US Economy

Consumer comeback from crisis in 6th inning: Roach

Can China make the economic shift?

The recovery of the U.S. consumer in terms of debt and savings since the 2008 financial crisis is only in the 6th inning, Yale economist Stephen Roach said Tuesday.

"This is a regulation nine innings, maybe extra innings," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box," disputing the notion the consumer is back and spending with a vengeance. "We've never had a period of weak consumption like this."

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Consumer activity accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

"Seventy percent of the economy growing at 1.5 to 2 percent. That's not terrific for the people who want [overall] GDP growth and earnings growth to pick up and support stocks," Roach said.

Americans are still dealing with the aftermath of the crisis. "They're still trying to pay down debt loads [and] rebuild savings balances. The healing … takes a long time," he said.

Roach said savers need incentives to put money away. "With zero interest rates, it's hard to get a return."

Easy money policies from Federal Reserve, including ultra-low interest rates and years of massive bond purchases, are largely to blame, Roach contended. "We've got a central bank engaged in central planning."

"This will go down in history as possibly a watershed period of the worst performance of central banking since the depression," he said.

Putting China into perspective

Roach, former Morgan Stanley Asia chairman, also offered his views on the slowdown in China's economy and the need to put the data in perspective.

"The focus on China GDP growth is really the wrong focus," he said. "You want to get to the mix of the economy. Can they make the shift from exports to consumption, from manufacturing to services? There's a real debate on that."

He believes the Chinese government will be able to engineer a "soft landing" for the economy and that nation's currency.

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The Chinese stock market and the economy are not related, Roach said.

"The market does it's only thing. There was a massive speculative blow out in the first half of [last year]. The government made a huge mistake encouraging it. And then they've tried to catch a falling knife on the way down," he said. "As we saw on Monday, it's pretty painful."

The Shanghai composite sank nearly 7 percent on Monday, triggering a new volatility circuit breaker that shut down the market and rattled trading around the world.

But the Chinese economy is performing "much more gradually in terms of deceleration than the markets would lead you to believe," Roach said.