Category Archives: Currencies

Michael Pettis: Is China Really Turning Away from the Dollar?

Yves here. This important post by Michael Pettis addresses whether the efforts of the Chinese to diversify their foreign investments away from the dollar will be a negative for the US. Pettis is skeptical of that thesis, and some of his reasons are intriguing. Like quite a few experts, he doubts that China’s role in sponsoring an infrastructure bank will be a game changer, and he also points out, as we have regularly, that the Chinese cannot deploy their foreign exchange reserves domestically without driving the renminbi to the moon (via selling foreign currencies to buy RMB), which is the last thing they want to have happen. A more surprising, but well argued thesis is that reduced Chinese purchases of US bonds would be a net plus for the US.

Get a cup of coffee. This is a meaty, important article.

Read more...

Oil, Ruble and Ideology

Yves here. Since the financial media is covering the continuing meltdown of the ruble intensely, we thought it would be helpful to add some information that seems to be missing from most reporting. This post by Jacques Sapir from the 14th (hat tip Michael Hudson) provides important detail on the importance of oil to the Russian economy (far less than typically depicted, although it is the biggest source of foreign exchange), the impact of the fall of the ruble and oil prices on the domestic budgets, and the odds of a Russian default. Note that Sapir is sanguine on the default front and does not see a rerun of 1998 in the offing, by virtue of of Russia having large foreign currency reserves. Note that Menzie Chinn of Econbrowser differs, and uses a chart from the Economist to make his point:

Read more...

Russia to Launch New Payments System to Circumvent SWIFT Network

Many observers have become unduly excited about what they depict as efforts to break the dollar hegeomony, such as the joint effort by the so-called BRICS nations to form a development bank. While having a suite of internationals funding entities, particularly ones focused on activities that in theory increase the collective benefits of relying on a reserve currency, are seen to be important, it does not follow that launching useful new funding institutions will break dollar dominance. As much as US abuse of its position as issuer of the reserve currency is correctly resented, there isn’t a competitor waiting in the wings. The Eurozone has blown it with its failure to clean up even sicker banks than the US has, and by compounding a bad situation with its adherence to destructive austerity policies. China clearly has the potential to displace the US longer-term, but it is unwilling to run the requisite trade deficits, since that means exporting demand and hence jobs. And no country had made the transition from being a major exporter to being consumer-driven smoothly; a crisis or protracted malaise would also delay China displacing the US as currency top dog.

But not being able to get rid of the dollar any time soon does not mean that countries that the US is trying to punish by using its influence over international payments system won’t find nearer-term escape routes.

Read more...

JP Morgan Under Criminal Investigation for Foreign Exchange Trading Abuses

Regulators look to be getting more serious about financial firm misconduct, as witness their new-found willingness to file criminal charges against banks. Not that has happened yet as regards JP Morgan, the US bank with far and away the biggest rap sheet of all US financial firms. But as we’ll discuss, while it is good to see regulators getting tougher with banks, this move still falls in the category of “too little, too late,” particularly since it looks to a last-ditch effort to improve departing attorney general Eric Holder’s file of media clips.

Here is an overview of the JP Morgan investigation from the Wall Street Journal:

Read more...

Prosecutors Reopening Cases Against Bank Recidivists; Change or “Change You Can Believe in”?

The New York Times yesterday published a new story by Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg on how Federal prosecutors are investigating reopening cases against big banks and hitting them with additional charges. Reader Richard D, who was curious about the story, wrote, “It is hard for me to know whether this is a momentous event, or a nothingburger.”

It’s actually somewhere in the middle. While it represents prosecutors starting to use muscles that had atrophied, at least as far as financial firms are concerned, as readers will no doubt suspect, the shift falls well short of the levels of official zeal needed.

But there’s actually an important shift discussed at some length in the article that may have bigger ramifications: that powerful bank consultants and lawyers are no longer being taken at their word.

Read more...

Ilargi: Europe Is Crumbling Into Collapse

Yves here. The word “collapse” may seem overwrought when applied to Europe, but cold-blooded, clear eyed colleagues who have good connections and have spent a bit of time there recently say things that are broadly similar to Ilargi’s take. Despite the conventional wisdom that the cost of a Eurozone breakup is catastrophically high
and thus will never take place, that confidence may prove to be the currency union’s undoing. Ideological rigidity about austerity is leading to policies that are crushing large swathes of the population. And Europe, unlike the US, had enough of a tradition of popular revolt that that uprisings, either on the street or in the ballot box, are real possibilities, as the sudden rise of the anti-EU right shows.

My sources, who also read the foreign language press, say that political fracture is underway and the Eurozone leadership is not taking anything remotely resembling adequate measures to halt its progress. That does not mean upheaval is imminent. But the flip side is this sort of unraveling tends to progress not via an clearly discernible decay path, but through sudden state changes.

Read more...

On the Vote Against Scottish Independence

We’re expecting to have some more thoughtful commentary in the next day or so from some close observers of the Scottish independence vote. On the surface, the results look more decisive than expected earlier. The margin of victory, at 55% against and 45% for, was wider than the forecast 54%/46% split. And the English press looks to be rubbing it in, with most UK media outlets showing celebratory images of the victors.

But keep a few things in mind….

Read more...

French Political Turmoil a Harbinger of Unrest Roiling Eurozone During Their New Depression

I don’t know that I’d go so far to say it was Paul Krugman-induced, but the French government has been dissolved, primarily because two senior ministers dared speak the unspeakable and criticize Francois Hollande’s continued commitment to austerity, in the face of evidence of its failure.

Read more...

Argentina Deadline Day: Punishment for Rejecting the Neoliberal Consensus Nearly Complete

Today is technically the drop-dead date for Argentina to work out an agreement to pay off vulture funds that long ago purchased their distressed debt, or else the country will go into default for the second time in thirteen years. 11th-hour negotiations with a mediator have yielded no results thus far. WSJ divines momentum from the length of the mediation session, which is pretty weak tea.

The default would actually be to the exchange bondholders who already hold agreements with Argentina for restructured debt payments going back to the 2001 default. Judge Thomas Griesa prevented the country from making a scheduled interest payment to the exchange bondholders without the vulture funds getting their $1.5 billion first (the vultures paid roughly $48 million for the distressed debt, so it’s a huge payday).

Read more...

The Forgotten Financial Panic of 1914, and the Eternal Recurrence of Short-Term Thinking

This week marks the 100th anniversary of a nearly forgotten yet critical moment in global finance. As the looming outbreak of World War I appeared more and more imminent when Austria made an ultimatum to Serbia in the last week of July 1914, the resulting fear in global markets set off a massive financial panic. Investors, fearing unpaid debts, pulled out of stocks and bonds in a scramble for cash, which at this point in history meant gold. The London Stock Exchange reacted by closing on July 31 and staying closed for five straight months. The U.S. stock exchange, which witnessed a mass dumping of securities by European investors in exchange for gold to finance the war, would also close on the same day, for about four months. Britain declared war while on a bank holiday. Over 50 countries experienced some form of asset depletion or bank run. Here’s an incredible statistic: “For six weeks during August and early September every stock exchange in the world was closed, with the exception of New Zealand, Tokyo and the Denver Colorado Mining Exchange.”

Read more...