Archive for October, 2011

Date: October 31st, 2011
Cate: Finance, Systems

When Money dies interview.

Adam Fergusson is an interesting economic historian.  Fergusson’s book, “When Money Dies” is an excellent read about how Weimar Germany’s various political, industrial and average citizens responded to the stress of inflation.  The video below is an interesting interview.  Fergusson isn’t predicting hyper-inflation but rather discussing the experience and potential for it.

Date: October 19th, 2011
Cate: Finance, Risk & Stability
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Toy Euro stress test

The Euro DIY stress test is going around.  It only tests the estimated sovreign debt loss impacts on banks books and doesn’t assess the balance sheet impacts from collateral economic damage that defaults etc. would have.

I jazzed up the model a bit to make it widgetier to play with and understand.  Just used a few cheap design tricks. I make no claims as to the integrity of the data or calculations. Caveat emptor folks as we say in Iowa don’t bet your farm on this. It is a 10 minute derivative work from the original DIY spread sheet with simple scrollbars for key variables and some charts.  Reuters has a more robust version here.

Here is an Excel Download in XLSX format. The DIY European Bank Stress Test V 2.0

Date: October 14th, 2011
Cate: Finance

Chronic De-leveraging overwhelms FED monetary base expansion & rate cuts effort

The creation of huge amounts of credit (broad money) was a powerful process which allowed for growth in GDP.  Think of GDP like material running through an economic machine hopefully creating social value.  Credit allows us to bring future savings into the present and spend increasing today’s throughput.

Credit is a function of the cost of money and one’s faith in the future return of that money. Credit like money is ultimately a social belief system. In 2008 the global credit market effectively had a heart attack.  The Federal reserve brought it back to life with cheaper money (low rates), trillions in swap lines and lending facilities. This was effectively like taking the paddles out and jump starting the stopped global economic heart.

The difference between an acute crisis and chronic process.

We experience the world one day at a time and for many one headline at a time.  These headlines often describe acute events or turning points.  The credit meltdown was one such event. The more important economic and political factors are chronic or process in nature. Like paint drying or a forest growing they unfold over time slowly avoiding the daily headlines that would lead to awareness of their potential impacts. These processes are right in front of us, but their slow steady monotonous motion blinds us to their potential impacts for increasing the risks of an acute crisis.

Below is the monetary base of the US showing deposits and currency in circulation.  This is near money. It is short term. You can see how the fed expanded near money since 2008 hoping that by making it more easily available things would get better. The hope was that after first saving the patient’s Lehman liquidity collapse (heart attack) the money multiplier effect would work its magic and keep the credit creation process alive and pumping.  By making near money available and cheap it was hoped far away longer term broad money would be created by the credit market.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out like that.  Here is the TCMDO(Total Credit Market Debt Owed) which shows all of the credit in the system including broad money.

The important factor is measuring the effectiveness of FED policy as an economic/credit stimulus is how TCMDO responds as a multiplier of interest rate policy adjustments and expansion of the monetary base.

This last graph shows that the FED is pushing on a string.

The credit market is shrinking as de-leveraging takes over and the FED’s attempts at expanding the credit market become less effective.  Less credit means, less throughput and declines in consumption etc. A central bank is merely a sometimes hand maiden for Credit creation/destruction. Ultimately credit is a free market function. When people don’t perceive opportunity or view themselves as over leveraged they stop lending / borrowing.

Each dollar of base money is stimulating less credit.

If one believes that credit expansion is required to reflate the economy and if one believes credit is generated by expanding the FED balance sheet then whatever expansion plans using multiplier of X in 2008 are likely to use a multiplier of perhaps 2X now. The danger is the likely call for a QE3 that can be justified in the trillions of dollars, the rationalization will be a cheapening of the dollar to help debt holders and domestic exporters while expanding credit supply via an expanded narrow money base.  The other side of the policy coin is of course is fiscal stimulus whereby the govt. spends money on creating economic activities, this is more akin to economic mouth to mouth resuscitation. A likely outcome will be a mix of fiscal and monetary policy over the next 3 years involving increases in federal debt which are purchased largely by the FED.

I am not advocating either policy, but rather suggesting likely outcomes based on historical precedents of fiscal policy and FED behavior. Neither of these actions is good for the dollar as a store of value, but the impacts of de-leveraging, declining GDP and subsequent deflation may give them appeal to many.

Source data is here:

Federal reserve St. Louis Adjusted Monetary Base (BASE)

Federal reserve St. louis Total Credit Market Debt Owed (TCMDO)

Ratio of debt to monetary base .XLS

All work above is property of Thoughtful Capital Group.

Date: October 14th, 2011
Cate: Finance, Risk & Stability, Systems

Big trouble is coming to a bank balance sheet near you

In 2007 the sub-prime meltdown was the leading indicator to many of 08’s troubles.  The problem is now winding its way through to prime mortgages.  This is very dangerous for bank balance sheets.  If a bank is leveraged 10:1 a 10% loss reflects a total loss of equity, bankruptcy.Khan academy Banking primer here.

The markit indeces shown below represent prime mortgage securities and thier current prices. Many people are now strategically defaulting or giving up their homes with negative equity.  This deleveraging process is now endemic in the US economy and may lead to further slowing down of throughput (GDP).  Please note these events are slow processes not headlines, they take years to work out.

John Steinbeck’s, The Grapes of Wrath is a purposely long read. The great depression wasn’t an event, it was a long and grinding process which likely changed 2 generations thought on debt and responsibility.

Below is an explanation of the PrimeX indices and their most recent prices.  These mortgages aren’t sub-prime liar loans, these are responsible people who are now in over thier heads due to un-employment and the de-leveraging or d-process in the economy. The mortgages below have high FICO scores, good LTVs etc. These are the “good mortgages” which are now melting down.

And so the long sad process continues…


Date: October 10th, 2011
Cate: Finance, Risk & Stability, Systems

Applying systems risk a paper

Last year I drafted a paper on an approach called actionable systems risk. The name is terrible, but I believe the idea to be compelling. Apply systems thinking for bank and hedge fund risk management in a practical way.

Let me know your thoughts. In the paper is a brief summary of the housing market analysis which I used for the 2007-2009 housing bubble while working for a small New York based hedge fund.  Current beliefs involve rapid de-leveraging leading to hopefully greater institutional de-coupling before a cascading systemic failure occurs.

Applying Actionable Systems Risk

Date: October 5th, 2011
Cate: Finance, Risk & Stability, Systems

Make the financial sector a well run zoo again.

From the 1930s on into the 1980s, the American financial system resembled a well-run and orderly zoo. The various species — banks, securities dealers, insurance companies, etc. — were neatly caged within functional and geographical specialties, prevented and protected from competition with one another. Although competition remained active within each cage, specialized and benign keepers made sure it did not assume lethal proportions. And as in a real zoo, it was just as safe for the public to view a lion as a rabbit: deposit insurance and other safeguards were firmly in place. source:


The quote above is from Albert M. Wojnilower a new York based economist. I like the aspects of compartmentalization for the financial sector.  Compartmentalization is a standard design strategy for minimizing contagion and failure related to complexity and normal accidents.  De-coupling operational elements of a system makes the system more robust and less likely to succumb to cascading failures.

Trading financial efficiency (ROE and big bonuses related to monster institutions) for safety will take a strong regulatory stomach but is likely worth it in the long run.