Moral Hazard

On The Morality Of The Fed

"Finally, we must question the morality of Fed programs that trick people (as if they were Pavlov's dogs) into behaviors that are adverse to their own long-term best interest. What kind of government entity cajoles savers to spend, when years of under-saving and over-spending have left the consumer in terrible shape? What kind of entity tricks its citizens into paying higher and higher prices to buy stocks? What kind of entity drives the return on retiree's savings to zero for seven years (2008-2015 and counting) in order to rescue poorly managed banks? Not the kind that should play this large a role in the economy."

Austrian Civil Servant Blows $440 Million In Taxpayer Funds On Risky Derivatives

It is oddly ironic that on the day the US bailout of AIG is complete, and with a "profit" at that, the spin goes, even if the spin ignores that the "profit" was only purchased at the expense of trillions in sovereign debt issuance and near immediate monetization by the Fed, which has onboarded a mindbogling amount of duration risk (from under $500MM in DV01 in 2008 to over $2.5 billion currently, but nobody will discuss this issue as few if any grasp just how much risk exposure the Fed has shifted away from entities such as AIG), that we learn just how far the abuse of virtually free taxpayer funds goes. Only instead of some US government apparatchiks blowing through billions in some concrete government building in downtown D.C., we go to the birthplace of Mozart, in Salzburg, Austria to learn that a "civil servant gambled hundreds of millions of euros of taxpayers' money on high-risk derivatives."

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Just maybe the Greek bailout saga is drawing to a close. While markets set expectations, we now move towards the true impact of what this final deal will do for both Greece and the EU as a whole. Moral hazard is set to be released again, and we get a chance to glimpse the true impact…

 

Overnight Summary: The "Hope" Is Back, However Briefly

Those looking for fundamental newsflow and/or facts to justify the latest bout of overnight risk exuberance will not find it. To be sure, among the few economic indicators reported overnight in the Thanksgiving shortened week, European construction output for September tumbled -1.4% from August, after rising 0.6% previously. How long until Europe copycats the latest US foreclosure sequestration, "demand pull" gimmick and gives hedge funds risk free loans to buy up housing (aka REO-to-Rent)? More importantly, and confirming that Spain is far, far from a positive inflection point, Spanish bad loans rose to a new record high of 10.7%. This was the the highest level since the records began in 1962. The total value of these loans was €182.2 billion ($233 billion) in September, according to the Bank of Spain (more on this shortly). The relentless rise indicates that the Spanish bad bank rescue fund will be woefully insufficient and will need to be raised again and again. So while there was nothing in the facts to make investors happy, traders looked to hope and prayer, instead pushing risk higher on the much overplayed Friday "news" that politicians are willing to compromise in the cliff (which as we reported was merely a market ramping publicity stunt by Nancy Pelosi et al), and that Greece may be saved at tomorrow's Eurogroup meeting, for the third time. That this will be difficult is an understatement, with the Dutch finance minister saying no final decisions on Greece should be expected, and his German counterpart adding that a Greek debt writeoff is "inconceivable." In other words, even hoping for hope is a stretch, but the market is doing it nonetheless.

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With the EU searching for any foothold, the U.S. looks poised to follow the Europeans into the fiscal abyss. The U.S. election season is over and the markets have refocused their attention to the looming “fiscal cliff”.

From Reform To Collapse: The Dysfunctional Status Quo

You cannot "reform" away the dysfunction of the Greek Status Quo without dismantling the vested interests and the ruling Elites that benefit from the Status Quo. The same can be said of the Status Quo everywhere from the U.S. to China.

Anticipating the Devolution of Big Government

With the US elections approaching next week, as well as the threat of another fiscal cliff showdown looming, we look at how the expansive Central State has come to dominate both private society (i.e., the community) and the marketplace, to the detriment of the nation’s social and economic stability. We examine six critical dynamics that will lead to the devolution of Peak Government. "Governments, desperate for more revenues, ignore public resentment and loss of trust, which only deepens the disconnect between those in government and the public.  And the private citizenry sees a lack of accountability, soaring public debt, accounting trickery, political dysfunction, and mal-investment of public funds as the hallmarks of their government."

Confusion Reigns In Europe

Chatter is that Rajoy is waiting for conditions to get worse so he can garner easier terms for a Spanish Bailout and seek a compromise whereby he can take a rescue with honor intact has been found. But broadly speaking, confusion reigns in Europe as we wonder how the European Elites will fudge a third bailout for Greece and the fact that the IMF (as we noted here) have admitted that austerity doesn't work how they thought it should/would. But don't expect anything sudden to replace austerity – it remains the only option today, though the debate has begun. So what about something utterly radical such as Gavyn Davies in the FT yesterday where he wrote: “One radical option which is now being discussed is to cancel (or, in polite language, “restructure”) part of the government debt that has been acquired by the central banks as a consequence of quantitative easing (QE).” How will the central bank be recapitalised if it writes off its assets without money printing – why not when inflationary expectations are low? And what would it do to banks?

Guest Post: If You Prop Up An Artificial Economy Long Enough, Does It Become Real?

The policy of the Status Quo since 2008 boils down to this assumption: if we prop up an artificial economy long enough, it will magically become real. This is an extraordinary assumption: that the process of artifice will result in artifice becoming real. This is the equivalent of a dysfunctional family presenting an artificial facade of happiness to the external world and expecting that fraud to conjure up real happiness. We all know it doesn't work that way; rather, the dysfunctional family that expends its resources supporting a phony facade is living a lie that only increases its instability. The U.S. economy is riddled with artifice: millions of people who recently generated income from their labor have gamed the system and are now "disabled for life." Millions more are living in a bank-enabled fantasy of free housing. Millions more are living off borrowed money: student loans, money the government has borrowed and dispensed as transfer payments, etc. Assets are artificially propped up lest a banking sector with insufficient collateral be revealed as structurally insolvent. It's not difficult to predict an eventual spike of instability in such a system; the only difficulty is predicting the date of the instability. Hiding a broken, dysfunctional economy behind a facade of artifice and illusion can't fix what's broken, it only adds to the system's systemic instability as resources that could have gone to actually fix things are squandered on propping up phony facades of "growth" and "health."

How to Measure Strains Created by the New Financial Architecture

We believe an unsustainable new global financial architecture that arose in response to the US and European financial crises has replaced an older, more sustainable, architecture. The old architecture was crystallized in Washington- and IMF-inspired policy responses to the numerous sovereign defaults, banking system failures, and currency collapses. Most importantly, the previous architecture recognized limits on fiscal and central bank balance sheets. The new architecture attempts to 'back', perhaps unconsciously, the entire liability side of the global financial system. This framing is consistent with a purely political—institutional stylized—fact that it is nearly impossible to penetrate the US political parties if the message is that there are limits to their power…or that their power requires great effort and sacrifice. This is why Keynesians (at least US ones) who argue there are no limits to a fiscal balance sheet are so popular with Democrats, and why monetarists (at least US ones) who argue there are no limits to a central bank balance sheet are popular with (a decreasing number of) Republicans. Party on! Again, nobody chooses hard-currency regimes – they are forced on non-credible policymakers. Let me put it more positively. If politicians want the power of fiat money, let alone the global reserve currency, they need to behave differently than they have - or the consequences for Gold are extraordinary.