Impending Fiscal Gloom: Halloween’s Horror Story

By Peter Benson

The writing’s on the wall.

Warning signs of another global recession are seemingly ubiquitous, but it’s easy to dismiss them as just more meaningless bad news. Unfortunately, we may be feeling the combined effects of this bad news sooner than we think, perhaps even by the end of 2020.

What signs am I talking about? Let me explain:

The Inverted Yield Curve

You may not have heard, but in December 2018, part of the U.S. Treasury’s yield curve (5 year – 2 year yield spread) inverted for the first time in nearly a decade. The yield curve is a graph that plots the interest rates of similar bonds with varying times to maturity. Put simply, the yield curve mirrors the outlook of investors on future economic prospects. If it’s curving upward, it means they expect long-term economic growth. If it inverts (curves downward), which it did, it means that the summer holiday you just booked may be in jeopardy. Find out more on that here.

A yield curve inversion is regarded widely as being positively correlated with a recession. The yield curve on 10 year – 2 year yield spreads inverted on 14th August 2019, and the last time it inverted in this fashion was in 2007. According to Reuters, an inversion has predated every recession in the past 50 years, offering a false signal just once in that time. It has previously taken up to 24 months for a recession to follow a yield curve inversion, so perhaps we still have time to wait. Time is ticking on that deadline, however, and all should be revealed by December 2020.

It is worth mentioning that a yield curve inversion should not be taken as gospel in and of itself. Some suggest that the data is skewed because of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s wholesale purchase of bonds to retain their balance sheet, and that the economy rarely moves in ‘lock-step’ with the stock market.

Who knows? Maybe our bank accounts will soon take a hit. Maybe they won’t. But the yield curve’s latest inversion, the strongest metric by which a recession can be predicted, simply cannot be ignored. At the very least, it serves as a wake-up call that it may be time we took a second look at our finances.

Brexit

You get the idea.

The European economic fall-out from a no-deal Brexit is as yet unknown but seemingly unquantifiable.

KPMG forecast that a no-deal outcome could shrink the British economy by 1.5%. A mere 1.5% drop isn’t too bad, right? Wrong. With a GDP that is valued to be in excess of $2.6tn, a 1.5% shrinkage of the UK’s economy would equate roughly to a loss of $39bn. To put that figure into perspective, the GDP of Latvia is estimated to be in the ballpark of $39bn.

That’s not to mention the repercussions of such an outcome on the Irish economy, and the knock-on effects globally. Ireland has traditionally relied heavily on the UK for exports, and although this reliance has eased somewhat in recent years, 9% of our total exports are still to our nearest neighbours. This is notwithstanding the World Trade Organisation’s latest ruling that has paved the way for a fresh round of U.S. tariffs on EU goods to the tune of $7.5bn.

Granted, this is a worst-case scenario. Recent legislation in the form of the ‘Benn-Act’ provides us with some solace. This Act forces the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to advocate for an extension on the October 31st deadline if Brussels is dissatisfied with whatever deal is proposed. However, loopholes in this legislation have already been identified, and Johnson’s comments at the latest Tory conference that Britain will leave the EU ‘come what may’ paint a foreboding picture.

Perhaps it’s fitting that our fate may be sealed on Halloween. I, for one, will be dressing up as the world’s most recent judicial champion, Lady Hale.

Everything Else

  • The escalating trade war between the U.S. and China is not expected to end anytime soon;
  • Did you know Japan and South Korea are also embroiled in a trade war with global economic implications?
  • The over-valuation of housing isn’t just a problem in Ireland; there’s a global property bubble, the bursting of which could prove disastrous;
  • This week, sharp falls were recorded in the Asian, U.S., and European markets, signalling that a recession may well be due;
  • The result of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election could inject even more volatility into an already fracturing global market.

So there you have it.

Financial and economic warning lights are flashing, and if I were a government economist I’d be shaking in my boots.

What would another global financial crisis look like as we approach the end of the decade? In light of recent calls for a lower intake of domestic students, and without increased government funding, what would be the impact on Trinity? Would more cuts be implemented, or would our focus shift to further commercialisation? How would a country only recently getting back on its feet after years of economic turmoil, but still wildly indebted, fare in future?

My message is this: there is a strong possibility of another global economic downturn occurring within the next 15 months. Rather than rest on our laurels, here are some things we can do to prepare ourselves financially. They won’t provide us with total financial security, but they may soften the inevitable blow.

There are still a lot of variables at play, particularly in relation to Brexit, that may bring with them a slightly more positive outlook.

What’s certain, however, is that the hum of our global economy is slowing, and our ears must be pricked toward it. The writing on the wall is thickening, and thus we must read it.

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