Financial Entanglement and Complexity Theory. An Adumbration on Financial Crisis.

entanglement

The complex system approach in finance could be described through the concept of entanglement. The concept of entanglement bears the same features as a definition of a complex system given by a group of physicists working in a field of finance (Stanley et al,). As they defined it – in a complex system all depends upon everything. Just as in the complex system the notion of entanglement is a statement acknowledging interdependence of all the counterparties in financial markets including financial and non-financial corporations, the government and the central bank. How to identify entanglement empirically? Stanley H.E. et al formulated the process of scientific study in finance as a search for patterns. Such a search, going on under the auspices of “econophysics”, could exemplify a thorough analysis of a complex and unstructured assemblage of actual data being finalized in the discovery and experimental validation of an appropriate pattern. On the other side of a spectrum, some patterns underlying the actual processes might be discovered due to synthesizing a vast amount of historical and anecdotal information by applying appropriate reasoning and logical deliberations. The Austrian School of Economic Thought which, in its extreme form, rejects application of any formalized systems, or modeling of any kind, could be viewed as an example. A logical question follows out this comparison: Does there exist any intermediate way of searching for regular patters in finance and economics?

Importantly, patterns could be discovered by developing rather simple models of money and debt interrelationships. Debt cycles were studied extensively by many schools of economic thought (Shiller, Robert J._ Akerlof, George A – Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism). The modern financial system worked by spreading risk, promoting economic efficiency and providing cheap capital. It had been formed during the years as bull markets in shares and bonds originated in the early 1990s. These markets were propelled by abundance of money, falling interest rates and new information technology. Financial markets, by combining debt and derivatives, could originate and distribute huge quantities of risky structurized products and sell them to different investors. Meanwhile, financial sector debt, only a tenth of the size of non-financial-sector debt in 1980, became half as big by the beginning of the credit crunch in 2007. As liquidity grew, banks could buy more assets, borrow more against them, and enjoy their value rose. By 2007 financial services were making 40% of America’s corporate profits while employing only 5% of its private sector workers. Thanks to cheap money, banks could have taken on more debt and, by designing complex structurized products, they were able to make their investment more profitable and risky. Securitization facilitating the emergence of the “shadow banking” system foments, simultaneously, bubbles on different segments of a global financial market.

Yet over the past decade this system, or a big part of it, began to lose touch with its ultimate purpose: to reallocate deficit resources in accordance with the social priorities. Instead of writing, managing and trading claims on future cashflows for the rest of the economy, finance became increasingly a game for fees and speculation. Due to disastrously lax regulation, investment banks did not lay aside enough capital in case something went wrong, and, as the crisis began in the middle of 2007, credit markets started to freeze up. Qualitatively, after the spectacular Lehman Brothers disaster in September 2008, laminar flows of financial activity came to an end. Banks began to suffer losses on their holdings of toxic securities and were reluctant to lend to one another that led to shortages of funding system. This only intensified in late 2007 when Nothern Rock, a British mortgage lender, experienced a bank run that started in the money markets. All of a sudden, liquidity became in a short supply, debt was unwound, and investors were forced to sell and write down the assets. For several years, up to now, the market counterparties no longer trust each other. As Walter Bagehot, an authority on bank runs, once wrote:

Every banker knows that if he has to prove that he is worth of credit, however good may be his arguments, in fact his credit is gone.

In an entangled financial system, his axiom should be stretched out to the whole market. And it means, precisely, financial meltdown or the crisis. The most fascinating feature of the post-crisis era on financial markets was the continuation of a ubiquitous liquidity expansion. To fight the market squeeze, all the major central banks have greatly expanded their balance sheets. The latter rose, roughly, from about 10 percent to 25-30 percent of GDP for the appropriate economies. For several years after the credit crunch 2007-09, central banks bought trillions of dollars of toxic and government debts thus increasing, without any precedent in modern history, money issuance. Paradoxically, this enormous credit expansion, though accelerating for several years, has been accompanied by a stagnating and depressed real economy. Yet, until now, central bankers are worried with downside risks and threats of price deflation, mainly. Otherwise, a hectic financial activity that is going on along unbounded credit expansion could be transformed by herding into autocatalytic process that, if being subject to accumulation of a new debt, might drive the entire system at a total collapse. From a financial point of view, this systemic collapse appears to be a natural result of unbounded credit expansion which is ‘supported’ with the zero real resources. Since the wealth of investors, as a whole, becomes nothing but the ‘fool’s gold’, financial process becomes a singular one, and the entire system collapses. In particular, three phases of investors’ behavior – hedge finance, speculation, and the Ponzi game, could be easily identified as a sequence of sub-cycles that unwound ultimately in the total collapse.

Market Liquidity

market-liquidity-graphic-1_0

The notion of market liquidity is nowadays almost ubiquitous. It quantifies the ability of a financial market to match buyers and sellers in an efficient way, without causing a significant movement in the price, thus delivering low transaction costs. It is the lifeblood of financial markets without which market dislocations can show as in the recent well documented crisis: 2007 Yen carry trade unwind, 2008 Credit Crunch, May 6th 2010 Flash Crash or the numerous Mini Flash Crashes occurring in US equity markets, but also in many others cases that go unnoticed but are potent candidates to become more important. While omnipresent, liquidity is an elusive concept. Several reasons may account for this ambiguity; some markets, such as the foreign exchange (FX) market with the daily turnover of $5.3 trillion (let’s say), are mistakenly assumed to be extremely liquid, whereas the generated volume is equated with liquidity. Secondly, the structure of modern markets with its high degree of decentralization generates fragmentation and low transparency of transactions which complicates the way to define market liquidity as a whole. Aggregating liquidity from all trading sources can be quite daunting and even with all of the market fragmentation, as new venues with different market structure continue to be launched. Furthermore, the landscape is continuously changing as new players emerge, such as high frequency traders that have taken over the role of liquidity intermediation in many markets, accounting between 50% and 70%  (and ever rising) of all trading. Last, but not least, important participants influencing the markets are the central banks with their myriad of market interventions, whereas it is indirectly through monetization of substantial amount of sovereign and mortgage debt with various quantitative easing programs, or in a direct manner as with Swiss National Bank setting the floor on EUR/CHF exchange rate, providing plenty of arguments they have overstepped their role of last resort liquidity providers and at this stage they hamper market liquidity, potentially exposing themselves to massive losses in the near future.

Despite the obvious importance of liquidity there is little agreement on the best way to measure and define market liquidity. Liquidity measures can be classified into different categories. Volume-based measures: liquidity ratio, Martin index, Hui and Heubel ratio, turnover ratio, market adjusted liquidity index, where, over a fixed period of time, the exchanged volume is compared to price changes. This class implies that non-trivial assumptions are made about the relation between volume and price movements. Other classes of measures include price based measures: Marsh and Rock ratio, variance ratio, vector autoregressive models; transaction costs based measures: spread, implied spread, absolute spread or relative spread see; or time based measures: number of transactions or orders per time unit. The aforementioned approaches suffer from many drawbacks. They provide a top-down approach of analysing a complex system, where the impact of the variation of liquidity is analysed rather than providing a bottom-up approach where liquidity lacking times are identified and quantified. These approaches also suffer from a specific choice of physical time, that does not reflect the correct and multi-scale nature of any financial market. Liquidity is defined as an information theoretic measurement that characterises the unlikeliness of price trajectories and argue that this new metric has the ability to detect and predict stress in financial markets and show examples within the FX market, so that the optimal choice of scales is derived using the Maximum Entropy Principle.