Short-term doldrums aside, the world’s corporations would seem to be in a strong position to grow as the global economy recovers. They enjoy healthy cash balances, with $3.8 trillion in cash holdings at the end of 2009, and they have access to cheap capital, with real long-term interest rates languishing near 1.5 percent. Indeed, as developing economies continue to pick up the pace of urbanization, the prognosis for companies that can tap into that growth over the next decade looks promising.
Yet all those new roads, ports, water and power systems, and other kinds of public infrastructure—and the many companies building new plants and buying machinery—may put unexpected strains on the global financial system. Indeed, household saving rates have generally declined in mature economies for nearly three decades, and an aging population seems unlikely to reverse that trend. China’s efforts to rebalance its economy toward increased consumption will reduce global saving as well.
The gap between the world’s supply of, and demand for, capital to invest could put upward pressure on real interest rates, crowd out some investment, and potentially act as a drag on growth. Moreover, as patterns of global saving and investment shift, capital flows between countries will likely change course, requiring new channels of financial intermediation and policy intervention. These findings have important implications for business executives, investors, government policy makers, and financial institutions alike.