Progress in Europe?
This time of September is always one of the busiest but most exciting times of the year as fall in New York kicks off with a decidedly international flavor. Last week, New York was home to two important events: the opening of debate at the U.N. General Assembly and the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative(CGI).
I spent much of my time at the CGI, where many of the world's leaders in politics and business gathered. One of the most common themes I heard in my conversations is that of stability. After a tumultuous few years, many aspects of the global economy appear to be at least settling down even if their health is not yet fully restored.
Of course, much of the tumult earlier this year came out of Europe, especially Greece, as a burgeoning debt crisis sparked fears of an international contagion. Europe was once again in the news last Thursday thanks to a weaker-than-expected report on business activity in 16 nations that use the euro.
Because of Europe's importance to the U.S. market and around the world, I tried to focus much of my reporting on what is going on there. I had a chance to talk at length with George Papandreou, the prime minister of Greece, and he told me about the significant changes his country has made, including being on target with this year's plans to reduce the budget deficit 40 percent.
"There was a sense of a lack of credibility and of fear about where the Greek economy was going," he told me. "What we've proven is that we have been able to take the most difficult measures and restore, first of all, the credibility that this is a government that really means business. And secondly, as we're doing so, bringing our economy into a manageable and sustainable economy, and a competitive economy. "
Papandreou pointed to structural changes in Greece's labor market and tax system, as well as an emphasis on areas in which the country believes it has competitive advantages – the Mediterranean diet, tourism, shipping, renewable energy and high tech and innovation. He told me that several other countries, including Qatar, Abu Dhabi and China, are now investing in Greece.
As we all know from watching the protests in that country, Greece's "austerity plan" to return to growth required some decisions that were unpopular politically. Still, the country is ahead of target in its efforts to raise revenue and slow spending, according to Mr. Papandreou.
But the crisis is far from over. The IMF estimates that Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio will reach its height in 2013 at 144 percent. As a result, Papandreou says it's imperative that the country show investors its growth potential. Part of that growth will likely come from finding a way to fold in the country's "underground economy" – the hidden tax revenues, unregistered labor, and so on – with the official economy.
Underground business is bigger in Greece than anywhere else in Europe. Mr. Papandreou told me that increasing transparency in Greece could raise the country's GDP growth as much as 4% to 8%, according to the Brookings Institution. (You can click here to watch more of my interview with Mr. Papandreou and our discussion of the underground economy and other efforts the country is undertaking.)
So as we said, the situation in Europe has certainly stabilized since the spring, but it is by no means resolved and will continue to impact the markets and investors in the coming months. We'll continue to follow it here inInvestor Brief and on CNBC, and we’ll be checking in with investing pros to get their analysis and thoughts on how you can profit amidst these and other global perils. Remember: that big wall of worry isn't really an impediment. For savvy investors like you, it represents opportunity. We'll help you take advantage of it.
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