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This is quite intesting. Responding to unprecedented instability and turmoil in the global banking industry, in late Feb the Global Finance magazine published a mid-year update of its top 50 list of banks it considers to be the safest. Usually its update is done yearly.

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Today’s announcement of quantitative easing  – lowering UK’s interest rates to 0.5% accompanied by the decision to print more money – is widely acknowledged to be a total untried gamble and an admission of failure of all previously announced rescue-the-economy measures by the present UK government. It appears it’s the first time this is being tried in the UK, so we don’t know whether this will be successful or a total disaster.

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A few weeks back I found this fantastic January 09 article by Norman Lamont. Despite my delay in commenting on it, this type of material is unfortunately set to have a rather long shelf life, unfortunately for us Britons; Gordon Brown is set to wreak further havoc in the economy before the fat lady sings eventually.

Lord Lamont argues that Brown is “like an arsonist posing as a firefighter”. What does he mean by that?

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Nationwise released their January market update on the 29th Jan 09.

This report shows that prices have fallen by 19% since they peaked in Oct 2007, including by 16.6% in the last 12 months alone. Although it seems to indicate the rate of decline is slowing down, we have not yet reached the bottom of the cycle because of where the house price to earnings ratio is.

House Price to earnings ratio: Probably the key interesting point in this report is the house price to earnings ratio. The long term average highlighted by Nationwide is 4, with some other sources putting it at 3.5 or maybe even lower. Either way, it is currently around the 5 mark. Read the rest of this entry »

Searching for various opinions and predictions about the end of this recession, I came across the blog called Angry Bear, written by a number of US economists, some of them PhDs, which I found interesting hence I am going to quote heavily from it.

In this article, the author writes his prediction about the end of this recession in the US:

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If anyone had thought that credit crunch has faded in significance, had been replaced by a deepening – and now acknowledged – global recession, but that basically things were back to some sort of known territory where we’ve been before and know how to get out of it eventually, this morning we were reminded that this was not the case.

Clearly, we are very, very far from being out of the woods, with banks continuing to be on the brink of disaster and still struggling to quantify the extent of their losses.

The new £50bn plan: The new bailout plan, announced in the UK this morning, will allow the Bank of England to buy up to £50bn of risky assets directly from any company (not just financial institutions) that agrees to enter into a voluntary insurance scheme for its expected losses on specified toxic debts. In return, banks have to pay for this insurance – typically with cash, but possibly also their shares. The scheme aims to insure companies against 90% of their losses on specified debts which resulted from the collapse of the sub-prime market and the ensuing global meltdown.

Two bailouts, two stories: This scheme, of course, exists on top of the first bailout in October 2008 where several key financial firms received £37bn as a capital injection to top up their reserves. The second UK bailout, however, has very different features to the first one. Not only the recipients of “aid” are different, but the insurance scheme “twist” is a new one. It is closer, albeit not idential, to the earlier US’s bailout model of buying up bad assets from struggling firms. Read the rest of this entry »

Much has been said over the past few months about the responsibility of regulators in the current global financial crisis. I’ve written about it myself back in September suggesting that they are yet to acknowledge their role and their own failings.

Three months on, it still seems that the regulators are either in denial, or suffering from a debilitating shock of their own past incompetence, as we are still not seeing much positive change from them. Even with the current obvious trend for greater regulation promoted on the government level, there is no clear evidence of regulators stepping up their game.

What do I mean by that, I hear you say? Well, there are two aspects to this. The first one is about acknowledging regulators’ failure to prevent the financial crisis – and in this, I am going to specifically focus on auditors in this post. The second aspect is about regulators changing their attitudes immediately, not at some point in the future. That would be the subject of another post.   Read the rest of this entry »

It would have been a bombshell for many, but in good old British tradition details of this annoucement were leaked this weekend, so here we are picking this apart before Alistair Darling has made his speech due later on today.

The jist of it: Labour want to spend their way out of this unprecedented recession. And we are all seriously concerned that the numbers behind the justification of the intention to spend our way out of the recession just does not seem to add up.

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Yesterday interest rates in the UK were slashed 1.5%, an unprecedented move which literally drew gasps of surprise from the City of London. At most perhaps 1% was expected.

Recapturing the initiative: The move was meant, the Bank claims, to be that decisive step in dragging the country out of the unfolding recession. But it seems that the investors were not impressed. UK shares continued falling on the day and the FTSE ended up 5.7% lower.

The Bank is seemingly trying to re-capture the initiative so that it is seen to be in control of the economy. It does not feel like it is in control, though, and the latest surprise interest rate cut feels like a knee-jerk reaction to events.

Economic outlook: UK interest rates have been quite high for some time and the Bank of England has been trying to micro-manage its inflation targets by fine-tuning its rates at 0.25% at a time. It lost track of the bigger picture long ago, being obsessed with inflation for way too long. Now the economy is shrinking, unemployment is on the rise, no-one is lending, no-one is spending, the markets are unstable and panicky and the financial system is in a mess. And they think they are going to be seen as leaders saving the day with a rate cut out of the blue? I don’t think so; too little, too late.

The rates should have been cut much earlier, then they could have had an impact when it mattered. That was at the latest at the start of 2008.

Retail banks’ response: One of the reasons this is not going to be an economic remedy that the Bank of England wants is to be is that retail banks are going to pass on as little of the rate cut as possible to their customers. Retail banks are in a big spot of bother themselves, needing to regroup after the credit crunch contraction set in and wiped out their balance sheets assets.

Being aggressive competetive profit-making organisation (= or fat cats as others will call them) that they are, they have no altruistic tendencies to help out consumers in need of cheaper credit – they are out to squeeze as much money as possible out of all of us.

We might argue it is socially irresponsible to act in this way when they ended the global economy in an unprecedented mess. But banks are exactly that – always have been – probably always will be – out for themselves. At best they will say they are serving their shareholders’ interests, although I have argued
before that often these are just lofty words of intent.

Yesterday’s interest rate cut will benefit banks which will now be able to secure cheaper credit for themselves at the time when credit is scarce. Banks are not going to willingly give all of this money away to its customers by correspondingly reducing their own lending rate and thus eliminating their chance of taking a profit, at the time when they are making losses on their past bad loans and derivatives transactions gone sour.

Lend me an umbrella: The confidence in making sensible lending decisions has been shattered by recent global events and it will take time for banks to start being cooperative once again. Remember the saying

“A bank is an institution that lends you an umbrella when the sun shines, only to take it away when it pours”.

We are seeing this process in action right now.

Low confidence is driving the recession: So if the government wants for retail banks to re-start lending, it is a bit like ordering the water to flow upstream. Lending policies are being drastically tightened, tolerance of customers in arrears is probably approaching zero, and rate cuts are not being passed on in a desperate bid to increase banks’ own profitability.

The promise of a recession is as ever becoming self-fulfilling, and we seem to have little control over this downward spiral at this stage – until we think we’ve gone far enough and confidence starts returning again.

 

Copyright 2008 by CuriouslyInspired

A serious financial crisis is continuing to unfold in Russia.

Capital outflow: In the last few weeks, foreign investors withdrew their money out of Eastern Europe, the Russian stock market has fallen over 60%, and the government has been on a spending spree trying to prop up the collapsing markets. The very small rally Russian markets have experienced in the last 5 days are rumoured to be due purely to government’s share-buying activities.

As I wrote recently, the government committed a package of $120bn (and some sources say, $200bn) to bail out struggling large Russian banks – against the backdrop of some bank runs and bankrupcies of the smaller players.

Oil price collapse: Coupled with the above, the price of oil has recently fallen back beyond the $70 per barrel, now standing at about $67. Russia needs the oil price to be above $70 to break even and balance its national budgets (compare this to $95 for Iran and and Venezuela, and $50 for Saudi Arabia. Source – NY Times).

So, as Russia makes less and less money through its oil exports and wasting ever-increasing sums of money on propping its markets, where does this leave it?

Debt overload: Predictably, not in a very good position. Russia has accumulated a lot of foreign loans and in the next couple of months, needs to roll over $47bn of them. As there are very few investors left wishing to extend their support to struggling economies, this task will be exceedingly challenging. In total, Russia has $530bn worth of foreign debts, clocked up during the recent years of massive market expansion and over-confidence. Of these, another $150bn are falling due to be refinanced in 2009.

On track for downgrading: S&P issued a warning that it might downgrade Russian government bonds reflecting the declining credit-worthiness of the state. However presently, it maintains a credit rating of BBB+, the third lowest investment grade. If Russian bonds are downgraded further, this means they will lose their investment grade status, and any further credit to the country will cost it even more.

Moody’s downgraded the Russian financial outlook from “stable” to “negative” in the last week, citing “slowing asset growth, higher inflation, the slump in equities and funds leaving the country, all of which could result in deteriorating fundamentals for banks” as reason for its decision.

Credit default swaps, which are being taken out as means of insuring investors against (in this case) Russian government bankruptcy, are reflecting this in their pricing. CDS spreads (the difference between the buy and sell quotes), which serve as a measure of risk tolerance, are widening massively, reaching a 1,123, which is higher than spreads on Iceland’s debt before it sought a rescue from the International Monetary Fund, reports the Telegraph.

Russian government heading for bankruptcy? Thus the creditworthiness of the Russian state is in itself in question. It may be that the Russian government is heading for a default on its foreign debt, as it did fairly recently in 1998 – although the situation in 1998 and 2008 is somewhat different.

 

Copyright 2008 by CuriouslyInspired

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