Are we facing another global economic meltdown akin to 2007-2008?
Plenty of experts think so. If you've read some of the headlines this week you'd be forgiven for thinking so too.
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Global stock markets appear to be crumbling. Oil prices are plummeting. The International Monetary Fund has cut its projections for global growth for 2016 and 2017. Nearly 80 per cent of Australia's surveyed chief executives are more fearful today than they were three years ago. The US has started lifting rates at the worst time possible.
It's all pretty scary.
But numerous economists don't think Armageddon's on our doorstep. Even Nouriel Roubini, the notoriously downbeat economist, thinks fears of a coming crash are overblown.
As they've been trying to explain, much of the news this week hasn't actually been negative. It's just that is seems negative because it's been surrounded by genuinely worrying news.
Take oil prices. Brent crude is trading near its lowest level in more than 12 years – less than US$28 a barrel – thanks to a huge global oversupply, which could get worse (there's speculation the removal of restrictions that have capped Iran's crude oil sales will prolong a worldwide surplus).
But lower oil prices are usually a good thing, aren't they? The cheaper the fuel, the cheaper the cost of the production. Extremely low oil prices ought to encourage global growth. And global growth is what we need right now.
Such remarkably low prices will eventually flow through to bowsers in Australia too, though how much depends on the oil companies and refiners. When they do, it will relieve cost of living pressures on motorists.
US interest rates
The US finally lifted interest rates on December 16, to a target band of 0.25-0.5 per cent, after seven years of rock-bottom rates.
It's a good thing to see US rates rising from such a low position, isn't it? It means the US Federal Reserve thinks the economy has improved to the point where it can start thinking delicately about inflation.
A slightly higher US interest rate is one of the reasons why Australia's dollar has finally dropped below its long-term average of US70-75¢ (it's currently US68¢ ).
Our economy has a better chance of growing sustainably when the Australian dollar is at these lower levels. The Reserve Bank (and big business) has wanted this to happen for years. Now we have it.
International Monetary Fund
This week the IMF cut its growth projections for the global economy for 2016 and 2017.
Admittedly, that wasn't great news. It showed economists at one of the world's most important economic institutions believe we're entering a period of lower-than-expected global growth, thanks largely to China's economy slowing to an annual growth rate below 7 per cent.
But it's not as bad as it sounds.
The IMF revisions still show global growth of 3.4 per cent in 2016 (down from 3.6 per cent in October) and 3.6 per cent in 2017 (down from 3.8 per cent in October).
Global growth of 3.4 per cent and 3.6 per cent is not bad.
It doesn't mean they think we're heading towards a worldwide recession. They've just adjusted their technical assumptions about the pace of growth.
It's better to have more realistic projections of economic growth than unrealistic ones.
Global stock markets
Global stock markets have been getting bashed this year. They've been responding to the slowdown in China, the plummeting oil price, and the wars in the Middle East.
But they've also been reacting to their own frenzy. China's stockmarkets have been one of the wildest.
Stockmarkets in the US, Britain and Australia haven't escaped the mayhem. Australia's ASX200 has fallen about 12 per cent this year, and nearly 20 per cent since its most recent peak.
But it's worth remembering that the stockmarket does not directly reflect the so-called "real" economy.
There's certainly a link, but it's not as strong as the link between the real economy and oil prices, exports and imports, and consumer spending.
It's better to think of the stock market as a reflection of the economy.
Stock markets are supposed to be forward looking, reflecting investors' views of economic activity in the future.
So if stock values go up, it means investors think they can see the potential for profits in the future, so they want to buy in now to make a claim on those future earnings. The opposite occurs when values go down.
But analysts at Capital Economics think the recent plunge in global stock markets – which suggests investors expect the global economy is heading for recession – isn't justified by economic developments.
"Despite the prevailing gloom about the world economy, we think global growth is likely to pick up from 2.5 per cent last year to around 3 per cent in both 2016 and 2017, using our own estimates for China," they wrote to clients this week.
"Growth in the US is likely to be little changed this year, while it will probably slow a little in the euro-zone. However, we expect growth in China to rebound and some other emerging economies to stabilise as commodity prices recover."
That's hardly a doomsday scenario.
Of course, the thing we should be concerned about is the global build-up of debt. The world is burdened by $US200 trillion in debt that will unlikely get paid back.
With so much debt, and with global interest rates at such low levels, governments and central banks will have little firepower to deal with a major economic shock.
Thankfully we still have time to prepare for such an event.