The current financial crisis and worldwide recession have abruptly halted a nearly three-decade-long expansion of global capital markets. After nearly quadrupling in size relative to GDP since 1980, world financial assets—including equities, private and public debt, and bank deposits—fell by $16 trillion last year to $178 trillion in 2008, the largest setback on record.
MGI research suggests that the forces fueling growth in financial markets have changed. For the past 30 years, most of the overall increase in financial depth—the ratio of assets to GDP—was driven by rapid growth of equities and private debt in mature markets. By 2007, the total value of global financial assets reached a peak of $194 trillion, equal to 343 percent of GDP. But the upheaval in financial markets in late 2008 marked a break in this trend.
The full ramifications of the crisis will take years to play out, but it is already clear that the financial landscape has shifted in several ways.
Although the full ramifications of the financial crisis will take years to play out, it is already clear that the financial landscape has shifted in several ways.
Most notably, MGI finds that:
Falling equities accounted for virtually all of the drop in global financial assets. The world's equities lost almost half their value in 2008, declining by $28 trillion. Markets have regained some ground in recent months, replacing $4.6 trillion in value between December 2008 and the end of July 2009. Global residential real estate values fell by $3.4 trillion in 2008 and nearly $2 trillion more in the first quarter of 2009. Combining these figures, we see that declines in equity and real estate wiped out $28.8 trillion of global wealth in 2008 and the first half of 2009.
Credit bubbles grew both in the United States and Europe before the crisis. Contrary to popular perceptions, credit in Europe grew larger as a percent of GDP than in the United States. Total US credit outstanding rose from 221 percent of GDP in 2000 to 291 percent in 2008, reaching $42 trillion. Eurozone indebtedness rose higher, to 304 percent of GDP by the end of 2008, while UK borrowing climbed even higher, to 320 percent.
Financial globalization has reversed, with cross-border capital flows falling by more than 80 percent. It is unclear how quickly capital flows will revive or whether financial markets will become less globally integrated.
Some global imbalances may be receding. The US current account deficit—and the surpluses in China, Germany, and Japan that helped fund it—has narrowed. However, this may be a temporary effect of the crisis rather than a long-term structural shift.
Mature financial markets may be headed for slower growth in the years to come. Private debt and equity are likely to grow more slowly as households and businesses reduce their debt burdens and as corporate earnings fall back to long-term trends. In contrast, large fiscal deficits will cause government debt to soar.
For emerging markets, the current crisis is likely to be no more than a temporary interruption in their financial market development, because the underlying sources of growth remain strong. For investors and financial intermediaries alike, emerging markets will become more important as their share of global capital markets continues to expand.