James Saft

China hike could help risk assets elsewhere

Dec 30, 2010 15:43 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

China’s Christmas day interest rate hike may prove to be bad for global growth but good, at least for a time, for risky assets.

From that perspective, the Chinese policy change could end up being a much-needed helping hand to Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, who has engineered a policy partly aimed to boost economic growth through the false miracle of asset price inflation.

The Chinese rate hike, taking the benchmark interest rate up by a quarter of a percentage point, signals an increased willingness by Chinese authorities to do what they must to dampen the party domestically. The move increased the one-year lending rate to 5.81 percent and one-year deposit rate to 2.75 percent.

It is aimed at cooling inflation, which is running at 5.1 percent annually on the consumer level, not to mention making itself felt through a booming property market and gold-rush-like appreciation in things like herbal remedies and rare delicacies.

Of course, higher interest rates, while they may cool speculation domestically, will only make China more attractive to international capital, which is already slavering at the prospect of an eventual appreciation of the yuan.

UK banks and the curse of interesting times

Dec 21, 2010 17:50 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala — It is going to be an interesting 2011 for British banks, which face funding hurdles and exposure to troubled sovereign debt and property markets.

After the carnage of 2008, the de-facto nationalizations, and the euro zone exposure scares this year, Britain’s large international banks could be forgiven for hoping at year’s end for a bit of peace.

That may not be the result, at least according to a reading of the Bank of England’s Financial Stability Report released this week.

EU must choose its lies wisely

Dec 16, 2010 14:06 UTC

You can lie to taxpayers or you can lie to creditors, European authorities are learning, but doing both at the same time is very hard.

The proposed policy that current senior creditors to troubled states will not face losses on their loans but future private lenders will be forced to share in losses with taxpayers is so irrational, so bound to fail that it falls out of the realm of economics and into the ambit of brain injury.

European Union member states will this week hold a summit at which they will create a permanent fund to lend to troubled members under co-called strict conditions of fiscal responsibility.

End Washington-Wall St revolving door

Dec 16, 2010 14:03 UTC

The revolving door between government and Wall Street is wrong, antithetical to both democracy and capitalism and ought to be stopped.

For the second time in two weeks a high-ranking recent U.S. public servant has traded a position of influence in the corridors of power for a massive paycheck working for an institution that owes its very existence to government largess.

This time it is Theo Lubke, who has transitioned smoothly from heading the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s derivative regulation effort to working for Goldman Sachs, where he can be expected to, well, help it do well out of regulation, current and future.

Icelandic mulishness wins the day

Dec 9, 2010 19:45 UTC

Iceland’s remarkable return to growth shows once again that in this crisis the best policy is often the one that will make international partners most angry.

Having been reviled and chastised when it refused to make good the outsize debts of its banks, Iceland this week capped a striking turnaround when it announced that its economy expanded by 1.2 percent in real terms in the most recent quarter, its first such rise in two years.

This is in stark contrast to Ireland, whose pliability and inability as a member of the euro zone to act unilaterally leaves it with a still crashing economy which must service ever more debt by making ever deeper cuts to public spending.

Private equity wins, U.S. creditors lose

Dec 7, 2010 20:05 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The move to reform taxation of billions of dollars in so-called carried interest paid to hedge fund and private equity executives is dead and prominent among the mourners should be investors in U.S. debt.

A country that can’t even get it together to ensure that some of its highest paid people pay as much proportionally in tax as their secretaries and personal trainers is a country with very little hope of effecting meaningful budgetary reform.

Suffice to say that the long bond didn’t sell off on news that U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus has dropped a higher carried interest provision from his since-defeated tax bill, a sign that the Democrats have effectively given up hope of the measure. The news should, however, make holders of U.S. debt even more willing to sell to the Federal Reserve, currently buying Treasuries often and in size. The script has been written for tax and spending reform over the next two years and for lenders to the U.S. the story does not end happily.

Waiting for Europe’s QE to sail

Dec 2, 2010 15:17 UTC

The good news is that the European Central Bank will probably start a massive additional round of quantitative easing to fight the break-up of the euro zone.

The bad news is that they will, as ever, only choose the right policy, as Winston Churchill said of the Americans, after exhausting all of the alternatives.

Global share markets rallied furiously on Wednesday, fed by hopes that the ECB would increase its bond-buying efforts, a possibility raised by its chief Jean-Claude Trichet in an appearance before the European Parliament. Trichet faces stern opposition inside the ECB from fellow central bankers, notably German Axel Weber, who believe that policy should be normalized rather than loosened.