Like previous “year ahead” reviews I have published on EconVue, this is not intended as a prediction of how events will necessarily unfold in real life. Instead, as always my intent is above all to consider the main risks to the stability to the international political and economic environment in various regions of the world that I am relatively familiar with.
I normally feel after reading, reviewing, and discussing the events of the previous week that I’m able to discern a direction or constructive theme. Today however, every corner of the world seems mired in some degree of turmoil, and markets are reacting. There is so much noise that it is difficult to decide what is causing this new volatility. Is it China, the Fed, the Mueller investigation, Yellow Jackets, or technology run amuck?
From November 26 to December 2, 2018, I traveled to Taipei, Taiwan to speak at the prestigious private university, Tamkang. There I had the chance to interact with academics, officials, and students regarding Taiwan’s relationships in Latin America and the Caribbean and its associated struggle for diplomatic and existential survival.
I know some people abhor social media. The sector has certainly taken a beating lately in the markets, but I really love Twitter. It gives me the ability to hear the (curated) voices of people I know, don’t know, and in some cases hope I never know, but who make me think. I follow the newspapers and journals I used to have to login to separately, read other media from all around the world I didn’t even know existed, and get into impromptu conversations with real experts.
Since World War Two and the Bretton Woods agreements that established the post-war dollar-centric global financial system, the dollar has been the pre-eminent vehicle (reserve/international) currency. The dollar accounts for over 60% of global foreign exchange reserves and 80% of world trade is dollar-denominated, as are 100% of the global transactions in oil and other commodities. Moreover, the chronic U.S. external deficits have provided global markets with abundant dollar liquidity.
Mexico matters. In addition to being our southern neighbor, Mexico is our third largest trading partner, after China and Canada. It is ranked as the 15th largest economy in the world. On Sunday the country experienced a seismic change in leadership. Fueled by anger at violence and corruption, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the 64-year old populist center left candidate best known as AMLO, was elected by a clear majority in all but one state and a simple majority in both houses. He had promised to Make Mexico Great Again.
I agree with a Twitter commentator today who said that US-China trade relations was giving him whiplash after President Trump’s volte-face on ZTE. For context, I recommend two new books with a longer view on the changes taking place in China. The first, “The End of an Era” by Carl Minzer is truly a must-read for any China watcher. Devin Stewart at the Carnegie Council conducted a wonderful interview with Prof Minzer, which I’ve included below.