Bin Laden death won’t bring stability: experts

The top story of the day, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, may have an effect on the markets today and maybe for a short period, but in the long run, the death of Bin Laden will not bring stability to the United States or to the world.

By Russ Britt
MarketWatch
MARKET WATCH

LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) — Despite an initial market fallout for oil in markets, the killing of Osama bin Laden won’t quell concerns on petroleum prices, a panel of economists and asset managers said Monday at a conference in Los Angeles.

The death of bin Laden could create even more instability to the Middle East and northern African nations now undergoing turmoil, potentially driving up oil prices and creating more economic strife for the U.S. and other developed countries.

“I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I’m not sure [it is] great,” Ruben Vardanian, chief executive of the Moscow-based asset management company Troika Dialog Group, told a moderator at the Milken Conference.

Vardanian said any stability hoped for with the toppling of perhaps the U.S.’s most notorious nemesis is likely to be a fallacy in today’s world.

“Stability is not necessarily there,” he said. “It’s part of new life.”

Vardanian was on a panel that included Pimco Chief Executive Mohamed El-Erian, Guggenheim Chief Investment Officer Scott Minerd and Laura Tyson, former chair of the president’s council of economic advisers under the Clinton Administration and current University of California, Berkeley professor.

While the group diverged widely on the causes and status of the current global economic situation, they all agreed that although bin Laden’s death was a gain for the U.S. in military terms, its effect on the markets could be detrimental.

“It might be equally destabilizing to the oil market,” Tyson said.

Their views were echoed by noted economist and forecaster Nouriel Roubini, who said in a separate discussion at the annual gathering of economists and business leaders that much of the world stage will remain as is.

“The fact that he’s gone doesn’t significantly change the geopolitical situation,” Roubini said. “I think the death of bin Laden doesn’t significantly change that.”

And Roubini warned that further increases in oil prices could lead to double-dip recession for such developed nations as the U.S., Japan, Germany and Great Britain. He said it’s not speculation that’s pushing up oil prices as in past spikes, but rather increased demand from China and other developing nations.

“If oil prices rise another 20%, that could create a double dip,” Roubini said.

Roubini and the panelists devoted considerable time to bin Laden and the after-effects of his demise, but the group had assembled to dissect global economics. One key theme running throughout both Roubini’s talk and those of the panelists was whether other nations such as China would overtake the U.S. as the central global economic power and how long that would take.

El-Erian said that while the U.S. remained the biggest player, it no longer dominated the world economic stage. Using a musical metaphor, he likened the current world economy to that of an orchestra playing without the one single conductor that it once had. When the economic crisis of 2008 hit and the U.S. nearly fell into depression, various nations got a new sheet of music.

Now that developing nations such as China and Brazil are forging out into their own directions, getting those economies in tune with mature countries like the U.S. could be tough, especially if oil prices remain high and the housing market doesn’t stabilize.

“Different sections of this orchestra are playing different tunes,” he said. “Let’s hope you can get a conductor. But don’t plan on it.”

Still, Roubini said the U.S.’s economic might remains stronger than that of any other nation. He said any discussion of moving away from the dollar as the world’s reserve currency is premature as it would take several decades for that to occur.

“You could say the U.S. is in an area of relative decline,” Roubini said.

He added, however, that the U.S. won’t see a return to massive, quick growth as in past upsurges.

“This recession won’t be [V-shaped], it will be a ‘U’,” he said. “Four percent growth is like going to Mars. It’s not going to happen.”

Russ Britt is the Los Angeles bureau chief for MarketWatch.

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