Opinion

James Saft

The $5 trillion rollover

Jun 29, 2010 17:30 UTC

Banks around the world must refinance more than $5 trillion of debts in the coming three years, a massive rollover that poses threats to financial stability and growth.

The need to replace these debts, which are medium and long term, will place pressure on bank profit spreads and in turn may either prompt deleveraging, where banks sell assets that they can no longer economically finance, or simply lead to a bout of credit rationing, where borrowers must pay more to borrow, thus crimping investment and economic growth.

For banks in the UK, according to the Bank of England Financial Stability Report, the refinancings amount to about $1.2 trillion by the end of 2012.

If banks in Britain raise funds at the same pace they have been this year, they will only collect half of their needs in time. This is even before the fact that the banks need desperately to turn some of their riskier short-term funding into more reliable funding with a longer maturity.

“If funding costs increase dramatically, which is perfectly possible in what could be pretty febrile market conditions, that will hit profitability (and the banks ability to raise capital organically) until they are able to re-price loans and facilities,” according to Richard Barwell, an economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland in London.

China move like history in slow-motion

Jun 22, 2010 12:21 UTC

Asked about 175 years after the fact what he made of the French Revolution, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai is said to have thought for a moment and concluded: “It is too soon to tell.”

Tell a U.S Congressman up for reelection or an unemployed auto parts worker in Ohio the same thing about China’s new policy to give the yuan more latitude in how it trades against the dollar and, once you’ve picked yourself up off the ground, you’ll have a different answer.

China on Saturday said it would end the yuan’s currency peg to the dollar, allowing it to trade more freely. It also made clear that no big move was forthcoming, preparing the way instead for “gradual” appreciation.

China hits a welcome turning point

Jun 17, 2010 12:16 UTC

CHINA

China’s massive supply of cheap labor may at last be drying up, a development that in time will bring higher wages, inflation, a stronger yuan and help to right dangerous global imbalances.

If these trends hasten financial liberalisation they could eventually set the stage for a broader Chinese bubble.
The formerly extremely unequal balance of power between workers and employers in China appears to be shifting.

Workers for a Chinese company which supplies Honda with auto parts have struck and successfully won large wage increases. Other strikes have followed, and firms have often been quick to compromise.

Of banks and euro zone default taboo

Jun 15, 2010 16:44 UTC

If ever you doubted that the euro zone bailout was in fact a bailout of banks, French and German banks in particular, look no further than the latest report from the Bank for International Settlements.

The trillion-dollar package of loans, backstops and emergency measures announced by the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank in May was advertised on the basis that it would create breathing room for ailing southern European nations to impose fiscal discipline and establish a credible path to stability.

In the case of Greece, it is hard to see how it could dig its way out of its hole courtesy of a policy of austerity which was going to kick off a swingeing and long-lasting recession.

G20 recipe for deflation, protectionism

Jun 8, 2010 16:11 UTC

It may be folly or it may be prudence, but the move to fiscal austerity and restraint will be deflationary, will be bad for risky asset prices and will raise further the threat of protectionism.

The weekend’s meeting of the Group of 20 wealthy nations in Korea ended in a muddle of policies, with the final communique appearing to praise fiscal retrenching, expansionary policy, tighter regulation and slower implementation of that tighter regulation all at the same time, and all in the same impenetrable thicket of euphemism, buzzwords and consultant-speak.

To wit:

“The recent events highlight the importance of sustainable public finances and the need for our countries to put in place credible, growth-friendly measures, to deliver fiscal sustainability, differentiated for and tailored to national circumstances. Those countries with serious fiscal challenges need to accelerate the pace of consolidation. We welcome the recent announcements by some countries to reduce their deficits in 2010 and strengthen their fiscal frameworks and institutions. Within their capacity, countries will expand domestic sources of growth, while maintaining macroeconomic stability,” the communique issued at the conclusion of the meeting read.

Euro corporates face sovereign risks

Jun 3, 2010 16:03 UTC

For European corporate borrowers, having their own houses in order may prove little help as sovereign credit-worthiness deteriorates.

European nations need to fund more than a trillion euros in debt in the coming year to finance shortfalls caused by falling tax receipts, countercyclical stimulative spending, and plain old bad management.

As we have seen in Greece, at the worst this funding is not available from the market, but even relatively stronger nations like France have substantial funding needs stretching out as far as the eye can see.

Carried interest and the big lie

Jun 1, 2010 15:34 UTC

As an investment strategy, making private equity and hedge fund managers rich is a probable loser. As a tax policy, it is a guaranteed one.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would raise the taxes that private equity and other investment managers pay on “carried interest,” their share of the takings when a holding such as a startup or turnaround is sold at a profit.

Carried interest is currently taxed at the lower capital gains rate, meaning that many private equity barons can pay less in tax than the people who clean their swimming pools or mind their children. This is patently unjust. Carried interest is compensation for labor, earned income in other words, rather than gains on capital that might be lost.

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