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Weekly Commentary: Precarious World

Weekly Commentary: Precarious World

Another fascinating – if not comforting – week. A Friday Wall Street Journal headline: “Big Tech’s Embarrassment of Riches – Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google all show resilience during pandemic while undergoing congressional scrutiny.” Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google all reported booming earnings the day following Wednesday appearances by respective CEOs before the House Antitrust Subcommittee hearing. Down the road from Capitol Hill, the FOMC released their post-meeting policy statement. Chairman Powell conducted a virtual press conference where he addressed key issues: “inflation running well below our symmetric 2% objective,” and “inequality as an issue has been a growing issue in our country and in our economy for four decades.”

While it is true that inequality has been building for decades, this trend has worsened markedly since the 2008 crisis. Much more so of late.

Powell: “So [inequality is] a serious economic problem for the United States, but it’s got underlying causes that are not related to monetary policy or to our response to the pandemic. Again, four decades of evidence suggests it’s about globalization, it’s about the flattening out of educational attainment in the United States compared to our other competitor countries. It’s about technology advancing too.

If we could chart “inequality,” it would at this point be rising parabolically – following the trajectory of the Fed’s balance sheet. I had been assuming Fed holdings would at some point be getting a lot larger. It seemed clear inequality would only get worse. COVID dramatically accelerated both trends.

Bubble analysis is these days as fruitful as ever. We’re in the waning days of a multi-decade super-cycle. Bubble markets have become extraordinarily distorted and increasingly disorderly. Protracted deep structural maladjustment has fostered pervasive Bubble Economy Dynamics. Aggressive monetary inflation and central bank market interventions – primary contributors to financial and economic Bubbles – are being deployed to hold Bubble collapse at bay. And we’re now witnessing the initial consequences of desperately throwing massive stimulus at speculative market Bubbles and a Bubble Economy.

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Weekly Commentary: Drone Money

Weekly Commentary: Drone Money

In particular, to maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) likely will provide forward guidance about the economic conditions it would need to see before it considers raising its overnight target rate. And it likely will clarify its plans for further securities purchases (quantitative easing). It is possible, though not certain, that the FOMC will also implement yield-curve control by targeting medium-term interest rates.” Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, Testimony on COVID-19 and Response to Economic Crisis, July 17, 2020.

With highly speculative securities markets having fully recovered COVID losses – and Nasdaq sporting a 17% y-t-d gain – why the talk of more QE? And with 10-year yields at 0.63% and financial conditions extraordinarily loose, what’s the purpose for discussing the pegging of Treasury bond prices (aka “yield curve control”)? Aren’t the markets already conspicuously over-liquefied?

Let us suppose now that one day a helicopter flies over this community and drops an additional $1,000 in bills from the sky, which is, of course, hastily collected by members of the community. Let us suppose further that everyone is convinced that this is a unique event which will never be repeated.” Milton Friedman, “The Optimum Quantity of Money,” 1969.

It was Dr. Ben Bernanke that, in the wake of the “tech” Bubble collapse, elevated Friedman’s academic thought experiment to a revolutionary policy proposal. And in this runaway real world experiment, “often repeated” supplanted Friedman’s “will never be repeated” – and it changed everything.

The U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.

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Weekly Commentary: Utmost Crazy

Weekly Commentary: Utmost Crazy

The Shanghai Composite surged 7.3% this week, increasing y-t-d gains to 10.9%. The CSI 300 rose 7.6%, with 2020 gains of 16.0%. China’s growth-oriented ChiNext Index’s 12.8% surge boosted year-to-date gains to 54.5%. Copper jumped 7.1% this week. Aluminum rose 4.6%, Nickel 4.0%, Zinc 8.3%, Silver 4.2%, Lead 4.2%, and Palladium 3.5%. China’s renminbi advanced 0.9% this week to a four-month high versus the less-than-king dollar.

July 9 – Bloomberg: “Like millions of amateur investors across China, Min Hang has become infatuated with the country’s surging stock market. ‘There’s no way I can lose,’ said the 36-year-old, who works at a technology startup… ‘Right now, I’m feeling invincible.’ Five years after China’s last big equity boom ended in tears, signs of euphoria among the nation’s investing masses are popping up everywhere. Turnover has soared, margin debt has risen at the fastest pace since 2015 and online trading platforms have struggled to keep up. Over the past eight days alone, Chinese stocks have added more than $1 trillion of value — far outpacing gains in every other market worldwide.”

China’s Total Aggregate Financing (TAF) expanded a much stronger-than-expected $490 billion in June, up from May’s $455 billion expansion and 30% above growth from June 2019. TAF surged a remarkable $2.976 TN during the first-half, 43% ahead of comparable 2019 (80% ahead of first-half 2018).

It’s not easy to place China’s ongoing historic Credit expansion in context. While not a perfect comparison, U.S. Total Non-Financial Debt (NFD) expanded a record $3.3 TN over the four quarters ended March 31st. In booming 2007, U.S. NFD expanded about $2.5 TN. Chinese Total Aggregate Financing has expanded almost $3.0 TN in six months.

In the face of economic contraction, TAF increased a blistering $4.39 TN, or 12.8%, over the past year. For perspective, y-o-y growth began 2020 at 10.7% – and is now expanding at the strongest pace since February 2018. Beijing is targeting TAF growth of $4.3 TN (30 TN yuan) for 2020, about 25% ahead of record 2019 growth (and up 45% from 2018 growth).

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Weekly Commentary: More W than V

Weekly Commentary: More W than V

The much vaunted “V” recovery is improbable. To simplify, a somewhat “w”-looking scenario is a higher probability. After such an abrupt and extraordinary collapse in economic activity, a decent bounce was virtually assured. Millions would be returning to work after temporary shutdowns to a substantial chunk of the U.S. services economy. There would be pent-up demand, especially for big ticket home and automobile purchases. A massive effort to develop vaccines would ensure promising headlines.

With incredible amounts of liquidity sloshing around, constructive data supporting the “V” premise were all the markets needed. The enormous scope of hedging and shorting activity back in the March and April timeframe ensured the availability of more than ample firepower to fuel a rally. An equities revival would then spur a general restoration of confidence and spending – in a self-reinforcing “V” dynamic.

Inevitably, highly speculative Bubble Markets inflated way beyond anything even remotely justified by the fundamental backdrop – actually coming to believe the “V” hype. The rapid recovery phase, however, will prove dreadfully short-lived. Scores of companies won’t survive, and millions of job losses will prove permanent. Fearful consumers have made lasting changes in spending patterns, with many retrenching. Tons of fiscal stimulus will be burned through with astonishing rapidity. And a raving Credit market luxuriating in Fed monetary inflation will confront Credit losses at a breadth and scale much beyond the last crisis.

My concern has been that the COVID dislocation would be with us for a while. It’s surprising we haven’t seen at least some relief as summer unfolds. I was not expecting major outbreaks in Arizona, Florida, Texas and Southern California this time of year.

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Weekly Commentary: Update COVID-19

Weekly Commentary: Update COVID-19

Can we even attempt a reasonable discussion? Someone’s got this wrong.

June 12 – Reuters (Judy Hua, Cate Cadell, Winni Zhou and Andrew Galbraith): “A Beijing district put itself on a ‘wartime’ footing and the capital banned tourism and sports events on Saturday after a cluster of novel coronavirus infections centred around a major wholesale market sparked fears of a new wave of COVID-19… ‘In accordance with the principle of putting the safety of the masses and health first, we have adopted lockdown measures for the Xinfadi market and surrounding neighbourhoods,’ Chu said.”

June 14 – Financial Times (Don Weinland): “Over the weekend, authorities closed the Xinfadi market, a sprawling complex that provides most of Beijing’s fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables. Several residential compounds on the west side of the city have been locked down and more than 100 people have been put in quarantine… China has adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ stance toward new cases. Areas that present any new cases have been quickly locked down, often trapping millions of people.”

June 19 – CNN (Nectar Gan): “Within a matter of days, the metropolis of more than 20 million people was placed under a partial lockdown. Authorities reintroduced restrictive measures used earlier to fight the initial wave of infections, sealing off residential neighborhoods, closing schools and barring hundreds of thousands of people deemed at risk of contracting the virus from leaving the city.”

China is said to have mobilized its 100,000-strong infection tracing force. More than 1.1 million tests were administered in Beijing over the past week. From the UK Guardian (Lily Kuo): “Officials have ordered all residents to avoid non-essential travel outside of the capital, and suspended hundreds of flights and all long-distance buses. Other cities and provinces have begun to impose quarantine measures on travellers from Beijing… ‘Everyone is scared. No one wanted this to happen,’ says Zhang, waiting in the queue near Chaoyang park.”

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Weekly Commentary: Extraordinary Q1 2020 Z.1 Flow of Funds

Weekly Commentary: Extraordinary Q1 2020 Z.1 Flow of Funds

Financial crisis erupted in March. The Fed slashed rates at a March 3rd emergency meeting – and then began aggressively expanding its holdings/balance sheet (creating market liquidity). Even from a “flow of funds” perspective, it was one extraordinary quarter.

Total Non-Financial Debt (NFD) surged a nominal $1.597 TN during the first quarter ($6.379 TN seasonally-adjusted and annualized!) to $54.325 TN. This was the strongest quarter of NFD growth on record (blowing past Q1 2004’s $1.234 TN). Indeed, Q1 growth surpassed full-year NFD expansions for the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013. This pushed one-year growth to $3.271 TN (6.2%), significantly exceeding 2007’s record $2.521 TN expansion. NFD increased $20.857 TN, or 59%, since the end of 2008. NFD as a percentage of GDP rose to a record 260%. This compares to previous cycle peaks of 226% (Q4 ‘07) and 183% (Q4 ’99).

Financial Sector borrowings jumped $963 billion during Q1, surpassing the previous record $656 billion from Q3 ’07. This pushed one-year Financial Debt growth to $1.247 TN (7.6%), the strongest expansion since ‘07’s $2.065 TN.

Total Credit (Non-Financial, Financial and Foreign) surged nominal $2.391 TN for the quarter to $77.861 TN, surpassing previous record growth from Q1 ‘04 ($1.512 TN). One-year growth of $4.790 TN was the strongest since 2007. Total Credit jumped to 362% of GDP, the high going back to 2010.

Federal Liabilities (excluding massive “contingent”/off balance sheet liabilities) jumped to $22.0 TN during Q1. At 102%, Federal Liabilities surpassed 100% of GDP for the first time in at least six decades. For perspective, Federal Liabilities ended the seventies at 50% of GDP; the eighties at 63%; the nineties at 59%; and 2010 at 85%. It would not be surprising to see this ratio approach 150% over the next three to five years.

Outstanding Treasury Securities jumped nominal $500 billion during the quarter to a record $19.518 TN. This pushed one-year growth to a staggering $1.612 TN (9.0%) and two-year growth to $2.472 TN (14.5%). Treasuries ballooned $13.467 TN, or 223%, since the end of ’07. Treasuries-to-GDP jumped to 91%, more than doubling the 41% from the end of 2007.

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Weekly Commentary: Bubble Meets Pandemic Consequences

Weekly Commentary: Bubble Meets Pandemic Consequences

For posterity, some numbers: Over the past three weeks (14 sessions), the S&P500 gained 11.5%. The KBW Bank Index surged 36.1%, with the NYSE Financials up 23.9%. The Dow Transports rose 27.2% in 14 sessions, with the Bloomberg Americas Airlines Index up 75.8%.

Over this period, the broader market significantly outperformed the S&P500. The small cap Russell 2000 jumped 19.9% and the S&P400 Midcaps 21.1%. The Philadelphia Oil Services Index surged 50.0%. The Homebuilders (XHB) jumped 26.2% and the Bloomberg REIT index rose 22.5%. The average stock (Value Line Arithmetic Index) surged 25.3% in three weeks.

Over three weeks, United Airlines rose 113%, American Airlines 106%, Norwegian Cruise Line 105%, Royal Caribbean Cruises 85%, CIT Group 86%, Delta Air Lines 78%, Simon Property Group 73%, L Brands 72%, Boeing 71%, Carnival Corp 68%, Macy’s 68%, Alaska Air Group 67%, Kimco Realty 66%, Gap 62%, and Southwest Airlines 60%.

The Nasdaq Composite rose 8.9% over the past three weeks to close this week at all-time highs. The Semiconductors jumped 17.8% to end Friday at record highs. The Nasdaq100 (NDX) gained 7.3% in three weeks to new highs.

June 5 – Bloomberg (Sarah Ponczek): “The latest U.S. jobs report will go down in history as the data that shocked economists. And the market. Forecasts for a drop of 7.5 million in payrolls were met with the reality of a 2.5 million increase in May, supporting the view that the world’s largest economy may be more resilient than previously thought. A stock market already up 40% in a record period of time rallied further, with particular pockets going haywire. From a blowup in the momentum factor trade to a surge in small-cap shares, here’s a sample of what was happening under the equity market’s surface Friday. The momentum factor, which in essence bets that the recent winners will keep on winning, got pummeled Friday. At its lows, a Dow Jones market neutral momentum portfolio that goes long the highest momentum stocks and shorts those with the least momentum dropped 9% — the worst day since at least 2002.”

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Weekly Commentary: Global Bubbles are Deflating

Weekly Commentary: Global Bubbles are Deflating

“Bubble” is commonly understood to describe a divergence between overvalued market prices and underlying asset values. And while price anomalies are a typical consequence, they are generally not among the critical aspects of Bubbles. I’ll start with my basic definition: A Bubble is a self-reinforcing but inevitably unsustainable inflation.

Bubbles, at their core, are fueled by Credit – or “Credit inflation.” Asset inflation and speculative asset price Bubbles are a common upshot. At their core, Bubbles are mechanisms of wealth redistribution and destruction.

The more protracted the Bubble period, the greater the maladjustment to underlying financial and economic structures. And the longer the Bubble inflation, the greater the wealth disparities and underlying social and political strain. While Bubble-related inequalities reveal themselves more prominently later in the up-cycle, the scope of wealth destruction only becomes apparent as the Bubble finally succumbs. As Dr. Richebacher always stressed, there’s no cure for Bubbles other than not allowing them to inflate. The catastrophic policy failure over the past 20 years has been the determination to aggressively inflate out of post-Bubble stagnation.

Bubbles can have profound geopolitical impacts as well. The inflation of Bubbles and corresponding booming economies promote the view of an expanding global economic “pie”. The inflating Bubble phase is associated with cooperation, integration and solidarity. The backdrop shifts late in the Bubble phase, as inequities and maladjustment become more discernible. Bursting Bubbles mark a radical redrawing of the geopolitical landscape. The insecurities and animosities associated with a shrinking economic pie see a rise of nationalism and “strongman” leadership. The backdrop drifts toward fragmentation, disintegration and conflict.

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Weekly Commentary: Schumpeter’s Business Cycle Analysis

Weekly Commentary: Schumpeter’s Business Cycle Analysis

The work of the great economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) has always resonated. When I ponder analytical frameworks pertinent to these extraordinary times, none are more germane than Schumpeter’s Business Cycle Analysis. Best known for “creative destruction,” Schumpeter’s seminal work materialized after experiencing the spectacular “Roaring Twenties” boom collapse into the Great Depression.

Contrary to Milton Friedman and Ben Bernanke, Schumpeter didn’t view the twenties as the “golden age of Capitalism.” Depression was a consequence of egregious boom-time excess rather than the result of the Fed’s post-crash failure to print sufficient money. Schumpeter possessed a deep understanding of Credit; he keenly appreciated the roles entrepreneurship and risk-taking played during booms. Schumpeter also understood Capitalism’s vulnerabilities.

Whenever a new production function has been set up successfully and the trade beholds the new thing done and its major problems solved, it becomes much easier for other people to do the same thing and even to improve upon it. In fact, they are driven to copying it if they can, and some people will do so forthwith. It should be observed that it becomes easier not only to do the same thing, but also to do similar things in similar lines… This seems to offer perfectly simple and realistic interpretations of two outstanding facts of observation: First, that innovations do not remain isolated events, and are not evenly distributed in time, but that on the contrary they tend to cluster, to come about in bunches, simply because first some, and then most, firms follow in the wake of successful innovation; second, that innovations are not at any time distributed over the whole economic system at random, but tend to concentrate in certain sectors and their surroundings.” Joseph A. Schumpeter, Business Cycles, 1939

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Weekly Commentary: Fault Lines

Weekly Commentary: Fault Lines

Now on a weekly basis, we’re witnessing things that couldn’t happen – actually happen.

April 20 – Bloomberg (Catherine Ngai, Olivia Raimonde, and Alex Longley): “Of all the wild, unprecedented swings in financial markets since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, none has been more jaw-dropping than Monday’s collapse in a key segment of U.S. oil trading. The price on the futures contract for West Texas crude that is due to expire Tuesday fell into negative territory — minus $37.63 a barrel.”

For posterity, the latest numbers on U.S. monetary inflation: Federal Reserve Assets expanded $205 billion last week to a record $6.573 TN. Fed Assets surged $2.307 TN, or 56%, in just seven weeks. Asset were up $2.645 TN over the past 33 weeks. M2 “money” supply surged $125bn last week to a record $16.870 TN, with an unprecedented seven-week expansion of $1.362 TN. M2 inflated $2.329 TN, or 16.0%, over the past year. Institutional Money Fund Assets (not included in M2) jumped $123 billion last week. Over seven weeks, Institutional Money Funds were up $845 billion. Combined, M2 and Institutional Money Funds jumped a staggering $2.207 TN over seven weeks ($100bn less than the growth of Fed Assets).

It’s increasingly clear this pandemic is striking powerful blows at the most fragile Fault Lines – within communities, regions, societies, nations as well as for the world order. To see this disease clobber the most vulnerable ethnic groups and the downtrodden only compounds feelings of inequality, injustice and hopelessness. It is as well stunning to watch COVID-19 hasten the partisan brawl. A nation terribly divided is split only more deeply on the process of restarting the economy. To witness rival global superpowers plunge further into accusation and enmity. And to see the coronavirus viciously attack Europe’s fragile periphery, further splitting a hopelessly divided Europe and pressuring a critical global Fault Line.

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Weekly Commentary: When Money Died

Weekly Commentary: When Money Died

Sitting at the dinner table, our eleven-year old son inquired: “If a big meteor was about to hit the earth, how much money would the Fed print?” I complimented his sense of humor. Yet it was a sad testament to the historic monetary fiasco that will haunt his generation.

Federal Reserve Assets surpassed $6.0 TN for the first time, having inflated another $272 billion for the week (to $6.083 TN). Fed Assets inflated an astonishing $1.925 TN, or 46%, in only six weeks. Bank of American analysts this week suggested the Fed’s balance sheet could reach $9.0 TN by year-end.

M2 “money supply” surged another $371 billion for the week (ending 3/30) to a record $16.669 TN. M2 expanded an unprecedented $1.136 TN over five weeks (up $2.123 TN, or 14.6%, y-o-y). For some perspective, M2 has expanded more during the past six months than it did the entire nineties (no slouch of a decade in terms of monetary inflation). Not included in M2, Institutional Money Fund Assets expanded an unparalleled $676 billion in five weeks to a record $2.935 TN. Total Money Fund Assets were up $1.375 TN, or 44%, over the past year to a record $4.473 TN.  

There was a sordid process – rather than a specific date – for When Money Died. But it’s dead and buried. There are a few things that should remain sacrosanct. Money is absolutely one of them. Money is special. Sound Money is precious – to be coveted and safeguarded. As a stable and liquid store of value, Money is the bedrock of Capitalism, social cohesion and stable democracy. Society trusts Money – and with that trust comes great responsibility and risk.  

Analysis I read some years back on the Gold Standard resonates even more strongly today: Limiting the capacity for inflating its supply, the structure of backing Money with the precious metal worked to promote monetary and economic stability.

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Weekly Commentary: The Solvency Problem

Weekly Commentary: The Solvency Problem

Being an analyst of Credit and Bubbles over the past few decades has come with its share of challenges. Greater challenges await. I expect to dedicate the rest of my life to defending Capitalism. One of the great tragedies from the failure of this multi-decade monetary experiment will be the loss of faith in free market Capitalism – along with our institutions more generally.  

Somehow, we must convince younger generations that the culprit was unsound finance. And it’s absolutely fixable. Deeply flawed, experimental central banking was fundamental to dysfunctional markets and resulting deep financial and economic structural impairment. The Scourge of Inflationism. If we just start learning from mistakes, we can get this ship headed in the right direction.

Over the years, I’ve argued for “rules-based” central banking that would sharply limit the Federal Reserve’s role both in the markets and real economy. The flaw in “discretionary” central banking was identified generations ago: One mistake leads invariably to only bigger blunders.  

What commenced with Alan Greenspan’s market-supporting assurances of liquidity and asymmetric rate policy this week took a dreadful turn for the worse: Open-end QE, PMCCF, SMCCF, MMLF, CPFF, MSBLP, TALF… They’re going to run short of acronyms. Our central bank has taken the plunge into buying corporate bond ETFs, with equities ETFs surely not far behind. The Fed’s balance sheet expanded $586 billion – in a single week ($1.1 TN in four weeks!) – to a record $5.25 TN. Talk has the Fed’s new “Main Street Business Lending Program” leveraging $400 billion of (this week’s $2.2 TN) fiscal stimulus into a $4.0 TN lending operation. Having years back unwaveringly set forth, the ride down the slippery slope of inflationism has reached warp speed careening blindly toward a brick wall. 

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Weekly Commentary: Whatever It Takes to Never Give Up

Weekly Commentary: Whatever It Takes to Never Give Up

Any central bank head that passes through an eight-year term without once raising rates has some explaining to do. To leave monetary policy extremely loose for such an extended period comes with major consequences (can we at least agree on that?). So, what went wrong? How did policy measures not operate as expected? With the benefit of hindsight, what could have been done differently?

What will be Draghi’s legacy? How will history view his stewardship over eurozone monetary policy? The years sure pass by. I still ponder how history will judge Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke. At this point, with securities prices (equities and bonds) basically at all-time highs, contemporary monetary policy – and its major architects – are held in high regard. I don’t expect this to remain the case following the next crisis.

A reporter question from Draghi’s Thursday press conference: “A recent survey by the Bank of America reveals that impotence and ineffectiveness of central banks, including the ECB, are the second risk perceived by investors. My question is: do you think that these investor concerns are justified? In other words, is there a risk of financial bubbles?”

Mario Draghi: “…You asked whether the expansionary monetary policies of central banks is the second-largest risk. I can answer for the eurozone; in the eurozone, and it’s a question we ask ourselves every day, many times a day, and I’m saying this because we monitor market developments very closely. We see some segments of financial markets where valuations are overstretched. One case is real estate, for example, and especially prime commercial real estate. Now, the causes of these overstretched valuations often don’t lead directly to our monetary policies. For prime commercial real estate, it’s the action of international investors…

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Market Commentary: China Watch

Market Commentary: China Watch

I’ve held the view that Chinese finance has been at the epicenter of international market unease. The U.S./China trade war was not the predominant global risk. However, it has had the potential to become a catalyst for Chinese financial instability. And there remains a high probability for an eruption of Chinese disorder to quickly reverberate through global markets and economies. To be sure, rapidly deteriorating U.S./China relations were a major contributor to this summer’s global yield collapse and bond market dislocation.  

At this point, I’ll assume some “phase 1” deal gets drafted and then signed by Presidents Trump and Xi next month in Chile. In the grand scheme of things, little will have been resolved. It appears many of the most critical issues between the world’s two rival superpowers have been excluded from the initial compromise, I’ll assume tabled for some time to come. Short-term focused markets are content with a “truce,” welcoming a period of reduced risk of a rapid escalation of tensions.

Perhaps near-term financial risks have subsided in China. A counter argument would point out that Beijing’s push to improve its negotiating position forced officials to once again hit the Credit accelerator. Did Beijing push its luck too far? I would point to the $1 TN of additional household (chiefly mortgage) debt accumulated over the past year. China’s Household borrowings were up 15.9% in one year, 37% in two, 69% in three and 138% in five years. Importantly, Beijing’s stimulus efforts stoked China’s historic mortgage finance and apartment Bubbles already well into “Terminal Phase” excess. How deeply have fraud and shenanigans permeated Chinese housing finance? Similar to P2P and corporate finance?

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Weekly Commentary: No Coincidences

Weekly Commentary: No Coincidences

September 20 – Wall Street Journal (Daniel Kruger): “The Federal Reserve Bank of New York will offer to add at least $75 billion daily to the financial system through Oct. 10, prolonging its efforts to relieve funding pressure in money markets. In addition to at least $75 billion in overnight loans, the New York Fed… will also offer three separate 14-day repo contracts of at least $30 billion each next week… On Friday banks asked for $75.55 billion in reserves, $550 million more than the amount offered by the Fed, offering collateral in the form of Treasury and mortgage securities. The Fed’s operation was the fourth time this week it has intervened to calm roiled money markets. Rates on short-term repos briefly spiked to nearly 10% earlier this week as financial firms looked for overnight funding. The actions marked the first time since the financial crisis that the Fed had taken such measures.”

With the Lehman collapse setting off the “worst financial crisis since the Great Depression”, instability in the multi-trillion repurchase agreement marketplace generates intense interest. This market for funding levered securities holdings is critical to the financial system’s “plumbing.” It’s a market in perceived “money” – highly liquid and virtually risk free-instruments. If risk suddenly becomes an issue for this shadowy network, the cost and availability of Credit for highly leveraged players is suddenly in question. And any de-risking/deleveraging at the nucleus of the global financial system would pose a clear and present danger for sparking “risk off” throughout Credit markets and financial markets more generally.

I’ll usually begin contemplating the CBB on Thursdays. This week’s alarming dislocation in the “repo” market was clearly a major development worthy of focus. But I was planning on highlighting the lack of initial contagion effects in corporate Credit, a not surprising development considering the New York Fed’s aggressive liquidity injections.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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