China’s Belt and Road and India’s Infrastructural Ambitions – Where is the line to be drawn?

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When in 2017, China organized the first-ever Forum on Belt and Road, almost 130 countries from all over the world, including the United States had sent in their representatives to witness and be part of the diplomatic showcase of China’s global ambitious project, which aims to create an interlocked trade, financial and cultural network stretching from East Asia to Europe and beyond. There was, however, one notable miss, India. India was always opposed to Chinese ambitions of erecting this vast infrastructural network and the primary reason was that it violated India’s state sovereignty. The showcase arm of the Chinese Belt and Road happens to be the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $62 Billion pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping and traversing the entire length and breadth of Pakistan with nodal points in Xinjiang province of China, and Pakistan’s port town of Gawdar. CPEC is marked by modern infrastructure of transportation networks, special economic zones, industrial clusters and energy hubs, and considered China’s main plank of Belt and Road Initiative aimed to underscore China’s economic might and dominance over the Asian-Pacific seas. That a segment of CPEC cuts through the disputed territory of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir has irked India no ends, which it considers a direct, uncalled-for and aggressive nature of China’s global ambitions at the cost of state sovereignty. Though, the CPEC is yet to be fully commissioned, some segments have started to function. This is turning out to be major bone of contention between the two Asian economic giants. But, relations have a gotten a bit murkier since 2017, and two major geopolitical events have confounded matters further. 

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The first one is the Doklam Standoff between China and India. This tiny plateau nestled between China, India and Bhutan witnessed a three-month standoff between the two largest armies in the world over a road that the Chinese were building and which India apprehended would function more as a surveillance apparatus over the narrow path of land that connects the Indian mainland with the Northeastern states. Though the tension was eventually diffused, the state of affairs between China and India never really thawed as could have been anticipated. It was in 2017 that India and Pakistan became newly installed members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), having been elevated from observer states. China, anticipating an increasing amount of divisiveness within a regional economic and security organization by being accustomed to extreme comity and cooperative discussions was frustrated at India’s becoming a member state that Russia, another founder-member of SCO pushed for. Russia wanted to constrain China’s growing influence in the organization as it was concerned that post-Soviet SCO members were drifting too far into the Chinese geostrategic orbit. Moscow had long delayed implementing Chinese initiatives that would have enabled Beijing to reap greater benefits from regional trade. As China gained more clout in Central Asia, Moscow choice New Delhi’s inclusion to slow and oppose Beijing’s ambitions. It is under these circumstances that New Delhi would likely continue to criticize the CPEC in the context of the SCO because, as a full member, India now has the right to protest developments that do not serve the interests of all SCO members. The SCO also offers another public stage for India to constantly question the intent behind China’s exceptionally close ties to Pakistan.

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The second is the recent escalation of hostilities between India and Pakistan, and how Pakistan felt betrayed over China’s so-called neutral stand by asking both countries to take recourse to meaning dialogue in resolving the contentious issue of Kashmir and Terror and cease all military adventures. It is to be noted that the second convention of the Belt and Road Forum is to take place in April this year, and China is all hopeful to get India’s positive support for its infrastructural might. India’s notable absence from the 2017 meet has hit Chinese plans, and the latter wants to reverse the course this time around. Even if India were to take part this year, or send in their dissent note via an official communique, it would reliably and reasonably highlight the contradiction between China’s stated anti-terrorism goals and the reality of its policy. Most notably, Beijing has consistently looked the other way as Pakistani Intelligence Services continue to support terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, because India is particularly close to the Afghan Government, it could seek to sponsor Afghanistan to move from observer status toward full SCO membership. This would give India even greater strength in the group and could bolster Russia’s position as well.  

Lingering border disputes and fierce geostrategic competition in South Asia between China and India is likely to temper any cooperation Beijing might hope to achieve with New Delhi in latter’s inclusion at the Forum. Mutual suspicions in the maritime domain persist as well, with the Indian government shoring its position in the strategically important Andaman and Nicobar island chain to counter the perceived Chinese “string of pearls” strategy – aimed at establishing access to naval ports throughout the Indian Ocean that could be militarily advantageous in a conflict. Such mutual suspicions will likely impact Forum’s deliberations and discussions in unpredictable ways. Although India may be an unwelcome addition and irritant, China’s economic and military strength makes it far more formidable on its own – a point that is only magnified as Russian influence simultaneously recedes, or rather more aptly fluctuates. Even when India rejected Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative overture, China remains India’s top trading partner and a critical market for all Central and South Asian states, leaving them with few other appealing options. India’s entry into the Forum, however, could put Beijing in the awkward position of highlighting the value, while increasingly working around or outside of it. Outright failure of the Forum would be unacceptable for China because of its central role in establishing it in the first place. Regardless of the bickering between countries that may break out, Beijing can be expected to make yet another show of the importance, with all of the usual pomp and circumstance, at the upcoming summit in April, 2019.

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What then is India’s infrastructural challenge to Belt and Road? India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi instantiated the need for overhauling the infrastructure in a manner hitherto not conceived of by emphasizing that the Government would usher in a ‘Blue Revolution’ by developing India’s coastal regions and working for the welfare of fishing communities in a string of infrastructure projects. That such a declaration came in the pilgrim town of Somnath in Gujarat isn’t surprising, for the foundations of a smart city spread over an area of about 1400 acres was laid at Kandla, the port city. The figures he cited during his address were all the more staggering making one wonder about the source of resources. For instance, the smart city would provide employment to about 50000 people. The Blue Revolution would be initiated through the Government’s flagship Sagarmala Project attracting an investment to the tune of Rs. 8 lakh crore and creating industrial and tourism development along the coast line of the entire country. Not just content with such figures already, he also promised that 400 ports and fishing sites would be developed under the project. One would obviously wonder at how tall are these claims? Clearly Modi and his cohorts are no fan of Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” due to their obsession with “Bigger is Better”. What’s even more surprising is that these reckless followers of capitalism haven’t even understood what is meant by “Creative Destruction” both macro- or micro- economically. The process of Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction (restructuring) permeates major aspects of macroeconomic performance, not only long-run growth but also economic fluctuations, structural adjustment and the functioning of factor markets. At the microeconomic level, restructuring is characterized by countless decisions to create and destroy production arrangements. These decisions are often complex, involving multiple parties as well as strategic and technological considerations. The efficiency of those decisions not only depends on managerial talent but also hinges on the existence of sound institutions that provide a proper transactional framework. Failure along this dimension can have severe macroeconomic consequences once it interacts with the process of creative destruction. Quite unfortunately, India is heading towards an economic mess, if such policies are to slammed onto people under circumstances when neither the macroeconomic not the microeconomic apparatuses in the country are in shape to withstand cyclonic shocks. Moreover, these promotional doctrines come at a humungous price of gross violations of human and constitutional rights of the people lending credibility once again to the warnings of Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered…

So, is there any comparison between Belt and Road and Blue Economy? Well, pundits could draw far-fetched comparisons between these infrastructural advances, but, for the Chinese, Belt and Road is geographically much vaster as compared to Indian Blue Economy, which is more confined to domestic consumptions but do have elements of exim and trade aspects to it. Apart from that, when it comes to fulfilling these ambitions, China with its economic might have much better resources at commissioning the initiative, whereas India, with its faltering banking industry and waning investor confidence is finding its increasingly difficult to map out routes of funding and financing. On a more geopolitical note, and especially in the wake of current events between India and Pakistan, china would do well to factor in the larger perspectives of its relations with South Asia. It’s well known that China has been using Pakistan as a foil against India since the 1960s, and with its CPEC has upped its commitment to Pakistan that includes the assurances of Pakistani well-being. But can China remain oblivious to Pakistan’s scorpion-like behavior of devouring itself? On the other hand, a stable India is providing opportunities for Chinese companies to expand themselves. The reset in Sino-Indian ties following the Wuhan Summit of 2018 has created conditions which can be of great benefit to Beijing in an era when it is facing a fundamental challenge from the United States. Who knows, New Delhi may even consider supporting the Belt & Road Initiative in some indirect fashion as the Japanese are doing?  

Skeletal of the Presentation on AIIB and Blue Economy in Mumbai during the Peoples’ Convention on 22nd June 2018

Main features in AIIB Financing

  1. investments in regional members
  2. supports longer tenors and appropriate grace period
  3. mobilize funding through insurance, banks, funds and sovereign wealth (like the China Investment Corporation (CIC) in the case of China)
  4. funds on economic/financial considerations and on project benefits, eg. global climate, energy security, productivity improvement etc.

Public Sector:

  1. sovereign-backed financing (sovereign guarantee)
  2. loan/guarantee

Private Sector:

  1. non-sovereign-backed financing (private sector, State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), sub-sovereign and municipalities)
  2. loans and equity
  3. bonds, credit enhancement, funds etc.

—— portfolio is expected to grow steadily with increasing share of standalone projects from 27% in 2016 to 39% in 2017 and 42% in 2018 (projected)

—— share of non-sovereign-backed projects has increased from 1% in 2016 to 36% of portfolio in 2017. share of non-sovereign-backed projects is projected to account for about 30% in 2018

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Why would AIIB be interested in the Blue Economy?

  1. To appropriate (expropriate) the potential of hinterlands
  2. increasing industrialization
  3. increasing GDP
  4. increasing trade
  5. infrastructure development
  6. Energy and Minerals in order to bring about a changing landscape
  7. Container: regional collaboration and competition

AIIB wishes to change the landscape of infrastructure funding across its partner countries, laying emphasis on cross-country and cross-sectoral investments in the shipping sector — Yee Ean Pang, Director General, Investment Operations, AIIB.

He also opined that in the shipping sector there is a need for private players to step in, with 40-45 per cent of stake in partnership being offered to private players.

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Projects aligned with Sagarmala are being considered for financial assistance by the Ministry of Shipping under two main headings:

1. Budgetary Allocations from the Ministry of Shipping

    a. up to 50% of the project cost in the form of budgetary grant

    b. Projects having high social impact but low/no Internal Rate of Return (IRR) may be provided funding, in convergence with schemes of other central line ministries. IRR is a metric used in capital budgeting to estimate the profitability of potential investments. It is a discount rate that makes the net present value (NPV) of all cash flows from a particular project equal to zero. NPV is the difference between the present value of cash inflows and present value of cash outflows over a period of time. IRR is sometimes referred to as “economic rate of return” or “discounted cash flow rate of return.” The use of “internal” refers to the omission of external factors, such as the cost of capital or inflation, from the calculation.

2. Funding in the form of equity by Sagarmala Development Co. Ltd.

    a. SDCL to provide 49% equity funding to residual projects

    b. monitoring is to be jointly done by SDCL and implementing agency at the SPV level

    c.  project proponent to bear operation and maintenance costs of the project

     i. importantly, expenses incurred for project development to be treated as part of SDCL’s equity contribution

     ii. preferences to be given to projects where land is being contributed by the project proponent

What are the main financing issues?

  1. Role of MDBs and BDBs for promotion of shipping sector in the country
  2. provision of long-term low-cost loans to shipping companies for procurement of vessels
  3. PPPs (coastal employment zones, port connectivity projects), EPCs, ECBs (port expansion and new port development), FDI in Make in India 2.0 of which shipping is a major sector identified, and conventional bank financing for port modernization and port connectivity

the major constraining factors, however, are:

  1. uncertainty in the shipping sector, cyclical business nature
  2. immature financial markets

Conjuncted: Balance of Payments in a Dirty Float System, or Why Central Banks Find It Ineligible to Conduct Independent Monetary Policies? Thought of the Day

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If the rate of interest is partly a monetary phenomenon, money will have real effects working through variations in investment expenditure and the capital stock. Secondly, if there are unemployed resources, the impact of increases in the money supply will first be on output, and not on prices. It was, indeed, Keynes’s view expressed in his General Theory that throughout history the propensity to save has been greater than the propensity to invest, and that pervasive uncertainty and the desire for liquidity has in general kept the rate of interest too high. Given the prevailing economic conditions of the 1930s when Keynes was writing, it was no accident that he should have devoted part of the General Theory to a defence of mercantilism as containing important germs of truth:

What I want is to do justice to schools of thought which the classicals have treated as imbeciles for the last hundred years and, above all, to show that I am not really being so great an innovator, except as against the classical school, but have important predecessors, and am returning to an age-long tradition of common sense.

The mercantilists recognised, like Keynes, that the rate of interest is determined by monetary conditions, and that it could be too high to secure full employment, and in relation to the needs of growth. As Keynes put it in the General Theory:

mercantilist thought never supposed as later economists did [for example, Ricardo, and even Alfred Marshall] that there was a self-adjusting tendency by which the rate of interest would be established at the appropriate level [for full employment].

It was David Ricardo, in his The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, who accepted and developed Say’s law of markets that supply creates its own demand, and who for the first time expounded the theory of comparative advantage, which laid the early foundations for orthodox trade and growth theory that has prevailed ever since. Ricardian trade theory, however, is real theory relating to the reallocation of real resources through trade which ignores the monetary aspects of trade; that is, the balance between exports and imports as trade takes place. In other words, it ignores the balance of payments effects of trade that arises as a result of trade specialization, and the feedback effects that the balance of payments can have on the real economy. Moreover, continuous full employment is assumed because supply creates its own demand through variations in the real rate of interest. These aspects question the prevalence of Ricardian theory in orthodox trade and growth theory to a large extent in today’s scenario. But in relation to trade, as Keynes put it:

free trade assumes that if you throw men out of work in one direction you re-employ them in another. As soon as that link in the chain is broken the whole of the free trade argument breaks down.

In other words, the real income gains from specialization may be offset by the real income losses from unemployment. Now, suppose that payments deficits arise in the process of international specialization and the freeing of trade, and the rate of interest has to be raised to attract foreign capital inflows to finance them. Or suppose deficits cannot be financed and income has to be deflated to reduce imports. The balance of payments consequences of trade may offset the real income gains from trade.

This raises the question of why the orthodoxy ignores the balance of payments? There are several reasons, both old and new, that all relate to the balance of payments as a self-adjusting process, or simply as a mirror image of autonomous capital flows, with no income adjustment implied. Until the First World War, the mechanism was the gold standard. The balance of payments was supposed to be self-equilibrating because countries in surplus, accumulating gold, would lose competitiveness through rising prices (Hume’s quantity theory of money), and countries in deficit losing gold would gain competitiveness through falling prices. The balance of payments was assumed effectively to look after itself through relative price adjustments without any change in income or output. After the external gold standard collapsed in 1931, the theory of flexible exchange rates was developed, and it was shown that if the real exchange rate is flexible, and the so-called Marshall–Lerner condition is satisfied (i.e. the sum of the price elasticities of demand for exports and imports is greater than unity), the balance of payments will equilibrate; again, without income adjustment.

In modern theory, balance of payments deficits are assumed to be inherently temporary as the outcome of inter-temporal decisions by private agents concerning consumption. Deficits are the outcome of rational decisions to consume now and pay later. Deficits are merely a form of consumption smoothing, and present no difficulty for countries. And then there is the Panglossian view that the current account of the balance of payments is of no consequence at all because it simply reflects the desire of foreigners to invest in a country. Current account deficits should be seen as a sign of economic success, not as a weakness.

It is not difficult to question how balance of payments looks after itself, or does not have consequences for long-run growth. As far as the old gold standard mechanism is concerned, instead of the price levels of deficit and surplus countries moving in opposite directions, there was a tendency in the nineteenth century for the price levels of countries to move together in the same direction. In practice, it was not movements in relative prices that equilibrated the balance of payments but expenditure and output changes associated with interest rate differentials. Interest rates rose in deficit countries which deflated demand and output, and fell in surplus countries stimulating demand.

On the question of flexible exchange rates as an equilibrating device, a distinction first needs to be made between the nominal exchange rate and the real exchange rate. It is easy for countries to adjust the nominal rate, but not so easy to adjust the real rate because competitors may “price to market” or retaliate, and domestic prices may rise with a nominal devaluation. Secondly, the Marshall–Lerner condition then has to be satisfied for the balance of payments to equilibrate. This may not be the case in the short run, or because of the nature of goods exported and imported by a particular country. The international evidence over the past almost half a century years since the breakdown of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system suggests that exchange rate changes are not an efficient balance of payments adjustment weapon. Currencies appreciate and depreciate and still massive global imbalances of payments remain.

On the inter-temporal substitution effect, it is wrong to give the impression that inter-temporal shifts in consumption behaviour do not have real effects, particularly if interest rates have to rise to finance deficits caused by more consumption in the present if countries do not want their exchange rate to depreciate. On the view that deficits are a sign of success, an important distinction needs to be made between types of capital inflows. If the capital flows are autonomous, such as foreign direct investment, the argument is plausible, but if they are “accommodating” in the form of loans from the banking system or the sale of securities to foreign governments and international organizations, the probable need to raise interest rates will again have real effects by reducing investment and output domestically.

Indecent Bazaars. Thought of the Day 113.0

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Peripheral markets may be defined as markets which generate only a small proportion of their financial inflows from local business and investors, but which attract the interest of ‘global’ investors. Emerging markets and markets for financial exotica such as financial derivatives are examples of such peripheral markets. Because emerging markets are largely dependent upon attracting international funds in order to generate increases in securities prices and capital gains which will attract further funds, they are particularly good examples of the principles of Ponzi finance at work in securities markets.

A common characteristic feature of peripheral markets is that they have no history of returns to financial investment on the scale on which finance is drawn to those markets in a time of capital market inflation. Such returns in the future have to be inferred on the basis of conjecture and fragmentary information. Investment decisions are therefore more dependent on sentiment, rather than reason. Any optimism is quickly justified by the rapid increase in asset prices in response to even a modest excess net inflow of money into such a market.

Emerging markets illustrate this very clearly. Such markets exist in developing and semi-industrialized countries with relatively undeveloped pensions and insurance institutions, principally because only a small proportion of households earn enough to be able to put aside long-term savings. The first fund manager comes upon such a market in the conviction that a change of government or government policy, or some temporary change in commodity prices, has opened a cornucopia of profitable opportunities and therefore warrants the dismissal of a history of economic, financial and political instability. If he or she is able with buying and enthusiasm to attract other speculators and fund managers to enter the market, they may drive up asset prices and make the largest capital gains. The second and third fund managers to buy into that market also make capital gains. The emulatory competition of trading on reputation while competing for returns makes international investment managers especially prone to this kind of ‘herd’ investment.

For a while such capital inflows into the market make everyone happy: international fund managers are able to show good returns from the funds in their care; finance theorists can reassure themselves that greater financial risks are compensated by higher returns; the government of the country in which the emerging market is located can sell its bonds and public sector enterprises to willing foreign investors and use the proceeds to balance its budget and repay its debts; the watchdogs of financial prudence in the International Monetary Fund can hail the revival of finance, the government’s commitment to private enterprise and apparent fiscal responsibility; state enterprises, hitherto stagnating because of under-investment by over-indebted governments, suddenly find themselves in the private sector commanding seemingly limitless opportunities for raising finance; the country’s currency after years of depreciation acquires a gilt-edged stability as dollars (the principal currency of international investment) flow in to be exchanged for local currency with which to buy local securities; the central bank accumulates dollars in exchange for the local currency that it issues to enable foreign investors to invest in the local markets and, with larger reserves, secures a new ease in managing its foreign liabilities; the indigenous middle and professional classes who buy financial and property (real estate) assets in time for the boom are enriched and for once cease their perennial grumbling at the sordid reality of life in a poor country. In this conjuncture the most banal shibboleths of enterprise and economic progress under capitalism appear like the very essence of worldly wisdom.

Only in such a situation of capital market inflation are the supposed benefits of foreign direct investment realized. Such investment by multinational companies is widely held to improve the ‘quality’ or productivity of local labour, management and technical know-how in less developed countries, whose technology and organization of labour lags behind that of the more industrialized countries. But only the most doltish and ignorant peasant would not have his or her productivity increased by being set to work with a machine of relatively recent vintage under the guidance of a manager familiar with that machine and the kind of work organization that it requires. It is more doubtful whether the initial increase in productivity can be realized without a corresponding increase in the export market (developing countries have relatively small home markets). It is even more doubtful if the productivity increase can be repeated without the replacement of the machinery by even newer machinery.

The favourable conjuncture in the capital markets of developing countries can be even more temporary. There are limits on the extent to which even private sector companies may take on financial liabilities and privatization is merely a system for transferring such liabilities from the government to the private sector without increasing the financial resources of the companies privatized. But to sustain capital gains in the emerging stock market, additional funds have to continue to flow in buying new liabilities of the government or the private sector, or buying out local investors. When new securities cease to attract international fund managers, the inflow stops. Sometimes this happens when the government privatization drive pauses, because the government runs out of attractive state enterprises or there are political and procedural difficulties in selling them. A fall in the proceeds from privatization may reveal the government’s underlying fiscal deficit, causing the pundits of international finance to sense the odour of financial unsoundness. More commonly rising imports and general price inflation, due to the economic boom set off by the inflow of foreign funds, arouse just such an odour in the noses of those pundits. Such financial soundness is a subjective view. Even if nothing is wrong in the country concerned, the prospective capital gain and yield in some other market need only rise above the expected inflation and yield of the country, to cause a capital outflow which will usually be justified in retrospect by an appeal to perceived, if not actual, financial disequilibrium.

Ponzi financial structures are characterized by ephemeral liquidity. At the time when money is coming into the markets they appear to be just the neo-classical ideal of market perfection, with lots of buyers and sellers scrambling for bargains and arbitrage profits. At the moment when disinvestment takes hold the true nature of peripheral markets and their ephemeral liquidity is revealed as trades which previously sped through in the frantic paper chase for profits are now frustrated. This too is particularly apparent in emerging markets. In order to sell, a buyer is necessary. If the majority of investors in a market also wish to sell, then sales cannot be executed for want of a buyer and the apparently perfect market liquidity dries up. The crash of the emerging stock market is followed by the fall in the exchange value of the local currency. Those international investors that succeeded in selling now have local currency which has to be converted into dollars if the proceeds of the sale are to be repatriated, or invested elsewhere. Exchange through the local banking system may now be frustrated if it has inadequate dollar reserves: a strong possibility if the central bank has been using dollars to service foreign debts. In spite of all the reassurance that this time it will be different because capital inflows are secured on financial instruments issued by the private sector, international investors are at this point as much at the mercy of the central bank and the government of an emerging market as international banks were at the height of the sovereign debt crisis. Moreover, the greater the success of the peripheral market in attracting funds, and hence the greater the boom in prices in that market, the greater is the desired outflow when it comes. With the fall in liquidity of financial markets in developing countries comes a fall in the liquidity of foreign direct investment, making it difficult to secure appropriate local financial support or repatriate profits.

Another factor which contributes to the fragility of peripheral markets is the opaqueness of financial accounting in them, in the sense that however precise and discriminating may be the financial accounting conventions, rules and reporting, they do not provide accurate indicators of the financial prospects of particular investments. In emerging markets this is commonly supposed to be because they lack the accounting regulations and expertise which supports the sophisticated integrated financial markets of the industrialized countries. In those industrialized countries, where accounting procedures are supposed to be much more transparent, peripheral markets such as venture capital and financial futures still suffer from accounting inadequacies because financial innovation introduces liabilities that have no history and which are not included in conventional accounts (notably the so-called ‘off-balance sheet’ liabilities). More important than these gaps in financial reporting is the volatility of profits from financial investment in such peripheral markets, and the absence of any stable relationship between profits from trading in their instruments and the previous history of those instruments or the financial performance of the company issuing them. Thus, even where financial records are comprehensive, accurate and revealed, they are a poor indicator of prospective returns from investments in the securities of peripheral markets.

With more than usually unreliable financial data, trading in those markets is much more based on reputation than on any systematic financial analysis: the second and third investor in such a market is attracted by the reputation of the first and subsequently the second investor. Because of the direct connection between financial inflows and values in securities markets, the more trading takes place on the basis of reputation the less of a guide to prospective returns is afforded by financial analysis. Peripheral markets are therefore much more prone to ‘ramping’ than other markets.

Why would such a crisis of withdrawal not occur, at least not on such a scale, in the more locally integrated capital markets of the advanced industrialised countries? First of all, integrated capital markets such as those of the UK, and the US are the domestic base for international investors. In periods of financial turbulence, they are more likely to have funds repatriated to them than to have funds taken out of them. Second, institutional investors tend to be more responsive to pressure to be ‘responsible investors’ in their home countries. In large measure this is because home securities make up the vast majority of investment fund portfolios. Ultimately, investment institutions will use their liquidity to protect the markets in which most of their portfolio is based. Finally, the locally integrated markets of the advanced industrialized countries have investing institutions with far greater wealth than the developing or semi-industrialized countries. Those markets are home for the pension funds which dominate the world markets. Among their wealth are deposits and other liquid assets which may be easily converted to support a stock market by buying securities. The poorer countries of the world have even poorer pension funds, which could not support their markets against an outflow due to portfolio switches by international investors.

Thus integrated markets are more ‘secure’ in that they are less prone to collapse than emerging or, more generally, peripheral markets. But precisely because of the large amount of trade already concentrated in the integrated markets, prices in them are much less likely to respond to investment fund inflows from abroad. Pension and insurance fund practice is to extrapolate those capital gains into the future for the purposes of determining the solvency of those funds. However, those gains were obtained because of a combination of inflation, the increased scope of funded pensions and the flight of funds from peripheral markets.

Convertible Arbitrage. Thought of the Day 108.0

A convertible bond can be thought of as a fixed income security that has an embedded equity call option. The convertible investor has the right, but not the obligation, to convert (exchange) the bond into a predetermined number of common shares. The investor will presumably convert sometime at or before the maturity of the bond if the value of the common shares exceeds the cash redemption value of the bond. The convertible therefore has both debt and equity characteristics and, as a result, provides an asymmetrical risk and return profile. Until the investor converts the bond into common shares of the issuer, the issuer is obligated to pay a fixed coupon to the investor and repay the bond at maturity if conversion never occurs. A convertible’s price is sensitive to, among other things, changes in market interest rates, credit risk of the issuer, and the issuer’s common share price and share price volatility.

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Analysis of convertible bond prices factors in three different sources of value: investment value, conversion value, and option value. The investment value is the theoretical value at which the bond would trade if it were not convertible. This represents the security’s floor value, or minimum price at which it should trade as a nonconvertible bond. The conversion value represents the value of the common stock into which the bond can be converted. If, for example, these shares are trading at $30 and the bond can convert into 100 shares, the conversion value is $3,000. The investment value and conversion value can be considered, at maturity, the low and high price boundaries for the convertible bond. The option value represents the theoretical value of having the right, but not the obligation, to convert the bond into common shares. Until maturity, a convertible trades at a price between the investment value and the option value.

A Black-Scholes option pricing model, in combination with a bond valuation model, can be used to price a convertible security. However, a binomial option model, with some adjustments, is the best method for determining the value of a convertible security. Convertible arbitrage is a market-neutral investment strategy that involves the simultaneous purchase of convertible securities and the short sale of common shares (selling borrowed stock) that underlie the convertible. An investor attempts to exploit inefficiencies in the pricing of the convertible in relation to the security’s embedded call option on the convertible issuer’s common stock. In addition, there are cash flows associated with the arbitrage position that combine with the security’s inefficient pricing to create favorable returns to an investor who is able to properly manage a hedge position through a dynamic hedging process. The hedge involves selling short a percentage of the shares that the convertible can convert into based on the change in the convertible’s price with respect to the change in the underlying common stock price (delta) and the change in delta with respect to the change in the underlying common stock (gamma). The short position must be adjusted frequently in an attempt to neutralize the impact of changing common share prices during the life of the convertible security. This process of managing the short position in the issuer’s stock is called “delta hedging.”

If hedging is done properly, whenever the convertible issuer’s common share price decreases, the gain from the short stock position should exceed the loss from the convertible holding. Equally, whenever the issuer’s common share price increases, the gain from the convertible holding should exceed the loss from the short stock position. In addition to the returns produced by delta hedging, the investor will receive returns from the convertible’s coupon payment and interest income associated with the short stock sale. However, this cash flow is reduced by paying a cash amount to stock lenders equal to the dividend the lenders would have received if the stock were not loaned to the convertible investor, and further reduced by stock borrow costs paid to a prime broker. In addition, if the investor leverages the investment by borrowing cash from a prime broker, there will be interest expense on the loan. Finally, if an investor chooses to hedge credit risk of the issuer, or interest rate risk, there will be additional costs associated with credit default swaps and a short Treasury position. This strategy attempts to create returns that exceed the returns that would be available from purchasing a nonconverting bond with the same maturity issued by the same issuer, without being exposed to common share price risk. Most convertible arbitrageurs attempt to achieve double-digit annual returns from convertible arbitrage.

Conjuncted: Speculatively Accelerated Capital – Trading Outside the Pit.

hft

High Frequency Traders (HFTs hereafter) may anticipate the trades of a mutual fund, for instance, if the mutual fund splits large orders into a series of smaller ones and the initial trades reveal information about the mutual funds’ future trading intentions. HFTs might also forecast order flow if traditional asset managers with similar trading demands do not all trade at the same time, allowing the possibility that the initiation of a trade by one mutual fund could forecast similar future trades by other mutual funds. If an HFT were able to forecast a traditional asset managers’ order flow by either these or some other means, then the HFT could potentially trade ahead of them and profit from the traditional asset manager’s subsequent price impact.

There are two main empirical implications of HFTs engaging in such a trading strategy. The first implication is that HFT trading should lead non-HFT trading – if an HFT buys a stock, non-HFTs should subsequently come into the market and buy those same stocks. Second, since the HFT’s objective would be to profit from non-HFTs’ subsequent price impact, it should be the case that the prices of the stocks they buy rise and those of the stocks they sell fall. These two patterns, together, are consistent with HFTs trading stocks in order to profit from non-HFTs’ future buying and selling pressure. 

While HFTs may in aggregate anticipate non-HFT order flow, it is also possible that among HFTs, some firms’ trades are strongly correlated with future non-HFT order flow, while other firms’ trades have little or no correlation with non-HFT order flow. This may be the case if certain HFTs focus more on strategies that anticipate order flow or if some HFTs are more skilled than other firms. If certain HFTs are better at forecasting order flow or if they focus more on such a strategy, then these HFTs’ trades should be consistently more strongly correlated with future non-HFT trades than are trades from other HFTs. Additionally, if these HFTs are more skilled, then one might expect these HFTs’ trades to be more strongly correlated with future returns. 

Another implication of the anticipatory trading hypothesis is that the correlation between HFT trades and future non-HFT trades should be stronger at times when non-HFTs are impatient. The reason is anticipating buying and selling pressure requires forecasting future trades based on patterns in past trades and orders. To make anticipating their order flow difficult, non-HFTs typically use execution algorithms to disguise their trading intentions. But there is a trade-off between disguising order flow and trading a large position quickly. When non-HFTs are impatient and focused on trading a position quickly, they may not hide their order flow as well, making it easier for HFTs to anticipate their trades. At such times, the correlation between HFT trades and future non-HFT trades should be stronger. 

Delta Neutral Volatility Trading

Delta-Neutral-Option-Chain

Price prediction is extremely difficult because, price fluctuations are small and are secondary to liquidity fluctuation. A question arises whether liquidity deficit can be traded directly. If we accept that liquidity deficit is an entity of the same nature as volatility then the answer is yes, and liquidity deficit can be traded through some kind of derivative instruments. Let us illustrate the approach on a simple case – options trading. Whatever option model is used, the key element of it is implied volatility. Implied volatility trading strategy can be implemented through trading some delta–neutral “synthetic asset”, built e.g. as long–short pairs of a call on an asset and an asset itself, call–put pairs or similar “delta–neutral vehicles”. Delta neutral is a portfolio strategy consisting of multiple positions with offsetting positive and negative deltas so that the overall delta of the assets in questions totals zero. A delta-neutral portfolio balances the response to market movements for a certain range to bring the net change of the position to zero. Delta measures how much an option’s price changes when the underlying security’s price changes. Optimal implementation of such “synthetic asset” depends on commissions, liquidity available, exchange access, etc. and varies from fund to fund. Assume we have built such delta–neutral instrument, the price of which depend on volatility only. How to trade it? We have the same two requirements: 1) Avoid catastrophic P&L drain and 2) Predict future value of volatility (forward volatility). Now, when trading delta–neutral strategy, this matches exactly our theory and trading algorithm becomes this.

  1. If for underlying asset we have (execution flow at time t = 0) I0 < IIL (liquidity deficit) then enter “long volatility” position for “delta–neutral” synthetic asset. This enter condition means that if current execution flow is low – future value of it will be high. If at current price,  the value of I0 is low – the price would change to increase future I.
  2. If for underlying asset we have (execution flow at time t = 0) I0 > IIH then close existing “long volatility” position for “delta–neutral” synthetic asset. At high I0 future value of I cannot be determined, it can either go down (typically) or increase even more (much more seldom, but just few such events sufficient to incur catastrophic P&L drain). According to main concept of P&L trading strategy, one should have zero position during market uncertainty.

The reason why this strategy is expected to be profitable is that experiments show that implied volatility is very much price fluctuation–dependent, and execution flow spikes I0 > IIH in underlying asset typically lead to substantial price move of it and then implied volatility increase for “synthetic asset”. This strategy is a typical “buy low volatility”, then “sell high volatility”. The key difference from regular case is that, instead of price volatility, liquidity deficit is used as a proxy to forward volatility. The described strategy never goes short volatility, so catastrophic P&L drain is unlikely. In addition to that, actual trading implementation requires the use of “delta–neutral” synthetic asset, what incurs substantial costs on commissions and execution, and thus actual P&L is difficult to estimate without existing setup for high–frequency option trading.