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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Battle for Capital Is Set to Begin

OS ANGELES -- Before so much of the world decided to go capitalist, someone should have asked a simple question: Is there enough capital to go around? With 1994 half over, financial markets are already fixated on next year. And the global economy that some investors now envision in 1995 is one that will be trying to fire on all cylinders, only to find that the necessary fuel -- capital -- is in woefully short supply. The prospect of a planet full of eager entrepreneurs and road-and-bridge-building governments all bidding for scarce resources -- including money -- is the dark cloud overhanging world financial markets today, these analysts say. A looming capital shortage, this school argues, explains why long-term interest rates remain absurdly high relative to current low inflation. It also explains why prices of "hard" resources (in the form of many commodities) are rising, and why investors are fleeing the currencies of some of the most capital-needy countries, such as the United States, which could be most vulnerable in a time of short funds. The issue is not so much whether money and resources will be available to fund a global economic expansion in 1995, but at what price, and therefore with what consequences. "Any given price (for capital) will clear the market, but it's not at 'any price' that economies can grow," warns Kenneth Courtis, from Deutsche Bank Capital Markets in Tokyo. If too many would-be capital users are priced out of the market, the great promise of the post-Cold War world -- that free markets would raise living standards for all -- may vaporize. The idea of a global capital shortage first surfaced when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Some economists wondered about the cost of integrating the so-called first, second and third worlds. But before the world economy could lift off in the new era, Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. The Persian Gulf war, coupled with a bursting of the real estate and financial bubbles in Japan and a massive corporate restructuring by American companies, produced recessions so deep and long in the United States, Europe and Japan that the developed world's need for capital was significantly muted. In the United States, for example, private credit demand dwindled so markedly that the Federal Reserve Board was able to cut short-term interest rates to 30-year lows by last year. Those lower rates, in turn, helped businesses and consumers prepare for a new economic expansion. Now that expansion is in full swing in the United States, Europe and perhaps Japan in the not-too distant future. In the meantime, the bulk of the developing world -- China, India, Southeast Asia and Latin America -- has been growing at a brisk pace since 1991 and is counting on new growth in the industrialized nations to further its own economic advance. Even in troubled Africa, the emergence of a free South Africa is expected to provide a catalyst for economic improvement. David Hale, economist at Kemper Corp. in Chicago, points out that the world's capitalists have waited 80 years for this. "For the first time since 1914, practically all of the nations on this planet have market-oriented economic systems," he says. And in 1995, virtually all of those economies should be growing synchronously for the first time. Or trying. Hence the capital-shortage conundrum: A planet swarming with capitalists will require money and resources at a level never before witnessed. Some of that increased demand is already visible; much is admittedly theoretical, if quite logical: ?In the United States, outstanding commercial and industrial loans at banks, which plunged from $640 billion in early 1991 to $585 billion by the end of 1993 as businesses paid down debt, have been rising almost nonstop this year and has hit $609 billion. ?Privatization of state-owned enterprises -- many through stock offerings that suck up available capital -- continues in full swing in China, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Latin America. And those developing nations now have been joined by capital-short Western governments struggling to streamline their own economies. France, for example, is in the midst of a five-year plan to raise $78 billion through stock offerings in state-owned firms such as drug giant Rhone-Poulenc. A privatization program is also under way in Italy, where the government raised $3.1 billion last week . ?In East Asia, the money needed to develop the region's inadequate infrastructure alone could total a stunning $1 trillion over the next six years, according to John Lonski, economist at Moody's Investors Service in New York. ?In one of the biggest market surprises this year, the prices of many commodities have surged as rising demand from growing economies has suddenly revealed relative shortages of worldwide staples such as coffee and cocoa. It is that accelerating competition between the developed world and the developing world, as the latter spends more and more on its own gowth, that is the root cause of the coming capital shortage, analysts say. The mature Western economies should be supplying capital to the developing world, where growth is faster -- and where, therefore, investment returns should be higher. In fact, the West has exported vast amounts of capital to developing countries. and today, Western investment is booming again, often in the form of equity in "emerging markets". In the 12 months ended March 31, assets in the emerging-market category of U.S. stock mutual funds skyrocketed from $918 million to $6.7 billion, according to Lipper Analytical Services. The question now is whether the West can retain enough capital to finance its own needs in 1995, as the United States, Europe and Japan grow. What troubles many experts is that the West's propensity to generate savings and investment capital is dwindling, even as the demand for money within its own economies -- let alone those of the developing world -- is set to soar.