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4 of 4 results found for - "Satyajit Das"  
[Quote No.56121] Need Area: Money > Tax
"[Taxation, political honesty and buying votes in a democracy:] Writing about the US in 'The American Future', historian Simon Schama observed that no one ever won an election by telling the electorate that it had come to the end of its 'providential allotment of inexhaustible plenty'." - Satyajit Das
He is a former banker and the author of 'Traders Guns & Money' and 'Extreme Money'. [ ]
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[Quote No.30669] Need Area: Money > Invest
"[Here is an article that sheds more light on the process whereby the cost of money - the interest rate, was kept so low that a super-liquidity cycle developed that when it crashed in 2007-9 it caused a catastrophic credit crisis and a global recession] In recent years, money was cheap and other assets were expensive. As each of the global economy’s credit creation engines breaks down and systemic leverage reduces, money becomes scarce and expensive triggering adjustments in asset prices in a reversal of this process. In the current financial crisis, the quantum of available capital, the munificent resources of central banks and sovereign wealth funds and the globalisation of capital flows may be some of the accepted 'facts' that are revealed to be grand illusions. As Mark Twain once advised: 'Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live'. --Reserve Illusions: In recent years, there has been speculation about the amount of capital or liquidity available for investment globally. The substantial reserves of central banks and, their acolytes, sovereign wealth funds were frequently cited in support of the case for a large pool of 'unleveraged' liquidity, that is 'real' money. In reality, the available pool of money may be more modest than assumed. For example, China has close to $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves. The reserves arise from dollars received from exports and foreign investment into China that are exchanged into Renminbi. The central bank generates Renminbi by printing money or borrowing through issuing bonds in the domestic market. On China’s 'balance sheet', the reserves are essentially 'leveraged' using domestic 'liabilities'. In order to avoid increases in the value of the Renminbi that would affect the competitive position of its exporters, China undertakes 'currency sterilisation' operations where it issues bonds to mop up the excess liquidity. China incurs costs – effectively a subsidy to its exporters - of around $60 billion per annum (the difference between the rate it pays on its Renminbi debt and the investment income on it reserves). The dollars acquired are invested in foreign currency assets, around 60% in dollar denominated US Treasury bonds, GSE [Government Sponsored Enterprises] paper (such as Freddie and Fannie Mae debt) and other high quality securities. China is exposed to price changes in these investments and currency risk because of the mismatch between foreign currency assets funded with local currency debt. Deterioration in the US economy and the need to issue additional debt to support the financial sector may place increasing pressure on the US sovereign rating and the dollar. US Government support for financial institutions is already approaching 6% of GDP compared to less than 4% for the Savings and Loans crisis. Deterioration in the credit quality of the United States results in losses on investment through falls in the market value of the debt and a weaker dollar. The credit default swap ('CDS') market for sovereign debt is increasingly pricing in increased funding costs for the US. The fee for hedging against losses on $10 million of Treasuries was about 0.58% pa for 10 years (equivalent to $58,000 annually) in December 2008. This is an increase from 0.01% pa ($1,000) in 2007 and 0.40% pa ($40,000) in October 2008. It is also not easy to tap this liquidity pool. Given the size of the portfolios, it is difficult for large investors like China to rapidly mobilise a large portion of these funds by liquidating their investments and converting them into the home currency without substantial losses. This means that this money may not, in reality, be available, at least at short notice. If the dollar assets lose value or cannot be accessed then China must still service its liabilities. It can print money but will suffer the economic consequences including inflation and higher funding costs. The position of emerging market sovereign investors with large portfolios of dollar assets is similar to that of a bank or leveraged hedge fund with poor quality assets. China’s Premier Wen Jiabao recently expressed concern: 'If anything goes wrong in the U.S. financial sector, we are anxious about the safety and security of Chinese capital...' In December 2008, Wang Qishan, a Chinese vice-premier, noted: 'We hope the US side will take the necessary measures to stabilise the economy and financial markets as well as guarantee the safety of China’s assets and investments in the US.' There are other factors affecting the availability of the reserves at central banks and sovereign wealth funds. In recent years, sovereign wealth funds have also suffered losses on some of their investments, most notably in US and European financial institutions. Some central banks have been forced to utilise some of the reserves to support the domestic economy and banking system. For example, South Korea has used a portion of its reserves to provide dollars to banks unable to re-finance short-term dollar borrowings in international money markets. Russia has similarly used a significant portion of its reserves to support financial institutions and also its domestic markets. Russia’s reserves, which rank third after China’s and Japan’s reserves in size, have fallen $122.7 billion, or 21 percent, since August 2008. The reserves, including oil funds that exclusively act as a safety cushion for the budget, stood at $475.4 billion on November 2008. --Capital Illusions: The substantial build-up of foreign reserves in central banks of emerging markets and developing countries, as identified by David Roche (see David Roche and Bob McKee (2007) New Monetarism; Independent Strategy Publications), is really a liquidity creation scheme that relies on the dollar's favoured position in trade and as a reserve currency. Many global currencies are pegged to the dollar at an artificially low rate, like the Chinese Renminbi to maintain export competitiveness. This creates an outflow of dollars (via the trade deficit that is driven by excess US demand for imports based on an overvalued dollar). Foreign central bankers are forced to purchase US debt with dollars to mitigate upward pressure on their domestic currency. Large, liquid markets in dollars and dollar investments capable of accommodating the very large investment requirements and the historically unimpeachable credit quality of the US sovereign assets facilitated the process. The recycled dollars flow back to the US to finance the spending. This merry-go-round is a significant source of liquidity creation in financial markets. It also kept US interest rates and cost of capital low encouraging further borrowing to finance consumption and imports to keep the cycle going. This process increased the velocity of money and exaggerated the level of global liquidity. The large build-up in reserves in oil exporters from higher oil prices and higher demand from strong world growth was also re-cycled into US dollar debt. The entire process was reminiscent of the 'petro-dollar' recycling of the 1970s. The central banks holding reserves were lending the funds used to purchase goods from the country. In effect, the exporter never got paid at least until the loan to the buyer (the vendor finance) was paid off. As the debt crisis intensifies and global growth diminishes with increased defaults, it is increasingly likely that this debt will not be paid back in it entirety. This liquidity circulation process supported, in part, the growth in global trade. This too may have been an illusion as the underlying process is a gigantic vendor financing scheme. --Trade Illusions: An accepted article of economic faith is that failure of economic co-operation and resurgent nationalism in the form of trade protectionism (for example, the Smoot-Hawley Act) contributed to the global financial crisis of the 1930s. The stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent banking crisis caused a collapse in financing and global demand resulting in a sharp of the US trade surplus. Smoot-Hawley was passed in 1930 to deal with the problem of over-capacity in the U.S. economy through higher tariffs designed to increase domestic firms’ market share. The higher US tariffs led to retaliation from trading partners affecting global trade. The slowdown in central bank reserve re-circulation affects global trade through the decrease in the availability of financing for purchasers to buy goods and services. This is apparent in the sharp slowdown in consumer consumption in the US, UK and other economies. The availability of cheap finance also helped drive up the prices which, in turn, allowed excessive borrowing against the inflated value of these assets that fuelled consumption. Weakness in the global banking system (in particular, loan losses, the lack of capital and concerns about counterparty risk between large financial institutions) contributes to restricted availability of trade letters of credit, guarantees and trade finance generally. This exacerbates the problem. The restrictions, in turn, further impact on the level of trade flows and capital re-circulation resulting in a further decrease in trade activity that in turn further slows down international credit creation. It is not easy to fix the problem. Redirection of capital held in central banks and sovereign wealth funds to domestic economies affects the global capital flows needed to finance the debtor countries, such as the US and re-capitalise the banking system. Maintenance of the cross border capital flows to finance the debtor countries budget and trade deficits slows down growth in emerging countries and also perpetuates the imbalances. Trade has become subordinate to and the handmaiden of capital flows. As capital flows slow down, global trade follows. Indirectly, the contraction of cross border capital flows and credit acts as a barrier to trade. In each case, de-leveraging is the end result. This opens the way to 'capital protectionism'. Foreign investors may change their focus and reduce their willingness to finance the US. Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Prime Minister, indicated that China’s 'greatest contribution to the world' would be to keep it’s own economy running smoothly. This may signal a shift whereby China uses its savings to invest in the domestic economy rather than to finance US needs. China and other emerging countries with large reserves were motivated to build surpluses in response to the Asian crisis of 1997-98. Reserves were seen as protection against the destabilising volatility of short term capital flows. The strategy has proved to be flawed. It promoted a global economy based on 'vendor financing' by the exporting nations. The strategy also exposed the emerging countries to the currency and credit risk of the investments made with the reserves. Significant shifts in economic strategy are likely. Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the Chinese central bank, commented: 'Over-consumption and a high reliance on credit is the cause of the US financial crisis. As the largest and most important economy in the world, the US should take the initiative to adjust its policies, raise its savings ratio appropriately and reduce its trade and fiscal deficits.' More ominously Chinese President Hu Jintao recently noted: 'From a long-term perspective, it is necessary to change those models of economic growth that are not sustainable and to address the underlying problems in member economies.' There is also the risk of 'traditional' trade protectionism. The end of the current liquidity cycle, like the one in the 1930s, may cause a sharp fall in exports. Exporting countries, seeking to maintain domestic growth may try to boost exports by devaluation of the currency or subsidies. Import tariffs are less effective unless there is a large domestic market. Recently the governor of the Chinese central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, did not rule out China depreciating its currency. The change in these credit engines also distorts currency values and the patterns of global trade and capital flows. The current strength in the dollar particularly against the Euro reflects repatriation of capital by investors and the shortage of dollars from the slowdown in the dollar liquidity re-circulation process. It is also driven by the reliance on short-term dollar financing of some banks and countries and the need for re-financing. This is evident in the persistence of high inter-bank dollar rates and dollar strength. The strength of the dollar is unhelpful in facilitating the required adjustment in the current account and also financing of the US budget deficit. The slowdown in the credit and liquidity processes outlined may have long-term effects on global trade flows. As Mark Twain also observed: 'History doesn't repeat but it rhymes.' --End of 'Candy Floss' Money: Gillian Tett of the Financial Times coined the phrase (see 'Should Atlas still shrug?' (15 January 2007) Financial Times) 'candy floss money'. New financial technology spun available 'real' money into an exaggerated bubble that, like its fairground equivalent, collapses ultimately. The global liquidity process was multi-faceted. There was traditional domestic credit creation system built on the fractional reserve system that underpins banking. The leverage in the system was pushed to extreme levels. Losses and renewed regulation are forcing this system of credit creation to shut down. The foreign exchange reserve system was another part of the global credit process. Dollar liquidity re-circulation has also slowed as a result of reduced trade flows (driven by falls in US consumption and imports), losses on dollar investments, domestic claims on reserves and the inability to readily mobilise large amount of reserves. Another credit process - the export of Yen savings (via the Yen carry trade and acquisition of foreign assets by Japanese investors) - has also slowed. The focus of the November 2008 G-20 meeting was firmly on financial sector reform. Stabilisation of global capital flows in the short term and addressing global imbalances over the medium to long term barely merited a mention. It may well come to be seen in coming weeks and months as a major missed opportunity to address these issues. Markets placed great faith in the volume of money available to support asset prices and assist in alleviating shortages of liquidity. The perceived abundance of liquidity was, in reality, merely an illusion created by high levels of debt and leverage as well as the structure of global capital flows. As the financial system de-leverages, it is becoming clear, unsurprisingly, that available capital is more limited than previously estimated. As Sigmund Freud once observed: 'Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.' There is an apocryphal story about a disgraced rock star who ended up in bankruptcy court. When asked what happened to his fortune of several million dollars, he responded: 'Some went in drugs and alcohol, I gambled some of it away, some went on women and the rest I probably wasted!' Financial markets have 'wasted' a staggering amount of money that ironically probably did not exist in the first place." - Satyajit Das
risk consultant and author of 'Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives'. Published in the RGE Monitor, Dec 9, 2008.
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[Quote No.45207] Need Area: Money > Invest
"[As Austrian economics suggests and the following article explains artificially and unsustainably low interest rates are dangerous:] -- ZIRP and QE: Central Bankers’ Narcotics of Choice: Singer Robert Palmer was ‘addicted to love’. The world is now [in 2012] addicted to low interest rates. Central banks also display signs of acronym-o-mania, an addiction to acronyms: ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy), QE (Quantitative Easing) etc. Following the global financial crisis [in 2008], policy interest rates in the USA, Europe, UK and Japan were reduced sharply. The US Federal Reserve has committed to holding rates around zero for the foreseeable future [stated as until 2015]. Faced with deep-seated economic problems, other central banks are following a similar strategy. Where interest rates are zero and cannot be lowered further, novel forms of monetary accommodation, quantitative easing are in vogue, to keep rates low. Low interest rates have become a panacea for economic problems. In part, this is driven by the unwillingness of governments to run budget deficits, reflecting increasing scrutiny of public finances [very high government debt-to-gdp ratios, for example above 90%, which according to Reinhart and Rogoff, is where the debt starts to lower future economic growth] and investor reluctance to finance such deficits, as highlighted by the ongoing European debt crisis. The US has undertaken 3 doses of QE to date. Based on the experience of Japan (which is up to QE 8 or 9), further doses may be administered. Federal Reserve may even undertake direct purchase of risky assets such as corporate debt or even stocks, following the precedent set by the Bank of Japan. But like all addictions, low interest rates are dangerous. They may be also ineffective in addressing the real economic issues. -- Unreal Economics… Financial markets have generally reacted positively to low rates, pushing up stock and financial asset prices [consistent with the Fed Model stock valuation methodology]. But low rates [due to low inflation] point to a worrying lack of growth. Low rates also highlight the increasing risk of deflation and a severe contraction in economic activity. Given that growth and inflation are the primary requirements for a relatively painless reduction in elevated debt levels globally, the enthusiasm among investors and citizens is curious. The clear hope is that low rates will revive the ‘animal spirits’ of the economy. But the ability of low rates to boost real economic activity is unclear. The cost of funds is only one factor in the complex drivers of demand. In the housing market, demand depends on many factors – the level of required deposit, existing home equity (price of house received less outstanding debt), the ability to sell a current property, income levels and employment security. Low rates do little, in themselves, to address these issues. In the absence of growing demand for their products, businesses are unlikely to borrow to invest in new capacity based purely on the low cost of debt. Low rates also decrease income of retirees with fixed interest investments, reducing demand. Savings from lower interest rates, such as mortgage rates, are simply being used to retire debt, rather than increase consumption. While the reduction in debt levels is necessary, lower rates will, of itself, do little to boost demand and economic activity. Research by the Federal Reserve indicates limited impact of ZIRP and QE on the real economy. Stimulus from low interest rates is also temporary, with demand likely to revert to normal levels once rates increase. -- Strange Days… Low interest rates distort economic activity, especially where real interest rates (nominal rates adjusted for inflation) are low or negative. Low cost of debt encourages substitution of labour with capital in the production process [increasing capital investment, which reduces employment in those industries in the long-term]. Given 60-70% of activity in developed economies is driven by consumption, this reduces aggregate demand as employment and income levels decrease. Low rates favour borrowing, encouraging substitution of debt for equity in financing structures, increasing financial risk [as leverage increases]. Where companies and nations are over extended, this decreases incentives to reduce debt. In fact, low interest rates are economically identical to a disguised reduction of the principal amount of the loan. The effect of low rates on savings behaviour is complex. Low rates can discourage savings, creating a disincentive for capital accumulation which would reduce overall debt levels. Lower earning on savings should encourage spending stimulating economic activity but may perversely encourage greater saving to provide for future needs reducing consumption and demand. Low rates also increase the funding gap for defined benefit pension funds. Low rates do not necessarily increase the supply of credit as risk aversion and higher returns on capital encourage banks to invest in government securities, eschewing loans. Low interest rates also provide an artificial subsidy to financial institutions, allowing them to borrow cheaply and then invest in higher yielding safe assets such as governments bonds. Low rates encourage mispricing of risk, creating asset bubbles. Low costs of borrowing encourage investors to seek investments with income, feeding recent demand for high dividend paying shares and low grade [high risk] debt. Driven by low rates, investors have increased investment in complex capital securities issued by banks and corporations, taking on additional risk, which they may not fully understand, to generate higher income. Low rates also feed asset price inflation. Minimal opportunity costs allow investors to hold assets that pay no income in the hope of price increases, evidenced in demand for commodities and alternative investments such as art works. Money tied up in non-productive investments driven by artificial low rates reduces the flow of capital and economic activity. Announcing QE3, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke indicated that the plan was directed at boosting house and asset prices through purchases of mortgage backed securities. The comments were astonishing, failing to acknowledge the fact that a housing bubble caused by excessively low interest rates under his predecessor was a major contributor to the present economic problems. The suggestion was also startling in that it acknowledged that QE, of itself would not significantly increase economic activity directly. -- Externals… Whatever its effects on economic activity, ZIRP and QE have been effective in helping finance government borrowing and also weakening the currency. For example, the Federal Reserve has directly or indirectly been purchasers of around 60-70% of all US Treasury bond issuance. The Federal Reserve purchases Treasury bonds as part of their QE programs. Reserves within the banking system created by the Fed system allow financial institutions to purchase additional Treasury bonds. ZIRP and QE have helped weaken the dollar. Despite bouts of dollar buying on its safe haven status, the US dollar has significantly weakened over the last 2 years. On a trade weighted basis, the US dollar has lost around 20% against major currencies since 2009. The US dollar has lost around 30% against the Swiss Franc, 25% against the Canadian dollar, 35% against the Australian dollar and 20% against the Singapore dollar over the same period. The weaker US dollar allows the US to enhance its competitive position for exports – in effect, the devaluation is a de facto cut in costs. This is designed to drive economic growth. As the US dollar weakens it also improves America’s external position. US foreign investments and overseas income gain in value. But the major benefit is in relation to debt owned by foreigners. As most of its government debt is denominated in US dollars, devaluation reduces the value of its outstanding debt, making it easier for the US to service its debt. It forces existing investors to keep rolling over debt to avoid realising currency losses on their investments. It encourages existing investors to increase investment, to ‘double down’ to lower their average cost of US dollars and US government debt. As John Connally, US Treasury Secretary under President Nixon belligerently observed: ‘Our dollar, but your problem.’ Internationally, low interest rates distort currency values and encourage volatile, short term, cross-border capital flows [sometimes called ‘the carry-trade’] as investors seek higher returns. Low interest rates and quantitative easing has led to a significant shift of money into emerging countries. This has created destabilising asset bubbles and inflationary pressures. Higher commodity prices, driven by low rates, exacerbate inflation pressures requiring higher rates and reducing growth in emerging nations. As currency reserves are invested in US dollars and other developed currencies, emerging nations have suffered losses of their national savings as these reserve currencies fall in value. But a policy of seeking to lower the value of the US dollar or any currency risks retaliation. Countries may be forced to implement competitive QE programs or engineer competitive devaluations of their currency [a ‘currency war’] to protect trade and financial interests. It also risks imposition of restrictions on free movement of capital and goods and services, reducing the effectiveness of ZIRP and QE policies. -- Zombification… Experience in Japan with ZIRP and QE policies over an extended period [some 20 odd years] suggests that such policies damage the structure of the economy. The policies significantly distort the cost of capital and finance in an economy and impede adjustment. Low interest rates encourage ‘mal-investment’. Companies do not make necessary adjustments to strategy or business practices as the low funding costs enable them to continuing operating. Unproductive investments are not restructured or sold and additional low returning investments are made due to the artificially understated cost of capital. Ability to issue low cost debt allows governments to make unproductive investments or expenditures. Subsidised by low rates, banks may not write off bad loans, preferring instead to restructure the debt as low interest rates allow zombie companies to continue operations. Research studies by the IMF indicate that such policies increase the ultimate loan losses to banks. Low rates also encourage excessive risk taking by banks increasing risk and may ultimately resulting in additional cost to the government and taxpayer. Resolution of the banking problems ultimately absorbs significant government financial resources. It also restricts the supply of credit to the wider economy affecting economic activity. In effect, essential restructuring, removing the detritus of previous crises, is delayed. Misallocation of capital deepens the malaise and makes ultimate resolution more costly and difficult. -- Detoxification… One oft quoted definition of madness is repetition of a serious of actions and expecting a different outcome. The Japanese experience points to the limits of ZIRP and QE over a prolonged period of time. Yet central bankers and policy makers in developed countries believe that this is the correct medicine for current economic problems. They fail to recognize that if such policy were effective, Japan’s economic position should have returned to some semblance of normality by now. Central banks also convince themselves that ZIRP and QE policies are temporary. They believe that will be able to exit from a policy of low rates when appropriate. It is reminiscent of Ashly Lorenzana’s definition of addiction in her journal ‘Sex, Drugs & Being an Escort’: ‘When you can give up something any time, as long as it’s next Tuesday’. A sustained period of low rates, like the one the world is experiencing, makes it difficult to increase the cost of borrowing. Levels of debt encouraged by low rates would become rapidly unsustainable at higher rates. In effect, the policy compounds existing issues [for example too much private, business and public debt], making the problems ever more intractable. ZIRP and QE do not address the real issues but central banks and market participants believe that there is no alternative. Celebrity policy makers are relying on the advice of celebrity Russell Brand: ‘The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of day with some purchased relief.’ " - Satyajit Das
He is a former banker and author of 'Extreme Money' and 'Traders, Guns & Money'. This article was published on the economonitor website on November 13th, 2012. [ ] © 2012 Satyajit Das All Rights Reserved.
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[Quote No.31692] Need Area: Money > Spend
"[In debt, rather than investment, fuelled economies there three types of people] – 'the haves', 'the have-nots' and 'the have-not-paid-for-what-they-haves'." - Satyajit Das
Financial analyst and author.
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