Sonders On Similarities, Differences Between Today and 2008

The eurozone debt crisis has frequently been compared to the Lehman Brothers-triggered financial crisis that rocked the U.S. in 2008. In recent commentary, Charles Schwab Chief Investment Strategist Liz Ann Sonders takes a look at how the two crises are similar — and how they are different.

“The eurozone debt crisis is not distinct from 2008’s, because what we’re really dealing with is the finale of the global ‘Debt Supercycle’ that took decades to brew,” Sonders writes on Schwab’s web site. “A breaking point was reached in the United States in 2008, and more recently in Europe.”

The crises are similar in that both were originally believed to be contained early in the process, and both were believed to be about liquidity, not solvency. In both cases, Sonders says, the market eventually demanded a “more comprehensive solution”. Both crises also involve a “complex web of interconnections among global banks and limited transparency on credit-derivative exposure”, and questions about how far the policymakers should take things to make sure those involved fix their root problems.

But Sonders offers more reasons for why things are different than they were in 2008. Among them:

  • The U.S. crisis started at the bottom, with bad mortgages that spread through the financial system; the eurozone crisis started at the top, with government debt.
  • The response to the 2008 crisis was “swift and coordinated”, something that hasn’t occurred in the eurozone crisis. “The primary problem today is a virtual absence of confidence among financial players of every variety in eurozone governments’ and policy-makers’ ability to stem the tide and stimulate growth,” Sonders says;
  • The eurozone crisis is spread over 17 countries, pitting different economies against each other;
  • Global central banks have fewer policy options today to deal with the eurozone crisis than they did during the 2008 crisis;
  • The U.S. economy and banking system are in far better shape than they were when the 2008 crisis hit;
  • Commodity inflation isn’t as significant as it was in 2008, allowing central banks to move toward looser policies to stem the crisis.

Sonders says a eurozone recession is “all but inevitable”. As for the broader picture, she says, “These are difficult and somewhat dangerous times. Rolling crises are likely inevitable, leading to shortened economic and market cycles. We’re in a period of history with challenges that are new and more powerful than what have been dealt with in the past. But it’s also helpful to remember what Warren Buffet once wrote in a shareholder letter: ‘…we have usually made our best purchases when apprehensions about some macro event were at a peak.'”