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Fear & Greed, Fear and Greed

The world’s biggest economy is heading for recession, according to investment giant Vanguard. 

Dr Qian Wang, Vanguard’s Chief Economist for the Asia Pacific region, talks to Sean Aylmer about the Vanguard Economic and Market Outlook report, and what 2024 has in store for the US, Europe and Asia.

Find out more: https://fearandgreed.com.au

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Sean Aylmer : Welcome to the Fear and Greed Business interview. I’m Sean

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Sean Aylmer : Aylmer. Interest rates might be tipped to come down later

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Sean Aylmer : this year, but the era of ultra- low rates is

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Sean Aylmer : over. And while that might not be welcome news for

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Sean Aylmer : mortgage holders, global investment giant, Vanguard, believes the shift to

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Sean Aylmer : higher interest rates, at least over the longer term, is

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Sean Aylmer : the single best economic financial development in 20 years with long-

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Sean Aylmer : term benefits for markets and investors.
Qian Wang is Vanguard’s

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Sean Aylmer : chief economist for the Asia- Pacific region. Also, she heads

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Sean Aylmer : up their global economics and Capital Markets Model research team.

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Sean Aylmer : She joins me today from the US. Qian, welcome to

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Sean Aylmer : Fear and Greed.

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Qian Wang: Thank you for the invitation. Glad to join you today.

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Sean Aylmer : You recently released the Vanguard economic and market outlook, which

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Sean Aylmer : is a major piece of work. It looks at the

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Sean Aylmer : global economy. It talks about a return to sound money.

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Sean Aylmer : Now, in layman’s terms, so I can understand it, so

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Sean Aylmer : my mum can understand it, what does that mean and

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Sean Aylmer : why does it matter?

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Qian Wang: The return of sound money, we meant the interest rate

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Qian Wang: will stay above the rate of inflation in the long term,

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Qian Wang: so persistent, positive real interest rate. Now in our real,

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Qian Wang: that is actually a very critical difference between investment and

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Qian Wang: speculation because the former comes on enduring real return over

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Qian Wang: the long- term, and then the magic of compounding will

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Qian Wang: help you to achieve your long- term investment goal while

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Qian Wang: the latter actually stick to profit from the price volatility

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Qian Wang: in the short- term.
So this kind of cash rate

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Qian Wang: is very important to investor, higher cash rate, because it set the

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Qian Wang: level of risk- free rate, that is the foundation of

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Qian Wang: all asset returns, right? If we use a building block

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Qian Wang: approach, risk- free rate plus term premium give you the

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Qian Wang: long duration bond yield, plus credit spread, give us the

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Qian Wang: yield from credit, plus equity risk premium, then we get

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Qian Wang: the earnings yield for equity. So leaving any price change

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Qian Wang: aside, a higher risk- free rate should lift up expected

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Qian Wang: return for all asset classes in the long term.

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Sean Aylmer : Okay. So I feel like I’m back in a finance lecture here listening

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Sean Aylmer : to you here. But it’s kind of, I mean, behind

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Sean Aylmer : all this is the fact that in recent years, and

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Sean Aylmer : probably since the GFC, times haven’t been normal because we

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Sean Aylmer : have had, and particularly in recent times, such low interest

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Sean Aylmer : rates and you’ve had inflation above interest rates and that’s

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Sean Aylmer : not what should happen. Kind of what you’re saying, I

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Sean Aylmer : think, correct me if I’m wrong, is that for the

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Sean Aylmer : long term you’re supposed to actually have interest rates higher

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Sean Aylmer : than inflation because that allows you, when you’re investing in

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Sean Aylmer : things like bonds particularly, but along the credit spectrum, equities

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Sean Aylmer : and that, it kind of sets the ground rules more

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Sean Aylmer : normally or something like that.

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Qian Wang: Yeah. I think over the past decade, especially after the

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Qian Wang: global financial crisis, we are used to a very low

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Qian Wang: interest rate environment. And in many places you get zero

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Qian Wang: interest rate or even negative interest rate. And at that

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Qian Wang: point it’s like, where is the confidence in those fiat

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Qian Wang: currency, why we hold casual, why we hold those bond

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Qian Wang: or fixed income investment securities?
But now, I think, there

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Qian Wang: is a critical change. This is what our outlook paper

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Qian Wang: is focusing on, a structural shift to a higher interest

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Qian Wang: rate environment, which will endure beyond the current business cycle,

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Qian Wang: right? Yes, central bank they will cut this year, but

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Qian Wang: even if they cut, interest rate will settle at a

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Qian Wang: higher level than what we have seen since the GFC.

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Qian Wang: So basically zero interest rate are yesterday’s news.

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Sean Aylmer : Yeah. Okay. So let’s look at some of the… I mean,

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Sean Aylmer : I want to talk about Australia in a moment, but

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Sean Aylmer : let’s look at some of the global economies. Let’s start

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Sean Aylmer : with the US. What do you think will happen in

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Sean Aylmer : the US in the next year or two?

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Qian Wang: Well, I think, look back into 2023, one of the

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Qian Wang: biggest surprise was how resilient the US economy was, right?

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Qian Wang: On one hand we could say, ” Yeah, monetary policy always

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Qian Wang: have a long and variable lag of transmission, so we

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Qian Wang: just got to be a little bit patient.” But there’s

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Qian Wang: also many other offsetting forces that actually offset the impact

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Qian Wang: from monetary tightening, right? So if not for those offset

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Qian Wang: then US economy will have been on track for flat,

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Qian Wang: stay flat last year, instead of 2. 5% in 2023.
Now

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Qian Wang: in 2024, many of those offsets, like excess saving for

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Qian Wang: household, fiscal stimulus will fade and monetary policy will start

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Qian Wang: to bite. So we actually expect a minor recession in

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Qian Wang: the second half of this year with unemployment rate going

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Qian Wang: towards say around 5% by the end of this year.

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Qian Wang: I think the market is expecting a soft landing. That

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Qian Wang: is possible, but it’s not our baseline at this moment.

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Qian Wang: Something has to give. If you want to bring down

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Qian Wang: inflation to 2%, the last mile is always the most

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Qian Wang: difficult, something has to give. So that recession is probably

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Qian Wang: what is needed.

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Sean Aylmer : And that means that rates will fall in the US at some

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Sean Aylmer : point in the next couple of quarters?

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Qian Wang: Yes. I think slightly different from the market expectation. The

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Qian Wang: market was expecting an early cut, could be starting in

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Qian Wang: March, but in our view, we don’t think the Fed

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Qian Wang: need to rush into monetary easing at this moment because

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Qian Wang: inflation, especially when you look at the rich worlds and

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Qian Wang: core inflation, still very sticky. So inflation is still having

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Qian Wang: the risk that they could re- accelerate if the Fed

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Qian Wang: cut too early, if that is a premature cut. So

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Qian Wang: that’s where we think the Fed probably will start to

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Qian Wang: cut in the middle of this year when they see

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Qian Wang: more evidence that labor market is softening and the economy

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Qian Wang: is sliding into a recession. And we expect about 150

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Qian Wang: base point to 200 base point cut this year.

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Sean Aylmer : Stay with me Qian, we’ll be back in a minute.

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Sean Aylmer : I’m speaking to Dr. Qian Wang, Vanguard’s chief economist for

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Sean Aylmer : the Asia- Pacific region. Okay. Tell me, what about Europe?

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Qian Wang: Yeah. Now, it’s interesting. Europe’s story is very similar to

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Qian Wang: the US when you see inflation rising, central bank hike

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Qian Wang: aggressively, but in Europe the difference is that the European

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Qian Wang: economy has slowed quite significantly and likely already in a

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Qian Wang: recession.
Now, one key difference is that monetary policy tightening

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Qian Wang: is actually much more effective in Europe when the economy

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Qian Wang: actually counts more on the banks for funding rather than

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Qian Wang: capital markets. So higher rates actually kicks in much faster.

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Qian Wang: And also in Euro area, fiscal policy is also more

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Qian Wang: restrictive.
So in 2024, we expect European economy to remain

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Qian Wang: very subdued, 0. 5 to 1%, because monetary policy will

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Qian Wang: continue to bite and fiscal policy continue to be restrictive,

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Qian Wang: and as a result, ECB will also have to cut in

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Qian Wang: the second half of this year by about 75 base points.

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Sean Aylmer : Okay. What about closer to home here? Asian economies and

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Sean Aylmer : obviously China is incredibly… and China and Japan are the two big

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Sean Aylmer : ones for Australia because we export so much stuff to

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Sean Aylmer : those two economies. What’s the outlook for them?

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Qian Wang: I think one of the biggest disappointment in 2023 was the weak and

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Qian Wang: very bumpy recovery in the Chinese economy following the post-

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Qian Wang: pandemic opening. Now when you look at China economy, they

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Qian Wang: just announced the GDP growth this week. They actually achieved

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Qian Wang: a 5.2% growth rate and they achieved their gross target.

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Qian Wang: But that is largely because of very low base in

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Qian Wang: 2022. If you look at the economy, the private sector

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Qian Wang: spending and confidence are very weak and the government is

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Qian Wang: reluctant to stimulate aggressively because of financial stability concern. The

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Qian Wang: good news is that policy support is coming and we

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Qian Wang: expect more. So that could actually help to sustain a

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Qian Wang: continued, but still very weak and slow, recovery of the

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Qian Wang: economy.
But one thing I do want to highlight about

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Qian Wang: the Chinese economy is that now we come to a

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Qian Wang: better understanding, the downturn in China is not just cyclical

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Qian Wang: but also structural, right? You have tons of structural headwinds,

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Qian Wang: demographic, right? A shift in global supply chain, more property

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Qian Wang: downturning is structural, not just cyclical. And also the strength

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Qian Wang: and control of the state sector in the economy, that

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Qian Wang: is actually hurting private sector animal spirit. So putting that

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Qian Wang: together, I would say when you think about the trend

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Qian Wang: growth of China, before the global financial crisis, it was

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Qian Wang: over 10%. Now we say it’s probably in the low

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Qian Wang: 4% range and we expect it to decline further to

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Qian Wang: say around 3 or even below by the end of

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Qian Wang: this decade.

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Sean Aylmer : Okay. Very quickly, Japan?

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Qian Wang: Yeah, I think Japan is actually coming to a better

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Qian Wang: situation at this moment. Japan actually has gone through 30

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Qian Wang: years of de- leverage, especially in the private sector, both corporate

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Qian Wang: and household. So to that extent, at this moment when

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Qian Wang: you look at the Japan private sector, their balance sheet

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Qian Wang: is very strong.
And then from an income perspective, corporate

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Qian Wang: profit and also the labor market and wage growth is

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Qian Wang: actually picking up. So I think that they are in a better

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Qian Wang: situation and the economy is also getting out of this

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Qian Wang: deflation or low inflation mindset because of a structural shortage

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Qian Wang: in labor supply, as well as a structural shift in

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Qian Wang: terms of price setting and wage setting behavior.
So down

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Qian Wang: the road, I would say in the very near term,

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Qian Wang: I think Japan is still facing a lot of significant

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Qian Wang: external headwinds, given they are so reliant on global manufacturing

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Qian Wang: demand. So I think in the near term there could

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Qian Wang: be more cyclical headwinds, but I would say if you

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Qian Wang: look beyond 2024, I think there’s actually more upside from

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Qian Wang: the Japan side and as a result, BOJ will have

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Qian Wang: to continue with the normalization, hence lifting the interest rate

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Qian Wang: out of the negative territory.

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Sean Aylmer : Okay. So putting all this together, the return to sound

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Sean Aylmer : money and what you’ve just talked about in terms of

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Sean Aylmer : the macroeconomic outlooks for those economies, what’s it mean for

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Sean Aylmer : investors? So if I’m an Australian investor looking to invest

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Sean Aylmer : overseas in one of those big economies, we know interest

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Sean Aylmer : rates are going to be higher, we know that things

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Sean Aylmer : are going to be back to normal, whatever normal is,

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Sean Aylmer : and you’ve just given us a rundown on the economies,

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Sean Aylmer : where should they be looking? Is it kind of back

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Sean Aylmer : to more traditional 60/ 40 portfolios?

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Qian Wang: So you see, I think the transition towards a higher

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Qian Wang: interest rate could actually lead to a lot of volatility

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Qian Wang: in the near term as you actually opened. For household,

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Qian Wang: they have to… saving will be more attractive, borrowing will

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Qian Wang: be more costly. For business, that’s the same as well.

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Qian Wang: And for government, higher risk will raise concern about fiscal sustainability

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Qian Wang: and force a reassessment of fiscal policy. That’s the same

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Qian Wang: for investor. When we are in this kind of a

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Qian Wang: shift towards the higher interest rate environment, a lot of

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Qian Wang: adjustment will need to be made. One example we can

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Qian Wang: use is bond. For the past two years, it has

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Qian Wang: been quite painful for our bond investor.
However, the good

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Qian Wang: news is that when the transition is done, higher interest

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Qian Wang: rate will provide a good foundation for higher risk- adjusted

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Qian Wang: return in the long run. So now we are heading

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Qian Wang: towards the end of the structural shift, and then central

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Qian Wang: bank across the world is already at the peak of

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Qian Wang: the hiking cycle.
So then for bond investor in particular,

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Qian Wang: the worst is behind us. The price suffer. On the

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Qian Wang: other hand, the higher interest rate means you got higher

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Qian Wang: coupon income in the long term. So from a long-

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Qian Wang: term perspective, our bond market return improved from 1. 3

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Qian Wang: to 2. 3% two years ago, when interest rate was

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Qian Wang: literally zero, to now 4.3 to 5. 3% from the bond market,

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Qian Wang: and also with higher bond yield. We also say the

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Qian Wang: diversification benefit of a bond in that balanced portfolio is

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Qian Wang: also back, right? So this is where we say bond

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Qian Wang: is back and because of better return on local bond,

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Qian Wang: even for balanced say 60/ 40 portfolio, their outlook also improved

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Qian Wang: quite significantly.
Now, of course you could say, should I

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Qian Wang: stick to 60/40? I would say because of the significant improvement in

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Qian Wang: bond return, equity return is still decent, but relatively speaking,

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Qian Wang: we would prefer bond at this moment. So this is

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Qian Wang: where we would advise a more conservative portfolio for investors

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Qian Wang: at this moment.

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Sean Aylmer : Qian, thank you very much for talking to Fear and Greed.

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Qian Wang: Thank you.

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Sean Aylmer : That was Dr. Qian Wang, Vanguard’s chief economist for the Asia-

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Sean Aylmer : Pacific region. This is the Fear and Greed Business interview.

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Sean Aylmer : Remember, this is general information only and you should seek

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Sean Aylmer : professional advice before making investment decisions. Join us every morning

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Sean Aylmer : for the full episode of Fear and Greed, Australia’s best

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Sean Aylmer : business podcast. I’m Sean Aylmer. Enjoy your day.