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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:

Read the rest of this entry »

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If anyone had thought that credit crunch has faded in significance, had been replaced by a deepening – and now acknowledged – global recession, but that basically things were back to some sort of known territory where we’ve been before and know how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 »

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

As the global credit crunch and deterioration of confidence is starting to bite Russia harder, Russian banks are experiencing panic deposit withdrawals. Add to this the rapidly falling stock markets – and you have a dangerous cocktail of financial instability.

Customers want their money back: Last week, Russian bank Globex banned depositors from taking their money after a run on its deposits sparked by crumbling confidence. It is the first bank to suffer this problem in 2008 – but undoubtedly not the last. A number of other banks also experienced an unexpected rise in people withdrawing their money and closing their accounts. Long queues of investors desperate to have their cash back are starting to form outside smaller banks. Many failed to get their money as bank operations were suspended. So this crisis is not doing anything for the average consumer who is now seriously worried about losing their hard-earned money.

In the last couple of months, three banks have been forced into mergers because of the liquidity crisis brought on by the global credit crunch. There is anecdotal evidence that banks are being bought for nominal sums, one of them quoted to have been sold for $5,000.

Bailout Russian style: The Russian government’s financial bailout package of $120bn is aimed primarily at large captive state-controlled institutions such as Vneshtorgbank (VTB – the Bank for Foreign trade) and Sberbank (the Savings bank). The government also intended to spend a portion of it on shares purchase to support the tumbling stock market, but not so much at lending activities. Overall however, there seemed to be insufficient detail and transparency about the total package which caused the market a lot of concern.

The package itself is an astronomic size of money in terms of its size relative to Russia’s GDP. For comparison, US’s $700bn bailout is around 5.5% of its GDP (US GDP is approx $14trillion), whereas Russia’s bailout is about 10% of its GDP (Russia’s GDP is approx $1.2trillion). Since the bailout has been announced in September, it has had little impact on the Russian stock market, which fell down around 60% from its high in May 2008.

The crash of Russian stock market has been the most dramatic event of all the world’s stock markets collapses in 2008.

Market correction: In itself, the Russian crash is a huge adjustment back to the shaky economic fundamentals. Russian economy is still set to grow by about 7% in 2008 according to the IMF. However, the foreign investors who were attracted by speculative expectations of high returns in Russia are all gone and the money is gone with them, making the huge market bubble go “pop” spectacularly quickly.

Financial outlook: This is tricky as there are a few moving parts. Oil is a key one, but I am not going to touch upon it today, only noting that a fall in world oil prices is causing major concern to Russia. 

From the point of view of banking, we are seeing the start of consolidation of the Russian banking sphere, and there is a fear, which the government will strongly deny, that the financial situation is pretty grim: the major concern is that widespread bank failures will spark panic. Still, the population is pretty pleased about one thing – that a bunch of super-rich Russian oligarchs will lose their ill-gotten money in the stock market crash. That’s some consolation, isn’t it?

 
Copyright 2008 by CuriouslyInspired

The euphoria of earlier this week, which followed an announcement of the UK bailout by Gordon Brown, has seemingly finished – as it was feared to. Shares have yet again collapsed. Asia showed probably the worst results today, with the Nikkei dropping 11% on the 16th October. As I am writing this, the FTSE has fallen below 4,000 again. And Dow will be perilously close to its 8,000 mark.

Shifting sands: Investor sentiment, similar to voter sentiment, is a funny thing. Markets are driven by it, same as elections are won on the strength of popular feeling. However stock market sentiment is also fickle and impermanent, and prone to wild swings especially in troubled times such as now. We are nowhere close to being out of the woods yet. In the weeks to come, there will be significant market volatility, and the market will trend downwards. Perhaps my fears of FTSE at 3,000 have yet to be realised.

Credit crunch biting hard: Interbank lending is still pretty frozen, although short term rates have fallen a little – with banks still not keen to do any longer term lending. Despite all government intentions and declarations, banks cannot be forced to start lending against their will if they do not have confidence in their financial partners. Somebody compared this to “asking water to flow upstream” – just is not going to happen. The impact of this has already spilt out into the real economy: businesses are finding it very hard to refinance their existing loans. This will have a negative impact on the whole economy, reducing business activity and forcing some to cease trading altogether.

Recession: What is driving the stock markets plunges at this very moment are investors realising that we are heading full steam into a global recession – and the existing bailout funds will not be enough to prevent it. A lot of government money is being pumped into the banking system – yet as long as investors think we are heading for a recession, they will keep on selling, and the money will keep on burning up and vanishing into the bottomless pit. It’s a vicious circle which under the current financial system, only restored consumer confidence can stop – and we just are not getting any positive economic news for this to happen. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s fascinating to see how much everyone around the globe is presently applauding Gordon Brown, the UK’s PM, for coming up with “the plan” to rescue us from the economic meltdown. Features of this plan are now being adopted by other governments in need of a magic wand to get them out of the financial abyss.

UK plans: The plan amounts to the UK Government formally taking a stake in UK’s banks whilst giving them money (£37bn to three named banks – RBS, Lloyds and HBOS) to recapitalise and hence become more resistant to the current market volatility and the ongoing liquidity crisis.

This was received exceptionally well by the world’s markets. FTSE 100 is positively rocketing upwards – on Friday it closed below 3,900, it now stands at 4,400, up well over 12% in just 2 nerve-wracking days. European and Asian indices are also up very strongly.

US adjust the approach: US’s bailout package of $700bn, which was originally intended just to buy off bad debts off failed banks, was badly received by the markets earlier in October and failed to stem the fall of american indices which dragged the world’s markets down with it. Now the US government is turning towards the UK-style idea and is planning to recapitalise 9 banks (amongst them Goldmans and Morgan Stanley) using $250bn of the bailout pack for this.

This will be deeply humiliating to Goldmans and Morgan Stanley which until now have been the last 2 “pure” investment banks left on Wall Street. Goldmans, in particular, was initially trying to raise its own capital to ensure its survival, whilst Morgan Stanley was looking for a merger. I wrote about that earlier in Sept.

US markets strongly welcomed US’s change in thinking on the rescue plan and Dow Jones is finally on the up.

Knight in shining armour? Gordon Brown is getting credited for coming up with the plan that is going to work, where all else failed to date. Paul Krugman who got awarded the Nobel prize for economics, has been praizing Mr Brown as the one who might have saved the world’s financial system: more details here.

But we must not forget, before we get carried away on the sudden euphoric wave, that:

  • Gordon Brown failed to prevent UK entering the credit spending spree in the first place, creating conditions for a very sharp comedown to earth which are only starting to bite now
  • He failed to get the regulators involved when alarm bells have been ringing for months as banks were increasingly entrenched in runaway activities which were hardly regulated

And thus we must consider Gordon Brown’s achievements and undoubted strong leadership skills in the last few days in light of the fact that really, we should not have been here in the first place.

What is always impressive is the well-oiled Labour spin machine which helps Mr Brown deliver his recent “save the banking world” speeches so very well. UK is newly rebranded as “rock of stability and fairness”. The stuff that would normally make one cringe was swallowed by this week’s hungry for reassurance markets, hook line and sinker.

A very bitter pill: As for the bailout itself –  no-one likes the sound of it. In fact we all loathe the sound of it. And I for one thought in the last month, just let these banks fail, as “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” – bailout or not bailout – it will hurt in both cases. But economic tools and alternatives being rather thin on the ground, I agree with some of my recent commentators, I have come round to semi-accepting the inevitability of this bailout. This is mainly because everything else I have seen suggested would have implied an HUGE social and economic upheaval. Like write off everyone’s debt and assets, for instance.

What this means is that as the world’s order is shifting towards quasi-socialist principles and a very strong government hand in regulation, we are not trying to shake the foundations of the existing society. Call me a coward but I don’t feel there is a call for that at this stage.

Yet from the UK’s point of view, it is extremely disappointing to see Gordon Brown take so much credit for an event that he did not manage to prevent.

 

Copyright 2008 by CuriouslyInspired

The UK Government has now unveiled the plans for a £37bn bailout for key British banks, as the BBC reports today.

Terms of the UK Bailout: The key features is that the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds and HBOS will get cash injections of £20bn for RBS and £17bn between the two latter banks. This money will be used to recapitalise these banks, ie strengthen their reserves in order to withstand financial turmoil and market volatility we are facing at present. However in return the Government is effectively part-nationalising these three banks by taking a large or controlling share in them as these banks sell its shares to the Government in exchange for money.

The objective of part-nationalisation, apart from taking more control in the banks’s affairs now, is to also get income back to the Government and the UK taxpayer once the banking system does recover and shares go up in value.

Banks management changing: On the strength of this effective humiliation, the heads of RBS (Fred Goodwin and Tom McKillop) and HBOS (Andy Hornby and Lord Dennis Stevenson) are resigning, stepping down, or retiring. The UK Government is keen to see proven people with strong and relevant industry experience step into their shoes.

Banking bonuses curbed: One of the conditions of the UK Bailout is that there will be no bonuses to senior executives this year, and a move towards paying bonuses in shares not in cash in future years. However these restrictions do not impact those banks that are not part of today’s headline £37bn bailout proposal.

Barclays route: Barclays has opted to raise the money it needs without Government’s help. It needs £6.5bn. It seems that one of the reasons Barclays is trying to make it on its own, apart from avoiding the humiliation of the bailout, is that it will remain free to set banking bonuses as it sees fit.

US v UK Bailout compared: There are some distinctions between the US and the UK Bailout proposals. Some are driven by the fact the two banking systems have different features – for instance, in the US there are many more banks in existence making individual targeted action possibly more difficult to achieve. Read the rest of this entry »

There’s lots of hot debate at present as to why the US Government is supporting the Bailout plan in its current format. The people I’ve chatted to over the past few days all strongly disapprove of the plan. We keep coming back to the same question: why is the Bailout progressing in its current shape and form, whilst there seem to be alternative proposals out there – which are not being publicly debated?

Pressure for any solution: I put an opinion forward that there was pressure to adopt a solution, any solution, because the world economy is in unchartered territory (an unprecedented mess), economists don’t know what policies to adopt that work best in this situation, and there is panic in governments from not knowing who to turn to. Quick action of sorts is seen as better than inaction.

Merits of inaction: Inaction might have its merits, although it is an election loser in the USA. I wrote at length recently about why absence of any Bailout might actually be an option (a very painful one, indeed, possibly an equivalent of entering another Great Depression) – compared to a lengthy, expensive, painful, AND untested solution of the Great US Bailout.

Theory on Government paying off financiers: More interesting speculative thoughts as to why the US Government might be keen to rush into the Paulson plan was presented by Dandelion Salad on the 2nd of October. Quoting them –

What is happening is that the Bush administration is engineering a massive raid on the Federal treasury to pay off the people within the financial industry who have been operating the housing scam because the politicians told them to do it. This is hush money.

The people in the financial institutions who are getting the money will be passing it on to the big banks that leveraged their criminal lending practices. The giant sucking sound you hear is almost a trillion dollars of future taxpayer earnings going into the vaults of the nations’s biggest banks, such as Citibank, Bank of America, and—the pet bank of the Rockefeller family—J.P. Morgan Chase. Much will also go into the vaults of foreign investors such as the Bank of China.

A scary thought, isn’t it? I don’t think this is exactly the whole story of what is happening, but read the whole article – it’s a pretty interesting read.

Further slump in US stock markets: As a closing thought, a comment about current stock markets. Despite the Bailout plan being adopted in the US on Friday, US markets actually closed lower last week than they started on Friday, having temporarity risen during the day.

The newest shares slump reflects fears that the $700bn Bailout package might not be sufficient to provide enough liquidity in the markets to prevent a US recession. In economic speak, “expectations of the Bill being passed were already incorporated into stock markets” so once the Bill was adopted, the market looked to new information to respond to – and this came in the shape of rising unemployment figures.

Whatever happens next, we’ll have to try and keep a cool head, tighten our belts and ride out this storm. There are no miracle pills to take that might make this landing any softer.

 

Copyright 2008 by CuriouslyInspired

I stumbled across a great article this morning which explains very well how Central banks (the Fed, the Bank of England, etc) operate on the money markets to inject liquidity into the system in order to stabilise it. This prompted me to consider the bigger question why money and credit is important in an economy.

Central banks and monetary policy: Typically Central banks aspire to maintain a certain target interest rate, and tighten credit (reduce it) when rates are too low, or increase the money supply when the rate is too high when rates are too high. This does not mean printing money: purely issuing notes and coins without reference to economic conditions can and does lead to inflation which, when excessive, is very damaging to the economy (it is outside the scope of this note to consider what is deemed “excessive” or what drives inflation in the first place, although some degree of inflation seems inevitable and healthy). Instead Central banks buy or sell short term Treasury bonds to primary banks (the likes of Goldman Sachs) to manipulate liquidity.

Central banks thus influence available credit through its dealings with primary banks and not small regional banks. If primary banks ceased to exist, e.g. if they went bust, Central banks would lose this existing tool of influencing available total money in the economy.   Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday, the US Senate backed the financial bail-out bill amounting to $700bn (£380bn). The essence of the plan is to buy up bad debts in order to try and stabilise financial markets through restoring confidence that no other institutions will collapse as the result of existing debts. The ultimate objective is to to keep banks lending – so that the global credit crunch does not take an even stronger hold and completely paralyze the economy.

In order to become effective, the Houe of Representatives have to approve the bill as well. Earlier, this bill failed to pass the House of Representatives vote. Since this first failure, extra modifications were added to make it more palatable to the public, such as additional guarantees of the amount of savings US will guarantee, and tax breaks for smaller businesses to encourage the economy.

At the next hurdle, the bill might still be rejected. There is of course pressure (or strong encouragement) from President Bush and both presidential candidates for it to be passed, which might sway the vote to some extent. But what could the outcomes be of the bill being (a) passed – or (b) rejected – on the markets in the longer term?

Bill passed: The US government will effectively become the owner of devalued assets of the financial firms, rescuing the latter from the mess they were responsible for in the first place. 2 side effects might occur:

  • Whilst the bailout might create greater confidence in the markets of no more imminent banking failures, the US state will be saddled with a huge amount of non-performing (but not completely worthless) assets and hence some degree of increase in its budget deficit. This increase will be particularly large if the US housing market slumps further, making these assets even less valuable. The increase in budget deficit will filter through into the real ecomony and might trigger interest rate rises, deterioration of the economic climate and a deepening of the recession which is already starting to take hold in the US. The recession can be quite protracted and painful as the government might resort to helping banks further, even the technically bankrupt ones (kind of like keeping a dead patient on a life support machine for the sake of preserving appearances). This brings to mind a parallel with the protracted recession in Japan in the nineties where (to the best of my knowledge) the government’s continuous intervention to prop up firms just prolonged the economy’s problems.
  • The bailout reinforces the perception that banks can behave totally irresponsibly and take any unjustified risks, since they will be rescued nevertheless. So the problem will occur again in future – because no-one ever learns! And we will pay for it again.

Damned if you do?…

Bill not passed: The crisis of confidence will resume but magnified many-fold. There will almost certainly be more high profile bankruptcies. The impact and the shock of it will be severe and harsh with wide ranging negative ecomonic implications for the US and the world alike, and it is bound to be very challenging on the people living through it, with an increase in unemployment just for starters. The global credit crunch will squeeze everyone even more strongly.

A part of me keeps coming back to this thought though – in this case, although the resulting downturn will undoubtedly be very severe, maybe it will not be as prolonged? Maybe with careful macroeconomic management after all the bankruptcies have happened, the US economy will actually have solid foundations on which to build long term recovery?

The collapse of the financial system might be a price too high to pay for this though.

Damned if you don’t, then.

 

I welcome people’s feedback and comments on the above.

Copyright 2008 by CuriouslyInspired

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