Global Investing

Central banks and the next bubble

Central bank balance sheets are expanding at what some say is an alarming pace. Can this cause the next bubble to form and burst?

JP Morgan estimates G4 (U.S., Japan, euro zone and Britain) balance sheets are now around 24% of GDP combined, with around 11% of GDP comprising bonds held for monetary purposes.

“The recent pace of balance sheet expansion is the fastest since the immediate aftermath of Lehman, largely down to the ECB. The increased BOJ purchases, more QE in the UK, and 200 bln euros upwards of increased ECB lending from this month’s LTRO together point to a further $600bln+ rise in G4 central bank balance sheets this year, to around 26% of GDP.”

Outside G4, Switzerland is a country which saw a massive expansion in its central bank balance sheet. And because of its huge holdings, its balance sheet has been very volatile.

The Swiss National Bank suffered a loss of 21 bln francs last year — its biggest ever — due to currency interventions to weaker the Swiss currency. It expects to swing back to a profit of 13 bln francs this year.

Euro periphery: Lehman-type shock still on cards

The passing of Greek austerity measures is fuelling a rally in peripheral debt today with Italian, Spanish and Portuguese yields falling across the curve.

However, one should not forget that peripheral economies are still under considerable risk of becoming the next Greece — rising debt and weak economic growth pushing the country to seek a bailout — as a result of tighter financial conditions.

Take this warning from JP Morgan:

Financial conditions have deteriorated far more in peripheral Europe than in the core. The drag from this on peripheral GDP is akin to that seen following the Lehman crisis.

from Summit Notebook:

Time private bankers got professional

It's hard to imagine that a banker who represents multimillionaires would be anything but professional - but a top executive at a leading global bank thinks that's precisely the wealth management industry's problem.

"There is so much mediocrity in the industry we have to raise the bar here," said Gerard Aquilina, vice chairman of Barclays Wealth, at the Reuters Global Wealth Management Summit in Geneva.

    To Aquilina's way of thinking, private bankers need the same "institutional rigor" as investment bankers in the way they operate. To this end the bank is looking to pursue only top-quality hires.

from From Reuters.com:

How has the credit crisis affected you?

The demise of Lehman Brothers a year ago sparked a collapse in financial market confidence and set of a series of reactions that have spread hardship into the four corners of the globe.

Reuters News has charted the key events and their impact in "Times of Crisis" -- a major new multimedia production on Reuters.com. (See it here.)

We'd like to add the experiences of Reuters readers. So, if you or your family have been affected by the events of the past year then use the comments section below to share your story.

Americans going abroad again

U.S. investors have started to go shopping abroad for assets for the first time year.

According to UBS, the proportion of mutual funds’ portfolios held in foreign assets rose to 24.5 percent in May from the 23 percent level they kept until then.

From 2002-2008 U.S. mutual funds sharply increased their exposure to  overseas assets, going as high as 26 percent in mid-2008 from 12.5 percent. After the collapse of Lehman Brothers they have cut back to 23 percent.

from MacroScope:

Who do you blame for the credit crisis?

Greedy bankers are routinely blamed for the credit crisis but one British-based poll of -- well, financiers -- spreads the blame more widely.

Gary Jenkins, head of fixed income research at Evolution Securities, wanted a more specific scapegoat and ran a poll of about 200 mostly fund managers and investors asking them to pick their credit crisis culprit. Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was the clear winner, picking up 35
percent of the votes. He has been widely criticised over the past year for low interest rate policies that helped fuel the credit boom.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton also figured quite prominently with about 10 percent of  votes, and British prime minister Gordon Brown got quite a few.

Reuters Funds Summit: A financial Chernobyl

The mood in the asset management industry is ”very cautious, very realistic but not pessimistic” after the financial industry’s “Chernobyl” of Lehman Brothers collapse, according to Europe’s fund industry chief.

Peter De Proft, director general of the European Fund and Asset Management Association (EFAMA) told the Reuters Funds Summit, that the mood was now more optimistic.  At least, certainly more so than  4-5 months ago.

Lehman Brothers, though, was Chernobyl. ”Boom, it was the atomic bomb,” De Proft said, adding that many in the financial industry, including asset managers, appeared “shell-shocked” at the time.

Bowling for Whistleblowers

Attention Wall Street whistleblowers: your banking job might be at risk, but here’s your shot at Hollywood stardom.


The Academy Award-winning filmmaker is looking for “brave” financial industry insiders to help him make his next film which will focus on the financial crisis – or what Moore calls “the biggest swindle in American history.”

“Based on those who have already contacted me, I believe there are a number of you who know “the real deal” about the abuses that have been happening. You have information that the American people need to hear, “ Moore said on his website.

Going back to Quakers?

InvestorIn these troubled times, go back to basics.

Theo Zemek, AXA Investment Managers‘ global head of fixed income, says investors should adopt “Quaker investment policies” – sober and safe investment strategies that can be explained to their grandmothers.

“Anyone who utters the word ‘hedge’, after all these CDS (failures), ought to be taken out and be shot,” the 25-year markets veteran told a media briefing.

“This is the scariest market I’ve ever seen in 25 years. The world of complex instruments, credit guarantees… That world is very much an ancient history… It’s a darn tough market. Who is left standing among our counterparties?”

Last wisdom from Lehman Brothers

Lehman“Dear readers, let us begin this week’s missive by acknowledging its partial incompleteness. For understandable considerations, there are some capital market situations that we cannot discuss. We thank all our readers for their support and look forward to continuing to provide you with timely analysis.”

This is how Lehman Brothers’ strategists began their last ever weekly research note, published on Saturday – only two days before the U.S. investment bank collapsed.

In the 146-page research, Lehman strategists argued that bonds are performing well in September thanks to rising risk aversion and financial institution uncertainties.