Tag Archives: Banking reform

Updates from Chicago Booth

The cycle behind sovereign debt disasters
By Michael Maiello – In theory, sovereign debt can be a healthy part of a growing economy. Governments can borrow from creditors to fund trade deficits, importing goods from other countries so their citizens can buy the products and enjoy the benefits.

While that may be the idea, the results of such borrowing are generally disastrous, warns research by Stanford’s Peter M. DeMarzo, Chicago Booth’s Zhiguo He, and Copenhagen Business School’s Fabrice Tourre. There is no default plan for a sovereign borrower the way there is for, say, a corporate one—and borrower countries have proven unable or unwilling to commit to anything like one. Without the disciplining force of covenants, which are common in private-sector borrowing, the system doesn’t wholly account for the risks associated with economic booms and busts, which works against strategic, responsible borrowing.

The trio’s work on sovereign debt risks rests on a foundation of work by DeMarzo and He on private-sector debt, in which they describe the tendencies of corporations to borrow without restraint when they do not pledge collateral to specific lenders. As uncollateralized borrowers tend to issue debt in good times and bad, lenders demand ever-higher borrowing costs over time, erasing the benefits to the borrower company and increasing default risk. Collateral adds discipline to the process. In another study, DeMarzo argues that sovereign borrowers should pledge assets to creditors as collateral in the event of default. This latest research, with He and Tourre, suggests that such collateralization could crystallize the consequences of default and break the debt cycle that is so costly to so many citizens. more>

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Rising Rates May Signal Significant Market Shifts Ahead

Some investors may be tempted to buy amid the moderate dips in stock prices, but we lay out the rationale for a more nuanced approach.
By Lisa Shalett – The second half of February brought not just a market selloff, but also indications of a more serious potential shift in market outlook. Just two weeks after hitting a high of 3948 on Feb 16, the S&P 500, the benchmark index of the broader U.S. market, has fallen 3.5%, while the tech-and-growth-stock-heavy Nasdaq index is down about 6.4%. For some, that may seem like the kind of moderate dip that could be a buying opportunity, but we don’t believe that’s the case right now.

A close look at interest-rate dynamics suggests that fundamental market conditions may be changing. In the past two weeks, we’ve seen the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield surge as high as 1.6% from 1.3%—compared with its historic low of 0.5% last August. The recent surge may indicate a reassessment of the speed of the U.S. economic recovery and the likely Federal Reserve policy response.

Investor faith that interest rates would remain stable at very low levels has helped support sky-high price-to-earnings multiples this year. Growth stocks are often valued against the yield on a low-risk Treasury bond—the wider the spread, the larger premium that an investor is expected to pay for the added risk of growth. As rates move higher, stock prices often adjust to reflect that narrowing gap. That may be a big reason why tech stocks, in particular, got hit so hard last week.

Also, survey-based indicators from primary dealers and investors suggest that market participants believe that a tapering of the Fed’s bond-buying program will begin in the first quarter of 2022. For that timeline, the Fed would have to start signaling a shift later this year to avoid major market upset, similar to what we saw with the 2018 “taper tantrum.”

This shift in policy expectations has material implications for portfolio construction, suggesting not only shifts in sector and regional positioning, but fresh approaches to diversification, as rising rates produce potential headwinds for both stocks and bonds simultaneously.

Investors should consider adding economically cyclical sectors that can take advantage of global reflation. We also suggest maintaining positions in defensive sectors that would likely do well if the faster-growth, rising-rate scenario takes longer to materialize than indicators now suggest. more>

Rapid Money Supply Growth Does Not Cause Inflation

Neither do rapid growth in government debt, declining interest rates, or rapid Increases in a central bank’s balance sheet
By Richard Vague – Monetarist theory, which came to dominate economic thinking in the 1980s and the decades that followed, holds that rapid money supply growth is the cause of inflation. The theory, however, fails an actual test of the available evidence. In our review of 47 countries, generally from 1960 forward, we found that more often than not high inflation does not follow rapid money supply growth, and in contrast to this, high inflation has occurred frequently when it has not been preceded by rapid money supply growth.

The purpose of this paper is to present these findings and solicit feedback on our data, methods, and conclusions.

To analyze the issue, we developed a database of 47 countries that together constitute 91 percent of global GDP and looked at each episode of rapid money supply growth to see if it was followed by high inflation. In the majority of cases, it was not. In fact, the opposite was true—a large percentage of the cases of high inflation were not preceded by high money supply growth. These 47 countries all rank within the top 70 largest economies as measured by GDP and include each of the top 20 countries. If a country was not included, it was because we could not get a complete enough set of historical data on that country.

There are several reasons to want to better understand the causes of inflation. Currently, central banks in Japan, Europe and elsewhere are trying to engender a moderately higher level of inflation in order to stave off the drift toward deflation and under the belief that it will add to job and economic growth. Also, both public and private debt have reached such high levels in ratio to GDP that some policymakers are beginning to reflect on potential paths to deleveraging, and inflation is one such path. Lastly, a number of countries are trying to moderate levels of inflation that are deemed too high. For these countries, too, a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of inflation is important. more>

Updates from ITU

Banking for all: Can AI improve financial inclusion?
ITU – In a world where an estimated 1.7 billion people do not have a bank account, can artificial intelligence help make financial inclusion a reality for everyone?

This was the topic under discussion at a webinar during the year-round AI for Good Global Summit 2020.

Inclusive financial access directly helps enable seven of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It requires people and businesses in underserved areas to have affordable and easy access to secure financial services and products.

This means being able to build credit, receive funds, deposit money, buy insurance, invest in education and health and withstand economic shocks.

With the rise of mobile phone use and information and communication technologies (ICTs) penetration in developing countries, financial service providers are now turning to artificial intelligence to make financial inclusion happen.

‘Superpowers’ for digital services

Typically, to lend money, providers use documents to verify the identity of a person, evaluate their credit score and offer a collateral loan. But AI tries to fix this for people who cannot meet these requirements, said panelist Rory Macmillan, Founding Partner at Macmillan Keck, Attorneys & Solicitors. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Do both brands benefit from co-branding?
By Andrew Clark -Some Dell laptops have an Intel processor inside, and some Betty Crocker brownie mixes use Hershey’s chocolate. The idea behind such co-branding is to generate synergies and marketing efficiencies. Does the strategy really work?

Yes, suggests research by Chicago Booth’s Sanjog Misra and Bradley Shapiro and Booth PhD candidate Yewon Kim—although it works better for some parties than others. And a difficult reality for managers and researchers is that predicting the magnitude of such a collaboration effect prospectively is nearly impossible.

The researchers studied brand collaboration in an unusual setting. Rather than analyze data involving commercial products, Kim, Misra, and Shapiro looked at three major museums all located in the same US city. While arts institutions aren’t typical commercial products, the fast-growing arts industry represented $704 billion in spending in 2013, compared with $619 billion for construction and $270 billion for utilities, write the researchers, citing data from the National Endowment for the Arts and the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The researchers don’t identify the museums involved, citing a nondisclosure agreement, but write that during the time period they studied, “one major museum with a highly recognized brand” closed for a three-year renovation. While the work was being done, this museum collaborated separately with two other museums and held exhibitions in their buildings, with both the primary museum’s and the partners’ branding. The participating institutions shared their collections as well as their curatorial staffs. Exhibitions were displayed cohesively, mixing collections from both the primary institution and its partners. Marketing campaigns emphasized the joint nature of the exhibitions, and the collaborating institutions used the same descriptions on their websites and in other promotional materials. They jointly hosted membership events.

To gauge the effects of co-branding, Kim, Misra, and Shapiro tapped SMU DataArts, a collection of information compiled by the National Center for Arts Research, for four years’ worth of the museums’ membership sales. They find that collaborating with the major museum led to an increase in memberships at both partner museums. During the collaboration year, people who hadn’t previously been members of the partner museums joined them. Meanwhile, demand dropped among people who had previously been members. more>

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The Looming Bank Collapse

The U.S. financial system could be on the cusp of calamity. This time, we might not be able to save it.
By Frank Partnoy – The reforms were well intentioned, but, as we’ll see, they haven’t kept the banks from falling back into old, bad habits. After the housing crisis, subprime CDOs naturally fell out of favor. Demand shifted to a similar—and similarly risky—instrument, one that even has a similar name: the CLO, or collateralized loan obligation. A CLO walks and talks like a CDO, but in place of loans made to home buyers are loans made to businesses—specifically, troubled businesses. CLOs bundle together so-called leveraged loans, the subprime mortgages of the corporate world. These are loans made to companies that have maxed out their borrowing and can no longer sell bonds directly to investors or qualify for a traditional bank loan. There are more than $1 trillion worth of leveraged loans currently outstanding. The majority are held in CLOs.

Despite their obvious resemblance to the villain of the last crash, CLOs have been praised by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for moving the risk of leveraged loans outside the banking system. Like former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, who downplayed the risks posed by subprime mortgages, Powell and Mnuchin have downplayed any trouble CLOs could pose for banks, arguing that the risk is contained within the CLOs themselves.

Banks do not publicly report which CLOs they hold, so we can’t know precisely which leveraged loans a given institution might be exposed to. But all you have to do is look at a list of leveraged borrowers to see the potential for trouble. Among the dozens of companies Fitch added to its list of “loans of concern” in April were AMC Entertainment, Bob’s Discount Furniture, California Pizza Kitchen, the Container Store, Lands’ End, Men’s Wearhouse, and Party City. These are all companies hard hit by the sort of belt-tightening that accompanies a conventional downturn.

Under current conditions, the outlook for leveraged loans in a range of industries is truly grim. Companies such as AMC (nearly $2 billion of debt spread across 224 CLOs) and Party City ($719 million of debt in 183 CLOs) were in dire straits before social distancing. Now moviegoing and party-throwing are paused indefinitely—and may never come back to their pre-pandemic levels.

Meanwhile, loan defaults are already happening. There were more in April than ever before. Several experts told me they expect more record-breaking months this summer. It will only get worse from there. more>

Inequality Causes Economic Collapse

Circulation represents the lifeblood of all flow-systems, be they economies, ecosystems, or living organisms.
By Sally Goerner – Circulation represents the lifeblood of all flow-systems, be they economies, ecosystems, or living organisms. In living organisms, poor circulation of blood causes necrosis that can kill. In the biosphere, poor circulation of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. strangles life and would cause every living system, from bacteria to the biosphere, to collapse. Similarly, poor circulation of money, goods, resources, and services leads to economic necrosis – the dying off of large swaths of economic tissue that ultimately undermines the health of the economy as a whole.

In flow systems, balance is not simply a nice way to be, but a set of complementary factors – such as big and little; efficiency and resilience; flexibility and constraint – whose optimal balance is critical to maintaining circulation across scales. For example, the familiar branching structure seen in lungs, trees, circulatory systems, river deltas, and banking systems connects a geometrically constant ratio of a few large, a few more medium-sized, and a great many small entities. This arrangement, which mathematicians call a fractal, is extremely common because it’s particular balance of small, medium, and large helps optimize circulation across different levels of the whole. Just as too many large animals and too few small ones creates an unstable ecosystem, so financial systems with too many big banks and too few small ones tend towards poor circulation, poor health, and high instability.

In his documentary film, Inequality for All , Robert Reich uses virtuous cycles to clarify how robust circulation of money serves systemic health. In virtuous cycles, each step of money movement makes things better. For example, when wages go up, workers have more money to buy things, which should increase demand, expand the economy, stimulate hiring, and boost tax revenues. In theory, government will then spend more money on education which will increase worker skills, productivity and hopefully wages. This stimulates even more circulation, which starts the virtuous cycle over again. In flow terms, all of this represents robust constructive flow, the kind that develops human and network capital and enhances well-being for all.

Of course, economies also sometimes exhibit vicious cycles, in which weaker circulation makes everything go downhill – i.e., falling wages, consumption, demand, hiring, tax revenues, government spending, etc. These are destructive flows, ones that erode system health. more>

Could “banksters” become bankers again?

By Lena Deros – The term “bankster” has become trendy recently due to the various financial problems governments and economies are facing. Problems arise and somehow get resolved, but only through financial ruses.

In the 1980s, I was working with one of the world top Investment Banks in Europe. At that time hedge funds, derivatives and all kind of paper products were traded through the capital markets and were the top theme for any sophisticated investor.

One of the most legendary traders in the bank at that time was recruiting the best minds in math and physics from the top schools in the UK to train them and create financial products (derivatives).

The profits that the boys were accumulating were out of proportion to what a normal business person or executive could earn in a normal business, especially as they were just coming out of the university.

Of course, they were all ecstatic. The simplified procedure was based on the real economy. They were creating products 3 or 4 levels over the real assets and these were bought and traded by hedge and pension funds. Since trading was done in big amounts, and on a daily basis, the profits were excellent, but the result when viewed from the perspective of the economy, was that strong minds were deprived from producing real services and products. Instead, profit was created through paper trading. This generated claims to real wealth without creating one potato.

This enhanced inflation and created bubbles. Of course, no banker, financial consultant, or investor wanted to use their logic at the time as they were all plunging into the flood of increased profits without thinking of the immediate future.

It took some years until the surprised sector began to see what it knew all-to-well to be wrong as it was going bankrupt. Everyone was looking for a scapegoat, and most of the solutions were, again, based on 2+2=5 logic. more>

Why Society’s Biggest Freeloaders are at the Top

No, wealth isn’t created at the top. It is merely devoured there.
By Rutger Bregman – This piece is about one of the biggest taboos of our times. About a truth that is seldom acknowledged, and yet – on reflection – cannot be denied. The truth that we are living in an inverse welfare state.

These days, politicians from the left to the right assume that most wealth is created at the top. By the visionaries, by the job creators, and by the people who have “made it”. By the go-getters oozing talent and entrepreneurialism that are helping to advance the whole world.

Now, we may disagree about the extent to which success deserves to be rewarded – the philosophy of the left is that the strongest shoulders should bear the heaviest burden, while the right fears high taxes will blunt enterprise – but across the spectrum virtually all agree that wealth is created primarily at the top.

So entrenched is this assumption that it’s even embedded in our language. When economists talk about “productivity”, what they really mean is the size of your paycheck. And when we use terms like “welfare state”, “redistribution” and “solidarity”, we’re implicitly subscribing to the view that there are two strata: the makers and the takers, the producers and the couch potatoes, the hardworking citizens – and everybody else.

In reality, it is precisely the other way around. In reality, it is the waste collectors, the nurses, and the cleaners whose shoulders are supporting the apex of the pyramid. They are the true mechanism of social solidarity. Meanwhile, a growing share of those we hail as “successful” and “innovative” are earning their wealth at the expense of others. The people getting the biggest handouts are not down around the bottom, but at the very top. Yet their perilous dependence on others goes unseen. Almost no one talks about it. Even for politicians on the left, it’s a non-issue.

To understand why, we need to recognize that there are two ways of making money. The first is what most of us do: work. That means tapping into our knowledge and know-how (our “human capital” in economic terms) to create something new, whether that’s a takeout app, a wedding cake, a stylish updo, or a perfectly poured pint. To work is to create. Ergo, to work is to create new wealth.

But there is also a second way to make money. That’s the rentier way: by leveraging control over something that already exists, such as land, knowledge, or money, to increase your wealth. You produce nothing, yet profit nonetheless. By definition, the rentier makes his living at others’ expense, using his power to claim economic benefit. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How the Fed plans to pay the country’s bills
By John H. Cochrane – Public attention in the United States during the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis has been largely on the disease itself, the massive social and economic shock of the shutdown, and how we can orchestrate a safe reopening. But we also need to pay some attention to the financial side of the current situation, and the Federal Reserve’s immense reaction to it. Whatever one thinks of that reaction, it’s important to understand what the bank did, what beneficial and adverse consequences there are, and how our financial and economic system and policies might be set up better in the future.

We face a severe economic downturn of unknown duration. If it is something other than a V-shaped downturn spanning months rather than years, there will be a wave of bankruptcies, from individuals to corporations, and huge losses all over the financial system. “Well, earn returns in good times and take losses in bad times,” you may say, and I do, more often than the Fed does, but for now this is simply a fact.

Our government’s basic economic plan to confront this situation is simple: the Federal Reserve will print money to pay every bill, and guarantee every debt, for the duration. And, to a somewhat lesser approximation, the plan is also to ensure that no fixed-income investor loses money.

To be clear, my intention here is not to criticize this plan. From a combination of voluntary and imposed social distancing, the economy is collapsing. Twenty million people, more than 1 in 10 US workers, lost their jobs in the first month of the COVID-19 shutdowns. That’s more than the entire 2008–09 recession, all in the course of three weeks. A third of US apartment renters didn’t pay April rent. Run that up through the financial system: most guesses say that companies have one to three months of cash on hand, and then fail.

If you want to know why the Fed hit the panic button, it’s because every alarm went off.

Is the plan really to try to pay every bill?

Yes, pretty much. This is not stimulus. It is “get-through-it-us.” People who lost jobs and businesses that have no income can’t pay their bills. When people run out of cash, they stop paying rent, mortgages, utilities, and consumer debts. In turn, the people who lent them money are in trouble. Businesses with zero income can’t pay debts, employees, rent, mortgages, or utilities either. When they stop paying, they go through bankruptcy, and their creditors get into trouble. If you want to stop a financial crisis, you have to pay all the bills, not just hand out some cash so people can buy food.

And that’s more or less the plan. more>

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