Monday, September 29, 2008

Another Bailout is needed!

I have been harping on the fact that the impending recession is result of excess money. Therefore unless money supply contracts and goes below a certain threshold, we are unlikely to see any recovery. We are now in the first step of capital destruction.

Like I mentioned earlier, in the first step, it is the money system that bears the risk. The regulator has no alternative but to ensure that the system survives. This is where the current bailout package (lets call it bailout 1) is aimed at.

The risks arise in the next step. Here the money system goes into self preservation mode rather than help push the bailout effects down to individuals and small businesses. Here second bailout will be required. But this bailout will need concurrent regulatory changes so that the money system does not simply fatten up – but actually pushes the recovery stimulus down the chain. The size of this stimulus will be at least twice the first bailout.

I think, these two bailouts will have to clean the system. Beyond this will be a period of lull. This is the time individuals and small businesses start reducing their loan outstanding. This is likely to take long time in case of US.

Further to this is the rosy skies and sweet smell of growth and increasing wealth.

Notes:
What is currently called bailout is actually second bailout – the first was tax rebate stimulus of USD 150billion in around Feb- March 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

US Taxpayer generously bails out the world(?)

Brad Setser -Sharing upside and downside risk

Prof. Brad Setser has a wonderful post on the US taxpayer bailing out “global” financial system. He examines the various ways in which the US could have bailed out the system while ensuring it gets something in return. The current bailout terms actually make the US taxpayer party to downside risks without any means to access the upside gains.

This touched a niggling thought in my mind. Is the US taxpayer carrying the burden of global financial system bailout?

US taxpayer is financing the “global” liquidity crises. Is it not similar to central bank intervening in domestic markets to provide liquidity? So in effect, the US is acting like central bank of the world. Then does the US have the clout/muscle to regulate globally?

If US attempts so - is a political transgression. Naturally, this will lead to diplomatic games that often result in lot of dinner and drink expenses and little else.

If not, US taxpayer is getting a raw deal. In effect, the already stretched taxpayer is bearing the global financial rescue burden. At this point, it is overwhelming. Add to it consumption responsibility that developing countries expect US to carry out. I think the system is near break. It is MUST that global leaders / central banks sit and hammer out the solution at a global level. Else, we will be perilous close to political turmoil.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lehman, AIG and missing solution to global crisis

Goodbye Lehman
Lehman Brothers’ is no more. But, instead of cheering the Fed for not using tax-payers money, I think Fed has not fully nullified the threat. Moreover, I am siding with Lehman.

When something as old as Lehman fails, it must be one hell of a crisis. Actually, it is, and I have been harping on it. Yet the fact remains that something that survived the great depression will be no more. Many people have said that Dick Fuld was wrong in not selling to KDB. Yet surprisingly employees of Lehman I know – believe there must be a reason. Some say if you prick Dick Fuld, he bleeds green! They still believe in their top boss –even after the bankruptcy.

I do not believe that incredibly talented people at Lehman did something way different than what GS, MS and ML have done. There is something fundamentally wrong when you see Lehman and ML scurrying for capital – like there is no tomorrow.

Fed solution not complete
The Fed’s reaction to Lehman’s troubles was erratic. On one hand, it did not bail our Lehman but bailed out AIG. So they bust their argument about tax-payers money. I think Fed, with all the experience at the table, has failed to deliver creative solution to the crisis.

So where is the solution?
A single regulator, even as big as the Fed, cannot deliver a solution to current crisis. I think a global consensus needs to evolve. Global central bankers acting in sync can possibly solve this crisis sooner. It is time to take the John Pierpont Morgan solution. Get all central bankers into one room and lock the room until they get to the solution.

The current crisis begs for a need for new globally relevant regulatory framework. This framework needs to buy time for companies under attack – while not using any taxpayer’s money. However, looking at WTO, I think we are long way away from such a situation.

One other important learning from the crisis is that global accounting practices are not as robust as they seem. The root cause of this crisis rest in the accounting principles that allow asset values to move away from ground realities. Asset values moved along with fabricated-market realities leading to self-propagating bubbles.

Another accounting goof-up has been notional value changes creating real cash-flow profits. There is evidence of similar occurrence in a lot of trusts and funds. It seems irrational to me.

Aligned incentives are critical for firm survival. In this matter, I think Lehman was much better off. The employee benefit program tied long-term employees’ fate into the fate of the firm. I believe you cannot get better than this. A real hard look at compensation is definitely warranted.


Lastly
I end with a hope.
I hope in 2 years time, Dick Fuld and his team miraculously claws back with the Lehman Brothers’ name. I hope to see those golden letters on greenback on that building in Wall Street – just where they were for more than a century. I hope Dick Fuld has something up his sleeve. I really hope. And, I hope they do it soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tim Duy explains current situation

Mark Thoma links to Tim Duys article on US and Japan equivalence here.
  • The loss of US policy independence in accordance with the impossible trinity
  • This poses threats to globalization in the context of US losing independence.
  • US (excess consumption no saving) is polar opposite of Japan (lower consumption high savings).
This implies that for any real progress US demand contraction must happen. In this context, Larry Summer’s call for second stimulus may look ridiculous – but so long as global central banks are playing the game it doesn’t matter. To be fair, there is not much option left with Fed. Further, this is supposed to buy time – US may not be able to play this hand later in the game. I think this only postpones the inevitable fall of dollar.

The current new-found affinity for US dollar is actually repulsion to EM markets rather than affinity to US dollar. This money will go to newly spiced up US exporters. Exporters loose their competitiveness as it is derived from US dollar weakness. People loose money. It doesn’t matter in which currency you loose it – its lost. Loosing it in dollars makes it little better for the rest of us because there are just too many dollars sitting in vaults these days.

Welcome to the down-cycles.

Update:

Wall Street Journal concurs here. Link through The Big Picture - Barry Ritholtz

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cyclicality of global slowdown projection

In brief…
Current market slowdown will express itself in a cyclical matter with cycles accelerated or compressed within a short span of time. It is better not start pre-mature celebrations. It makes more sense to track the frontier of this storm wave. However, 5 years down from today we will marvel at the low-high-low-high forecast cycles wondering what were analysts thinking!

Into the cycle…
On the first anniversary of the slowdown, the US GDP was revised upwards much to the cheer of the markets. Experts like Tyler Cowen, Brad DeLong and others have already looked under the hood and have not found anything remarkable. US GDP seemingly grew on the back of strong manufacturing performance. The news coincided with a slowdown in Europe. This gave a chilling clue that possibly US growth came at the expense of a European growth. This newfound US competitiveness against the EU is primarily due to exchange rate weakness of the dollar. The dollar regained strength on the news of GDP uptick undoing the competitive forces. Thus, the situation is now ripe for US consumer uptick expectation and further realignment when it does not happen.

The down cycle oscillations…
The situation is likely to oscillate for at least another cycle. All the gains in competitiveness are still addressing American and European consumers. This, to my mind, is critical weakness of the currency system. I expect this cycle to oscillate until European consumers stop consuming at the next uptick, waiting for growth that is more fundamental and hence robust. Therefore, the last cycle will not produce a GDP increment as this time. The sooner this stabilizes the better. The more these cycles run on, the more loss of confidence will create panic. How long will this run and how spectacularly will it end is difficult to predict.

The consolidating cycles – more oscillations…
The next wave of cyclicality will hit when actually Chinese and Indian consumers hit the global markets. As global manufacturers rush to address this demand, they will unleash a new wave of competition. The resultant action will create a cyclical rebalancing in currency markets. Even this cyclicality will create an oscillation difficult to fathom/ predict.


The wavelength of the cycle…
Making money given the cyclicality of the world economy in the near-term, implies understanding the wavelengths of the cycles. As of now I believe we can only expect to understand down-cycle waveleangth. The consolidating-cycles will be far more complex and knowing their wavelength will be more difficult.

The down-cycles, as mentioned above, we can argue will have peak-to-trough time of at least 2 GDP reporting periods. Implying these will play out over little less than a year. Lead indicators of GDP like retail sales, car sales, energy consumption, inventories etc. also tend to influence markets during down-cycles. However, I think these indicators distort the way GDP growth diffuses through the economy and hence may mislead the markets. Actual GDP measurements may turn out to be more robust on upside and downside than predicted using lead indicators. Thus what was a single cycle may actually be aggregation of auxiliary-cycles. The main cycle though can be expected to follow GDP readings. The imposing auxiliary -cycles, if large enough in magnitude, can distort the wavelength.


In sum…
The near-future is going to be cyclical, with accelerated/compressed cycles. Most likely cycles will have wavelength (twice of peak-to-trough) of 4 GDP reporting periods. Auxiliary-cycles may play spoil-sport within the cycle. Making money in such an environment is equivalent to wave-surfing. At each peak you have to make enough to take you till the next peak! Thus making money is quite tough and entails highest risks. Welcome to the beach!