a growth spurt in coming decades led by emerging nations that will be strong enough to boost developed countries.
Global gross domestic product will swell to US$143-trillion by 2030, allowing for inflation and market-exchange rates, from US$62-trillion in 2010, with China and other emerging markets accounting for about two thirds of the rise, estimates Gerard Lyons, chief economist and group head of global research in London for Standard Chartered, which generates most of its earnings from Asia.
Lyons and his colleagues predict a “super-cycle” of historically high growth that will last at least a generation and will be led by booming trade, investment and urbanization, according to a report published in November. He reckons such a cycle has occurred only twice since the end of the 18th century: the four decades before the First World War and the three following the Second World War. He’s betting the new phase will contribute to a reversal in the three-decade decline for U.S. bond yields after 10-year Treasury notes lost an average 40 basis points a year since the early 1980s.
Richard Dobbs, a director of the research division at New York-based McKinsey & Co., will use the Davos meeting to highlight a study by the international consulting firm that sees an imminent end to cheap capital. The causes are a building bonanza in developing economies and aging populations who are draining their savings, according to the report, which was released Dec. 9.
“It’s a topic capturing the attention of people who want to think beyond the crisis,” said Seoul-based Dobbs.
While Goldman Sachs Asset Management Chairman Jim O’Neill has found fame for promoting the “BRIC” economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China, he says their rise has positive impact beyond their borders, with Chinese imports totaling about US$400-billion, almost the equivalent of South Africa’s economy last year. That should attract investors to rich-nation companies with links to these markets, and the resurgence in the U.S. economy has prompted O’Neill to predict higher U.S. bond yields in 2011.
“World-trend economic growth is being lifted,” said London-based O’Neill, who helps manage US$840-billion. “The notion that BRICs benefit at the expense of others is increasingly out of date.”
Investors should buy copper, coal and oil to take advantage of the growth of cities in emerging markets, according to Standard Chartered, which says the Chinese yuan, Indian rupee and Korean won will appreciate on strengthening domestic growth.
Developed nations also will benefit as their emerging- market counterparts invest more abroad, hire more of their workers and rely on their expertise in areas such as financial services, said Mr. Lyons, who will be at Davos. He predicts both the U.S. and European Union will enjoy an average trend growth of 2.5% through 2030, compared with the 1.9% and 1.7% he forecasts for this year.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Mr. Lyons, who concedes growth won’t always be strong and continuous during the entire period.
The increasing integration of China and other developing economies will boost commerce and investment worldwide, agrees Edward Prescott, a senior monetary adviser to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis who shared the 2004 Nobel Prize for analysis of business cycles and economic policy.
Prescott points to South Carolina, which has benefited from new factories opened by Chinese companies such as appliance maker Haier Group. The International Monetary Fund projects this year will be the first in which Chinese foreign investment outpaces inward flows.
“The whole world’s going to be rich by the end of this century,” Mr. Prescott said.
Such euphoria may not be the only view in Davos, given the European sovereign-debt crisis, fears of a real-estate bubble in China and mounting public-debt burdens, said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at consultants IHS in Lexington, Massachusetts, who is attending the meeting.
“There’s going to be more optimism but still some worries,” he said.
Talk of a super-cycle gets little support from Joseph Stiglitz, a Davos veteran and 2001 Nobel laureate. He contends that globalization and free trade may be stymied by unemployment in rich nations and the risk that more of these countries’ jobs will be lost abroad. The U.S. jobless rate has remained above 9% since May 2009.
“Standard Chartered works mostly in developing markets, and that shapes its world view,” said Mr. Stiglitz, an economics professor at Columbia University in New York. “If you work in emerging markets, you feel the energy. If you are in the U.S. or Europe, you see the numbers and it’s hard not to feel depressed.”
The difference reflects a “shift in the center of gravity in the world economy, in which the West is struggling to keep up with turbo-charged,” emerging markets, says Stephen King, chief global economist in London at HSBC Holdings Plc and a former U.K. Treasury official. He will outline in Davos what he calls the next phase of globalization: increased trade among emerging countries.
His team calculated this month that by 2050, global output will have trebled and average annual growth will accelerate toward 3% from 2% in the last decade, with emerging markets contributing twice as much to the expansion as the developed world.
Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group, a political-risk consulting company in New York, is more downbeat as he heads to the Swiss ski resort. He predicts what he calls a “G-Zero” era in which no country has the political or economic leverage to dominate the international agenda and all nations focus on their own priorities. That will reduce economic efficiency and prompt trade conflicts, he said.
The subsequent volatility and uncertainty mean U.S. assets will prove the “comparative safest bet” and the price of gold will stay high, Bremmer said, after touching a record US$1,432.50 an ounce on Dec. 7. Fixed-income securities still may suffer as nations impose capital controls, which Brazil and South Korea have done lately, while companies will continue saving rather than spending, he predicted.
John Hawksworth, the London-based head of macroeconomics at PricewaterhouseCoopers, is confident a so-called zero-sum world isn’t in the cards. His own attempt to see into the future this month generated a projection that a bloc of seven leading emerging markets, including India and China, will be 64% larger than the current Group of Seven by 2050 at market- exchange rates, compared with 36% smaller today.
Even so, average income levels in the G7 countries will rise in absolute terms as new market opportunities open up for their businesses, and consumers will benefit from lower-cost imports, predicts Mr. Hawksworth, who has served as a consultant to the World Bank and whose company will release its annual survey of executives in Davos tomorrow.
“There is a shift in economic power from West to East, but the West can still do well,” Mr. Lyons said.