It is no secret to those who follow the daily nuances of global monetary policy that the primary reason for Europe's deplorable fate has little to do with liquidity, and everything to do with an ever diminishing base of money-good assets, which in turn is a solvency problem when run through the cash flow statement and balance sheet. Need an explanation for the ever declining collateral thresholds by the ECB? There it is: assets in Europe are generating ever lower returns, which means that an ever lower inverse LTV has to be applied to them by monetary authorities in order for the asset holder to get some return. And with trillions in incremental cash needs, before all is said and done, the ECB (and various regional central banks, as was discussed last week), will be forced to accept virtually anything that is not nailed down as collateral for 100 cents on par (not amortized) value. Yet while observing the symptom is simple, the diagnosis is much more difficult. In other words, why is Europe's asset base getting progressively worse. Courtesy of Goldman we may have found the answer. As the following chart shows, the average age of assets in years in Europe, has just hit a record high. The implications of this are substantial, and explain so very much about the core problem at the heart of the European quandary.
it will come as no surprise that the return on an aged assets gets progressively lower the further it depreciates and amortizes. Further, the less cash available for capex, the lower the rate of asset replacement, and the older the prevailing asset base becomes. This all ends up in a toxic spiral in the context of continent deleveraging, where old assets create lower returns, leading to less cash, leading to less capex spending, all the while the liability side of the balance sheet stays fixed.
So as ever more cash is spent on interest outflows and debt maturities, the average asset age continues to get progressively higher, the PPE base of Europe gets even older, finally resulting in the situation Europe is in right now: a decrepit bed of Property, Plant and Equipment, amortizing ever faster, not being replaced, generating ever less cash.
Unfortunately, until a virtuous cycle begins where European (and soon American) firms start spending more on CapEx which more than offsets annual depreciation and amortization, everything else is irrelevant, yet the ongoing confusion of a liquidity with a solvency problem (because unlike Assets, liabilities do not "amortize" on their own absent a default of course) will continue.