Over the last thirty some odd years, the world has seen an unprecedented level of economic growth and prosperity. That much is certain. However, things are not as they appear when the bullish rose-tinted glasses that most view the world through are removed.
And the issue is debt.
Why sell cocaine at a 200% markup when there are much bigger profits to be had in this moral hazard economy funded, government protected business.
The rapid pace of China credit expansion since the Global Financial Crisis, increasingly sourced from the inherently more risky and less transparent "shadow banking" sector, has become a critical concern for the global markets. From the end of 2008 until the end of 2013, Chinese banking sector assets will have increased about $14 trillion. As Fitch notes, that's the size of the entire US commercial banking sector. So in a span of five years China will have replicated the whole US banking system. What we're seeing in China is one of the largest monetary stimuli on record. People are focused on QE in the US, but given the scale of credit growth in China Fitch believes that any cutback could be just as significant as US tapering, if not more. Goldman adds that China stands to lose up to a stunning RMB 18.6trn/$US 3trn. should this bubble pop. That seems like a big enough number to warrant digging deeper...
We've discussed Jiangsu before (dead pigs, TBTF Solar companies, and bird flu) but the Chinese province (that is big enough to be a Top 20 global economy with GDP greater than that of G-20 member Turkey and 79 million people) is on the brink of collapse under the weight of its own debt (cough Detroit cough). As China's leaders attempt to rein in over-capacity industries, tamp-down residential real-estate bubbles, and generally unwind "...the greatest misallocation of capital the world has ever seen, which was China’s 2009 stimulus," Jiangsu stands head-and-shoulders. With debt far higher than its peers, its mainstay industries (shipbuilding and solar panel manufacture) drowning in over-capacity, and massive 'empty' property developments now starved of funding, Jiangsu "can potentially pose a systemic and macro economic risk to the country."
... Well, not today's Ben Bernanke of course - a far more honest version of the current Fed Chairman, one speaking before the New York Chapter of the National Association for Business Economics, on October 15, 2002.
"I worry about the effects on the long-run stability and efficiency of our financial system if the Fed attempts to substitute its judgments for those of the market."
So do we Ben.
"Perhaps the success that central bankers had in preventing the collapse of the financial system after the crisis secured them the public's trust to go further into the deeper waters of quantitative easing. Could success at rescuing the banks have also mislead some central bankers into thinking they had the Midas touch? So a combination of public confidence, tinged with central-banker hubris could explain the foray into quantitative easing. Yet this too seems only a partial explanation. For few amongst the lay public were happy that the bankers were rescued, and many on Main Street did not understand why the financial system had to be saved when their own employers were laying off workers or closing down." - Raghuram Rajan
Back in 2002 Warren Buffet famously proclaimed that derivatives were ‘financial weapons of mass destruction’ (FWMDs). Time has proven this view to be correct. As The Amphora Report's John Butler notes, it is difficult to imagine that the US housing and general global credit bubble of 2004-07 could have formed without the widespread use of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and various other products of early 21st century financial engineering. But to paraphrase those who oppose gun control, "FWMDs don’t cause crises, people do." But then who, exactly, does? And why? And can so-called 'liquidity regulation' prevent the next crisis? To answer these questions, John takes a closer look at proposed liquidity regulation as a response to the growing use of 'collateral transformation' (a topic often discussed here): the latest, greatest FWMD in the arsenal.
Now, after the Fed's generosity caused by "a decoupling of the 'real' economy from the financial economy with its lavish creation of fictitious wealth...
The Fed has created a Doomsday Machine. The Fed has nurtured moral hazard in every sector of the economy by unleashing an abundance of cheap credit and low interest mortgages; the implicit promise of "you can't lose because we have your back" has been extended from stocks to bonds (i.e. the explicit promise the Fed will keep rates near-zero forever) and real estate. An abundance based on the central bank spewing trillions of dollars of cheap credit and free money (quantitative easing) is artificial, and it has generated systemic moral hazard. This is a Doomsday Machine because the Fed cannot possibly backstop tens of trillions of dollars of bad bets on stocks, bonds and real estate. Its power is as illusory as the abundance it conjured. This loss of faith in key institutions cannot be fixed with more cheap credit or subsidized mortgages; delegitimization triggers a fatal decoherence in the entire Status Quo.
We first discussed the possibility of state and local governments using eminent domain to 'save us' from further housing issues a year ago but now the NY Fed has gone one step further with an academic-based justification for why this process is not a "zero-sum-game" and will render all stakeholders better off. We can hear echoes of "trust us" in this commentary as the authors explain how multiple valuation methods will be used to ascertain "fair-value" - which has always worked so well in the past - and that we have "little to fear" from the resultant long-term contraction in liquidity or credit as bubbles can only inflate during times of easy credit availability (and that will never happen!) Paying for all this? Don't worry - resources to fund purchases of loans/liens can be raised from public, private sources or a combination of the two. It seems to us that MBS holders will not be happy, consumers hurt as mortgage costs would rise (this 'risk' has to be priced in), and taxpayers unhappy as this is yet another transfer payment scheme to bailout underwater loans.
Fractional reserve banking is unlike most other businesses. It's not just because its product is money. It's because banks can manufacture their product out of thin air. Under the bygone rules of free market capitalism, only one thing kept banks from creating an infinite amount of money, and that was fear of failure. Periodic bank failures remind depositors of the connection between risk and reward. What is not widely appreciated is that the ensuing government bailouts allowed an underlying shadow banking system to not only survive but grow even larger. To the frustration of Keynesians, and despite an unprecedented Quantitative Easing (QE) by the Federal Reserve, conventional commercial banks have broken with custom and have amassed almost $2 trillion in excess reserves they are reluctant to lend as they scramble to digest all the bad loans still on their books. So most of the money manufactured today is actually being created by the shadow banks. But shadow banks do not generally make commercial loans. Rather, they use the money they manufacture to fund proprietary trading operations in repos and derivatives. No one knows when the bubble will pop, but when it does a donnybrook is going to break out over that thin wedge of collateral whose ownership is spread across counterparties around the world, each looking for relief from their own judges, politicians, bureaucrats, and taxpayers.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on asset valuation these days, even commentators who are normally quiet about such matters. Some are seeing asset price bubbles, others are just on the lookout for bubbles, and still others wonder what all the fuss is about. Simply put, our financial markets weren’t (and still aren’t) structured to be efficient, and consistently rational behavior is a pipe dream, history shows over and over that the idea of a stable equilibrium is deeply flawed. Policies focused on the short-term tend to exacerbate that cycle, as we saw when decades of stabilization policies and moral hazard exploded in the Global Financial Crisis. Maybe if macroeconomics were rooted in the reality of a perpetual cycle - where expansions eventually lead to recessions (stability breeds instability) and then back to expansions - we would see more economists and policymakers balancing near-term benefits against long-term costs. Or, another way of saying the same thing is that mainstream economists should pay more attention to Austrians and others who’ve long rejected core assumptions that are consistently proven wrong.
It looks like the International Monetary Fund has been jinxed. It’s fated. It’s doomed! The next managing director should start wearing garlic around their neck already or at least burn sage in their office to ward off evil spirits.
Yesterday, the rumor turned out to be a joke. Today, there was no rumor, but as we warned four hours ago, it was only a matter of time. Less than four hours later, the time has come, and Jon Hilsenrath's "Fed Maps Exit from Stimulus", conveniently appearing after the close, has just been released.
The reason for yesterday's late day swoon was a humorous tweet, which subsequently became a full-blown serious rumor, that the WSJ's Hilsenrath would leak the first hint that the Fed is contemplating preannouncing the "tapering" of its $85 billion in monthly purchases. Naturally, this did not happen as we explained. And yet, judging by the market's response there is substantial concern that the Fed may do just that. To be sure, it is quite likely that in addition to just rumblings out of economists, which are always wrong and thus ignored, that one of the Fed's unofficial channels may hint at some tightening in the monthly flow (if certainly not halt, and absolutely not unwind). Which makes sense: all previous instances of non-open ended QE took place for up to 6-9 months before the Fed briefly let off the accelerator to see just how big the downward response is. The problem now, however, is that even the tiniest hint that the grossly overvalued "market", which has risen only thanks to multiple expansion for the past year, would lead to a massive overshoot not only to whatever an ex-Fed "fair value" may be, but overshoot wildly as the liquidation programs kick in across a Wall Street that is more liquidity starved today than it has been in a decade. This is precisely what Scotiabank's Guy Hasselman thinks: "Few care about “right-tail” events, but should investors decide to pare risk in reaction to a hint of ‘tapering’, the overshoot to the downside may surprise many. The combination of too many sellers, too few buyers, and dreadful (and declining) liquidity means a down-side overshoot is highly likely."