BASEL III: The Deflationary Symbiotic Alliance Between Governments and Banking Sector. Thought of the Day 139.0

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The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is steering the banks to deal with government debt, since the governments have been running large deficits to deal with the catastrophe of BASEL 2-inspired mortgaged-backed securities collapse. The deficits are ranged anywhere between 3 to 7 per cent of the GDP, and in cases even higher. These deficits were being used to create a floor under growth by stimulating the economy and bailing out financial institutions that got carried away by the wholesale funding of real estate. And this is precisely what BASEL 2 promulgated, i.e. encouraging financial institutions to hold mortgage-backed securities for investments.

In comes the BASEL 3 rules that implore than banks must be in compliance with these regulations. But, who gets to decide these regulations? Actually, banks do, since they then come on board for discussions with the governments, and such negotiations are catered to bail banks out with government deficits in order to oil the engine of economic growth. The logic here underlines the fact that governments can continue to find a godown of sorts for their deficits, while the banks can buy government debt without any capital commitment and make a good spread without the risk, thus serving the interests of the both parties involved mutually. Moreover, for the government, the process is political, as no government would find it acceptable to be objective in its viewership of letting a bubble deflate, because any process of deleveraging would cause the banks to offset their lending orgy, which is detrimental to the engineered economic growth. Importantly, without these deficits, the financial system could go down the deflationary spiral, which might turn out to be a difficult proposition to recover if there isn’t any complicity in rhyme and reason accorded to this particular dysfunctional and symbiotic relationship. So, whats the implication of all this? The more government debt banks hold, the less overall capital they need. And who says so? BASEL 3.

But, the mesh just seems to be building up here. In the same way that banks engineered counterfeit AAA-backed securities that were in fact an improbable financial hoax, how can countries that have government debt/GDP ratio to the tune of 90 – 120 per cent get a Standard&Poor’s ratings of a double-A? They have these ratings because they belong to a apical club that gives their members exclusive rights to a high rating even if they are irresponsible with their issuing of debts. Well, is that this simple? Yes and no. Yes, as is above, and no is merely clothing itself in a bit of an economic jargon, in that these are the countries where the government debt can be held without any capital against it. In other words, if a debt cannot be held, it cannot be issued, and that is the reason why countries are striving for issuing debts that have a zero weighting.

Let us take snippets across gradations of BASEL 1, 2 and 3. In BASEL 1, the unintended consequences were that banks were all buying equity in cross-owned companies. When the unwinding happened, equity just fell apart, since any beginning of a financial crisis is tailored to smash bank equities to begin with. Thats the first wound to rationality. In BASEL 2, banks were told to hold as much AAA-rated paper as they wanted with no capital against it. What happened if these ratings were downgraded? It would trigger a tsunami cutting through pension and insurance schemes to begin with forcing them to sell their papers and pile up huge losses meant to absorbed by capital, which doesn’t exist against these papers. So whatever gets sold is politically cushioned and buffered for by the governments, for the risks cannot be afforded to get any more denser as that explosion would sound the catastrophic death knell for the economy. BASEL 3 doesn’t really help, even if it mandated to hold a concentrated portfolio of government debt without any capital against it, for absorption of losses in case of a crisis hitting would have to exhumed through government bail-outs in scenarios where government debts are a century plus. So, are the banks in-stability, or given to more instability via BASEL 3?  The incentives to ever more hold government securities increase bank exposure to sovereign bonds, adding to existing exposure of government securities via repurchase transactions, investments and trading inventories. A ratings downgrade results in a fall in value of bonds triggering losses. Banks would then face calls for additional collateral, which would drain liquidity, and which would then require additional capital as way of compensation. where would this capital come in from, if not for the governments to source it? One way out would be recapitalization through government debt. On the other hand, the markets are required to hedge against the large holdings of government securities and so short stocks, currencies and insurance companies are all made to stare in the face of volatility that rips through them, of which the net resultant is falling liquidity. So, this vicious cycle would continue to cycle its way through any downgrades. And thats why the deflationary symbiotic alliance between the governments and banking sector isn’t anything more than high-fatigue tolerance….

Credit Bubbles. Thought of the Day 90.0

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At the macro-economic level of the gross statistics of money and loan supply to the economy, the reserve banking system creates a complex interplay between money, debt, supply and demand for goods, and the general price level. Rather than being constant, as implied by theoretical descriptions, money and loan supplies are constantly changing at a rate dependent on the average loan period, and a complex of details buried in the implementation and regulation of any given banking system.

Since the majority of loans are made for years at a time, the results of these interactions play out over a long enough time scale that gross monetary features of regulatory failure, such as continuous asset price inflation, have come to be regarded as normal, e.g. ”House prices always go up”. The price level however is not only dependent on purely monetary factors, but also on the supply and demand for goods and services, including financial assets such as shares, which requires that estimates of the real price level versus production be used. As a simplification, if constant demand for goods and services is assumed as shown in the table below, then there are two possible causes of price inflation, either the money supply available to purchase the good in question has increased, or the supply of the good has been reduced. Critically, the former is simply a mathematical effect, whilst the latter is a useful signal, providing economic information on relative supply and demand levels that can be used locally by consumers and producers to adapt their behaviour. Purely arbitrary changes in both the money and the loan supply that are induced by the mechanical operation of the banking system fail to provide any economic benefit, and by distorting the actual supply and demand signal can be actively harmful.

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Credit bubbles are often explained as a phenomena of irrational demand, and crowd behaviour. However, this explanation ignores the question of why they aren’t throttled by limits on the loan supply? An alternate explanation which can be offered is that their root cause is periodic failures in the regulation of the loan and money supply within the commercial banking system. The introduction of widespread securitized lending allows a rapid increase in the total amount of lending available from the banking system and an accompanying if somewhat smaller growth in the money supply. Channeled predominantly into property lending, the increased availability of money from lending sources, acted to increase house prices creating rational speculation on their increase, and over time a sizeable disruption in the market pricing mechanisms for all goods and services purchased through loans. Monetary statistics of this effect such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for example, are however at least partially masked by production deflation from the sizeable productivity increases over decades. Absent any limit on the total amount of credit being supplied, the only practical limit on borrowing is the availability of borrowers and their ability to sustain the capital and interest repayments demanded for their loans.

Owing to the asymmetric nature of long term debt flows there is a tendency for money to become concentrated in the lending centres, which then causes liquidity problems for the rest of the economy. Eventually repayment problems surface, especially if the practice of further borrowing to repay existing loans is allowed, since the underlying mathematical process is exponential. As general insolvency as well as a consequent debt deflation occurs, the money and loan supply contracts as the banking system removes loan capacity from the economy either from loan repayment, or as a result of bank failure. This leads to a domino effect as businesses that have become dependent on continuously rolling over debt fail and trigger further defaults. Monetary expansion and further lending is also constrained by the absence of qualified borrowers, and by the general unwillingness to either lend or borrow that results from the ensuing economic collapse. Further complications, as described by Ben Bernanke and Harold James, can occur when interactions between currencies are considered, in particular in conjunction with gold-based capital regulation, because of the difficulties in establishing the correct ratio of gold for each individual currency and maintaining it, in a system where lending and the associated money supply are continually fluctuating and gold is also being used at a national level for international debt repayments.

The debt to money imbalance created by the widespread, and global, sale of Asset Backed securities may be unique to this particular crisis. Although asset backed security issuance dropped considerably in 2008, as the resale markets were temporarily frozen, current stated policy in several countries, including the USA and the United Kingdom, is to encourage further securitization to assist the recovery of the banking sector. Unfortunately this appears to be succeeding.

A Monetary Drain due to Excess Liquidity. Why is the RBI Playing Along

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And so we thought demonetization was not a success. Let me begin with the Socratic irony to assume that it was indeed a success, albeit not in arresting black money for sure. Yes, the tax net has widened and the cruelty of smashing down the informal sector to smithereens to be replaceable with a formal economy, more in the manner of sucking the former into the latter has been achieved. As far as terror funding is concerned, it is anybody’s guess and so let them be with their imaginations. What none can deny is the surge in deposits and liquidity in the wake of demonetization. But, what one has been consciously, or through an ideological-driven standpoint denying is the fact that demonetization clubbed with the governmental red carpet for foreign direct investment has been an utter failure to attract money into the country. And the reason attributed for the same has been a dip in the economy as a result of the idiosyncratic decision of November 8 added with the conjuring acts of mathematics and statistics in tweaking base years to let go off the reality behind a depleting GDP and project the country as the fastest growing emerging economy in the world. The irony I started off with is defeated here, for none of the claims that the government propaganda machine churns out on the assembly line are in fact anywhere near the truth. But, thats what a propaganda is supposed to doing, else why even call it that, or even call for a successful governance and so on and on (sorry for the Žižekian interjections here).

Assuming the irony still has traces and isn’t vanquished, it is time to move on and look into the effects of what calls for a financial reality-check. Abruptly going vertically through the tiers here, it is recently been talked about in the corridors of financial power that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is all set to drain close to 1.5 lakh crore in excess liquidity from the financial system as surging foreign investments forces the central bank to absorb the dollar inflows and sell rupees to cap gains in the local currency. This is really interesting, for the narrative or the discourse is again symptomatic of what the government wants us to believe, and so believe we shall, or shall we? After this brief stopover, chugging off again…Foreign investments into debt and shares have reached a net $31 billion this year, compared with $2.7 billion in sales last year, due to factors including India’s low inflation and improving economic growth. This is not merely a leap, but a leap of faith, in this case numerically. Yes, India is suffering from low inflation, but it ain’t deflation, but rather disinflation. There is a method to this maddening reason, if one needs to counter what gets prime time economic news in the media or passes on as Chinese Whispers amongst activists hell-bent on proving the futility of the governmental narrative. There is nothing wrong in the procedure as long as this hell-bent-ness is cooked in proper proportions of reason. But, why call it disinflation and not deflation? A sharp drop in inflation below the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) 4% target has been driven by only two items – pulses and vegetables. the consumer price index (CPI), excluding pulses and vegetables, rose at the rate of 3.8% in July, much higher than the official headline figure of 2.4% inflation for the month. The re-calculated CPI is based on adjusted weights after excluding pulses and vegetables from the basket of goods and services. The two farm items – pulses and vegetables – have a combined weight of only 8.4% in the consumer price index (CPI) basket. However, they have wielded disproportionate influence over the headline inflation number for more than a year now owing to the sharp volatility in their prices. So, how does it all add up? Prices of pulses and vegetables have fallen significantly this year owing to increased supply amid a normal monsoon last year, as noted by the Economic Survey. The high prices of pulses in the year before and the government’s promises of more effective procurement may have encouraged farmers to produce more last year, resulting in a glut. Demonetisation may have added to farmers’ woes by turning farm markets into buyers’ markets. Thus, there does not seem to be any imminent threat of deflation in India. A more apt characterization of the recent trends in prices may be ‘disinflation’ (a fall in the inflation rate) rather than deflation (falling prices) given that overall inflation, excluding pulses and vegetables, is close to the RBI target of 4%. On the topicality of improving economic growth in the country, this is the bone of contention either weakening or otherwise depending on how the marrow is key up.

Moving on…The strong inflows have sent the rupee up nearly 7 per cent against the dollar and forced the RBI to buy more than $10 billion in spot market and $10 billion in forwards this year – which has meant an equivalent infusion in rupees. Those rupee sales have added liquidity into a financial system already flush with cash after a ban on higher-denomination currency in November sparked a surge in bank deposits. Average daily liquidity has risen to around Rs 3 lakh crore, well above the RBI’s goal of around Rs 1 lakh crore, according to traders. That will force the RBI to step up debt sales to remove liquidity and avoid any inflationary impact. Traders estimate the RBI will need to drain Rs 1 lakh crore to Rs 1.4 lakh crore ($15.7 billion to $22 billion) after taking into account factors such as festival-related consumer spending that naturally reduce cash in the system. How the RBI drains the cash will thus become an impact factor for bond traders, who have benefitted from a rally in debt markets. The RBI has already drained about Rs 1 lakh crore via one-year bills under a special market stabilisation scheme (MSS), as well as Rs 30,000 crore in longer debt through open market sales. MSS (Market Stabilisation Scheme) securities are issued with the objective of providing the RBI with a stock of securities with which it can intervene in the market for managing liquidity. These securities are issued not to meet the government’s expenditure. The MSS scheme was launched in April 2004 to strengthen the RBI’s ability to conduct exchange rate and monetary management. The bills/bonds issued under MSS have all the attributes of the existing treasury bills and dated securities. These securities will be issued by way of auctions to be conducted by the RBI. The timing of issuance, amount and tenure of such securities will be decided by the RBI. The securities issued under the MSS scheme are matched by an equivalent cash balance held by the government with the RBI. As a result, their issuance will have a negligible impact on the fiscal deficit of the government. It is hoped that the procedure would continue, noting staggered sales in bills, combined with daily reverse repo operations and some long-end sales, would be easily absorbable in markets. The most disruptive fashion would be stepping up open market sales, which tend to focus on longer-ended debt. That may send yields higher and blunt the impact of the central bank’s 25 basis point rate cut in August. The RBI does not provide a timetable of its special debt sales for the year. and if the RBI drains the cash largely through MSS bonds then markets wont get too much impacted. This brings us to close in proving the success story of demonetization as a false beacon, in that with a surge in liquidity, the impact on the market would be negligible if MSS are resorted to culminating in establishing the fact that demonetization clubbed with red-carpeted FDI has had absolutely no nexus in the influx of dollars and thus any propaganda of this resulting as a success story of demonetization is to be seen as purely rhetoric. QED.

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

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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.

Negative Interest Rates? huh!

Many months ago, Bank of Japan (BoJ) introduced a Quantitative and Qualitative Monetary Easing (QQME) with Negative Interest Rates. Whats the logic behind this other than maybe reducing reserves to induce banks into lending more? Tricky and audacious at the same time. The seven-pager document (hereCaution: pdf) isn’t a rigmarole, but the underlying logic sure is a Rube Goldberg machinic one, and that too in the face of impeccable liquidity management at the operational level at the Bank, where near zero-interest rates amidst growing fiscal deficits were carefully held. When Japan initiated its Quantitative Easing (QE) in the early 2000s, the rationale was to flood banks with enough liquidity to promote private lending leaving them with humongous stocks of reserves and scarcely a risk of liquidity shortage. this was achieved by buying excess amount of Government bonds than would be required to set the interest rate to zero. But, this stimulating package only accomplished a moderate success rate on the performance scale, to say the least. The banks are not reserve constrained in their lending, and thus the only rationale behind the stimulus as a result of negative interest rates would be investment and consumer durable were motivated enough to borrow at lower interest rates that the asset swap (bonds for reserves) generated.

 According to the official communique, QQME with a negative interest rate would achieve the price stability target of 2% at the earliest; Adopt a three-tier-system to map-out outstanding balance of each financial institution’s current account at the bank; Introduce Money Market Operations (MMO) (Caution: pdf) to swell the monetary base by ¥80 trillion annually, and thus go in for more Quantitative Easing; and Adopt a Qualitative Easing goal by exchanging a broad range of public and private assets for reserves. In line with Point 3 on Page 3 of the document linked to above, it is maintained that the BoJ will lower the short-end of the yield curve by slashing its exposit rate on current accounts into negative territory and will exert further downward pressure on interest rates across the entire yield curve, in combination with large-scale purchases of Japanese Government Bonds. This is where Negative Interest Rate (NIR) find itself defined: Imposing tax on banks for holding reserves above certain limits with the BoJ. The logic cuts across smoothly here, for banks will not show readiness to borrow from each other at higher rates, and implying subsequent pushing of longer-maturity rates down. The dressing up logic, however is to address global volatility in markets with a double-edged sword of imposing public tax on private sector to promote exhilarating inflation. With a moderate success the first time QE was taken up, what guarantees bad implications for earnings of financial institutions slipping into the negative territory? In response, BoJ claimed, “overcoming deflation as soon as possible and exiting from the low-interest rate environment lasting for two decades is essential for improving the business conditions for the financial industry.”
Helter-Skelter midstream!!! But, there are more layers to peel to get centric. Okay, what is the three-tier-system about?
Tier-1: pays a +ve 0.1% on Basic Balance covering existing reserves traced on the system from previous QQME.
Tier-2: The Macro-“Add-on” Balance receiving a zero interest, and helping maintain required reserves held by financial institutions subject to Reserve Requirement system.
Tier-3: Policy-Rate Balance with a -ve 0.1%, with provisions of new reserves entering the system, with a tax of 0.1% on the bargain. This is where Tier-3 gets muddled. The logic is to swell reserves notwithstanding the fact that bank lending reserve constrained.
According to Bank of International Settlements’ Unconventional Monetary Policies: an appraisal (here; warning: .pdf file), such unconventional monetary policies are distinguished by central banks actively using its balance sheet to affect directly market prices and conditions beyond a short-term, typically overnight interest rate, and referring to such policies as “balance sheet policies” rather than “interest-rate policies”. Hereby, they obliterate insights understood in the Keynesian period by taking recourse to a decoupling principle via which the central banks remunerates bank reserves relative to the policy rate. Quoting in full,

..key feature of balance sheet policies is that they can be entirely decoupled rom the level of interest rates. Technically, all that is needed is for the central bank to have sufficient instruments at its disposal to neutralise the impact that these policies have on interest rates on any induced expansion of bank reserves. Generally, central banks are in such a position or can gain the necessary means. this “Decoupling Principle” also implies exiting from the current very low, or zero interest rate policies can be done independently of balance sheet policies. 

The principle is congruent with Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT in short, where Central Bank can sell Government debt in order to adjust the quantity of reserves to bring about desired short-term interest rate; or remunerate execs reserve holdings at the policy rate setting the opportunity cost of holding reserves for banks to zero. This then delinks the interest-rate level set by the central bank severing any relation between swelled-up reserves and interest rates. The BIS paper sums this up,

In particular, changes in reserves associated with unconventional monetary policies do not in and of themselves loosen significantly the constraint on bank lending…The preceding discussion casts doubt on two oft-heard propositions concerning the implications of specialness of bank reserves. first, an expansion of bank reserves endows banks with additional resources to extend loans, adding power to balance sheet policy. Second, there is something uniquely inflationary about bank reserves financing. 

This falls in line with MMT’s basis premise that banks reserves are not required to make loans and there is no monetary multiplier mechanism at work. BIS paper then starts hammering the nail in the coffin by invoking the ghosts of past Japanese experiments with QE,

A striking illustration of the tenuous link between excess reserves and bank lending is the experience during the Bank of Japan’s Quantitative Easing policy from 2001-06. Despite significant expansion in excess reserve balances, and the associated increase in base money, during the zero-interest rate policy, lending in the Japanese banking system did not increase robustly.

Japanese banks are not expanding credit as a result of unwillingness to make loans or a lack of reserves. Instead, the reason for slow credit is that businesses have sufficient capital stock to satisfy the demands of a very weak consumption sector and hence do not feel the need to borrow.
Negative interest rates will not alter that, since perhaps holding on to cash as a liquidity measure to transcend time as uncertainty is the future DOES.