Saturday 30 January 2010

About Sovereign risk in 2010 and about the risk of Stagflation à la mode 1970...

In December last year when I first wrote about Greece, CDS 5 year was trading around 260 bps. Now CDS 5 year is trading above 400 bps, and the CDS curve is completely inverted.

As per CMA DataVision, the cumulative probability of default (CPD) is now around 28.55%.

Greece came to the market with a 8 Billion Euros 5 yeard bond issue and the following day of the issue, bonds were trading one point lower. Greece is in trouble. They need to raise another 50 Billions Euros.

Confidence in the Euro currency is getting tested with the situation in Greece and as per my previous post: The importance of being earnest, about the Eurozone in general and the Euro in particular.


There is a risk the Eurozone could implode. Greece is showing the first signs of weaknesses, but Portugal and Spain, are also facing troubles of their own.

We are still in a deflationary environment which could lead afterwards to a period of stagflation in the coming years. Low growth and higher inflation. All the governments are scrambling to tackle the huge deficits they have created and did not control properly.
Take for instance France, the last time the budget was balanced was 1980 and the last time France had an excess budget was 1976 (very good year for wine and the public finances...).

As per Wikipedia on Stagflation, we can see some heery similarities with what we are starting to witness in the current environment.

Keynes described the inflation and economic stagnation gripping Europe in his book The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Keynes wrote:

"Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the Capitalist System was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some." [...]

"Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose."

Keynes explicitly pointed out the relationship between governments printing money and inflation.

"The inflationism of the currency systems of Europe has proceeded to extraordinary lengths. The various belligerent Governments, unable, or too timid or too short-sighted to secure from loans or taxes the resources they required, have printed notes for the balance."

Keynes also pointed out how government price controls discourage production.

"The presumption of a spurious value for the currency, by the force of law expressed in the regulation of prices, contains in itself, however, the seeds of final economic decay, and soon dries up the sources of ultimate supply. If a man is compelled to exchange the fruits of his labors for paper which, as experience soon teaches him, he cannot use to purchase what he requires at a price comparable to that which he has received for his own products, he will keep his produce for himself, dispose of it to his friends and neighbors as a favor, or relax his efforts in producing it. A system of compelling the exchange of commodities at what is not their real relative value not only relaxes production, but leads finally to the waste and inefficiency of barter."

Any similarities with what Venezuela is experiencing at the moment is "purely fortuitous"...

Yes, Sovereign risk is going to be the big theme for 2010.

Everyone is trying to debase their currencies and need to borrow heavily at the same time.

Countries immediately at risk are:

We are facing a crisis of confidence in the system and a crisis of confidence in our governments.
Let's all hope governments will starting facing their responsibilities and make the necessary cuts in spendings and implementation of regulations sufficient enough to pull us out of the hole we have dug ourselves in.

Monday 11 January 2010

The sad reality behind last Friday Non Farm Payroll Number

I was reading through today an excellent article from John Mauldin, from Thoughts From the Frontline. You can subscribe for free on the following link:

The article relates to John's prediction for 2010 and it is a good read:

In his article John writes the following:
"we will find we have not fixed the causes of the last one. We still have banks too big to fail, we have not put the credit default swaps on an exchange, we have not reinstated Glass-Steagall, Barney Frank's bill (which was not the one that came out of committee) now makes it exceedingly more difficult to short stocks, we keep in power the same people who missed the problems the last time, and the list of bad policies bought (typo intended) to you by bank lobbyists grows ever longer. If the current bill looks like it was written by the bank lobby, that's because it was. But it means we will have to face the same problems all over again. But that is another story for another day."

I agree with his analysis. We have not resolved any issues, we are in fact compounding them. Glass-Steagall act should be re-instated and CDS like other vanilla derivatives should be cleared and traded on an exchange.

Adding insult to injury, the debt cap ceiling on the two Government agencies, Fannie and Freddie have been removed and it has been decided without consulting the US Congress. The US taxpayers will have to pick up an even larger tab by the end of the day.

Basically you can expect the equity rally to last a little bit longer given current level of inventories and activity picking up.

Sunday 10 January 2010

2010: Happy New Year and welcome to the New Normal

Happy New Year to all of you and welcome to the new normal economy in 2010.

In the new economy, unemployment levels are going to stay high and all the politicians are under tremendous stress of the need to cut into public spendings.

It is election year for both the UK and the US, and you can expect a lot of discussions relating to public spendings.

We can only hope that the time for complacency and misguided economic politics have come to an end.

Troubles are unfortunately still brewing in many parts of the world. It is important to track the below countries and situations.

Take Venezuela for instance, they have just announced a 50% devaluation and are facing inflation levels of around 20% and rising. They also have escalating tensions with their neighbors Colombia. Although Venezuela is highly dependent on the prices of oil, it looks like Chavez Socialist Revolution is heading towards a Zimbabwe situation.
Argentina is also facing troubles, with the president removing the president of the central bank.
Greece hasn't yet come up with a drastic plans to rebalance its books and the EU doesn't want to come to bail out Greece until they have done their homework in the first place.
In Iran, civil unrest is gathering momentum and one could expect its president to follow the same fate as Nikita Khrushchev.

But there are also some bright spots in all that doom and gloom, you can expect the BRICS countries to continue powering ahead. China has raised its rates in an attempt to control the hot money pouring into its economy. Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, are all growing strongly.

Everyone is talking about the power shift between the West to the East. The reality is that the world is shifting again to its equilibrium, and for those of you who have read the excellent work from Angus Maddison, Contours of the World Economy, Asia is basically claiming back its once 50% owned market share of world GDP. We are seeing a reverse to the mean.
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