Monday, December 20, 2010

The Sudden Emergence of Contentions of 'the End of Savings Glut'

I have read two separate articles in the past week concerning a contended coming 'end of savings glut.' One piece, by David Wessel, appeared in the Wall Street Journal, while the other was in a recent edition of The Economist. Both cite McKinsey & Co.'s McKinsey Global Institute as the source of their articles.

Seeing McKinsey's institute cited twice in a week on the same topic makes me suspicious that the consulting giant is once again gearing up its media machinery to stoke demand for projects based on yet another shocking 'finding' from its 'institute.'

I recall when McKinsey created its institute many years ago. At the time, I was with Andersen Consulting, now Accenture, which, belatedly, I believe, created their own allegedly-separate research arm, as well. Back then, it was relatively easy to identify McKinsey's 'institute' concept as simply a way to refashion certain publicly-releasable elements of their confidential client work, the better to get free media attention and put forth an image of doing independent research. I said as much to senior executives at Andersen at the time, but it took quite a few years for them to come around to the McKinsey concept.

Whether this latest shocker from the consulting firm is the result of its deliberate consideration of the question, or simply an agglomeration of various client work elements, is not clear. Or even if it's mostly some deductions made from combing through available OECD information. Reading the two derivative articles suggests it could easily be the latter.

Rereading those pieces, I find myself rather unsurprised by McKinsey's alleged 'findings.' It doesn't take a genius to see that wealthier developing nation consumers will both attract more investment to build infrastructure to serve their evolving needs, as well as provide some savings from their accelerating incomes.

Are the estimates of global investment, savings, and growth from McKinsey accurate? I don't know. Why should they be any more accurate than those of other pundits, researchers and observers?

Here's a sample of Wessel's interpretation of the McKinsey report,

"The global savings glut could easily become global savings dearth. And that would mean substantially higher interest rates.

If long-term rates, adjusted for inflation, returned to the 40-year average, McKinsey estimates, they would be 1.5 percentage points higher, a big jump from the current 3% or so yield on 10-year Treasurys. And rates could go up more if emerging markets try to step up infrastructure and other investments faster than U.S. and other rich countries increase their overall saving, which could be an unwelcome brake on global growth."

Funny, I thought the US is dissaving to the tune of a trillion dollars of federal deficits per year, plus various municipal pension funding gaps in the tens of billions.

The fuzzy forecasts for various constructs- savings, investment, economic growth- combined with whether various rates rise, or fall, makes the whole notion of declaring a savings shortages a joke.

I'm not saying their won't be an 'end of savings glut,' nor that their won't be a rise in rates. But so much depends upon the movement of many inter-related factors that it's really just impossible to know, isn't it?

But, then, that's probably McKinsey's objective. To create some newly-imagined risks of uncertainty, the better, well, to go hire those supposedly-smart folks who wrote that study. Just in case there's new uncertainty.

This is classic consultant marketing. I can well-imagine the hours of conference-room sessions at McKinsey dreaming this one up. Corral a bunch of publicly-available statistics, use a lot of beach-time among under-employed junior staffers, and demonstrate the possibility of some shocking headline. Doesn't really matter what the headline is, so long as it's a shocking departure to something current. Change is news, change brings risk, and perceived new risk just might bring in some new assignments to assess various companies' risks to these new, possibly-changing facets of the global economy.

And McKinsey is doubtless counting on getting their share, or more, of those assignments. Regardless of whether there is going to be a dearth, or glut, of global savings on the horizon.

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