Nouriel Roubini: Big Crash Coming

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October 23, 2009
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USOUnited States Oil
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Why risky assets are headed for a crash, and why gold isn't the answer but regulation might be.

 

Dr. Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics and international business at the Stern School of Business at NYU and chairman of RGE Monitor, is perhaps best known for his prescient predictions of the financial market collapse in 2005.

Dr. Roubini will be the keynote speaker at IndexUniverse’s upcoming “Inside Commodities” conference on Nov. 4 at the New York Stock Exchange. We sat down with Dr. Roubini ahead of the conference to take his temperature on global markets, the role of oil (NYSEArca: USO) and gold (NYSEArca: GLD) and the impact of regulation.

 

Index Universe (IU.com): You’ve said that you’re worried we’re already sowing the seeds of the next crisis. Where do you see that most directly?

Dr. Nouriel Roubini (Roubini): Well in commodities, I look at oil prices. They fell from $145 last summer, came down to $30 earlier this year and now they’re back close to $80. But if I look at the fundamentals of demand and supply, demand is down to 2005 levels, supply and inventories are at all-time highs. In my view, the movement in oil prices is not fully justified by the fundamentals.

There are improving fundamentals. There is a global recovery. But that justifies oil going from $30 to maybe $50. I think the other $30 is all speculative demand feeding on it—speculators and herding behavior. Last year, when oil was at $145, that killed the global economy. I worry that oil is going to go up above $100 for reasons that have nothing to do with the fundamentals of supply and demand. Oil at $100 would have the same negative effects on the global economy as oil did at $145 last year.

Last year, when oil was at $145, the global economy was still growing. Right now it has collapsed, and is recovering. Oil pushing above $100 would have nasty, negative real trade effects and real disposable-income effects on all importing countries: U.S., Europe, Japan, China,
India
; all the countries that were hit by the oil shock last year. So that’s an element that is in my view totally speculative, and dangerous to the global economy.

IU.com: Is that true elsewhere?

Roubini: I could make a similar argument for other commodity prices. In my view, rising commodity prices are not justified by the fundamentals.

There’s a huge bubble, because we have zero rates in the
U.S.
, zero rates around the world and a huge carry trade. Everyone is borrowing at zero interest rates in dollars and getting a capital gain because the dollar is weakening, so they are borrowing at negative rates. And then they invest in risky assets: commodities, equities, credit. We’re creating a bigger bubble than before.

It’s going to go crashing down, in an ugly way. That’s the basics of the argument.

IU.com: Is there a regulatory solution to the speculation issue? Is the CFTC tightening and enforcing position limits a step in the right direction?

Roubini: I think it’s an idea worth considering. I’m not usually in favor of position limits, but I think the swings in the value of oil have been extremely dangerous for the global economy. Oil at $145 was the reason—more than Lehman or anything else—that the global economy tipped into the worst recession in the last 60 years. After the collapse of the global economy, oil collapsed to $30. At $30, there can be investment in new capacity. But now it’s back at $80 and soon enough it’s going to be at $100.

If position limits are going to be effective—and I don’t know that—I would not be against them. Because these swings in value of oil, on the way up and on the way down, are extremely damaging to global economic activity. They are dangerous. They are not justified. And if they can be controlled, so be it.

 

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