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It’s not yet the end of the world as we know it, but watch Japan’s debt grow – Telegraph

t’s not yet the end of the world as we know it, but watch Japan’s debt grow – Telegraph.

Tokyo 2020: travel guide

“Japan has managed to muddle through, but it now looks as though it is close to a tipping point.” Photo: AP

 

We can all breathe a sigh of relief that the world is not going to come to an end as a result of a default by the US government. Well, for now, anyway. But this does not mean that debt problems have gone away. Indeed, across the Pacific a serious debt problem is still building in Japan.

Whereas the US debt crisis has been triggered by a disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over the role of the state in the economy and society, and specifically over “Obamacare”, Japan’s debt problem is a slow burner.

As a share of GDP, government debt has been growing since the early 1990s. This is the result of the long-running weakness of economic growth, repeated fiscal stimulus packages and a long period in which the overall price level has stagnated or fallen. Japan has managed to muddle through, but it now looks as though it is close to a tipping point.

The scale of the problem is staggering. Japan’s net government debt is about 140pc of GDP. This is way ahead of the US, which is on 87pc, and not that far below Greece. What’s more, it is easy to see the ratio increasing further. The IMF expects net debt to rise to 148pc of GDP over the next five years. In fact, if the economy performs badly, inflation remains low or borrowing costs rise, debt could easily follow an explosive path, with the ratio quickly rising towards 300pc of GDP.

So what to do? If Japan followed anything like this path, then some form of default would eventually become inevitable. Accordingly, why not cut the whole process short and get the thing over and done with by defaulting now?

Quite apart from all the usual objections to default, Japan suffers from another major obstacle, namely that its debt is overwhelmingly held by Japanese financial institutions, including banks. A default would land the financial sector with massive losses and could cause a catastrophic financial crisis.

The orthodox way to tackle debt is to impose austerity via cuts to government spending or increases in taxes. In fact, Japan will increase its consumption tax in April and quite considerable deficit reduction is promised for the next few years.

But this runs into two problems that are familiar from a European perspective. First, such austerity is not popular and the politicians in Japan may yet baulk at the scale of the tightening to be imposed.

Second, austerity tends to reduce GDP – even though George Osborne may believe that it hasn’t done so in the UK. If it does reduce GDP, then the debt to GDP ratio would probably rise.

Faster economic growth would help but is in practice difficult to achieve. The government is pursuing some supposedly radical structural reforms but it is unlikely that, even if these are pushed through, they will have much of an impact soon enough. And in trying to grow its way out of the debt problem, unlike America, Japan faces a huge demographic hurdle. It simply isn’t making enough Japanese. The size of the workforce is already falling and will continue to do so for decades.

The way out for Japan is to try to engineer a higher rate of inflation, perhaps much higher than the current 2pc target. For any given rate of increase of real GDP this would give a higher rate of growth of nominal GDP, that is to say, expressed in money terms. With debt fixed in money terms this would, other things being equal, bring down the debt to GDP ratio.

Admittedly, other things may not be equal. The danger is that markets would force up the rate of interest on Japanese debt and thereby increase the amounts that the government had to pay out in debt interest. That could easily offset the effect of higher inflation.

In fact, it could lead to the debt ratio ending up higher. Yet in the Japanese case, this is unlikely.

The Bank of Japan would continue to hold short-term interest rates at close to zero for several years. That would ensure that the rates on short-term debt remained subdued. Moreover, it would continue to buy huge quantities of Japanese government debt. It might also consider obliging financial institutions to hold extra amounts of government debt.

How would Japan achieve higher inflation? Quantitative easing (QE), or printing money, as it is colloquially known, will eventually give you higher inflation – provided that you do it on sufficient scale. This is what the Japanese central bank now seems prepared to do.

A fall of the yen would be a crucial part of the mechanism by which inflation moved higher.

This is what has happened recently. Japanese inflation has risen to 0.9pc, but almost wholly as a result of the fall of the yen from the high 70s to the dollar to about 100. There has been hardly any domestically generated inflation. But if the yen continued to weaken, that would surely follow.

Throughout the past 30 years, Japan has been a testing ground both for problems and their possible solutions that have appeared later in the West. It experienced a bubble economy in the late 1980s and then experienced the pain of a long drawn-out balance sheet recession, brought on by the collapse of asset prices and the drying up of credit.

It also went through a slow dragging deflation of consumer prices before anyone in the West thought that this was an issue. And for some time now it has faced the problems caused by an ageing and falling population.

Could it also show the way on the inflation solution to the debt problem which continues to bedevil so many countries in the West? For the UK, a deliberate embrace of higher inflation remains only a risk rather than a probability. For we are in a very different position from Japan. Our debt ratio is nowhere near as high and our potential to grow our way out of the problem is much greater, not least due to our more favourable demographic prospects. The same is true for the US.

But there are several members of the eurozone for whom this is not true. Greece and Italy spring to mind. Unless their debt is “forgiven”, some form of default appears inevitable.

While they remain in the euro, of course, they cannot default through inflation because they do not control their own monetary policy.

But if they were to leave the euro, the Japanese experience might be highly influential.

Roger Bootle is managing director of Capital Economics roger.bootle@capitaleconomics.com

 

Mortgage rise will plunge a million homeowners into ‘perilous debt’ | Money | The Observer

Mortgage rise will plunge a million homeowners into ‘perilous debt’ | Money | The Observer.

Oxford Street shopping

Around 13 million people paid for their Christmas by borrowing. Photograph: Paul Brown/Rex Features

More than a million homeowners will be at risk of defaulting on their mortgages and losing their properties in the wake of even a small rise ininterest rates, a bombshell analysis reveals. Borrowers who have failed to pay down their mortgages when interest rates have been at record low levels now face being overwhelmed by “perilous levels of debt” when the inevitable hike comes.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, warned of a “financial ticking timebomb”: “The rising cost of energy, food and travel has been absorbing any spare income people may have. This means that in some cases there is little or nothing left to cope with larger mortgage repayments.”

According to a new report from an influential thinktank, the Resolution Foundation, even in the most optimistic scenario – in which interest rates rise slowly to 3% by 2018 and economic growth is strong and well-distributed between the rich and poor – 1.12 million homeowners will be spending more than half of their take-home pay on mortgage repayments – this is a widely accepted indicator of over-indebtedness.

If the Bank of England were to raise interest rates more quickly, to 5% by 2018, and growth continues to be slow, around two million households would be plunged into financial trouble – and around half of these would be families with children.

The thinktank’s analysis, based on official Office for Budget Responsibility projections, warns: “Far from being resolved, Britain’s personal debt problem remains a cause for real concern. While record low interest rates have reduced current repayment costs, fewer people than we hoped have used this breathing space to pay off their debts.

“When rates go up, the number in ‘debt peril’ could increase to anywhere between 1.1 million and two million, depending on the speed at which borrowing costs rise and the nature of the economic recovery.”

The warning comes as a survey carried out by Which? reveals that rather than paying off their debts, around 13 million people (25%) paid for their Christmas by borrowing. Overall, more than four in 10 (42%) used credit cards, loans or overdrafts to fund their spending over the festive period, which suggests that Britons have not shed their addiction to debt.

The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said he will look at raising the Bank of England base rate, to which lenders hook their mortgages, when unemployment has fallen to 7%.

A recent surge in job creation saw unemployment drop to 7.4% in December, raising expectations that an increase in the Bank’s base rate will come in 2015, and have an impact on lenders’ rates this coming year.

The markets believe the base rate will increase to 3% by 2018, with what the Resolution Foundation describes as “huge social and human cost”. However, the thinktank warns that a hike of just 1 percentage point more than that, to 4% by 2018, would lead to 1.4 million homeowners facing severe financial pressure.

If interest rates rise by two percentage points beyond market expectations – to 5%, still 0.5% below the 2007 base rate – the number of people in substantial and perilous debt would rise to 1.7 million – or as many as 2 million if economic growth continues to be sluggish.

The analysis finds that while people across the social spectrum could be in trouble, lower-income households “look particularly vulnerable”, with one in five of those with debt being in danger.

The thinktank says that while it does not follow that all households in “debt peril” will default on their mortgages, those spending more than half of their income on debt repayments will find their financial position increasingly difficult to sustain.

Matthew Whittaker, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said ministers should consider “locking in” cheap credit for those who are heavily indebted. He added:”Even if we take a somewhat rosy view of how the economy will develop over the next few years, the number of households severely exposed to debt looks as though it will double.

“But the levels of debt built up by families in the pre-crisis years are such that even relatively modest changes in incomes and borrowing cost assumptions produce significantly worse outcomes.

“This is an alarming prospect, where a large number of families find themselves struggling with heavy debt commitments, especially among the households who are already among the worst-off. As the Bank of England has acknowledged, even small increases in the cost of borrowing could push a significant number of families over the edge and it is most likely to happen to those with the lowest incomes – who are already spending the biggest share of their budget on mortgage repayments.

“Rather than waiting for a repayment crisis to strike, policymakers and lenders should seriously consider acting now while there’s still the chance to help people reduce their exposure to debt.”

The number of repossessions has been dropping for years, with 30,000 expected by the end of this year, down from 75,500 during the 1991 recession.

Yet one in six households are currently mortgaged to the hilt, servicing home loans that are at least four times the size of their annual salary, in further evidence of the intense vulnerability of many homeowners to rate hikes.

 

Bailout Of World’s Oldest Bank In Jeopardy, Rests On Hope That “Ship Does Not Sink” | Zero Hedge

Bailout Of World’s Oldest Bank In Jeopardy, Rests On Hope That “Ship Does Not Sink” | Zero Hedge.

The ongoing debacle of Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi (BMPS) took a turn for the worst today. The bank’s largest shareholders (MPS Foundation) approved (read – forced through) a delay in a EUR 3 billion capital raise, which the bank needs to avoid nationalization, until May. The delay (which will cost the bank EUR 120 million in interest) allows MPS more time to liquidate their 33.5% holding before their stake is massively diluted. Management is ‘considering’ resignation and is “very annoyed,” but the city Mayor is going Nationalist with his delay-supporting comments that “we cannot let the third biggest bank in this country fall prey to foreign interests.” So Europe is recovering but they can’t even raise a day’s worth of POMO to save the oldest bank in the world?

Via Reuters,

Italy’s third-biggest bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena was forced to delay a vital 3 billion euro ($4.1 billion) share sale to raise capital until mid-2014 because of shareholder opposition, plunging its turnaround plan into uncertainty.

The bank’s chairman and its chief executive may now resign after their plan to launch the cash call in January was defeated at an extraordinary shareholder meeting on Saturday due to the vote of Monte Paschi’s top shareholder.

The world’s oldest bank needs to tap investors for cash to pay back 4.1 billion euros in state aid it received earlier this year and avert nationalization

Simple game theory really – why would the largest shareholder “guarantee” losses now when it can try and liquidate more of its exposure over time?

But the cash-strapped Monte dei Paschi foundation – whose stake in the bank is big enough to veto any unwanted decision – forced a postponement until at least mid-May to win more time to sell down its 33.5 percent holding and repay its own debts.

Antonella Mansi, a feisty 39-year-old businesswoman recently appointed head of the Monte dei Paschi foundation, said her insistence on a cash call delay did not amount to a no-confidence vote in the bank’s management.

But she said that carrying out the capital increase in January would massively dilute the foundation’s holding, leaving it with virtually nothing to sell to reimburse debts of 340 million euros.

We have a precise duty to ensure (the foundation’s) survival. You can’t ask us to let it collapse,” she said.

Management is “very annoyed”…

Chairman Alessandro Profumo, a strong-willed and internationally respected banker who was formerly the chief of UniCredit, said he and CEO Fabrizio Viola would decide in January whether to step down.

These are decisions one takes in cold blood and in the right place,” Profumo said at the meeting.

“What I have on my mind is a 3 billion euro cash call because we need to pay back 4 billion euros to taxpayers. Today this is uncertain and at risk,” he told a press conference.

Viola, sitting at his side, told reporters he would do everything “so that the ship does not sink”, but that he could not take responsibility for mistakes made by others.

Of course, there is risk either way…

“It’s important to carry out the capital increase as early as possible,” said Roberto Lottici, fund manager at Ifigest. “The risk is that the bank finds itself rushing into a cash call later at a lower price than what it could achieve now.”

It’s hard to think that the third largest Italian bank can’t find a pool of banks able to support the cash call after May 2014,” said Antonella Mansi, the president of the MPS foundation, at the shareholders’ meeting.

and given the number of jobs involved… local officials are now reacting in favor of the delay (hoping for domestic savior)…

But in Siena, where the bank is known as “Daddy Monte” and is the biggest employer, fears that the cash call might sever the umbilical cord between the lender and the city run high.

Siena mayor Bruno Valentini, whose city council is the top stakeholder in the Monte dei Paschi foundation, said on Friday a postponement might help keep the bank in Italian hands.

“We cannot let the third biggest bank in this country fall prey to foreign interests,” he said. “Monte dei Paschi is not just an issue in Siena, it is a big national issue.”

So, even after all the lqiuidty provision; yields and spreads on European debt back near record lows; calls from US asset managers that Europe is recovering and will be the growth engine; and hopes that Europe’s AQR stress test (and resolution mechanism) will be the gold standard for confidence in their banking system… they still can’t find a group of greater fools to pony up EUR3 billion in real (not rehypothecated) money to save the world’s oldest bank – that’s a day’s worth of Fed POMO!!!!

On an odd side note, we did note a major surge in ECB margin calls this week…

 

100 Years Ago: Why Bankers Created the Fed :: The Circle Bastiat

100 Years Ago: Why Bankers Created the Fed :: The Circle Bastiat.

Christopher Westley writes in today’s Mises Daily, on the Fed’s 100th birthday:

The boom and bust cycle, explained by the Austrian School in such detail, became worse and worse in the period leading up to 1913. And with the rise of Progressive Era spending on war and welfare, and with the pressure on banks to inflate to finance this activity, the boom and bust cycles worsened even more. If there was one saving grace about this period it would be that banks were forced to internalize their losses. When banks faced runs on their currencies, private financiers would bail them out. But this arrangement didn’t last, so when the losses grew, those financiers would secretly organize to reintroduce central banking to America, thus engineering an urgent need for a new “lender of last resort.” The result was the Federal Reserve.

This was the implicit socialization of the banking industry in the United States. People called the Federal Reserve Act the Currency Bill, because it was to create a bureaucracy that would assume the currency-creating duties of member banks.

It was like the Patriot Act, in that both were centralizing bills that were written years in advance by people who were waiting for the appropriate political environment in which to introduce them. It was like our current health care bills, in which cartelized firms in private industry wrote chunks of the legislation behind closed doors long before they were introduced in Congress.

 

Spanish Bad Loans Jump To New Record As Banks Come Clean Over Mortgage Defaults | Zero Hedge

Spanish Bad Loans Jump To New Record As Banks Come Clean Over Mortgage Defaults | Zero Hedge.

Spanish loan delinquencies as a percentage of the total have risen for the 8th straight month to a new record high of 13.00% (even as sovereign bond spreads continue to plunge to multi-year lows signaling all is well). With unemployment rates stuck stubbornly high, however, reality is starting to dawn in the Spanish banking system as mortgage defaults are rising following the Bank of Spain’s order for lenders to review their portfolios. As Bloomberg reports, the default rate for Banco Santander alone jumped to 7% (from 3.1%) following its “reclassification” of loans that it had refinanced (never expecting to be repaid) and with home prices still falling, “there is an urgency to come clean” as regulators see the need for banks to cover a further EUR5 billion shortfall in provisions.

The slow-and-steady rise in deliquencies smacks of an industry that is dripping out there problems – hiding facts from reality and the spike for Banco Santander is merely highlighting the mis-statement…

Via Bloomberg,

With Spain’s persistently high unemployment rate now at 26 percent, the couple is among the 350,000 homeowners who may be foreclosed upon by lenders in the next two years as the housing crisis worsens, according to AFES, a Madrid-based association that advises on restructuring debt. Since 2008, about 150,000 families have been hit with a foreclosure.

“We refinanced three years ago, but now the noose is around our necks,” Males, 42, said. “Not only do we still owe more than the original loan. We’re losing our home as well.”

As mortgage defaults rise, lenders will have to set aside money to cover losses, hurting profits, according to Juan Villen, head of mortgages at Spanish property web site Idealista.com. Spanish banks absorbed 87 billion euros ($120 billion) of impairment charges last year after Economy Minister Luis de Guindos forced them to record more defaults on loans to developers. The government took 41 billion euros in European assistance to shore up its failing lenders.

Defaults are rising partly because of changes required by the Bank of Spain that force lenders to book more soured mortgages.

“When the real estate bubble burst in 2008, banks used refinancing en masse to cover up non-performing residential mortgage loans,”

Which led to a broad loan review…

In April, the Bank of Spain ordered lenders to review their portfolios of refinanced loans, including mortgages, to make sure they’re classified in a uniform way. Lenders had 208 billion euros of loans on their books that they’d restructured or refinanced as of the end of 2012, according to the regulator.

The review led the regulator to the preliminary conclusion that classifying all refinanced loans correctly would cause a 21 billion-euro increase in defaults. Lenders would need to generate a further 5 billion euros of provisions to cover the losses.

The default rate for Banco Santander SA (SAN)’s Spanish mortgages jumped to 7 percent in September from 3.1 percent in June as it reclassified loans that it had refinanced.

“As a bank this will be the main focus area, whether you are properly recording your non-performing loans, especially the refinanced ones,” said Alexander Pelteshki, an analyst at ING Financial Markets in Amsterdam. “There is an urgency to come clean.”

But it’s not going to get better any time soon…

“Until Spain starts creating jobs and credit starts flowing again, house prices aren’t going to recover,” Beatriz Toribio, head of research at Fotocasa, said. “We expect further price declines, albeit smaller than in previous years, in 2014.”

 

Who Needs the Debt Ceiling? – Russell Lamberti – Mises Daily

Who Needs the Debt Ceiling? – Russell Lamberti – Mises Daily.

US lawmakers reached a budget deal this week that will avert the sequester cuts and shutdowns. These fiscal “roadblocks” supposedly damaged investor confidence in 2013, although clearly no one told equity investors who’ve chased the S&P 500 up 26 percent this year. But even so the budget deal is seen by inflationists as only half the battle won, because it doesn’t deal with the pesky debt ceiling. Unsurprisingly, the old calls for a scrapping of the debt ceiling are being heard afresh.

Last week, The Week ran an opinion piece by John Aziz which argues that America (and all other nations for that matter) should keep borrowing until investors no longer want to lend to it. To this end, it is argued, the US should scrap its debt ceiling because the only debt ceiling it needs is the one imposed by the market. When the market doesn’t want to lend to you anymore, bond yields will rise to such an extent that you can no longer afford to borrow any more money. You will reach yournatural, market-determined debt ceiling. According to this line of reasoning, American bond yields are incredibly low, meaning there is no shortage of people willing to lend to Uncle Sam. So Washington should take advantage of these fantastically easy loans and leverage up.

Here’s part of the key paragraph from Aziz:

Right now interest rates are very low by historical standards, even after adjusting for inflation. This means that the government is not producing sufficient debt to satisfy the market demand. The main reason for that is the debt ceiling.

What this fails to appreciate is that interest rates are a heavily controlled price in all of today’s major economies. This is particularly true in the case of America, where the Federal Reserve controls short-term interest rates using open market operations (i.e., loaning newly printed money to banks) and manipulates long-term interest rates using quantitative easing. By injecting vast amounts of liquidity into the economy, the Fed makes it appear as though there is more savings than there really is. But US bond yields are currently no more a reflection of the market’s demand for US debt than a price ceiling on gasoline is a reflection of its booming supply. Contra the view expressed in The Week, low rates brought about by contrived zero-bound policy rates and trillions of dollars in QE can mislead the federal government into borrowing more while at the same time pushing savers and investors out of US bond markets and into riskier assets like corporate bonds, equities, exotic derivatives, emerging markets, and so on.

Greece once thought that the market was giving it the green light to “produce” more debt. Low borrowing rates for Greece were not a sign of fiscal health, however, but really just layer upon layer of false and contrived signals arising from easy ECB money, allowing Greece to hide behind Germany’s credit status. As it turned out, a legislative debt ceiling in Greece (one that was actually adhered to) would have been a far better idea than pretending this manipulated market was a fair reflection of reality. Investors were happy to absorb Greece’s debt until suddenly they weren’t.

This is the nature of sovereign debt accumulation driven by easy money and credit bubbles. It’s all going swimmingly until it’s not. And there is little reason to think this time the US is different. Except that America might be worse. The very fact of the Fed buying Treasuries with newly printed money proves Washington is producing too much debt. China even stated recently that it saw no more utility accumulating any more dollar debt assets. If the whole point of QE is to monetize impaired assets, then the Fed likely sees Treasury bonds as facing considerable impairment risk. Theory and history are clear about the reasons for and consequences of large-scale and persistent debt monetization.

Finally, it is wrong to assert that the debt ceiling is the main reason for America’s fiscal deficit reduction. The ceiling has never provided a meaningful barrier to America’s borrowing ambitions, hence the dozens of upward adjustments to the ceiling whenever it threatens to crimp the whims of Washington’s profligate classes. America’s rate of new borrowing is falling because all the money it has printed washed into the economic system and found its way back into tax revenues. Corporate profits are soaring to all-time highs on dirt cheap trade financing. Corporate high-grade debt issuance has set a new record in 2013. Companies are rolling their short-term debts, now super-cheap thanks to Bernanke’s money machine, and issuing long, into a bubbly IPO and corporate bond market. The last time corporate profits surged like they’re doing now was during the credit and housing bubble that preceded the unraveling and inevitable bust in 2008/09.

These are money and credit cycle effects. The debt ceiling has had precious little to do with it. Moreover, US debt is neither crimped nor the US Treasury Department austere. Instead, the national debt is soaring, $60,000 higher for every US family since Obama took office and rising. Add to this the fact that the US Treasury’s bond issuance schedule is actually set to rise in 2014 due to huge amounts of maturing debt needing to be rolled over next year, and the fiscal significance of the debt ceiling fades even further.

The singular brilliance of the debt ceiling however, is that it keeps reminding everyone that there is a growing national debt that never seems to shrink. That is a tremendous service to American citizens who live in the dark regarding the borrowing machinations of their political overlords. Yes, politicians keep raising the debt ceiling, but nowadays they have to bend themselves into ever twisty pretzels trying to explain why to their justifiably skeptical and cynical constituents. Most people don’t understand bond yields, quantitative easing, and Keynesian pump-a-thons too well, but they sure understand a debt ceiling.

Conclusion

Those who adhere to the don’t-stop-til-you-get-enough theory of sovereign borrowing, and by extension argue for a scrapping of the debt ceiling, couldn’t be more misguided. In free markets with no Fed money market distortion, interest rates can be a useful guide of the amount of real savings being made available to borrowers. When borrowers want to borrow more, real interest rates will rise, and at some point this crimps the marginal demand for borrowing, acting as a natural “debt ceiling.” But when markets are heavily distorted by central bank money printing and contrived zero-bound rates, interest rates utterly cease to serve this purpose for prolonged periods of time. What takes over is the false signals of the unsustainable business cycle which fools people into thinking there is more savings than there really is. Greece provides a recent real-world case study of this very phenomenon in action. In these cases we are likely to see low rates sustained during the increase in government borrowing, only for them to quickly reset higher and plunge a country into a debt trap which may force default or extreme money printing.

Debt monetization has a proven track record of ending badly. It is after all the implicit admission that no one but your monopoly money printer is willing to lend to you at the margin. The realization that this is unsustainable can take a while to sink in, but when it does, all it takes is an inevitable fat-tail event or crescendo of panic to topple the house of cards. If the market realizes it’s been duped into having too much before the government decides it’s had enough, a debt crisis won’t be far away.

Note: The views expressed in Daily Articles on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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Russell Lamberti is head strategist at ETM Analytics, in charge of global and South African macroeconomic, financial market, and policy strategy within the ETM group. Follow him on Twitter. See Russell Lamberti’s article archives.

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Bank of Canada says housing, debt still pose stability risks | Canada | Reuters

Bank of Canada says housing, debt still pose stability risks | Canada | Reuters.

By Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Soaring consumer debt and a robust housing market pose an “elevated” risk to Canada’s financial stability, but the overall level of danger has fallen from six months ago, the Bank of Canada said on Tuesday.

“In Canada, the high level of household debt and imbalances in the housing sector are the most significant domestic vulnerabilities to address,” the central bank said in its semi-annual Financial System Review.

These risks could make Canadians vulnerable to an adverse macroeconomic shock and a sharp correction in the housing market, it said.

The bank cut its overall level of risk to the country’s financial system to “elevated” from “high”, citing among other factors continuing stabilization in the euro zone and the start of a modest recovery in that region. Despite the brighter outlook for Europe, it remains the biggest threat to Canada, the bank said.

Tuesday’s report marked the first time the bank has eased its overall risk level since it began classifying risk in this way in December 2011.

The overall level of risk could fall further with continued progress on banking sector reform and other reforms in the euro area. That said, the level could increase if the current low interest rate environment in advanced economies persists longer than anticipated, it added.

The bank listed risky financial investments in a prolonged period of low interest rates as a “moderate” risk and added financial vulnerabilities in emerging markets as another moderate threat.

Canada’s housing market has been a source of concern for policymakers and economists since a property boom helped fuel the economy’s rebound from the 2008-09 recession.

After four government interventions to tighten mortgage rules, the market cooled in late 2012 only to regain momentum through the spring and summer of this year.

The bank, the finance ministry and the banking regulator monitor the market closely. The bank noted an oversupply of multiple-unit dwellings in some areas, and cited an elevated number of high-rise condos under construction in Toronto.

“If the upcoming supply of units is not absorbed by demand as units are completed over the next few years, there is a risk of a correction in prices and construction activity,” it said.

Such a correction could spread to other parts of the market and hit the overall economy, it added.

The bank said simple indicators suggest there is overvaluation in the housing market overall and it said any sharp downturn in a large city could spread, ultimately affecting sentiment, lending conditions as well as jobs and income.

While the latest data suggest some stabilization in the market, there is still much debate among economists over whether housing is poised to crash and damage the economy, or have a so-called “soft landing”.

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz has placed himself in the latter camp, saying he expects record-high household debt to ease gradually as the housing market softens.

The report on Tuesday supported that view.

“The overall moderating trend is expected to resume in due course,” it said. “As long term interest rates normalize with the strengthening global economy, the risk will diminish over time.”

The ratio of household debt to income in Canada hit a record high in the second quarter of 163.4 percent, although the pace of credit growth has been slowing.

Statistics Canada will release third-quarter data on household debt on Friday.

(Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by David Ljunggren; and Peter Galloway)

 

The 9 Key Considerations To Protect Deposits From Bail-Ins

The 9 Key Considerations To Protect Deposits From Bail-Ins.

The 9 Key Considerations To Protect Deposits From Bail-Ins

Published in Market Update  Precious Metals  on 13 December 2013

By Mark O’Byrne

Today’s AM fix was USD 1,222.75, EUR 891.22 and GBP 750.89 per ounce.
Yesterday’s AM fix was USD 1,243.50, EUR 902.79 and GBP 758.51 per ounce.

Gold fell $26.40 or 2.11% yesterday, closing at $1,226.50/oz. Silver slid $0.79 or 3.89% closing at $19.52/oz.  Platinum dropped $19.01, or 1.4%, to $1,360.74/oz and palladium fell $20 or 2.7%, to $715.25/oz.

Gold has spiked higher in late morning trade in London and is 0.6% higher on the day and 0.35% higher for the week. A higher weekly close this week will be positive from a technical perspective.


What Should Depositors Do To Protect Against Bail-In? 9 Key Considerations

Gold saw a sharp move lower by over 2% yesterday, despite little market moving data or news and other assets seeing less price movement. The price fall could have been due to heightened speculation of a Fed taper as soon as next week. However, if that was the case, one would have expected stocks to have seen similar price falls. Rather stocks were only marginally lower and remain near record highs.


Gold in U.S. Dollars, 10 Day – (Bloomberg)

Peculiar gold price falls have been common in recent weeks and months and have contributed to the 25% price fall we have seen this year.
Therefore, those who have diversified into gold in order to protect their wealth will welcome the move by the German financial regulator Bafin to widen their investigation into manipulation by banks of benchmark gold and silver prices.

The FT reports on the front page today that German banking regulator Bafin has demanded documents from Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, as part of a probe into suspected manipulation the gold and silver markets by banks.


Gold Prices / Fixes / Rates / Volumes – (Bloomberg)

Currently, gold fixing happens twice a day by teleconference with five banks: Deutsche Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia-ScotiaMocatta, Barclays Bank Plc, HSBC Bank USA, NA and Société Générale. The fixings are used to determine prices globally. Deutsche Bank is also one of three banks that take part in the equivalent process for silver.

The German regulator has been interrogating the bank’s staff over the past several months. Since November, when the probe was first mentioned similar audits in the U.S. and UK are also commencing.

Premiums in China and India remained robust overnight and way over western premiums. Gold on the Shanghai Gold Exchange closed at $1,258.38 at 0700 GMT – a premium of $29.18 per ounce over spot.

Bullion premiums in western markets have seen little movement again this week. One ounce gold bars are trading at $1,276.44/oz or premiums of between 3.75% and 4.5%, and larger 1 kilo  gold bars  are trading at $40,832/oz or premiums of between 3% and 3.5%.

Indian demand declined yesterday but remains robust as dealers were not able to source gold.

Premiums remained steady at $120 per ounce over London prices. Last week, Indian premiums hit a record high of $160/oz. Imports into India have dropped off sharply this year after the Indian government raised the import duty to 10% earlier this year and tied imports volumes to exports, in a bid to curb a rising trade gap and the rush to gold by Indians concerned about the continuing devaluation of their rupee.

If the Fed defer a taper, we should see gold bounce from oversold levels which could help it test $1,300/oz again.

We do not believe the Fed will ‘taper’ next week as the U.S. economy remains very fragile and any reduction on bond purchases could lead to turbulence in financial markets, a rise in bond yields and affect the wider economy.

But if the Fed does reduce its massive bond buying programme marginally next week, gold will likely fall to test strong support at $1,200/oz again.

Gold looks likely to bounce back next year and the positive drivers for gold are strong store of wealth physical demand, particularly in China, due to macroeconomic, systemic and monetary risk.

The eurozone debt crisis is far from resolved and sovereign debt issues in Japan, the UK and the U.S. will likely rear their ugly heads again leading to safe haven demand for gold.


U.S. Treasury Amount of Outstanding Debt – Price/Billion – (Bloomberg)

We pointed out yesterday why it is important to remember that the Federal Reserve is printing nearly $20 billion every single week. The U.S. National Debt is now over $17.2 trillion and continuing to rise and the U.S. has unfunded liabilities (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) of between $100 trillion and $200 trillion.

Staggering numbers which suggest alas that the U.S. politicians are rearranging chairs on the titanic.

What Should Depositors Do To Protect Against Bail-In?
Depositors in G20 or FSB regulated countries should examine the financial health of their existing bank or banks.

Some issues to watch would include institutions with legacy issues such as a high level of non-performing loans, a possible need for recapitalisation and low credit ratings. These banks should be avoided, as they have a higher chance of needing restructuring and hence a higher chance of a bail-in.

Deposits are insured for up to €100,000, £85,000 and $100,000 per person, per account in the EU, the UK and the U.S. respectively. Although there is no guarantee that an insolvent government will be able to fund its deposit insurance scheme, it is uninsured deposits which are more at risk of a bail-in.

Therefore, it would be prudent for depositors not to hold bank deposits in excess of these figures in any one financial institution since –
a) they are not insured, and
b) deposits in excess of those arbitrary figures are more likely to be bailed in

There is an assumption that in the event of bail-in, only bank deposits of over these arbitrary figures would be vulnerable. However, there is no guarantee that this would be the case. Should a government be under severe financial pressure, it may opt to only protect deposits over a lower amount (e.g. €50,000, £50,000, $50,000).

Since capital controls have already been imposed on one Eurozone country, Cyprus, it seems quite likely that they will be imposed in other countries in the event of new banking crises or a new global systemic crisis.

Cypriot authorities imposed restrictions on bank money transfers and withdrawals, including a daily cash withdrawal limit of €300 per day. Many banks had to restrict withdrawals to €100 per customer per day in order to prevent them running out of euros. Electronic wire transfers were suspended for a number of days, prior to being allowed but with a low maximum daily limit.

Therefore, having some of one’s savings outside of the banking system makes sense. It should be held in a form that is highly liquid, such as gold, and can be converted back into cash in the event of cash withdrawal restrictions. Cypriots who owned gold were less affected by the deposit confiscation or ‘haircut’ as they could sell their gold in order to get much needed euros.

In the coming years, the role of gold in an investment portfolio will become more important due to its academically and historically proven safe haven qualities. Now, with the risk of bail-ins, savers and corporate treasurers should consider diversifying their savings portfolio and allocate 5% to 10% of the overall savings portfolio to gold.

However, it will not be enough to simply allocate funds to some form of gold investment. In the same way that certain banks are more risky than others, so too are many forms of gold speculation and investment more risky than others.

It is vitally important that those tasked with diversifying deposits do not jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.

An allocation to actual physical gold owned with the safest counterparties in the world will help depositors hedge the not insignificant risk of keeping money on deposit in many banks today.

It is important that one owns physical gold and not paper gold which could be subject to bail-ins.

Physical gold, held in allocated accounts conferring outright legal ownership through bailment
remains the safest way to own gold. Many gold investment vehicles result in the buyers having very significant, unappreciated exposure and very high counterparty risk.

Owning a form of paper gold and derivative gold such as an exchange traded fund (ETF) in which one is an unsecured creditor of a large number of custodians, who are banks which potentially could be bailed in, defeats the purpose of owning gold.

Potentially, many forms of gold investment themselves could be bailed in and the FSB’s inclusion of Financial Market Infrastructures in potential bail-ins including “central counterparties, insurers, and the client assets held by prime brokers, custodians and others” underlines the importance of owning unencumbered assets that are owned directly.

Extensive research shows that owning gold in an investment portfolio enhances returns and reduces the entire portfolio’s volatility over the long term. In the coming years, a diversified savings portfolio with an allocation to gold, will reduce counterparty risk and compensate for very low yields.

The wise old Wall Street adage to always keep 10% of one’s wealth in gold served investors well in recent years. It will serve those attempting to safeguard deposits very well in the coming years.

In general, people should avoid holding euros or other cash outside of their bank accounts, however there is now a case to be made that holding a small amount of cash outside of vulnerable banks would be prudent. Just enough cash to provide for you and your family’s needs for a few weeks.

However, this should never be done unless the cash is held in a very secure way, such as a well hidden safe or safety deposit box. It would be safer not to keep assets in a safety deposit box in a bank.

Overall, diversification of deposits now has to be considered.

This means diversification across financial institutions and across countries or jurisdictions globally.

Safest Banks
Financial institutions should be chosen on the basis of the strength of the institution. Jurisdictions should be chosen on the basis of political and economic stability. A culture and tradition of respecting private property and property rights is also pertinent.

While depositors need to do their own due diligence in which banks globally they may wish to open a bank account, Table 1 (see From Bail-Outs to Bail-Ins: Risks and Ramifications)  illustrates that there are numerous banks globally which are still perceived to be financially strong. The banks in table 1 have been ranked by taking the average long term issuer credit rating applied to the bank by the main global credit rating companies, Moody’s, S&P and Fitch.

A credit rating is an assessment of the solvency or creditworthiness of debtors or bond issuers according to established credit review procedures. These ratings and associated research help investors analyse the credit risks associated with fixed income securities by providing detailed information of the ability of issuers to meet their obligations. A rating is continuously monitored. It enables investors and savers to measure their investment risk.

Long term credit ratings of the major agencies take into account factors such as financial fundamentals, operating environment, regulatory environment, corporate governance, franchise value of the business, and risk management, as well as the potential financial support available to the bank from a parent group, or a local or national government.

While credit ratings express an opinion on a bank’s vulnerability of defaulting, they don’t quantify the probability of default. However, credit ratings are still widely used and are one of the most commonly used ways of ranking the relative financial strength of banks.

The credit rating reflects the credit risk or general paying ability of the issuer, and so reflects the solvency or creditworthiness of the issuer from the point of view of investors who, along with depositors, are the main creditors of the bank. Certain countries host more financially strong banks than others as can be graphically seen in the table.

Notice that many of the safest banks in the world are in Switzerland and Germany.

Indeed, it is interesting to note that despite the Eurozone debt crisis, many of the safest banks in the
world are in the EU or wider Europe. These include banks in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France – despite many French banks being very vulnerable as is the French sovereign.

Outside of Europe, Singapore has some very strong banks, as does Norway, Australia, Canada and Sweden.

There are only a few UK and U.S. banks on the list of global top banks that should give pause for thought.

There are a number of institutions in jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Chile, Japan and some Middle Eastern countries. As of yet, banks in the large emerging markets have not made their mark but we would expect banks in China, Russia, Brazil and in India to begin moving up the table in the coming years. The sounder sovereign position and lack of public and private debt in these countries will help in this regard.

There are no banks from problem European economies on the list for good reason. Their banks do not have high enough credit ratings. In fact, banks from Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland consistently had relatively low long term ratings from the ratings agencies. In terms of ratings, they rank nowhere near the top 20 banks in the world and most are ranked between 200 and 400.

Besides considering the relative safety of different banks, with interest rates so low on bank deposits and increasing taxes on interest earned on deposits leading to negative real interest rates – depositors are not being rewarded with adequate yields to compensate for the risk to which they are exposed.

Thus, as is often the case, savers need to consider alternatives to protect their wealth

Without a clearly thought out plan, many will be prey for the financial services sales machine and brokers and their array of more risky investment and savings products – including so called “capital guaranteed” products – many of which are high risk due to significant and unappreciated counterparty risk.

It is vitally important that investors have independent custodians and trustees. This greatly reduces counterparty risk should a broker, financial adviser, insurance company or other financial institution become insolvent.

9 Key Considerations
Depositors internationally should examine the financial health of their existing bank or banks. Overall, diversification of deposits now has to be considered. However, it is vitally important that those tasked with diversifying deposits do not jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. This means diversification across financial institutions and across countries or jurisdictions globally.

Financial institutions should be chosen on the basis of the strength of the institution. Jurisdictions should be chosen on the basis of political and economic stability. A culture and tradition of respecting private property and property rights is also important.

1. Diversify savings across banks and in different countries

2. Consider counterparty risk and the health of the deposit-taking bank

3. Attempt to own assets outright and reduce risk to custodians and trustees

4. Own physical gold in allocated accounts with outright legal ownership

5. Avoid investments where there is significant counterparty risk, such as exchange traded
funds and many structured products

6. Avoid banks with large derivative books and large mortgage books

7. Monitor banks’ and institutions’ financial stability

8. Monitor deposit and savings accounts’ terms and conditions

9. Monitor government policy pertaining to banks and bank deposits

Download Protecting your Savings In The Coming Bail-In Era (11 pages)

Download From Bail-Outs to Bail-Ins: Risks and Ramifications –  Includes 60 Safest Banks In World  (51 pages)

 

 

Personal debt ratio hits record high of 163.7% – Business – CBC News

Personal debt ratio hits record high of 163.7% – Business – CBC News.

Canadians’ debt ratio increased last quarter, but so did the value of their assets, so the national net worth increased. (The Associated Press)

The amount that Canadians owe compared to their disposable income rose to an all-time record last quarter, although their net worth also increased.

Statistics Canada reported Friday that the level of household credit market debt to disposable income increased to 163.7 per cent in the third quarter from 163.1 per cent in the second quarter.

That means Canadians owe nearly $1.64 for every $1 in disposable income they earn in a year.

‘The seasonal bounce in mortgage borrowing in the previous quarter picked up into the fall’– Royal Bank economist Laura Cooper

Policymakers are fixated on the debt ratio in part because it was at above 160 per cent that households in the United States and Britain ran into trouble about five years ago, contributing to defaults and the financial crisis that triggered the 2008-09 recession.

Debt loads can be influenced by seasonal factors, and although the headline figure is higher, the rate of growth in that ratio was the smallest in 12 years.

“Those figures should be encouraging for policymakers and suggest that the Bank of Canada’s belief that imbalances are evolving constructively is right on the mark,” said Benjamin Reitzes, a senior economist with BMO Capital Markets.

Indeed, while they are borrowing more, Canadians are also worth more as their assets increase by a similar amount. The national net worth increased to $7.5 trillion in the third quarter, up 2.1 per cent from the previous quarter.

On a per capita basis, that works out to $212,700 for every Canadian. The previous quarter, that figure was $208,300.

Canadians saw their financial assets go up in value, as well as their non-financial assets (such as houses) do the same. The value of shares and other equities gained 3.7 per cent in the quarter, while the value of household real estate gained 1.5 per cent.

“The pace of debt accumulation picked up slightly in the third quarter as the seasonal bounce in mortgage borrowing in the previous quarter picked up into the fall,” Royal Bank economist Laura Cooper said.

HOUSEHOLD DEBT RATIO

With files from The Canadian Press

Financial Crises Don’t Happen by Accident | CANADIAN MARKET REVIEW

Financial Crises Don’t Happen by Accident | CANADIAN MARKET REVIEW.

Financial Crises Don’t Happen by Accident

As a distant but interested observer of history and investment markets I am fascinated how major events that arose from longer-term trends are often explained by short-term causes. The First World War is explained as a consequence of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne; the Depression in the 1930s as a result of the tight monetary policies of the Fed; the Second World War as having been caused by Hitler; and the Vietnam War as a result of the communist threat.

Similarly, the disinflation that followed after 1980 is attributed to Paul Volcker’s tight monetary policies. The 1987 stock market crash is blamed on portfolio insurance. And the Asian Crisis and the stock market crash of 1997 are attributed to foreigners attacking the Thai Baht (Thailand’s currency). A closer analysis of all these events, however, shows that their causes were far more complex and that there was always some “inevitability” at play.

Simply put, a financial crisis doesn’t happen accidentally, but follows after a prolonged period of excesses…

Take the 1987 stock market crash. By the summer of 1987, the stock market had become extremely overbought and a correction was due regardless of how bright the future looked. Between the August 1987 high and the October 1987 low, the Dow Jones declined by 41%. As we all know, the Dow rose for another 20 years, to reach a high of 14,198 in October of 2007.

These swings remind us that we can have huge corrections within longer term trends. The Asian Crisis of 1997-98 is also interesting because it occurred long after Asian macroeconomic fundamentals had begun to deteriorate. Not surprisingly, the eternally optimistic Asian analysts, fund managers , and strategists remained positive about the Asian markets right up until disaster struck in 1997.

But even to the most casual observer it should have been obvious that something wasn’t quite right. The Nikkei Index and the Taiwan stock market had peaked out in 1990 and thereafter trended down or sidewards, while most other stock markets in Asia topped out in 1994. In fact, the Thailand SET Index was already down by 60% from its 1994 high when the Asian financial crisis sent the Thai Baht tumbling by 50% within a few months. That waked the perpetually over-confident bullish analyst and media crowd from their slumber of complacency.

I agree with the late Charles Kindleberger, who commented that “financial crises are associated with the peaks of business cycles”, and that financial crisis “is the culmination of a period of expansion and leads to downturn”. However, I also side with J.R. Hicks, who maintained that “really catastrophic depression” is likely to occur “when there is profound monetary instability — when the rot in the monetary system goes very deep”.

Simply put, a financial crisis doesn’t happen accidentally, but follows after a prolonged period of excesses (expansionary monetary policies and/or fiscal policies leading to excessive credit growth and excessive speculation). The problem lies in timing the onset of the crisis. Usually, as was the case in Asia in the 1990s, macroeconomic conditions deteriorate long before the onset of the crisis. However, expansionary monetary policies and excessive debt growth can extend the life of the business expansion for a very long time.

In the case of Asia, macroeconomic conditions began to deteriorate in 1988 when Asian countries’ trade and current account surpluses turned down. They then went negative in 1990. The economic expansion, however, continued — financed largely by excessive foreign borrowings. As a result, by the late 1990s, dead ahead of the 1997-98 crisis, the Asian bears were being totally discredited by the bullish crowd and their views were largely ignored.

While Asians were not quite so gullible as to believe that “the overall level of debt makes no difference … one person’s liability is another person’s asset” (as Paul Krugman has said), they advanced numerous other arguments in favour of Asia’s continuous economic expansion and to explain why Asia would never experience the kind of “tequila crisis” Mexico had encountered at the end of 1994, when the Mexican Peso collapsed by more than 50% within a few months.

In 1994, the Fed increased the Fed Fund Rate from 3% to nearly 6%. This led to a rout in the bond market. Ten-Year Treasury Note yields rose from less than 5.5% at the end of 1993 to over 8% in November 1994. In turn, the emerging market bond and stock markets collapsed. In 1994, it became obvious that the emerging economies were cooling down and that the world was headed towards a major economic slowdown, or even a recession.

But when President Clinton decided to bail out Mexico, over Congress’s opposition but with the support of Republican leaders Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, and tapped an obscure Treasury fund to lend Mexico more than$20 billion, the markets stabilized. Loans made by the US Treasury, the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements totalled almost $50 billion.

However, the bailout attracted criticism. Former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin used funds to bail out Mexican bonds of which Goldman Sachs was an underwriter and in which it owned positions valued at about $5 billion.

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At this point I am not interested in discussing the merits or failures of the Mexican bailout of 1994. (Regular readers will know my critical stance on any form of bailout.) However, the consequences of the bailout were that bonds and equities soared. In particular, after 1994, emerging market bonds and loans performed superbly — that is, until the Asian Crisis in 1997. Clearly, the cost to the global economy was in the form of moral hazard because investors were emboldened by the bailout and piled into emerging market credits of even lower quality.

…because of the bailout of Mexico, Asia’s expansion was prolonged through the availability of foreign credits.

Above, I mentioned that, by 1994, it had become obvious that the emerging economies were cooling down and that the world was headed towards a meaningful economic slowdown or even a recession. But the bailout of Mexico prolonged the economic expansion in emerging economies by making available foreign capital with which to finance their trade and current account deficits. At the same time, it led to a far more serious crisis in Asia in 1997 and in Russia and the U.S. (LTCM) in 1998.

So, the lesson I learned from the Asian Crisis was that it was devastating because, given the natural business cycle, Asia should already have turned down in 1994. But because of the bailout of Mexico, Asia’s expansion was prolonged through the availability of foreign credits.

This debt financing in foreign currencies created a colossal mismatch of assets and liabilities. Assets that served as collateral for loans were in local currencies, whereas liabilities were denominated in foreign currencies. This mismatch exacerbated the Asian Crisis when the currencies began to weaken, because it induced local businesses to convert local currencies into dollars as fast as they could for the purpose of hedging their foreign exchange risks.

In turn, the weakening of the Asian currencies reduced the value of the collateral, because local assets fall in value not only in local currency terms but even more so in US dollar terms. This led locals and foreigners to liquidate their foreign loans, bonds and local equities. So, whereas the Indonesian stock market declined by “only” 65% between its 1997 high and 1998 low, it fell by 92% in US dollar terms because of the collapse of their currency, the Rupiah.

As an aside, the US enjoys a huge advantage by having the ability to borrow in US dollars against US dollar assets, which doesn’t lead to a mismatch of assets and liabilities. So, maybe Krugman’s economic painkillers, which provided only temporary relief of the symptoms of economic illness, worked for a while in the case of Mexico, but they created a huge problem for Asia in 1997.

Similarly, the housing bubble that Krugman advocated in 2001 relieved temporarily some of the symptoms of the economic malaise but then led to the vicious 2008 crisis. Therefore, it would appear that, more often than not, bailouts create larger problems down the road, and that the authorities should use them only very rarely and with great caution.

 

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