Tag Archives: Financial crisis

Are Index Funds Evil?

A growing chorus of experts argue that they’re strangling the economy—and must be stopped.
By Frank Partnoy – Index funds have grown exponentially since John Bogle founded Vanguard in the mid-1970s.

The top three families of index funds each manage trillions of dollars, collectively holding 15 to 20 percent of all the stock of major U.S. corporations. Best of all for their investors, index funds have consistently beaten the performance of stock-pickers and actively managed funds, whose higher fees may support the Manhattan lifestyle of many bankers, but turn out not to deliver much to customers.

Concerns about the potential dangers of shareholder diversification first surfaced back in 1984, not long after index funds themselves did. Julio Rotemberg, then a newly minted economist from Princeton, posited that “firms, acting in the interest of their shareholders,” might “tend to act collusively when their shareholders have diversified portfolios.” The idea, which Rotemberg explored in a working paper, was that if investors own a slice of every firm, they will make more money if firms compete less and collectively raise prices, at the expense of consumers. Knowing this, the firms’ managers will de-emphasize competition and behave more cooperatively with one another. more> https://goo.gl/AWXivG

How Trump v Kim can wreck the world economy without a shot being fired

By Larry Elliott – The assumption underlying the muted response is that there will be no war between the US and North Korea, nuclear or otherwise, and that the smart investment play is to buy into any dips.

The markets are part right. It still looks unlikely that Trump will sanction a pre-emptive strike. Kim knows that, which is why he would be dumb to up the ante by aiming some missiles into the sea off Guam first.

But the financial markets – and the broader global economy – could still turn nasty in an repeat of what happened 10 years ago even without a shooting war.

For a start, the world has never really recovered from the last crisis. Growth rates have been weak and have only been possible because years of low interest rates and quantitative easing have encouraged consumers and businesses to rack up large amounts of debt. As the economist Steve Keen notes in his new book Can we avoid another financial crisis (Polity), many countries have become what he calls debt junkies.

“They face the junkie’s dilemma, a choice between going ‘cold turkey’ now, or continuing to shoot up on credit and experience a bigger bust later.”

Keen says the countries to watch out for have two characteristics: they already have high levels of personal debt and have relied substantially on credit as a source of demand in the past five years. Australia, Canada, South Korea, Sweden and Norway are all on his list of candidates to be future debt zombies. But so is China. more> https://goo.gl/f7WBnq

A decade after the crisis’ first tremor, are we ready for another?

By David Wessel – It was 10 years ago, on Aug. 9, 2007, that France’s BNP Paribas suspended withdrawals from three funds that held U.S. mortgages, a move seen in hindsight as the first tremor of the global financial crisis that shook the world economy.

So this seems a good moment to ask if we are ready for the next financial crisis. The short answer is: No.

Dodd-Frank created a way to “resolve” (that is, wipe out the shareholders, convert some debt to equity and sell off the pieces) of any future Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers or AIG so that the Federal Reserve and other agencies don’t have to improvise the way it did in 2008 and we don’t suffer the aftershocks of a Lehman-style bankruptcy. This “orderly liquidation authority” is under assault from Republicans in Congress. My bet is that it will survive, but we really won’t know how well this new mechanism works until it has been tested.

The politics of responding to an economy-shaking financial crisis are never easy: What’s needed to protect the economy from another Great Depression will never be popular politically because it looks like bailing out the very folks who created the problem in the first place. more> https://goo.gl/btZKrd

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Away from Oil: A New Approach

By Basil Oberholzer – Two main problems arise from the connections between monetary policy, financial markets and the oil market: the first is financial and economic instability caused by oil price volatility. The second is an environmental problem: a lower oil price inevitably means more oil consumption. This is a threat to the world climate.

Is there a joint answer to these problems? There is. While hitherto existing policy propositions like futures market regulation or a tax on fossil energy face some advantages and disadvantages, they are not able to deal with both the economic instability and the environmental problem at the same time. What is proposed here is a combination of monetary and fiscal policy. Let’s call it the oil price targeting system.

First, to achieve economic stability in the oil market, a stable oil price is needed. Second, to reduce oil consumption, the oil price should be increasing. So, let us imagine that the oil price moves on a stable and continuously rising path in order to fulfill both conditions. To implement this, the oil price has to be determined exogenously. Due to price exogeneity, speculative attacks cannot have any influence on the price and bubbles cannot emerge anymore. The oil price target can be realized by monetary policy by means of purchases and sales of oil futures. Since the central bank has unlimited power to exert demand in the market, it can basically move the oil price wherever it wants. more> https://goo.gl/eUh85j

Venezuela’s Unprecedented Collapse

By Ricardo Hausmann – Media worldwide have been reporting on Venezuela, documenting truly horrible situations, with images of starvation, hopelessness, and rage.

The cover of The Economist’s July 29 issue summed it up: “Venezuela in chaos.”

The most frequently used indicator to compare recessions is GDP. According to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela’s GDP in 2017 is 35% below 2013 levels, or 40% in per capita terms. That is a significantly sharper contraction than during the 1929-1933 Great Depression in the United States, when US GDP is estimated to have fallen 28%. It is slightly bigger than the decline in Russia (1990-1994), Cuba (1989-1993), and Albania (1989-1993), but smaller than that experienced by other former Soviet States at the time of transition, such as Georgia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Ukraine, or war-torn countries such as Liberia (1993), Libya (2011), Rwanda (1994), Iran (1981), and, most recently, South Sudan.<

Put another way, Venezuela’s economic catastrophe dwarfs any in the history of the US, Western Europe, or the rest of Latin America. more> https://goo.gl/xXWCgg

Recovery is Not Resolution

By Carmen Reinhart – A few days ago, Greece, the most battered of Europe’s crisis countries, was able to tap global financial markets for the first time in years. With a yield of more than 4.6%, Greece’s bonds were enthusiastically snapped up by institutional investors.

Do recent positive developments in the advanced countries, which were at the epicenter of the global financial crisis of 2008, mean that the brutal aftermath of that crisis is finally over?

Good news notwithstanding, declaring victory at this stage (even a decade later) appears premature. Recovery is not the same as resolution.

It may be instructive to recall that in other protracted post-crisis episodes, including the Great Depression of the 1930s, economic recovery without resolution of the fundamental problems of excessive leverage and weak banks usually proved shallow and difficult to sustain.

During the “lost decade” of the Latin American debt crisis in the 1980s, Brazil and Mexico had a significant and promising growth pickup in 1984-1985 – before serious problems in the banking sector, an unresolved external debt overhang, and several ill-advised domestic policy initiatives cut those recoveries short. more> https://goo.gl/oQBpm1

The New Normal: Radical Inequality, Suffocating Debt, and Growing Job Uncertainty

By Servaas Storm – The U.S. economy is suffering from two interrelated diseases: the secular stagnation of its potential growth, and the polarization of jobs and incomes. The two disorders have a common root in the demand shortfall, originating from the ‘unbalanced’ growth between technologically ‘dynamic’ and ‘stagnant’ sectors, which—crucially—is bringing down potential growth.

The key mechanism is just this: rising real wages, as during the period 1948-1972, provide an incentive for firms to invest in labor-saving machinery and productivity growth will surge as a result; but when labor is cheap, as during most of the period 1972-2015, businesses have little incentive to invest in the modernization of their capital stock and productivity growth falters as a consequence.

Financial globalization, in addition, enabled the rich to have their cake (profits) and eat it (by channeling them to offshore tax havens or into derivative financial instruments). In this way, trade and financial globalization have been essential building blocks of the dual economy. more> https://goo.gl/5EFndw

The end of globalisation as we know it?

By Durukal Gun , Christian Keller, Sree Kochugovindan, Tomasz Wieladek – Modern globalisation has gone well beyond the trade of goods, as technology allowed for transfer of know-how and skills.

Since glottalization began in the middle of the 1800s, it has been through several different cycles. Now it appears to have reached yet another turning point.

Only recently has globalization matched the heights it reached before World War I.

  • First wave of globalization (1850s to 1914)
  • Protectionism (1914 to 1945)
  • Second wave of glottalization (1945 to 1990)
  • Hyperglobalization (1990 to present)

Among the clear beneficiaries of hyperglobalization are the emerging economies, which have become increasingly integrated into more and more complex global value chains. Their role in processing raw materials, and in value-added manufacturing and services has grown rapidly.

The first signs of opposition to hyperglobalisation emerged amid major demonstrations at the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Concerns mounted in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis and subsequent global recession, reflected more recently in public resistance to trade and investment agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Discriminatory protectionist tariffs and trade measures are on the rise. more> https://goo.gl/K54eeK

The world is sitting on a $400 trillion financial time bomb

By Allison Schrager – Financial disaster is looming, and not because of the stock market or subprime loans. The coming crisis is more insidious, structural, and almost certain to blow up eventually.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that by 2050 the world will face a $400 trillion shortfall (pdf) in retirement savings. (Yes, that’s trillion, with a “T”.)

The US will find itself in the biggest hole, falling $137 trillion short of what’s necessary to fund adequate retirements in 2050. It is followed by China’s $119 trillion shortfall.

Much of the massive shortfall is baked into retirement systems; setups in which nobody, neither individuals nor the government, saves enough.

About three-quarters of the projected comes from underfunded promises from governments, with the rest mostly accounted for by under-saving on the part of individuals. more> https://goo.gl/UUisEk

Resisting Authoritarian Populism: Lessons From/For Singapore

By Kenneth Paul Tan – Although a young, small, and multi-ethnic nation-state, Singapore is prosperous, peaceful, and surprisingly influential in the global imagination. But its international image has attracted contradictory reactions.

History presents numerous examples of fragility where liberal democracies are concerned. Political philosophy tells us that diversity—and nearly every society today is diverse—can weaken the  communitarian basis of a society, making it difficult for the state to function well and eroding the trust that binds people to one another and to their institutions.

Without a strong institutional basis, the nation-state can become vulnerable to authoritarian populism, particularly when hit by crisis. Out of a demoralized society, moral and political entrepreneurs, often skillful demagogues, emerge and compete for power by mobilizing a collective sense of victimhood directed against an allegedly corrupt establishment as well as scapegoats such as immigrants, ethnic minorities, and sexual minorities, upon whom the entire blame for all of society’s ills are placed. more> https://goo.gl/8GKyGP