Tag Archives: debt problems

Why debt matters and you know it does

26 Apr

If you want the long and the short of it then basically debt matters and we have 5000 years of recorded history to affirm that. It seems that we have a dichotomy of beliefs: those who are aware of the deficit and the urgency required in dealing with it, and those who deny it or by their actions negate an acknowledgment of  it. It is naive to assess debt purely in a historical context and to assume that if we have maintained similar debt-to-GDP ratios prior, we can therefore withstand high levels of indebtedness again, and again. This is making a wholly wrongful assumption that the micro and macro environment has remained constant. Adam Smith stated that nations trade with one another to economise on different comparative advantages and that global trade is a reflection of that. Seismic shifts in the world economy have damaged that idyllic thesis.

Debt historically was tempered by enduring the pain and affliction that accompanied it. The payment of high interest rates instituted discipline. Our liberal attitude towards debt and the pedestrian pace with which we are dealing with it infers that we view it more as a longer term issue rather than an immediate one. It seems almost ironic that Wall St and Main St seem to view everything else in the short term, but have a more relaxed and long-term perspective on indebtedness.  In order to see how much debt a nation can withstand history does offer some useful parameters. Rogoff and Reinhardt suggest that nations with above 90% debt-to-GDP ratios are highly more susceptible to economic collapse and turmoil.

GDP as a measure of economic output is fraught with inaccuracies and composition errors. A better measure is to either discount those errors, which in itself becomes more of a subjective exercise, or more prudently just to look at the revenues and expenses of a nation. Whatever measure is employed current debt burdens have now become clinical.  The almost unbelievable irony is that interest rates remain unchecked at historical lows in an environment of deep stimulus, and where the Fed is purchasing the overwhelming majority of treasuries. We know debt matters and we have 5000 years of recorded history to affirm that.

We see events in Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal but we think because we are the USA or hold the world reserve currency we have acquired some sort of divine favour to borrow, spend and consume while the rest of the world saves, invests and forgoes current consumption; and somehow that equates to economic progress and growth. This is what we do. The disconnect and cognitive dissonance of it all is truly an enigma. Clearly while the fundamentals remain awful for the US economy everything is about timing and perception. Something holds values because we perceive it to hold value, but once that blanket perception changes, we can now see in spite of our previously anchored views, that things have changed; seeing is different from hearing.

The idea of government and the state being different to the common man or woman, or somehow being intrinsically distinctive, is one of the most elegant frauds being perpetuated today; a true disconnect.  The belief that we cannot make the same baseline comparisons to government debt in the same way as businesses for example, or that we cannot view deficits as losses as governments are not businesses, helps to sustain incompetent financial behaviour and practices.  It is reminiscent of those preachers who hold their masses and claim that the individual by themselves cannot understand God’s word; you need to go through Mr Holy and he is holier than thou and the monopoly of truth. Prior to investment banking I had a career in bankruptcy and corporate insolvency.  I am struggling to find out why the papers have not been filed against USA Inc.

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Delving into the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s interviews

24 Apr

http://fcic.law.stanford.edu/resource/interviews

If you have not already listened to or read some of the transcripts of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s analysis into what caused the mortgage mess, take a look. Clearly some of the interviews provide a lot more utility and value than others; there are some participants that have nothing to lose and want to contribute to the exchange like the guys formerly at Deutsche Bank, Greg Lippmann and Eugene Xu. Michael Burry – have a read of The Big Short (by Michael Lewis) for further details regarding him also contributes to the inquiry. These are individuals who made a lot of money by being on the right side of the trade so their insights are imperative. Others such as Blankfein are playing a game, mixing some truths among many lies; all the investment banks were leveraged with toxic junk to the stratosphere; Blankfein has to pretend like they didn’t know as well; well they didn’t for a long period of time, but they realised just before the rest of the herd did, and were able to short change clients like the Abacus deal totally oblitering any fiduciary responsibilities they were supposed to have.

It’s an interesting collection of interviews; it is easy to comment now with such hindsight but those who were able to profit from the mess with such accuracy have every right to re-tell these generational events; to discuss cause and effect. While it has taken 18 months to culminate these findings, a few of these guys could have saved the Commission a lot of time reading ‘Learn Derivatives in 24 Hours Guaranteed!’, ‘Trading for Dummies’ etc., without having to persist with spending so much money and energy in generating findings whose future value is unlikely to be exercised. The inquiry was essentially an event in blame transfer; to ensure regulators and the government at large were not to be held accountable for their complete absence of oversight and inaction; and to mitigate any negativity they received by offsetting that with a greater public frustration at Wall Street; directly at the major firms that underpin this community. What I find most striking is the lack of prosecutions, or, at least, trials of those individuals who committed fraud; it is peculiar that Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, two of the individuals that orchestrated the crisis by proselytising the GSEs, and their federally mandated guarantees of toxic trash are now framing the new legislative works; are things upside-down or is it just me?

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