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Volatility will rise toward its long-term average and that means an increase in risk premiums, said Philip Moffitt, head of fixed income in Sydney for Asia and the Pacific at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which had $991 billion of assets under supervision worldwide as of September. The risks for different emerging economies will become more idiosyncratic and Mexico presents a buying opportunity following the rout, he said.
Markets from Turkey to South Africa and Argentina were roiled during the past month as investors sold off emerging-economy currencies, stocks and bonds, prompting emergency measures from governments and central banks. The bout of risk aversion follows the Fed’s decision to scale back asset purchases and China’s pledge to rein in leverage and give market forces a more decisive role in allocating resources.
“The selloff in emerging markets has much more to do with China than with Fed tapering,” Moffitt said yesterday in an interview in Sydney. “China’s such a big source of global demand, in particular for other emerging markets, uncertainty’s going to stay high and risk premiums should be expanding.”
The worst isn’t over for emerging markets, Mark Mobius, who oversees more than $50 billion in developing nations as an executive chairman at Templeton Emerging Markets Group, said in an interview. Prices can decline further or take time to stabilize, he said.
China’s policy makers have attempted to rein in the unprecedented credit boom they unleashed in 2008-2009 amid the global financial crisis. Money market rates in China have surged, the cost of insuring against credit default by banks has increased and payment difficulties are emerging in the country’s $6 trillion shadow-banking industry.
“They’re looking to create a market that prices credit risk, rather than having prices imposed,” Moffitt said. “In the absence of a strong mechanism for pricing credit risk, there’s likely to be a lot of uncertainty and volatility.”
The world’s second-largest economy is predicted to expand by 7.4 percent this year, the slowest pace since 1990, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey.
The slowdown in China comes as the U.S. economy is showing signs of a pickup, allowing the Fed to trim its monthly bond purchases to $65 billion from $85 billion. U.S. growth is expected to accelerate to 2.8 percent in 2014 from 1.9 percent last year, according to a another Bloomberg poll.
Moffitt said investing in Mexico would be his top trade at the moment because the country’s fundamental outlook is strong even though it has been affected by the global selloff.
“There’s been outflow from emerging-market assets and when you get that kind of flow people sell what they can sell, often high-quality assets,” he said. “It will benefit from the strong U.S. growth we’re expecting and there’s the prospect for rate cuts, so Mexico stands out to us on both value and fundamentals.”
A ‘Flood of Good News’
As der Spiegel recently reported, the Greek government is intent on smothering its reluctant creditors with good news (in order to be able to accumulate a reasonable amount of such, the last ‘troika’ assessment has apparently been subject to numerous delays):
“A SPIEGEL report that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is considering a third rescue package for Greece has electrified the struggling nation. Athens wants to impress its creditors with a stream of good news. But it still has a long list of unkept promises. New loans are welcome, but don’t ask us for any new austerity measures. This pretty much sums up Athens’ reaction to Germany’s reported willingness to approve further loans to Greece to cover the country’s multi-billion euro projected financing gap in 2015-2016.
Although there was no official reaction to SPIEGEL’s report, published on Monday, government sources say that Berlin’s intentions were known to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, adding that Germany will not pull the rug from under Greece’s feet, especially with the European election due in May.
But the Greek government has also made clear that it will not accept a new round of measures or a continuation of what are perceived by many in Greece as the asphyxiating and humiliating controls by the troika of European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is preparing Greece’s position ahead of the troika’s arrival. With a fresh round of bargaining looming on the new loans, he promised an avalanche of “impressively good news” in the coming days to show that Greece doesn’t need any further belt-tightening. It only needs to press on with its structural reforms, he said.
According to a Greek Finance Ministry official, the good news will include the first increase of retail sales in 43 months, and the first rise in the purchasing managers’ index in 54 months. The “super-weapon” in Stournaras’ arsenal, however, is the hefty 2013 primary budget surplus, now estimated at €1.5 billion, well above the official budget forecast of €812 million.
The same official said the expected good news was the reason why Athens doesn’t want the troika to return earlier to conclude a much-delayed round of inspections that started in the autumn.Stournaras is expected to present Greece’s accomplishments to German officials when he visits Berlin later this week. The final details of his trip are still being worked out. Athens also plans a return to the markets by the end of 2014 in what it believes will be a definitive sign that the Greek economy is out of the woods.
With the leftist opposition alliance Syriza leading most opinion polls, some observers say the Greek government needs to be able to show success soon. Athens was therefore quick to react to the reports about new loans, telling the public it should not fear a new wave of measures.
By all accounts SYRIZA would indeed win elections if they were held today – by a solid margin of almost 8% over its nearest rival New Democracy, the party of current prime minister Antonis Samaras. Electoral support for his coalition partner PASOK – for a long time the ruling party in Greece – has all but disappeared. Even the Stalinist KKE is set to grab a bigger share of the vote.
The upcoming European as well as municipal elections in Greece are bound to see SYRIZA winning comfortably. Meanwhile, the coalition’s majority in parliament has shrunk to a mere three MPs. It won’t take much to topple it, hence all the frantic activity described above.
Greetings from Charles Ponzi
So what’s the problem if there are all those good news, including a ‘hefty primary surplus’? As an aside, said surplus is already greedily eyed by various Greek bureaucrats who have suffered salary cuts which they are currently challenging in court. As the WSJ recently reported, a few European finance ministers held a ‘private meeting’ over Greece recently, to which their Greek colleague wasn’t invited. The problem? The month of May:
“Top officials peeled away from colleagues after a gathering of euro-zone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday evening for a private meeting to discuss mounting concerns over Greece’s bailout. Greek Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras, who was briefing the press in a building across the street at the time, wasn’t invited.
High-level officials from the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank, as well as senior euro-zone officials and the German and French finance ministers were present.
The meeting reflects anxiety that Greece could yet disturb the relative calm in euro-zone financial markets. But the issue is unlikely to come to a head until May when Greece needs to repay some €11 billion ($14.85 billion) of maturing government bonds.
The private meeting, confirmed by several people with direct knowledge of the talks, comes as Athens struggles to meet some of the conditions set by its official creditors for further payouts from bailout funds. The Monday meeting was held to discuss how to press Athens to forge ahead with unpopular reforms to its labor and product markets, and how to scramble together extra cash to cover a shortfall in the country’s financing for the second half of the year that is estimated at €5 billion to €6 billion.The meeting was inconclusive, people familiar with the situation said.
An € 11 billion bond repayment and a shortfall of € 5 to 6 billion? Oh well, that’s why it’s called a “primary surplus” instead of just a “surplus”. “Primary” means it’s not really a surplus – only that it would be one, if not for the debtberg Greece must service. However, if servicing said debtberg costs more than Greece’s government can actually bring in, then its entire debt edifice remains a Ponzi scheme. Only, contrary to other governments that are able to finance their own Ponzi debt schemes in the markets, Greece needs Ponzi financing from elsewhere, or to be precise, from unwilling tax cows residing elsewhere. That is currently the main difference. The problem for all the other States is that it is important that people don’t start thinking too much about the essential Ponzi nature of government debt. If they do, then there might be another debt crisis. After all, nearly the entire euro zone sports a lot more debt today (both absolute and relative to GDP) than at any time during the most severe crisis months. That fact in turn means that the current calm in the markets really hangs by the thinnest of threads, propped up by misplaced confidence alone. Meanwhile, the much-lamented ‘banks-sovereigns doom loop’ has become worse by almost an order of magnitude in countries like Italy and Spain.
On the other hand, selling yet another bailout of Greece to the voters in creditor countries is quite a tall order at this stage, with the eurocracy already being subject to much scorn and revulsion (all of it well deserved).
What to do?
Helloooo, ‘European partners’ … thinking about me lately?
(Image source: The Web / Author unknown)
Let Us ‘Stipulate For All Times to Come’
Ludwig von Mises once wrote with regard to the inexorably growing mountains of government debt around the world:
“The long-term public and semi-public credit is a foreign and disturbing element in the structure of a market society. Its establishment was a futile attempt to go beyond the limits of human action and to create an orbit of security and eternity removed from the transitoriness and instability of earthly affairs. What an arrogant presumption to borrow and to lend money for ever and ever, to make contracts for eternity, to stipulate for all times to come!”
In the case of Greece, the eurocrats seem to have precisely such an arrogant presumption in mind:
“The next handout to Greece may include extending the maturity on rescue loans to 50 years and cutting the interest rate on some previous aid by 50 basis points, according to two officials with knowledge of discussions being held by European authorities.
The plan, which will be considered by policy makers by May or June, may also include a loan for a package worth between 13 billion euros ($17.6 billion) and 15 billion euros, another official said.Greece, which got 240 billion euros in two bailouts, has previously had its terms eased by the euro zone and International Monetary Fund amid a six-year recession.
“What we can do is to ease debt, which is what we have done before through offering lower interest or extending the maturity of loans,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who heads the group of euro finance chiefs, said yesterday on broadcaster RTLZ. “Those type of measures are possible but under the agreement that commitments from Greece are met.”
Good luck with that last one boys. Greece is still the same over-bureaucratized corrupt swamp it was prior to the bailouts. There will be a deep freeze in hell before the ‘commitments are met’.
Since we mentioned the banks earlier, here is the next non-suprise:
“As Greece seeks to meet its aid conditions and unlock more money from its existing bailouts, it’s also looking for ways to make the most of 50 billion euros that was set aside for bank recapitalization. The country had hoped some money might be left over for other financing needs. That now looks less likely because the Greek banks will need more capital, according to an EU official close to the bailout process.”
You really couldn’t make this sh*t up.
This is what happens when unsound debt is artificially propped up instead of being liquidated. Now there is a never-ending drama. Creditors keep throwing good money after bad, into what appears to be a kind of financial black hole – money falls inside, but it looks like it will never come back. Meanwhile, the population of Greece has been so thoroughly ground into the dirt by the crisis that it is prepared to rather vote for Nazis and communists than continue with the situation as is. What a great accomplishment!
Quick, this thing still needs some more glue …
(Image source: The Web / Author unknown)
We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Chucked something in the wash and turned it on too high, only to see it pop out at the end of the cycle and it ends up the size of your hamster. Well, Obama has been doing the same. Except this time it’s not your winter woollies that he’s shrinking, it’s the greenback.
The US currency is shrinking as a percentage of world currency today according to the International Monetary Fund. It’s still in pole position for the moment, but business transactions are showing that companies around the world are today ready and willing to make the move to do business in other currencies.
The US Dollar has long been the world’s number one denomination in world currency supply. It represents 62% of total holdings in foreign exchange in central banks around the world. But, it is in for a tough race from up-and-coming strong currencies. The Japanese Yen and the Chinese Yuan are both giving the Americans a good run for their money. The Swiss franc is too (surprisingly). There is $6 trillion in foreign exchange holdings around the world at any given time, on average and the US Dollar represents almost two-thirds of that.
The fact that Brazil and China have also just signed a currency-swap deal worth something to the tune of $30 billion stands as living proof that the dollar may be further on the wane. China will exceed all expectations in the future as the world’s largest economy. The US will be overtaken. The Chinese currency will one day overtake the Dollar too. Has to be!
Although, it’s not quite there for the moment. China is not near being the world’s reserve currency yet. In order to be the world’s reserve currency there would be the need to produce enormous quantities of what the world wants. China has got that one off pat already. Then, countries holding the reserve currency would need to be able to spend that currency elsewhere in other countries or find a place to put it while waiting to do so. World capital markets are currently in dollars (40%), which means that there would be no possibility of using the Chinese currency. But, that’s only a matter of time. Some are predicting this will happen pretty soon.
The Federal Reserve has come in for some strong criticism over the unconventional Quantitative Easing methods that have resulted in 3 trillion spanking new dollars rolling off the printing presses. This has certainly brought about some degree of worry around the world that the dollar is not quite as safe as it might have been thought to be in the past. Is the world worrying that the dollar is not as safe a bet as it used to be in world domination. Are central banks worried that it will shrink in the wash and the colors will run?
Some are predicting that the dollar will shrink rapidly over the next two years and it will lose its top place as the world’s reserve currency by 2015. In the 1950s the dollar was 90% of total foreign currency holdings around the world. The dollar has definitely lost out to other currencies that are stronger. If there is a continued move and the dollar shrinks, then the resulting catastrophe that will ensue will have a spiral effect on the already enormous US budget deficit (over $1 trillion a year on average).
The only reason the Federal Reserve has been in a position to print more money recently is simply because they are in the strong position to be able to do so as the world’s leading reserve currency. If that changes, then the Americans won’t have the possibility of just hitting the button and setting the printing presses rolling. That means the US will be in no other position than to end up having to pay their debt back.
The US economy and the market are starting to show signs of recovery. Signs. It’s not sustained, hope as they might. If the dollar loses its attraction, then it won’t be used as the international reserve currency. Businesses will start using another currency and the dollar will lose out further still.
Some experts are saying that the problems of the dollar are like a time-bomb ready to explode. Ultimately, it will bring about the death of the dollar. As we stand on and watch, huddled around the coffin as it is lowered into the ground, we know it’s all too late. The flowers have been sent and the Stars and Stripes has been played in recognition of loyal service for the nation.
The QE methods are nothing more than aiding and abetting the already problematic situation of the greenback. We might look back in years to come and reminisce over whether it was the right (long-term) solution to use QE, whether printing bucks sent the greenback to an early grave, or whether it just reached the end of its life and croaked peacefully without making too much noise.
But, criticism of and worry over the dollar and its longevity have been hot topics for years now. The US dollar is a fiat currency that can easily lose status, deriving its value from government regulation and law. But, then again, so is the Euro. So, people living in Europe shouldn’t start throwing stones…they live in glass houses too…and that’s before they start.
Originally posted: Death of the Dollar
You might also enjoy: You’re Miserable USA! | Emerging Markets: Lock, Stock and Barrel | End of the Financial World 2014 | Kristallnacht on Wall Street? Bull! | China’s Credit Crunch | Working for the Few | USA:The Land of the Not-So-Free
The Fed cannot create a bid in bidless markets that lasts beyond its own buying.
We all know the Federal Reserve (and every other central bank) has one last Doomsday weapon to stop a meltdown in the global financial markets: creating trillions of dollars out of thin air and using the cash to buy assets that are in free-fall. This is known as “the nuclear option”–the direct monetizing of stocks, Treasury bonds, commercial real estate mortgages, student loans, corporate bonds, non-U.S. sovereign bonds, subprime auto loans, defaulted bat guano securities, offshore loans denominated in quatloos–you name it: The Fed could print money and buy, buy, buy to create and maintain a bid in bidless markets.
The idea is to stop a cascade of panic by buying assets in quantities large enough to staunch the avalanche of selling. The strategy is based on one key assumption: that no more than a small percentage of the asset class will change hands in any day or week.
Thus a low-volume sell-off in the $20 trillion U.S. equity markets can be stopped with large index buy orders in the neighborhood of $10 – $100 million–a tiny sliver of the total market value.
But in a real meltdown, popguns will no longer conjure a bid in suddenly bidless markets, and the Fed will have to become the bidder of last resort on a massive scale in multiple markets. We need to differentiate between loans, backstops and guarantees issued by the Fed and actual purchase of impaired assets.
After poring over all the data, the Levy Institute came up with a total of $29 trillion in Fed and Federal bailout-the-financial-sector loans and programs. The GAO found the Fed alone issued $16 trillion in loans and backstops:
The heart of quantitative easing and ZIRP (zero interest rate policy) is the Fed’s direct purchase and ownership of assets: residential mortgage-backed securities and Treasury bonds. The Fed has been operating not as the buyer of last resort but as the bidder who buys interest-sensitive securities to keep interest rates near-zero (known as financial repression).
The Fed’s purchases of impaired mortgages has also made its balance sheet “the place where mortgages go to die:” the Fed can hold impaired mortgages until maturity, effectively masking their illiquidity and impaired market value. We can see these two major purchase programs in this chart from Market Daily Briefing:
Despite all the talk of “tapering,” the Fed’s asset purchases on a grand scale continues:
Such a handy word, “taper:”
The Nuclear Option rests on another questionable assumption: markets only go bidless in brief panics, not because the assets have lost all value. The basic model of Fed emergency loan programs and asset-buying is 1907–a financial panic that erupts out of a liquidity crisis.
In a liquidity crisis, the underlying assets supporting loans retain their market value; the problem is a shortage of credit needed to roll over short-term loans on those still-valuable assets.
But what the world is finally starting to experience is not a liquidity crisis: it is a valuation crisis in which assets and collateral are finally recognized as phantom. I explained the difference between liquidity and valuation crises in In a Typhoon, Even Pigs Can Fly (for a while) (January 30, 2014).
Let me illustrate why the Fed’s Nuclear Option is a one-way street to oblivion.
What is the market value of a defaulted student loan that has no hope of ever being repaid by an unemployed ex-student debtor? The answer is zero: the “asset” has a value of zero and will always have a value of zero. It is not “coming back.”
What is the market value of a commercial mortgage on a dead mall that has no hope of ever being repaid by an insolvent mall owner? The answer is zero: the “asset” has a value of zero and will always have a value of zero. It is not “coming back.”
The New York Times recently published an article that nails the core issue in the entire U.S. economy: the top 10% is the only segment able to support additional consumption:The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World (Yahoo news version)
This raises an obvious question: can the excess consumption of the top 10% support every mall, strip mall, premium outlet and retail center in the U.S.? Equally obvious answer: no. Most dead malls cannot be repurposed; the buildings are cheap shells, and while the land might retain some value for future residential housing, the coming implosion of the latest housing bubble nixes that hope: WARPED, DISTORTED, MANIPULATED, FLIPPED HOUSING MARKET (The Burning Platform).
What is the value of a company’s shares if that company has lost any means of earning a profit? Answer: the book value of the company’s assets minus debt.Given the staggering debt load of the corporate sector, the real value of many companies once their ability to reap a real (as opposed to accounting trickery) net profit vanishes is near-zero.
How about the value of Greek sovereign debt? Zero. The value of mortgages on empty decaying flats in Spain? Zero. And so on, all around the world.
This leads to a sobering conclusion: Should the Fed attempt to create and maintain a bid in bidless markets, it will end up owning trillions of dollars in worthless assets–and the market for those assets will still be bidless when the Fed stops being the bidder of last resort.
Let’s assume the Fed’s leadership will feel a desperate need to stop the next global financial meltdown in valuations. Offering trillions of dollars in liquidity will not stop sellers from selling nor magically create value in worthless assets. The Fed can only stop the selling by becoming the entire market for those assets.
The list of phantom assets the Fed will have to buy outright with freshly conjured cash is long. Let’s start with hundreds of billions of dollars in defaulting/impaired student loans. Once the debtors realize the system is swamped with defaults and can no longer hound them, the flood of defaults will swell.
The Fed can buy as many defaulted student loans as it wants, but it will never raise the value of those loans above zero. The market for worthless student loans will remain bidless the second the Fed stops buying.
The same is true of all the defaulted, worthless commercial real estate (CRE) mortgages on dead malls, decaying strip malls and abandoned retail centers: no amount of Fed buying will create a market for these worthless assets.
Dead Mall Syndrome: The Self-Reinforcing Death Spiral of Retail (January 22, 2014)
The First Domino to Fall: Retail-CRE (Commercial Real Estate) (January 21, 2014)
There is no technical reason the Fed cannot create $10 trillion and buy up $10 trillion of worthless or severely impaired assets; the Fed can become the owner of every dead mall and every defaulted auto loan in America should it wish to.
That would of course render the Fed massively insolvent, as its assets would be worth a fraction of its liabilities. But so what? The Fed can simply assign a phantom value to all its worthless assets and let them rot until maturity, at which point they vanish down the wormhole.
The point isn’t that “the Fed can’t do that;” the point is that the Fed cannot create a bid in bidless markets that lasts beyond its own buying. The Fed can buy half the U.S. stock market, all the student loans, all the subprime auto loans, all the defaulted CRE and residential mortgages, and every other worthless asset in America. But that won’t create a real bid for any of those assets, once they are revealed as worthless.
The nuclear option won’t fix anything, because it is fundamentally the wrong tool for the wrong job. Holders of disintegrating assets will be delighted to sell the assets to the Fed, of course, but that won’t fix what’s fundamentally broken in the American and global economies; it will simply allow the transfer of impaired assets from the financial sector and speculators to the Fed.
Anyone who thinks that is the “solution” should read QE For the People: What Else Could We Buy With $29 Trillion? (September 24, 2012).
The Retail Commercial Real Estate Domino with Gordon T. Long and CHS:
Two observations on the latest thoughts by Jim Reid (DB’s best strategist by orders of magnitude):
- He is far more concerned by what is going on in China than any of the other noise around the world. And rightfully so. As we first showed a few months ago, the money creation in China puts what all the other global central banks do to shame. Any slowdown in this credit creation and the wheels have no choice but to fall off, which also explains why even the tiniest default in this $9 trillion economy will be bailed out as it would risk an outright “flow” collapse.
- The Fed came, saw, and after realizing the mess it created with tapering – which can never be priced in now that the market is terminally addicted to the Fed’s liquidity injections – will soon do what we have said since the May 2013 “taper tantrum” would happen – untaper, and resume bailing out everyone.
Full note from Reid:
From all the stories that broke while I was away the most fascinating surely revolves around the Chinese Trust product that in the end wasn’t allowed to be at the mercy of market forces.For me it’s a microcosm of the fragility still present in global financial markets that a $9.0 trillion dollar economy – that will be the biggest in the world within the time frame of most of our careers – struggles to allow a $500 million investment product to default without there being market fears of it igniting panic in financial markets. This has now been a theme for the best part of 10-15 years in global financial markets particularly in the developed world but more recently the EM world since the GFC. We’ve created a global debt monster that’s now so big and so crucial to the workings of the financial system and economy that defaults have been increasingly minimised by uber aggressive policy responses. It’s arguably too late to change course now without huge consequences. This cycle perhaps started with very easy policy after the 97/98 EM crises thus kick starting the exponential rise in leverage across the globe. Since then we saw big corporates saved in the early 00s, financials towards the end of the decade and most recently Sovereigns bailed out. It’s been many, many years since free markets decided the fate of debt markets and bail-outs have generally had to get bigger and bigger.
This sounds negative but the reality is that for us it means that central banks have little option but to keep high levels of support for markets for as far as the eye can see and defaults will stay artificially low. As such we remain bullish for 2014. However it’s largely because we think the authorities are trapped for now rather than because the global financial system is healing rapidly. So as well as EM being very important for 2014, we continue to think the Fed taper pace is also very important. If the US economy was the only one in the world then maybe they could slowly taper without major consequences. However the world is fixated with US monetary policy and huge flows have traded off the back of QE and ZIRP so it does matter. We have suspicions that the Fed may have to be appreciative of the global beast they’ve helped create as the year progresses.
In other words: bullish… because the system will continue to collapse and need more bailouts. The Bizarro world Bernanke created truly is an exciting place.
“Fed Has Fingers & Thumbs On The Scales Of Finance,” Grant Tells Santelli And It “Will End Badly” | Zero Hedge
In a mere 140 seconds, Jim Grant explains to an almost stunned into silence Rich Santelli how we all “live in a valuation hall of mirrors” as the Fed manipulates everything. Thanks to it’s “fingers and thumbs on the scales of finance,” Grant continues, the Fed “insists on saving us from ‘everyday low prices'” – what they call deflation – and by doing so it manufactures “redundant credit” which “does mischief” in and out of markets. Grant, ominously concludes, “there is no suspense as to how [this will] end… [it will] end badly.”
Must watch… (especially for EM asset managers)…
Here’s the global financial crisis in a nutshell: access to easy credit can solve a temporary liquidity problem, but it can’t increase the value of collateral or generate income.
The Chinese culture has a wonderful vocabulary of colorful analogies and metaphors, and today’s title refers to the typhoon of liquidity (freely available credit) that has flooded the global economy for the past five years.
The source of the phrase is Liu Chuanzhi, the Chairman of Lenovo and the iconic figure of Chinese manufacturing. When asked a few years ago why 60% of Lenovo Group’s profit came from asset investment and only 40% came from manufacturing. He said “when the typhoons come, even a pig can fly in the sky. Everybody is profiteering from this. Why can’t we?”
The typhoon in this case is China’s credit/liquidity-driven real estate speculative frenzy, in which the only losers are those who don’t borrow to the hilt in the shadow banking system and buy, buy, buy empty flats in vacant buildings.
The critical distinction to make about typhoons of credit-driven speculation (in China, Japan, the U.S., Europe, etc.) is between liquidity and valuation.
Let’s take a household as an example to explain the difference. Say the household owns a $300,000 house with a $150,000 mortgage. The household has home equity of $150,000.
Let’s say one of the household loses their job and the sole remaining income is not enough to pay the monthly bills. This is a liquidity crisis. The household could borrow money based on the collateral of the home equity to tide them over until the second worker finds a new job.
A valuation crisis is different: let’s say the household decides to sell the house and discovers the market value is only $150,000–the same as the mortgage. After deducting the real estate transaction costs, the household has negative equity. So instead, the owners claim the house is worth $250,000 and try to get a home equity line of credit to solve their income/liquidity crisis.
Here’s the global financial crisis in a nutshell: access to easy credit can solve a temporary liquidity problem, but it can’t increase the value of collateral or generate income. The owner can misrepresent the value of the asset to borrow money based on phantom collateral, but that doesn’t change the market value of the underlying asset or increase the income needed to make loan payments.
Simply put, credit/liquidity cannot solve valuation/collateral crises. Correspondent J.B. recently addressed this issue:
“RE: accounting and real life. Sometimes they differ but over the long run they always synch up. For instance let’s say a bank has a lot of quality assets but a liquidity issue. It will take that good paper to the Fed to get liquidity for the bank to get through the hard time (no write down required and it works out). On the other hand if the bank has a bunch of bad assets, it now has a solvency issue and not a liquidity issue (i.e. not marking to market does not agree with reality). Sure if CRE goes bad it can postpone marking it to market for a while but soon it has no cashflow and accounting does not matter because it cannot pay its bills, payroll or redeem demand deposits. The failure to properly mark assets to market will not save it and ultimately accounting and reality will re-synch.”
The world’s central banks and governments have tried for the past five years to fix a valuation/collateral/income crisis with liquidity. No wonder they’ve failed–enabling insolvent owners to borrow more money doesn’t make the borrowers any less insolvent.
Once the liquidity typhoon dies down, the insolvent pigs will plummet back to earth. That’s what we’re seeing in the periphery economies and shadow banking systems around the world.
On Sunday a former Senior Deutsche Bank manager, William Broeksmit, was found hanged at his house. He was the retired Head of Risk Optimization for the bank and a close personal friend of Deutsche’s Co-Chief Executive, Anshu Jain. Mr Broeksmit became head of Risk Optimization in 2008. He retired in February 2013.
Early this morning, Gabriel Magee, a Vice President of CIB (Corporate and Investment Banking) Technology at JP Morgan jumped to his death from the top of the bank’s 33 story European Headquarters in Canary Wharf. As a VP of CIB Technology Mr Magee’s job would have been to work closely with the Bank’s senior Risk Managers providing the technology which monitored every aspect of the bank’s exposure to financial risk.
These deaths could well be completely unrelated and just terribly sad for their respective families. On the other hand neither of these men had any obvious problems and both were immensely wealthy. So why would two senior bankers commit suicide within a couple of days of each other?
One place to start is to note that JP Morgan Chase had, at the end of 2012, a mind boggling, but only silver medal, $69.5 Trillion with a ‘T’ gross notional Deriviatives exposure . While the gold medal for exposure to Derivative risk goes to …Deutsche Bank, with $72.8 or €55.6 Trillion Gross Notional Exposure. Gross Notional means this is the face value of all the derivative deals it has signed. Which the bank would be very quick to tell you would Net Out to far, far less. Netting Out, for those of you who do not know just means that a bet/contract in one direction is considered to balance or cancel out a similar sized bet/contract betting the other way. But as I wrote in Propaganda War – Risk Weighted Lies and further in Propaganda Wars – Balance Sheet Instabilities ,
…this sort of cancelling out is fine on paper but in reality is more akin to people trying to swap sides in a rowing boat.
Both of the men who killed themselves were intimately concerned with judging and safeguarding their bank from risk.
To give you an idea what sort of risk that size of a derivatives book is consider that the entire GDP of Germany is €2.7 Trillion. Remember that Derivatives are what Warren Buffet dubbed “weapons of financial mass destruction.”
Next question might be, when do these weapons become dangerous? The answer obvioulsy varies in accordance with the type of derivative you are considering. One huge group of derivatives that both JP Morgan and Deutsche both deal very heavily in are currency and interest rate swaps. They become dangerous when there are large moves in currency values and interest rates.
At the moment The Tukish Lira has been in free fall for days. The Turkish central bank tried to defend it and could not stem an unstoppable tide. It then stunned everyone by raising its over-night lending rate (the interst rate it charges to lend to banks over-night) from 4.25% to 12 %!
This did not work either and today the Lira continues to be in crisis, as is the whole Turkish stock market.
The Hungarian Florint is also crashing. As is the entire Argentinian economy. The Peso fell 10% in a single day recently. At the same time there is massive uncertainty surrounding Ukraine as there is also surrounding the interest rates and stability of South Africa.
So imagine you are a large bank with huge derivatives business much of which covers bets in your equally large Foreign Exchange business. Essentially that boat in which you are hoping you can ‘net out’ about 70 Trillion dollar’s worth of derivatives positions is now being bounced about by several large storms.
Many of those derivatives contracts would have been entered into during Mr Broeksmit’s tenure at Deutsche, while Mr Magee would have been overseeing and advising on his bank’s risk exposure as it swayed about over at JP Morgan.
All in all I don’t think it is far fetched to think both these men may have been under huge strain and possibly more afraid than the rest of us, because they were in prime position to know much more than the rest of us.
All of which brings to mind yet another banker who recently fell to his death.
Just under a year ago, in March of 2013, David Rossi, head of communications at one of Itay’s largest and most catastrophically insolvent banks, Monte dei Paschi, fell from the balcony of his third story office at the bank’s head-quarters. How a man who isn’t drunk and who, as far as I am aware, left no suicide note just ‘falls’ from a balcony is a mystery. But the Italian authorities, I have no doubt, did a bang up job.
Monte dei Pasche…had engaged with shady derivatives deals with Deutsche Bank to cover up hundreds of millions of euros in loses, and then employed some creative accounting to hide the trades from share holders and the public.(My emphasis).
Now what I find strange about this man’s death is that as Head of Communications he would not have done any banking himself. Therefore, he would not have been guilty of any wrongdoing. So why would he kill himself? It seems to me the worst that could have happened to him is that he became aware of rather serious wrongdoing that other people and other banks even, might have not wanted brought to light….
And then I remembered one more death. Pierre Wauthier, the former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Zurich Insurance Group hung himself last year, at his home. Now this death you might think has no possible connection with the others. In fact it has two. Both are, as with the rest of what I freely admit is a speculative piece, circumstantial.
The CEO of Zurich Insurance group at the time of Mr Wauthier’s suicide was Josef Ackermann, former CEO of Deutsche Bank. Mr Ackermann resigned shortly after it was revealed that Mr Wautheir, in his suicide note, had named Mr Ackermann. According to Mr Wauthier’s widow it was Ackermann who had placed her husband under intolerable strain. Of course we don’t know what the issue was that caused the ‘intolerable strain’. But let’s look a little closer at what tied these two men together.
Mr Ackermann stepped down as CEO of Deutsche Bank in 2012 after ten years at the helm. During that time he had transformed Germany’s largest bank from a large but slightly dull national player into one of the very largest and most agressive of the global banks. One of the ways Ackermann had grown Deutsche so spectacularly was to make it the world’s largest player in the derivatives market. Nearly all of that 72 Trillion dollars’ worth of derivative exposure was accumulated under his leadership.
Mr Ackermann had built a derivatives position 18 times larger than the GDP of Germany itself.
A year and a half after Mr Ackermann took over at Zurich Insurance Group, Zurich announced it was going to start offering banks a way of holding less capital against their risky assets/loans by offering to insure or ‘buy’ the risk from them. This is know as Regulatory Capital Trade. As one of the archtiects of the trade was quoted at the time,
“We are looking at products where banks would buy insurance for their operational risks issues. These are normally risks that are not covered by traditional insurance.”
This new insurance venture was, on the one hand, in response to the European regulators insisting that banks had to hold more capital against their risky assets and on the other, a result of the dire need of Insurers to find products that could yield them a profit. The trade is a classic result of a period of extended low interest rates where traditionally safe investments like Soveriegn bonds and vanilla loans and securities just don’t pay enough to cover insurers’ needs let alone let them make a tidy profit. In other words those insurers who understood what banks were exposed to and were willing to take the risk on themselves – because they thought they were cleverer – could find yield where others feared to tread. And of course one of the largest pots of risky assets on bank books is derivatives. All those lovely foreign exchange bets and interest rate bets, and derivative trades which underpin the rapidly growing European ETF market (in which guess who is a massive palyer? Yes, that’s right, Deutsche) – they would all have levels of risk the banks would love to off-load.
Holding more capital against risk might be prudent but it is hell on bank growth and bonuses. Regulatory Capital Arbitrage, is how you game (quite legally, of course) that particuar regulation. The bank gets to keep the underlying asset, while the risk is ‘sold’ to or insured by (depends on how you account for it at both ends) someone else. In this case Ackermann’s Zurich Insurance Group.
In some ways it was a creative move – in the way finance is creative , like making a better land mine I suppose – since Zurich already ran the world largest derivative trading exchange, Eurex. With the new trade Zurich would not just be running the exchange but would now become a major player in the risk trade. Of course this is fine so long as the risk never materializes. Which brings us back to the present spreading turbulence in markets from Ukraine, to Argentina and Turkey. It is also worth noting Zurich also offers insurance against about 50 or so emerging market banks going under. Might not seem quite so safe a market to be in just at the moment.
As Chief Financial Officer Mr Wauthier would have had to be on side with Mr Ackermann about the wisdom of this bank-risk insurance trade.
Now I realize, as I said above, that this is all circumstantial and speculative. But derivatives are, as Warren Buffett said, very dangerous. Deutsche is sitting on the world’s biggest pile of them and J P Morgan the second biggest pile. And right now global events are making those risks sweat. When HSBC tries to limit cash withdrawals and so does one of Russia’s largest banks then something somewhere is not healthy. We are , I think, circling around another Morgan Stanley moment.