As someone old enough to have done finance in the Paleolithic pre-personal computer era (yes, I did financial analysis using a calculator and green accountant’s ledger paper as a newbie associate at Goldman), investor expectations that market liquidity should ever and always be there seem bizarre, as well as ahistorical. Yet over the past month or two, there has been an unseemly amount of hand-wringing about liquidity in the bond market, both corporate bonds, and today, in a Financial Times story we’ll use as a point of departure, Treasuries.
These concerns appear to be prompted by worries about what happens if (as in when) bond investors get freaked out by the Fed finally signaling it is really, no really, now serious about tightening and many rush for the exits at once. The taper tantrum of summer 2013 was a not-pretty early warning and the central bank quickly lost nerve. The worry is that there might be other complicating events, like geopolitical concerns, that will impede the Fed’s efforts at soothing rattled nerves, or worse, that the bond market will gap down before the Fed can intercede (as if investors have a right to orderly price moves!).
Let’s provide some context to make sense of these pleas for ever-on liquidity.
One of my hats is as a climate interpreter to the interested lay person. I have something of a science background and can read the papers “in the original.” Another hat is as an occasional interviewer for Virtually Speaking. This month the two hats merged on the same head, and I got to interview the “Hockey Stick graph” climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann.
For this interview I focused on the basics:
▪ Can humans burn more carbon, create more emissions, and still stay below the IPCC’s “safe” +2°C warming target?
▪ Is the IPCC’s +2°C warming target truly “safe” at all?
▪ We’re already experiencing warming of about +1°C above the pre-industrial level. Even if we stop now, how much more is “in the pipeline,” guaranteed and unavoidable?
▪ How do we defeat the Big Money ogre that stands in our way?
And my personal favorite:
▪ Will the answer to global warming come from the “free market”?
Yves here. The EU has gone so far astray of its original aims that its corruption and resulting fissures seem beyond repair, yet as Mathew D. Rose discusses in depth, its leaders remain dangerously complacent.
I’m still hugely behind on the AIG bailout trial, and hope to show a ton more progress in the next week. I’m posting the transcript for days three the trial; you can find the first two days here and other key documents here.
The first week was consumed with the testimony of the painfully uncooperative Scott Alvarez, the general counsel of the Board of Governors, who Matt Stoller argued needs to be fired, and the cagier-seeming general counsel of the New York Fed, Tom Baxter. Unlike Alvarez, Baxter at least in text seemed to be far more forthcoming than Alvarez and more strategic in where he dug in his heels. But the revelations about the Morgan Stanley rescue alone are juicy. The main actors have sold a carefully concocted story for years.
Yves here. There is a solution of sorts to the problem of the “competitiveness” of Eurozone periphery countries, which is for them to lower wage rates to improve their terms of trade. Unfortunately, that still does not resolve the issue of needed to import other inputs, like energy and sometimes raw materials, at Eurozone-wide price levels. And the response to crushing wages (or the super high unemployment that results from not being able to “adjust”) is that the people most able to leave, which is usually the young and best educated, depart.
Yves here. Readers regularly debate issues of growth, groaf, and sustainability. This post makes an urgent case that we are farther along toward collapse, based on our consumption of biological resources, than most official sources acknowledge.
Yves here. I have to admit I never focused on what turns out is a blindingly obviously reason why the European bank stress tests are an exercise in optics. Even though this website derided the US stress tests as a cheerleading exercise, and earlier criticized the Administration for failing nationalize Citigroup as FDIC chairman Sheila Bair sought to do, the US authorities were in a position to Do Something about sick banks. Consider the European case (note I consider Yanis to be too charitable toward US bank regulators, but keep in mind that he’s comparing them to his home-grown version). And then you have the additional problem, which was widely discussed in 2009 to 2011 or so, that the apparent insolvency of states was the result of and bound up with the overindebtedness of European nations. Perversely, tha is almost never put front and center these days when the topic of seriously unwell European banks comes up.
Yves here. Richard Alford, a former New York Fed economist, provides his assessment of the AIG bailout in light of some of the revelations in the AIG bailout trial. While many of his arguments have merit, I want to quibble with a couple of them.
The first is the size of the actual amount taken by AIG and the reason for the drawdowns. At the time AIG hit the wall, the amount it needed was first estimated at $50 billion to cover its credit default swaps portfolio and $20 billion for its securities lending. The Maiden Lane III vehicle that the Fed created to take the CDOs has a $62.9 billion face value, so we can use that as a rough and ready value, and the securities lending bailout costs rose to roughly $50 billion. But consider: those two together get you to only a bit over $110 billion versus the peak lending amount reported as just shy of $185 billion. And some of that ~$110 billion includes laundering a bank bailout through AIG, by not obtaining haircuts on the CDS on the Maiden Lane CDOs. So where did that say $80 billion go? It might be commercial paper or medium term notes during the very worst of the crisis, although with the Fed supporting AIG, you’d think investors would be see its paper as fine. We’re conferring with some close AIG watchers and may write up a discussion of what that AIG black hole consisted of.
Second is that at the end, Alford adopts a “what matters is looking forward,” as in preventing future crises. Yes, but we are great believers in post-mortems, particularly in light of the George Santayana saying, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
It’s remarkable that this Goldman report, and its writeup on Business Insider, is being treated with a straight face. The short version is current stock price levels are dependent on continued stock buybacks. Key sections of the story:
Yves here. This post describes, in a general way, some outcomes of our current Middle East adventurism, with the Islamic State as its current nemesis. However, at least one of Van Buren’s “worst-case outcomes” strikes me as not bad, which would be a thawing of hostilities with Iran. But I don’t see how Israel tolerates that.
But the looming issue behind all of these scenarios is that the game is being played to justify continued large budget allocations to the military-surveillance complex. The cost of defending the American is more guns in the guns versus butter tradeoff.
Ebola is a very nasty disease, but it is actually fairly easy to understand mathematically, which is why the disease prevention folks are confident in the best ways to manage this epidemic that otherwise seems to be growing exponentially.
Yves here. One might argue that stock market jitters are a sign that investors are finally taking note of crappy fundamentals, since even ZIRP and QE, which central bankers keep insisting won’t go on forever, were starting to lose their effectiveness in already-frothy asset markets.