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Populist rhetoric is one of biggest threat to global economy, says panel

MONTREAL – Populist and nationalistic rhetoric sweeping the United States, Europe and the Philippines is one of the biggest risks facing the global economy, members of an expert panel told a gathering of investment professionals on Wednesday.

“There’s such anxiety among the middle class where wages have stagnated and things haven’t been so good,” Bonnie Baha, lead portfolio manager at California-based Double Line, told delegates to the CFA Institute conference.

She described presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democrat hopeful Bernie Sanders as polarizing figures who take a common approach but blame different people.

The financial sector is Sander’s target while Trump’s focus is immigrants.

Steven Major, global head of fixed income research at HSBC, said rising wealth inequality and huge numbers of people who feel left out of the weak global economic recovery have stoked anger among voters.

“So it will manifest itself in votes like the one the U.K. is about to have (on possibly leaving the EU) or like in the U.S. presidential election or in the Philippines or it could be next year in France or in Germany,” he said.

Outspoken presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte dubbed the Philippines Trump appears headed to victory while opposition is rising to leaders in France in Germany.

Bank of Canada deputy government Carolyn Wilkins, who was also on the panel, agreed that geopolitical issues can be “occasional confidence killers.”

However, she said a big vulnerability is the high level of indebtedness in a cycle of low economic growth where imbalances in China or emerging markets can create a problem.

“In a world of slower growth, I think that the world economy’s potential growth is going to be lower than it was 10 years ago,” she said, pointing to demographic shifts that monetary policy can’t address in the short term.

That means the neutral rate in interest is going to be lower. In Canada’s case, that will likely range between 2.75 and 3.75 per cent.

Wilkins said global head winds are slowly dissipating as the U.S. economy is recovering with almost 80 months of economic expansion, the third-longest since the Second World War, which is positive for Canadian exports.

She also noted that China is growing more slowly than the past, but in a more sustainable way.

“There are a lot of downside risks, but I would say though that the most likely thing is that the economy is going to keep growing,” Wilkins said.

“There’s not the typical inflation pressures you see that would result in very abrupt increases in interest rates and that’s often what triggers downturns.”