This blog has analysed on several occasions that the current decline in financial markets, including share prices, has continued for 17 months to match in rapidity that after 1929 – i.e. the most severe recorded.
As may be seen from Figure 1 the rise in share prices on Wall Street in the trading week 9-13 March week did not break out of this declining trend. The shift so far has simply moved the rate of descent closer to the declining trendline that has been operating since October 2007 following several weeks of more precipitate than average falls.
As may be seen from the comparison in Figure 2 the rate of descent of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since October 2007 continues to be as rapid as in 1929 - i.e. it greatly exceeds in speed any other major share decline, apart from 1929, seen since the beginning of the 20th century.
Considering the relation between the financial decline and the productive economy, an article on this blog earlier this month also noted that, for the major industrialised economies, the annualised rate of decline in exports in the last three months has actually been more rapid than in 1929.
The latest statistical data released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for world trade up to December 2008, with data for more recent months in a few cases, allows the calculation of a picture for a wider range of countries that confirms this trend in striking fashion.
Due to the extremely rapid shift in the situation three indicators have been calculated for exports – the actual year on year decline to December 2008, the actual decline in exports since the peak month for each country or area last year, and the change during the three months to December 2008 on an annualised basis.
In order to give a historical scale of comparison the decline of US exports, in current prices, was 22.5% in 1929-30, 32.7% in 1930-31, 32.4% in 1931-32 and 4.0% in 1932-33 after which partial export recovery commenced - i.e. the most rapid annual rate of decline of US exports in the Great Depression, and the most rapid on record to date, was 32.7% in 1930-31. By 1933 US exports had fallen 66.2% below their 1929 level.
Considering first the OECD area as a whole, and the situation in the European region, the data is set out in Table 1. As can be seen for the OECD region as a whole exports have already declined by over 30% since their peak in April 2008 - essentially equaling the rates of decline of the worst year of the 1930s. The annualised rate of decline in three months up to December 2008 was an astonishing 64%.
For the major G7 economies the decline was only slightly less severe - with a decline of 26.9% since the peak in July and an annualised rate of decline of 57.8% in the three months to December 2008.
Within the Euro area the annualised rate of decline for the three months to December 2008 was 50.4% and for the OECD European region, which includes some East European states, the annualised rate of decline was 67.0%.
It may therefore be clearly said that in the field of trade, as in that of financial markets, the current decline is full comparable in speed of descent to the onset of the Great Depression. The difference, so far, is not in the speed of fall but in its duration. The decline in exports after 1929 continued for four years whereas so far the current decline has been occurring for a year.
Turning to individual countries, Table 2 shows the figures for the largest OECD economies - the G7. As may be seen all have seen declines in exports of over 25% since their peak levels last year and in the three months to December 2008 all witnessed annualised rates of decline of more than 50%.
In short, the precipitate decline in world trade, at 1930s rates of descent, is not confined to smaller economies but fully affects the largest ones.
Table 3 shows the rates of decline of exports for the non-G7 European OECD states. As may be seen with the exception of two small economies, Luxemburg and Ireland, which have done better than others, all OECD European countries have seen actual export declines of at least 25% and annualised rates of decline of 50% or more.
It is possible that the rate of decline for Spain, an incredible 99.7% annualised rate in the three months to December 2008, is a statistical freak or error but the annualised rates of decline for Sweden, Poland, and Norway are almost as severe - respectively, 79.1%, 82,8%, and 83.1%. Such rates may rightly be characterised not as decline but of collapse of exports in at least the short term.
Turning to non-European economies, the data is set out in Table 4. Again, with the exception of the small economies of Iceland and New Zealand, the highly publicised decline of Chinese exports by 22.3% since their peak last year, and at an annualised rate of 53.0% in the three months to December, are themselves actually significantly smaller than for other countries. Mexico and South Korea have already seen actual declines of exports of over 30% and South Africa and Turkey have seen falls of over 40%. The annualised rates of decline of exports for South Korea, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey - at 70.7%, 72.4%, 78.2%, 82.1%, and 90.1% respectively - are clearly catastrophic.
Countries for which OECD data is available for January confirm continuation of the same trend – as shown in Table 5. The chief difference is that with the extra month the actual declines in exports, as opposed to only the annualised rates of fall, have become more serious.
The actual falls recorded from the maximum levels of exports are 29.8% for Switzerland, 41.1% for South Africa, 41.4% for Sweden, 46.3% for Norway and 47.5% for Turkey. There is nothing in this pattern which indicates results for other countries are likely to show an improved tendency.
Summarising the above data, of the 34 countries studied 14 had annualised rates of decline of exports of more than 70% and 20 had rates of decline of more than 60%. The widely publicised reports of declines of exports in the last three months of last year such as the annualised 51.9% for Japan, 53.0% for China, or 54.0% for the US, which attracted much publicity, are actually modest compared to the falls in most countries.
While the annualised rates of decline show the extremely striking implosion of world trade during the last three months of 2008 an annualised rate, naturally, indicates an, in this case extremely severe, tendency. What is equally disturbing is the factual falls in exports recorded from the maximum levels last year. Seven countries registered actual falls in exports of more than 40% and 19 of more than 30%.
It should be noted that trade today plays a more significant role in the world economy than at the onset of the 1929 crisis. Exports in an economy with relatively low exposure to trade such as the US now account for 12% of US GDP compared to 7% in 1929 - the figures for most countries are of course much higher. The result of any continuation of such rapid rates of decline of trade therefore, all other things being equal, would be more severe than in 1929.
The transmission mechanisms of the financial crisis into the productive economy are also made clear by such trends. As has been noted previously, initially in the present crisis there was a disjunction between the decline in financial markets, which was of 1929 magnitude, and the situation of the productive economy - which was of a severe but not equivalent decline. As such a disjunction is highly unlikely to continue either financial markets would recover, having overshot on the downside, or the trends and statistics in the productive economy would be shown to have been a lagging indicator and they would adjust downwards to the tendencies indicated in financial markets.
The extraordinarily powerful falls in world exports shown in the latest figures for all major economies indicate that the decline in trade is operating as a key mechanism by which the crisis revealed in financial markets is beginning to affect the productive economy. It may now be said that in two areas of the world economy, financial markets and trade, rates of decline are fully comparable to 1929 scale. How powerful the transmission mechanisms from the international sector are into domestic economies must clearly be carefully studied. The duration of the crisis is also critical - the so far unique severity of 1929 was not only due to the rapidity of the fall but by its duration. The decline in US trade and GDP in the 1930s continued for four years whereas the current decline in financial markets has lasted 17 months, the decline in trade slightly under one year, and the fall in GDP approximately six months.
Nevertheless quite sufficient data are now in to say with certainty that in the last three months of 2008 a convulsion in world trade occurred. The extreme rapidity of the fall in world trade, as with the situation in financial markets, confirms that the benchmark for present analyses must be not only post-World War II recessions but also 1929 itself.
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This article originally appeared on Key Trends in Globalisation
Notes to Tables - peak month for exports in 2008
1. Peak January 2008
2. Peak March 2008
3. Peak April 2008
4. Peak May 2008
5. Peak June 2008
6. Peak July 2008
7. Peak August 2008
8. Peak September 2008