Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Questions from Barry Ritholtz

Barry Ritholtz has posed 12 questions related to current global economic situation to the readers. It has incited lot of interesting responses all must read. Here are my 2 dollars (no cents any more!) on the topic.

US Consumer spending, Housing
From first principles, US consumer spending should reduce until the time incomes become greater than interest cost, food and basic expenses. US housing loans are non-recourse loans (as I understand it) –hence jingle mail is best solution to get rid of the liability. Other loans, particularly credit card loans, might become a threat. To make an impact on the economy, this change requires strong-willed cost cutting across the population. This implies that downturn in US will be both prolonged and deep.

Can US avoid this debt trap?
There is a possibility that through structuring, financial engineering US can get out of this situation. It needs a creative solution involving legal, financial and regulatory skills put together. Following ideas can help define a solution:
  • The human life is finite but firms’ life is infinite.
  • All dues need not be paid back and all debt cannot be waived off
  • The process of repayment of dues may be unfair – some people may choose to pay more than their share. (One example is taxes – taxes are unfair payments between individuals) In addition, some organizations will bear larger losses.

Inflation – how much, how soon, how to avoid
The excess money supply created over the past decade has to manifest itself. For long, this excess money remained contained with few resulting in a crop of billionaires, few sovereign wealth funds and overall salary hikes. After a certain passage of time, this wealth has to trickle down. This is what is happening currently. This will continue until such time the excess wealth exists. Wealth contraction can help correct inflation problem quickly. It implies currency revaluations, deep stock market corrections or pricking of asset bubbles. But this will create a lot of pain for the most important class of people politically – the influencers.

Employment – worse still to come – but totally avoidable
Employment is function of jobs available and skill availability. There is a strong mismatch here. If you don’t have skills jobs will move where skills are available. But will the low-skills jobs come back to you? US, in my humble opinion, needs a stronger manufacturing. That will take-off only if US dollar is correctly priced. We have already seen employment spurts with dollar falls.

Credit Crunch – impact on financial sector
Financial sector has itself to blame with the way it handled the excess money supply. Financial sector will go through salary rationalization, product rationalization, management control rationalization – in simple words it needs to go through Business process re-engineering. All financial companies need to talk to James Champy en masse. There is a lot of cost to be cut in these companies.

US Politics and war
The outcome of US election will have no impact on the crises. The current crises and possible solutions require unreasonably high skills of diplomacy. The potential for wars for forcible resolution of economic litigation will soon increase and pose direct threat to world peace. This will be most inconvenient for US. World economies will not take US opinion courtesy of Iraq and Afghanistan experience. It will take a real leader – a statesman – to sort out this mess without the war pains. I believe Hillary Clinton is lucky to have missed the nomination.

In Sum
We are going through one of the worst phases of economic history. No doubt we will come out of it. The only question is will we come out wiser?

Monday, June 09, 2008

A Threat to Globalisation

Let me first categorically state that I am pro-globalisation. Recently there is a careful weighing of pros and cons of globalisation. You can read Tyler Cowen, Mark Thoma and Brad Delong on this. I have a few points to add to this:
Globalisation as envisaged in theory and the practial globalisation that we are experiencing are two different animals. The first is the goal where the world economic system intends to move to. The second is represents a deviation, an intermediate stage, from the prior status (pre-globalised industrialsation) towards our goal of true globalisation. Let me hypothesize what differences we have.

  • We have relatively free capital movement but we have a little restricted labour movement. The difference is in quantum and direction both.
  • We have locally-wealthy-but-globally-poor pools able to kick start local economic development - but do not "export" this development through "consumption".
  • We have economies that articificially create/sustain some competitive advantages longer than its "best-before-date" either through currency pegs, money market intervention or other things.
  • We have created higher income polarity - possibly -keeping certain section of population in the low-income pole through a combination of slower skill-upgradation programmes or by keeping industry profitability low throguh subsidies or under the pretense of inflation targeting. Classic case oil and food - future case WATER!
  • On the other pole - i.e. high income pole we have multiplying effects of first - increasing savings for similar incomes and second - increasing incomes through market mechanics. The increased savings are result of either flexi-taxes courtsey capital account convertibility or lower costs courtsey inflation control and subsidy. The increasing incomes is what accelerates the income differential - recently this has happened through asset price bubbles and otherwise through productivity gains as a result of globalisation.
  • Further there is huge - amazingly huge - increase in cost of the tools of success in globalised world - parimarily higher (grad and post grad) education, health care (i.e for maintaining employability and lower cost when sick).
  • Finally - globalisation, in all probability, seems to be irreversible development and will proceed towards the goal (i.e. real globlisation!).

Therefore, the current state has the pros and cons mixed up. The matter needs more debate and in-depth analysis. Today was just a welcome start!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Jeffrey Lacker on - The Fed Risks Moral Hazard

Jeffrey Lacker made a speech in London about Fed's bailout of Bear Sterns. The speech has amazing clarity about financial stability and central banking. It is a must read! Since I read it on the big picture - I am linking to it there.
The Big Picture Lacker: The Fed Risks Moral Hazard

Update:

Now here is the explanation and analysis of the Fed President Jeffrey Lacker's speech by Yves Smith. This is one of the reason why I am a fan of Yves Smith!

Thats why not much to add from my side. Here is the link: naked capitalism: Should the Fed Be Independent?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

World without Oil.org

Let me first admit - I have a bias towards simulations and moreso towards game-based simulations.

World without Oil is one example why I have this bias. A few months ago an email exchange with a famous game designer Jane McGonigal introduced me to this game. And how soon have we come to this! The game simulated a world without oil and there is a whole lot of content on what people's responses have been to this crises. I guess that resource is now ripe to be tapped. I believe, the resource needs to be advertised and shared more.

Further I believe, the game now needs to be extended. Here are some ideas:

  • First of all make the game global.
  • It needs a downloadable mobile scoring app that can keep score for oil savings in 3-4 key areas. It could be - for example - everytime we go for a tank full we enter Odo reading and gas filled and cost/ charges we paid. We score higher if we travel more miles per gallon than average. We score higher for using subway etc.
  • Make it include other resources as well - water, food, environment, money(considering US credit crises) etc. If we dont print an email - we get some points for saving a tree - etc.
  • Hopefully we can simply enter that into a mobile phone / sms based web server and our points get updated twitter style - then we can blog about it- share it - earn identifiable and referable badges - like belts in karate. Everyone starts with Level 1 and lets say goes to Level 12 - they can display this badge on their website/blog etc.
I would love to brainstorm on this. If anyone is interested let me know!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Excess Money and its flow pattern

I am sure you people have already heard this podcast from Russ Roberts' interview of Gene Epstein on Gold Fed and money. There is something really interesting in the points he makes. Epstein talks about 2 ways US fed govt can monetize its deficit.
  • First is the monetising of future revenues - pushing incomes up so that taxes go up and therefore government revenues.
  • The second is creation of future debt Fed buying government notes and bonds and supplying money.
The interesting part is - the first goes through the economy across income classes (leading to distribution of the excess money) and therefore creates expected outcomes (inflation). The second, however, is cornered by "big money" (SWF and likes) and never goes into the system. Or actually it takes longer and and more complicated feedback loop to distribute the effects of the excess money. This leads (or led) everyone to believe - falsely - that system is still stable. The reality remains that system has just postponed its instability. Possibly, what we are seeing is the "mean reversion" after some of the effects became evident.

It would be wonderful to know what Yves Smith and others think on this one. Let me know what you think about this one.