Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nice if you can get it

The "happy handover" orthodoxy of the International Monetary Fund is that America will escape with a shallow slowdown. Asia and Europe will pick up the growth baton. The world will march on without missing a step.

Nice if you can get it. The more ominous possibility is that America fails to recover quickly, and takes the world with it. Japan already shows signs of stalling. Retail sales have fallen for two months. Far from bursting back to life as expected, it is still teetering on the edge of deflation.

France ground to a halt in the last quarter as the surging euro ate into the country's industrial core. Airbus was humming when the euro was worth 90 US cents. Now it must compete at $1.33, with wage costs in euros set against delivery contracts in dollars. Currency hedges protect for a while, then reality hits.