WAS THE GREAT STIMULUS A SILVER BULLET? - THINK AGAIN: It now appears that the great stimulus provided by almost all governments has averted the second Great Depression and the North American economy may well be on its way to recovery. However, looking forward, unless we find a credible way to repay or at least comfortably service the enormous and growing burden of government debt, we are going to face immense challenges. By overloading governments with too much debt, the stimulus may have pushed the problem from the private sector to the government sector and may have made it worse. If we take a snapshot of the growing gross debt as a percentage of GDP before and after the meltdown, we get a pretty good picture of the potential trouble some countries may face in the future.
At some level, debt becomes an intolerable burden and increases the chance of a default. Historically, when gross debt exceeds 70% of a country’s GDP, the warning signs start flashing.
While we all wished the great stimulus would prove to be a silver bullet that would resolve all the problems stemming from the world financial crisis, that has hardly been the case. If history is any guide, it takes a long time for countries to successfully emerge from a financial crisis. They must deal with a huge increase in unemployment along with a profound increase in government debt. The problem is exacerbated by lower tax revenues in the future caused by lower output and unemployment. We think the next few years will be rocky, with economies lurching from one crisis to another.
As an investor, we believe there will be enormous opportunities but the key to investment success will depend on how we avoid some of the inevitable potholes we will find in our path.
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