Credit managers from Europe and Canada joined with U.S. credit managers from more than 20 states at the FCIB-NACM Tenth Annual Global Conference, which featured world-class speakers on the international economy and global credit management. At the November 1-3 New York meeting, credit managers from some of the largest companies in the world had an opportunity to network with each other and to tap the minds of leading experts. With sessions ranging from the economic outlook in Latin America to dealing with ethical issues abroad, conference attendees left with the latest information and analyses on the new credit management landscape.
Dr. Sidney Jones, a visiting professor at Georgetown University and one of the country's top economists, opened the conference with the words everyone wanted to hear: The U.S. economy will most likely continue on its remarkable path of solid economic growth and low inflation. The country "has undergone an amazing sequence of economic developments," said Jones, which has positioned it as the unmistakable leader in virtually every growth industry. The "virtuous cycle" of high employment and productivity but low inflation will hold, he predicted, as long as the government pursues a stable monetary policy and avoids the pitfalls that might shift the economy into a "vicious cycle" of high inflation and declining investment.
Jones outlined the basic reasons for the United States' stunning economic success. Most importantly, the nation's population is dominated by productive adults at the peak of their earning abilities and tax-generating income levels. The United States has been the prime beneficiary of the rapid globalization and the leader in key technological developments. The nation is at least three to four years ahead of the rest of the world in digital technology and e-commerce, Jones said, supported in part by the immigration of talented workers into key sectors of the U.S. economy. Stable monetary policy, established by outstanding leadership at the Federal Reserve, has provided the context for ongoing growth. Also, with a new commitment to lower government spending and the peace dividend in hand, the federal deficit is under control.
Jones put the probability of recession at only 5 percent, with a 30 percent chance of overheating and a 65 percent chance of continued solid economic growth. Inflation, which has been extraordinarily low for the past three years, is edging back into a 2.5 percent to 3 percent range, Jones noted, because of wage pressures, labor shortages and rising oil and other commodity prices. Jones cautioned that if inflation increases beyond this range, consumption and investment may decline. He also warned that the U.S. trade deficit is huge and a possible danger to continued prosperity; but he believes that it will slow as the rest of the world economy picks up. Jones also expressed some concern over the extent to which the U.S. economy is dependent on the stock market.
In response to questions from the audience about the international economy, Jones said that NAFTA has helped the U.S. economy and boosted Mexican economic growth through increased trade with the United States. A question about Japan's recovery prompted Jones to suggest that Japan's huge financial problems are politically based, far reaching and far from over. An audience member from the United Kingdom asked about the advantages of the euro. Jones responded that its prime benefit is pricing transparency and the savings on transaction costs. Most importantly, Jones said "the euro will coerce the badly needed restructuring of labor markets." He also noted that it is essential for Britain to join the euro zone.
Although Jones' positive short-term forecast for continued economic growth in the United States and recovery abroad was a welcomed note, he warned that "the system will work for another decade and then all hell will break loose" as 80 million baby boomers reach retirement age and Social Security funds dry up. …