The history of the credit crunch continues to be rewritten

Today is a day for central bankers as both the Bank of England and European Central Bank declare the results of their latest policy decisions. However it will be a Super Thursday only in name as  the main news concerning the Bank of England this week has been the extension of Governor Carney;s term by seven months to January 2020. A really rather extraordinary move on both sides, as we mull not only the possibility of future monthly or even weekly future extensions,, and on the other side what happened to the personal circumstances that supposedly stopped him staying for longer in the first place?

Moving to the ECB the rumour yesterday was that its economic forecasts will be revised down slightly which is likely to reduce the rhetoric about the Euro area economy being resilient. But apart from that there is little for it to do apart from play down the recent news about money laundering via banks being rife in some of the smaller ( Malta and Estonia) Euro area countries. President Draghi may also repeat the hints he keeps providing that he has no intention of raising interest-rates n his term of office. This may have a market impact as more than a few have convinced themselves that a 0.2% rise is due this time next year. Apart from the fact that the ECB changes interest-rates by 0.25% and not 0.2% the apparent slowing of the Euro area economy makes that increasingly unlikely.

Rewriting History

This week has seen a lot of reviews of the crash of a decade ago but the most significant comes from the man at the centre of the response which was Ben Bernanke of the US Federal Reserve. He has written a paper for Brookings which to my mind illustrates why central banks have put so much effort into raising asset and in particular house prices.

Recent work, including by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi, proposes that the accumulation of debt during the housing boom of the early 2000s made households particularly vulnerable to changes in their net worth. When house prices began to decline, homeowners’ main source of collateral (home equity) contracted, reducing their access to new credit even as their wealth and incomes declined.  These credit constraints exacerbated the declines in consumer spending.

Or if you want the point really rammed home here it is.

Mian and Sufi and others attribute the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009 primarily to the boom and subsequent bust in housing wealth,

Thus central bankers including Ben decided that the response to the bust in housing wealth was to create another boom. Many of them including Ben himself did so well before the paper he quotes was written. For example the US Federal Reserve bought mortgage-backed securities as follows.

From early 2009 through October 2014, the Federal Reserve added on net approximately $1.8 trillion of longer-term agency MBS and agency debt securities to the SOMA portfolio through its large-scale asset purchase programs. ( New York Fed).

Thus we see than Ben Bernanke is being somewhat disingenuous in pointing us to a paper written in 2014 when he made his response in 2009! Anyway there is a statistic you may like in the paper.

that the total amount of debt for American households doubled between 2000 and 2007 to $14 trillion?

The banks

They would have been helped in a variety of ways by the response to the credit crunch. Firstly by the large interest-rate cuts and next by the advent of QE ( Quantitative Easing) which helped them both implicitly by raising the value of their bond holdings and explicitly via the purchase of mortgage debt. Some were also bailed out and that mentality seems to be ongoing.

 We need to make sure that future generations of financial firefighters have the emergency powers they need to prevent the next fire from becoming a conflagration. We must also resist calls to eliminate safeguards as the memory of the crisis fades. For those working to keep our financial system resilient, the enemy is forgetting.

That is from an opinion piece in the New York Times from not only Ben Bernanke but the two US Treasury Secretaries which were Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner. What powers do they want?

Among these changes, the FDIC can no longer issue blanket guarantees of bank debt as it did in the crisis, the Fed’s emergency lending powers have been constrained, and the Treasury would not be able to repeat its guarantee of the money market funds. These powers were critical in stopping the 2008 panic.

In other words they want to be able to bailout and back stop the banks again. Or if you prefer take us back to the world of privatising profits and socialising losses. For the establishment in the US that worked well as the government made a profit and the banks were eventually able to carry on regardless. Indeed the next stage of fining banks also was something of an establishment merry go round as you can argue that it was just another way of the banks repaying the establishment for the bailouts.

On the other side of the coin ordinary people did lose money. Some had their homes foreclosed on them and others lost their savings. The unfairness of this arrives when we look at bank shareholders who had losses. In itself that is not a crime as by being shareholders they take a clear risk. But the rub is that the losses were driven by a combination of fraud and malpractice for which so few have been punished. If we move onto the bank fines we see that yet again punishment hit bank shareholders whereas bank executives might see a lower bonus but otherwise remained extremely well rewarded. We are back to the theme of the 0.01% being protected whilst the 99.99% bear any pain.

Putting it another way here is former Barclays boss Bob Diamond from the BBC website earlier.

Former Barclays boss Bob Diamond has said he fears banks have become too cautious about taking risks.

Mr Diamond told me the risk-averse culture means they can’t support the economy and generate jobs and growth.

Support the economy or bankers pay?

Inequality

Here is perhaps the biggest rewriting of history as we return to the thoughts of Ben Bernanke at Brookings.

“There’s some folks who don’t like QE, and as each argument fails, they move down the ladder. And so now you have hedge fund managers writing in the Wall Street Journal how QE is creating inequality as if they cared.”

You may note that there is no actual denial that QE creates inequality. Frankly if you boost asset prices which is its main effect you have to benefit the asset rich relative to the poor. However back in March the Bank of England assured us this.

Monetary policy had very little effect on overall inequality

How? Well let me show you their example of inequality being unaffected.

 But it is worth noting that existing differences in net wealth mean that a 10% increase for all would equate to £200 for the bottom decile and £195,000 for the richest.

Apart from anything else this was awkward for the previous research from the Bank of England which assured us QE had boosted wealth for those with pensions and shareholders. I guess they were hoping we had forgotten that.

Comment

The last few days have seen quite a bit of rewriting history about the credit crunch as the establishment wants us to forget three things.

  1. It was asleep at the wheel
  2. Those who caused it got off scot free in the main and were sometimes handsomely rewarded whereas many relative innocents suffered financial hardship.
  3. The response not only boosted the already wealthy but contributed to an economic world of struggling real wage growth

The first problem will recur we know that in spite of all of the official claims to the contrary. As to the response one issue is that those in charge are invariably unsuited to the role. They are picked out of academia and/or the establishment and suddenly find that they go from a cosy slow-moving world to one that is exactly the reverse, so we should not be surprised if they act like rabbits caught in a car’s headlights. So on that score I think we should cut Ben Bernanke some slack but that does not eliminate points two and three which are critiques of the economic regime he implemented.

Also if we stay with central banks it could all have been worse as imagine you are at Turkeys central bank the CBRT deciding how much to raise interest-rates and you read this!

Erdogan says must lower interest rates ( @ForexLive )

 

 

 

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The Demonetisation saga in India rolls on and on

As we emerge ( at least in England & Wales) blinking into 2017 then the main economic action is in the East. For example new currency controls for retail investors in China. Such factors are in my opinion what has been behind the subject of my last post of 2017 which was Bitcoin. This broke the 1k barrier in US Dollar terms and is now US $1020.68 according to Coindesk. A factor in this rise must be what is ongoing in India which is what has become called Demonetisation which I first pointed out on the 11th of November last year.

Government of India vide their Notification no. 2652 dated November 8, 2016 have withdrawn the Legal Tender status of ` 500 and ` 1,000 denominations of banknotes of the Mahatma Gandhi Series issued by the Reserve Bank of India till November 8, 2016.

Something that was immediately troubling was that the official view was along the lines of “please move along, there is nothing to see here”.

There is enough cash available with banks and all arrangements have been made to reach the currency notes all over the country. Bank branches have already started exchanging notes since November 10, 2016.

The initial communique mentioned the 24th of November implying that it would pretty much be over by then and that the Indian economy would boom afterwards.

I hope that they have success in that and also that the official claims of a 1.5% increase in GDP as a result turn out to be true.

How is it going?

Manufacturing

The Markit/Nikkei PMI or business survey had a worrying headline yesterday,

Manufacturing sector dips into contraction amid money crisis

Indeed it went further in the detail.

Panel members widely blamed the withdrawal of high-value rupee notes for the downturn, as cash shortages in the economy reportedly resulted in fewer levels of new orders received. Concurrently, manufacturers lowered output accordingly.

Actually pretty much everything seemed to be going wrong here as input inflation rose and employment fell.

Meanwhile, input costs increased at a quicker rate……Cash shortages and lower workplace activity resulted in job shedding and falling buying levels during December.

So whilst small changes in a PMI tell us little a drop from above 54 in October to 49.6 in December poses a question. This is reinforced by the other PMIs for manufacturing we are seeing that have overall improved (China for example).

Actually the industrial production numbers were weak even before Demonetisation according to dnaindia.

For the April-October period, industrial output declined by 0.3% as against a growth of 4.8% a year ago, as per the data released by Central Statistics Office (CSO) today……..The manufacturing sector, which constitutes over 75% of the IIP index, recorded a contraction 2.4% in October.

All this adds to the problems recorded in the services sector back in early December.

Services activity declines as cash shortages hit the sector

So according to these surveys there was a clear deflationary impact from Demonetisation leading to this.

Nikkei India Composite PMI Output Index dipped from October’s 45-month high of 55.4 to 49.1 in November, thereby pointing to a slight contraction in private sector activity overall.

There were hopes for this to be short-lived back then but for now those seem more to be of the Hopium variety.

A response?

Well if Prime Minister Modi was watching the cricket he may have thought of mimicking England and the UK as he has announced a pumping up of the housing market. From dnaindia.

In a bid to boost rural and urban housing post demonetization, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday announced interest subsidy of up to 4% on loans taken in the new year under the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney hasn’t been to India has he? Anyway I do hope that the next bit actually happens unlike in the UK where we seem to announce the Ebbsfleet development every year like it is in a Star Trek style time warp.

Announcing a slew of measures, Modi in his national address on New Year’s eve also said 33% more homes will be built for the poor under this scheme in rural areas.

I wish India better luck than the UK where schemes under the official label of “Help” have in fact contributed to house prices becoming ever more unaffordable for those wishing to get on what is called the housing ladder.

What about other credit?

According to Gadfly of Bloomberg the banks are now awash with cash.

Almost all the 15.44 trillion rupees ($227 billion) of currency outlawed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has entered banks as deposits, with the biggest, State Bank of India, receiving $24 billion. This “unprecedented” surge in liquidity led SBI to cut lending rates by 90 basis points on Sunday. Other government-run banks followed suit.

But in a familiar trend for the credit crunch era businesses do not seem to be that keen on borrowing more.

The average daily value of new investment proposals announced since the cash ban has slumped by three-fifths, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

In fact a consequence of the economic weakness following Demonetisation is that both companies and individuals in India are less able to borrow.

Supply chains greased by cash payments are broken. From diamond-polishing to shoemaking and construction, layoffs are increasing. As borrowers, both the average Indian worker and his employer are much more subprime today than they were just two months ago. Using this group to pull up credit growth, which has plunged to a 25-year low of 5.8 percent, is both impractical and risky.

Whilst in terms of deposits the Indian banks are in the opposite situation to Monte Paschi of Italy they too have capital issues. This may explain the problem with business lending which invariably ties up more bank capital than other forms of bank lending.

The Real Economy

If we move to actual experiences we see signs of trouble, trouble,trouble as India Spend reports.

Now, the government’s decision to withdraw Rs 14 lakh crore–86% in value of India’s currency in circulation–has dealt a hard blow to 80,000 workers, whose economy was defined by cash. Before notebandi, despite a growing downturn, the town soldiered on.

This is the town of Malegaon which has an economy based on the power-loom industry which has gone on a 3 day week.

In the weeks following demonetisation, power looms, known to work 16-18 hours in a day for six days a week, were working only three days a week–Saturday, Sunday and Monday–halving the wages of thousands of workers.

 

Why? Well here it is.

Most of the transactions in the power-loom sector are in cash–power loom owners buy raw material in cash, disburse wages in cash, and  sell in cash.

Thus we see how the problem feeds through the economic chain in what is a clear government driven credit crunch which hits weak industries like this one the hardest. Even more sadly the same is true of people. From @bexsaldanha.

“Business is down so we work on the farm more,” Megha Patil, Hivali village, Bhiwandi Taluka

Goods supplier Santosh Jadhav: From Wada to Vikramgad, supply chain to 203 Kiranas has broken down. Nobody has money.

Comment

There are obvious issues with the unofficial economy in India and attempts to reduce it are welcome. Except in any move you need to look at the likely side-effects and these were always going to be large from removing over 80% of the cash money in circulation. I warned about the problems back on November 11th.

I remember watching the excellent BBC 4 documentaries on the Indian railway system and the ( often poor) black market sellers on the trains saw arrest as simply a cost of business. Will this be the same? Also there is the issue of whether it will all just start up again with the new 2000 Rupee notes.

We can expect the traditional Indian love of gold to be boosted by this and maybe also non-government electronic money like Bitcoin.

Actually the gold trade has not been boosted and as The Times of India points out there is more than a little irony in the reason why.

“The business was down by more than 70% in December, primarily because of the cash crunch and weakened purchasing power of consumers and investors. Many don’t still invest in gold except for by cash transactions. Besides, the liquidity crunch is also impacting trade,” said Shanti Patel, president, Gems and Jewellery Trade Council.

So whilst very little is easy in a country where changes are even harder than turning an oil supertanker but so far the message is not good.

Number Crunching

We learn from the table below that Helicopter Money would be much easier for the Swiss Air Force than the Indian one.

https://twitter.com/BTabrum/status/816208447846907904