#BIS

A gem on how to work our way out of the coming economic crisis

Image result for truck nitroglycerin movie

Jonathan Rochford of Narrow Road Capital has written a gem on the role of central banks in spawning this current crisis. An excerpt here:

The rapid and widespread sell-off over the last four weeks is a textbook systemic deleveraging. Whilst the culprits are many; hedge funds, risk parity strategies and investors using margin loans have all been caught out, the underlying cause is excessive leverage across the economy and particularly the financial system. The timing of the unwind and the economic damage from the Coronavirus wasn’t predictable, but such a highly leveraged system was like a truck loaded with nitroglycerin driving down a road dotted with landmines.

Frustratingly, this inevitable deleveraging was clearly predicted. Rather than act to reduce systemic risks central banks encouraged governments, businesses and investors to increase their risk tolerances and debt levels.

Naturally, it fits our own long-held view on central banks.

Jonathan adds some sensible actions which are contained in this link. The question remains whether governments will put principle ahead of expediency in the cleanup?

Which government racked up the most debt in Australia?

Irresponsible! How conservatives used to hammer the Rudd/Gillard/Swan Labor government for squandering the massive surplus left by the Coalition under Howard/Costello. Yes, it was huge, but our current Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Coalition is supposedly responsible for over half of the total of all gross debt since 1854 according to the Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM). Is this true?

A question posed from a subscriber to FNF Media was, “what has driven the Australian debt since 2013?

First, a preamble.

We’ve seen this picture before. The Obama Administration almost ran up more national debt than all 43 previous administrations combined. From $10.699 trillion to $19.976 trillion. Federal debt as a % of GDP expanded from 64.4% to 105.2%. The latest count under Trump is $22.7 trillion, or 105.4%, virtually unchanged.

It is not an uncommon trend in other countries either. EU central government debt has grown from 52.6% in 2007 to 89.3% today. Japan has jumped from 134% to 196.4% respectively.

RBA-cash-rate-changes

The RBA starts off with an interesting chart (above) which explains how the steady lowering of cash rates triggered the explosion of federal debt. From the post-2000 peak of 7.25% (2008), interest rates are now at 0.75%. Since Sep 2013, we have been sub 2.5%.

Bonds

Note the Abbott Coalition took power in September 2013. According to the AOFM, at that time, Australia had $301.8bn in outstanding federal government debt. AOFM also reports the Dec 2019 outstanding figure was $556.6bn. Mathematically, if we assume that all previous administrations to Sept 2013 summed to $301.8bn that would mean the most recent Coalition would be responsible for 46% of the total amount of all debt issued since 1854.

If we look at it from a % of GDP perspective, gross debt in Australia has risen from 30.5% to 41.4% of the total between 2013 and 2019. Note that in 2007, Australia’s gross debt was only 9.7% of GDP.

What ultimately matters is “net debt.” Although even that is predicated on the value of assets being fairly treated at a particular point in time. In a sharp economic downturn, assets values can implode, while liabilities remain as they are. Net liabilities can move on a dime.

The Howard Coalition lost office in November 2007. At that time, the net surplus was +A$22.1bn. When Labor lost in September 2013, net debt was $174.6bn. Therefore the net increase under Labor was $196.7bn. Since that time, December 2019 net debt now sits at $403.0bn. Inflation-adjusted, it is probably on a par with the Coalition’s scorecard.

If we calculate the net deficits between 2012-13 and 2018-19, it sums to $184.1bn. So versus the $202.6bn in debt issuance, it is largely consistent with the first chart.

Net interest payments on interest-bearing liabilities according to the Department of Finance were $14.008bn on $306.228bn of debt or 4.57% average interest rate in September 2013. The projected interest bill for the FY2019/20 recorded in December 2019 was $18.215bn on $642.5bn or 2.83% average interest rate on that debt. So double the debt with only 28% more in interest costs.

Easy money has allowed lazy deficits. Although we could just blindly believe our government that the net debt will be wiped out by 2029/30…too easy…then again this is the dream world government departments live in.

Don’t forget we’ve been told by the BIS that central banks will be the “climate rescuers of last resort” despite reckless monetary policy where, in 2019 alone, we’ve had 71 rate cuts conducted by 49 central banks, laying the foundations for over-consumption and racking up excessive debt levels. You can read more about that here.

Net Debt

Now our authorities can use the half-truth of bushfires and the Coronavirus to explain away any weakness in the current quarter. Never mind, a bit of debt-fuelled government spending will be turned on again to save us and the budget papers, which so few people read, will see the the ‘net-debt’ projection pushed out another decade in the hope we won’t notice.

Australia remains in ‘relatively’ good shape but the trend is hardly one to take comfort from if the Australian government’s thinking remains that low-interest rates can let it kick the can down the road indefinitely.

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Central banks are climate change experts now. If only they possessed such skill in their core competency

Are these people for real? Does the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) truly believe that world’s central banks will become “climate rescuers of last resort”? Do we really want our central banks to be more proactive in pushing governments toward a greener economy by suggesting a carbon tax as “first-best solution“? The problem with central bankers is that every problem looks like a nail when they only have a hammer in the toolkit.

First, on what level do central banks have a clue about climate change? If they had even the foggiest notion about the science they would never have embarked on a set of reckless monetary policy measures that created the very conditions for excessive debt, mal-investment and over-consumption which they now seek to punish us for via the adoption of a carbon tax.

We should not forget the almost $300 trillion of global debt now racked up thanks to abnormally low interest rates. It is politically expedient to run budget deficits too because central banks are only too happy to keep (near) ZIRP or NIRP which makes servicing ballooning deficits appear almost perpetually affordable with short term focused politicians. It is but a figment of their imagination.

How easy it is to sound the alarm on climate change to mask the policy blunders of the last two decades. It would be nice if we could believe they possessed expertise in their mandated role before embarking into a field they have no sound base to work from. It is a dangerous distraction.

It is worth citing a few examples of the record of central banks around the world since GFC.

In 2018, the US Fed stopped reporting changes in the balance sheet. It did this to prevent spooking the markets over tapering. It reminds FNF Media of the day Bernanke’s Fed announced it would no longer report M3 money supply a year before the financial markets headed into the GFC. Why is there a need for a lack of transparency if it wishes to instill market confidence via its policy settings?

Has the Fed reflected on the fact that over half of listed corporates have a credit rating of BBB or below? Ford Motor Co’s credit rating was downgraded by Moody’s to junk. $84bn worth of debt now no longer investment grade. It will be the first of many Fortune 500s to fall foul to this reality. In 2008, there was around $800bn of BBB status credit. That number exceeds $3.186 trillion today. Brought to you courtesy of low interest rates.

The Bank of Japan (BoJ) is now responsible for 60% of all ETF market ownership. Latest reports confirm the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has now become a top 10 shareholder in almost 50% of listed stocks. In a sense, we have a trend which threatens to turn Japan’s largest businesses into quasi-state-owned enterprises (SoE) by the back door. The BoJ now owns $250bn of listed Japanese equities. It is the top shareholder in household Japanese brands such as Omron, Nidec and Fanuc. At current investment rates, the BoJ is set to own $400bn worth of the market by 2020-end.

The BoJ’s manipulation of the JGB market caused several of the major Japanese banks to hand back their trading licenses because they served no purpose anymore given the central bank’s manipulation.

The ECB has dropped the ball in Europe. Jonathan Rochford of Narrowroad Capital wrote,

Many European banks have failed to use the last decade to materially de-risk. The most obvious outworking of this is that European banks continue to receive taxpayer funded bailouts, with Germany’s NordLB and Italy’s Banca Popolare di Bari both receiving lifelines this monthOne final issue that lurks particularly amongst European banks is their gaming of capital ratios. European banks have become masters of finding assets that require little risk capital but can generate a decent margin. Government debt from Italy is one example, with pressure now being put on the ECB to allow for unlimited purchases of Greek government debt. This would substantially increase the already significant “doom loop” risk. This risk arises from the potential for a default on government debt to bankrupt the banks, and the converse situation where failing banks look for a taxpayer bailout and bankrupt the country.

The list goes on and on. Central banks are in no position to lecture the rest of us on anything given their command of their core competence remains so flawed.

Global money velocity has been declining for two decades. Every dollar printed creates an ever shrinking fraction of GDP impact. Yet all we did was double down on all the failed measures that led us into the GFC

What we do know is that the BIS has sought the advice of literature professors to come up with the phrase that climate change presented a “colossal and potentially irreversible risk of staggering complexity.”

Really?

It is easy for the BIS to shout that a “green swan” event could send us into the financial abyss. However the reality is that dreadful stewardship of monetary conditions has set us up for a huge fall. Not a bushfire, storm or flood. Perhaps we might view a green swan event as wishful thinking by central banks because it would allow them to absolve themselves of all responsibility in getting us into this mess in the first place. They want to see themselves as saviors, not culprits.

Rochford sums up central banks brilliantly with this comment,

When it comes to central banks, I would prefer to believe it is a combination of groupthink, an unwillingness to take career risk by speaking the truth and a willingness to either ignore or disregard counter evidence that has resulted in the detrimental decisions since the financial crisis. However, the increasing amount of evidence, often produced by central banks themselves, points to central banks being more culpable than gullible.

So given this condition why on earth are we paying any attention to their prescriptions on saving the planet? When they quit the excuses and fess up that the last two decades of monetary policy has failed to fix the excesses built in the system then we might lend an ear. Until then they join the list of government agencies who don’t want to be caught out not being in line with the settled politics. Truly sick.