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Risk Aversion the New Norm

May 21st, 2010 Michael McDonough

Global markets may be converging on a new ‘volatile’ norm as investors revalue risk, as governments begin the painful process of deleveraging to more sustainable debt levels.  Thus far fears of sovereign defaults have remained contained to the usual suspects—fundamentally weak nations—leading investors to flock to the safe-havens of the U.S., Japan, and Germany.  Risk aversion has pushed 10Y German Bund yields down to a multi-decade low of 2.632%; while 10Y U.S. Treasuries are yielding 3.113% from nearly 4% in April.  Yet, safe-haven debt levels are in most cases worse than their weak counterparts, especially in the case of Japan, meaning deleveraging is a unilateral prescription.  I won’t beat a dead horse on who could be the next Greece, but I do want to emphasize that deleveraging is a painful process, which can adversely impact growth.  Eventually, in the U.S. tough austerity measures coupled with substantial tax increments will be necessary, transforming the fuel of the nascent economic recovery, fiscal stimulus, into fiscal drag.  Japan’s likely the most at risk of the safe-havens with a vast amount of its debt financed domestically, by what is now a shrinking and ageing population; meaning external financing will ultimately be necessary.  This could cause investors to reassess Japan’s stability.  The good news is while tough measures in the US are necessary— creating significant economic headwinds— it should allow the nation to avoid the fate of Greece.  Meanwhile, I recommend monitoring investor sentiment toward Japan as the canary in the coal mine for the U.S.

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