TIPPING POINTS - Mapping the Critical 2011 Themes 2011 THESIS SIGN-UP PAGE
The conclusions of our "2011 Thesis - Beggar-thy-Neighbor" was that the world is on a glide path towards a global Fiat Currency Failure and the emergence of a New World Order. We are unclear whether it is planned or happenstance, but what our regularly conducted abstraction mapping process clearly indicates is that it is presently a high probability outcome. The paper (which will be made available to non subscribers March 11th, 2011- sign-up) uses the Process of Abstraction to avoid the media noise, abstract the facts, synthesis key macro drivers and then arrive at the highest probability outcomes. In the recent article "2011 Tipping Points" we laid out the 37 major Tipping Points we are presently tracking. These Tipping Points are show on the left hand side of the two charts below, which are the basis upon which our ongoing analysis process is conducted. These highly simplified representations of the process gives the reader a graphical perspective on what leads us to our conclusions. MORE>>
MARKET ANALYTICS - March 2011 THIS MONTH ONLY - Special Free 3 Month Trial Subscription Available
The market action since March 2009 is a bear market counter rally that is presently nearing a final end in a classic ending diagonal pattern. The Bear Market which started in 2000 will resume in full force by late spring of 2011. We presently have the early beginnings of a 'rolling top'. We are seeing broad based weakening analytics and cascading warning signals. This behavior is typically seen near major tops. This is all part of a final topping formation and a long term right shoulder technical construction pattern. MORE>>
TIPPING POINTS - 2011 Tipping Points
Throughout my 2010 article series "Extend & Pretend" and "Sultans of Swap" I stressed that we were rapidly moving from the Financial Crisis of 2008, through the Economic Fallout of 2009 - 2010, towards a Political Crisis in 2011 - 2012. We are now clearly beginning to see the early emergence of the final part of this continuum. From North Africa to Wisconsin all are fundamentally based on the single insidious underlying problem - excessive global debt and credit levels. MORE>>
EURO EXPERIMENT - Beware of Lurking EU Bank Runs
This is a warning to prepare for potential stealth bank runs cascading from North Africa and Ireland through to EU regional banking centers. Stealth bank runs are the unrecognized and perilous serpent lurking presently below the European financial surface. They prey on slower moving archaic bond vigilantes and anyone else swimming in these dangerous uncharted waters. Investors need to fully appreciate that a modern bank run looks and operates differently than what is depicted in the movies and what we most likely expect to occur! MORE>>
CURRENCY WARS: Debase, Default, Deny!
In September 2008 the US came to a fork in the road. The Public Policy decision to not seize the banks, to not place them in bankruptcy court with the government acting as the Debtor-in-Possession (DIP), to not split them up by selling off the assets to successful and solvent entities, set the world on the path to global currency wars. MORE>>
CURRENCY WARS: Misguided Economic Policy
The critical issues in America stem from minimally a blatantly ineffective public policy, but overridingly a failed and destructive Economic Policy. These policy errors are directly responsible for the opening salvos of the Currency War clouds now looming overhead. Don’t be fooled for a minute. The issue of Yuan devaluation is a political distraction from the real issue – a failure MORE>>
03/02/2011 7:35 PM
Postings begin at 5:30am EST
and updated throughout the day
Hot Money, Fast Riots - I still think that the world will experience another crisis in late 2012. The trigger would be either a collapse of the U.S. treasury market or an inflation-induced hard landing in the emerging economies. But political events in the Arab world point to another possibility: surging oil prices could sink us all earlier.
Dollar Losing Safe Haven Appeal - Standard Bank: "It seems the dollar's haven status has vanished. And, even for long-term dollar bears like ourselves, this is a worry."
Investors Are Seeking Safety in New Harbors -"Over the last 20 years, people have always moved into the dollar on any sort of uncertainty in the global economic space, but what we've seen over the past two weeks is actually a terrific move out of the dollar"
Global manufacturing PMI nears record in February - The J.P. Morgan global manufacturing PMI edged up to 57.8 from 57.1 in January, marking the second-fastest reading ever in the global gauge, which is based on other surveys covering over 7,500 purchasing managers in nearly 30 countries. Output and new order components accelerated, and the input price gauge rose to 76.7 from 73.3 in January. Any reading over 50 indicates expansion. The U.S. ISM represents 28.6% of the gauge, followed by Japan at 12.3%, China at 7.4%, Germany at 5% and the U.K. at 4.2%
The West’s Punch Bowl Monetary Policy - Choosing a short-term boost to economic growth and employment, rather than enforcing price stability, wrecked the world economy in the 1970's and 1980's. The outcome may not be much different this time around.
Gold ends at record on inflation fears, Middle East unrest - Gold for April delivery added $21.30, or 1.5%, to $1,431.20 an ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Silver for May delivery, the most actively traded contract, gained 61 cents, or 1.8%, to $34.43 an ounce. That was silver's highest finish since early 1980, when it traded above $50 an ounce.
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Gordon T Long is not a registered advisor and does not give investment advice. His comments are an expression of opinion only and should not be construed in any manner whatsoever as recommendations to buy or sell a stock, option, future, bond, commodity or any other financial instrument at any time. While he believes his statements to be true, they always depend on the reliability of his own credible sources. Of course, he recommends that you consult with a qualified investment advisor, one licensed by appropriate regulatory agencies in your legal jurisdiction, before making any investment decisions, and barring that, we encourage you confirm the facts on your own before making important investment commitments.
"The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point"
The tipping point is the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development. The term is said to have originated in the field of epidemiology when an infectious disease reaches a point beyond any local ability to control it from spreading more widely. A tipping point is often considered to be a turning point. The term is now used in many fields. Journalists apply it to social phenomena, demographic data, and almost any change that is likely to lead to additional consequences. Marketers see it as a threshold that, once reached, will result in additional sales. In some usage, a tipping point is simply an addition or increment that in itself might not seem extraordinary but that unexpectedly is just the amount of additional change that will lead to a big effect. In the butterfly effect of chaos theory , for example, the small flap of the butterfly's wings that in time leads to unexpected and unpredictable results could be considered a tipping point. However, more often, the effects of reaching a tipping point are more immediately evident. A tipping point may simply occur because a critical mass has been reached.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is a book by Malcolm Gladwell, first published by Little Brown in 2000. Gladwell defines a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." The book seeks to explain and describe the "mysterious" sociological changes that mark everyday life. As Gladwell states, "Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do."
The three rules of epidemics
Gladwell describes the "three rules of epidemics" (or the three "agents of change") in the tipping points of epidemics.
"The Law of the Few", or, as Gladwell states, "The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts."According to Gladwell, economists call this the "80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the 'work' will be done by 20 percent of the participants."(see Pareto Principle) These people are described in the following ways:
Connectors are the people who "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together." They are "a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [... for] making friends and acquaintances". He characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people. To illustrate, Gladwell cites the following examples: the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Milgram's experiments in the small world problem, the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" trivia game, Dallas businessman Roger Horchow, and ChicagoanLois Weisberg, a person who understands the concept of the weak tie. Gladwell attributes the social success of Connectors to "their ability to span many different worlds [... as] a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy."
Mavens are "information specialists", or "people we rely upon to connect us with new information." They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is "almost pathologically helpful", further adding, "he can't help himself". In this vein, Alpert himself concedes, "A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people's problems, generally by solving his own". According to Gladwell, Mavens start "word-of-mouth epidemics" due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. As Gladwell states, "Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know".
Salesmen are "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them. Gladwell's examples include California businessman Tom Gau and news anchorPeter Jennings, and he cites several studies about the persuasive implications of non-verbal cues, including a headphone nod study (conducted by Gary Wells of the University of Alberta and Richard Petty of the University of Missouri) and William Condon's cultural microrhythms study.
The Stickiness Factor, the specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable. Popular children's television programs such as Sesame Street and Blue's Clues pioneered the properties of the stickiness factor, thus enhancing the effective retention of the educational content in tandem with its entertainment value.
The Power of Context: Human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. As Gladwell says, "Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur." For example, "zero tolerance" efforts to combat minor crimes such as fare-beating and vandalism on the New York subway led to a decline in more violent crimes city-wide. Gladwell describes the bystander effect, and explains how Dunbar's number plays into the tipping point, using Rebecca Wells' novel Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, evangelistJohn Wesley, and the high-tech firm W. L. Gore and Associates. Gladwell also discusses what he dubs the rule of 150, which states that the optimal number of individuals in a society that someone can have real social relationships with is 150.
PROCESS OF ABSTRACTION
SOVEREIGN DEBT & CREDIT CRISIS
Inverted chart of 30-year Treasury yields courtesy of Doug Short and Chris Kimble. As you can see, yields are at a "support" area that's held for 17 years.
If it breaks down (i.e., yields break out) watch out!
The state budget crisis will continue next year, and it could be worse than ever. That's part of what's freaking out muni investors, who last week dumped them like they haven't in ages.
States face a $112.3 billion gap for next year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. If the shortfall grows during the year -- as it does in most years -- FY2012 will approach the record $191 billion gap of 2010. Remember, with each successive shortfall state budgets have become more bare.
Things could be especially bad if House Republicans push through a plan to cut off non-security discretionary funding for states, opening an additional $32 billion gap.
MUNI BOND OUTFLOWS
RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE - PHASE II
COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE
2011 will see the largest magnitude of US bank commercial real estate mortgage maturities on record.
2012 should be a top tick record setter for bank CRE maturities looking both backward and forward over the half decade ahead at least.
Will this be an issue for an industry that has been supporting reported earnings growth in part by reduced loan loss reserves over the recent past? In 2010, approximately $250 billion in commercial real estate mortgage maturities occurred. In the next three years we have four times that much paper coming due.
Will CRE woes, (published or unpublished) further restrain private sector credit creation ahead via the commercial banking conduit?
Wiil the regulators force the large banks to show any increase in loan impairment. Again, given the incredible political clout of the financial sector, I doubt it.
We have experienced one of the most robust corporate profit recoveries on record over the last half century. We know reported financial sector earnings are questionable at best, but the regulators will do absolutely nothing to change that.
So once again we find ourselves in a period of Fed sponsored asset appreciation. The thought, of course, being that if stock prices levitate so will consumer confidence. Which, according to Mr. Bernanke will lead to increased spending and a virtuous circle of economic growth. Oh really? The final chart below tells us consumer confidence is not driven by higher stock prices, but by job growth.
9 - CHRONIC UNEMPLOYMENT
There are 3 major inflationary drivers underway.
1- Negative Real Interest Rates Worldwide - with policy makers' reluctant to let their currencies appreciate to market levels. If no-one can devalue against competing currencies then they must devalue against something else. That something is goods, services and assets.
2- Structural Shift by China- to a) Hike Real Wages, b) Slowly appreciate the Currency and c) Increase Interest Rates.
3- Ongoing Corporate Restructuring and Consolidation - placing pricing power increasingly back in the hands of companies as opposed to the consumer.
FOOD PRICE PRESSURES
RICE: Abdolreza Abbassian, at the FAO in Rome, says the price of rice, one of the two most critical staples for global food security, remains below the peaks of 2007-08, providing breathing space for 3bn people in poor countries. Rice prices hit $1,050 a tonne in May 2008, but now trade at about $550 a tonne.
WHEAT: The cost of wheat, the other staple critical for global food security, is rising, but has not yet surpassed the highs of 2007-08. US wheat prices peaked at about $450 a tonne in early 2008. They are now trading just under $300 a tonne.
The surge in the FAO food index is principally on the back of rising costs for corn, sugar, vegetable oil and meat, which are less important than rice and wheat for food-insecure countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Haiti. At the same time, local prices in poor countries have been subdued by good harvests in Africa and Asia.
- In India, January food prices reflected a year-on-year increase of 18%t.
- Buyers must now pay 80%t more in global markets for wheat, a key commodity in the world's food supply, than they did last summer. The poor are especially hard-hit. "We will be dealing with the issue of food inflation for quite a while," analysts with Frankfurt investment firm Lupus Alpha predict.
- Within a year, the price of sugar on the world market has gone up by 25%.
US STOCK MARKET VALUATIONS
WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM
Potential credit demand to meet forecast economic growth to 2020
The study forecast the global stock of loans outstanding from 2010 to 2020, assuming a consensus projection of global
economic growth at 6.3% (nominal) per annum. Three scenarios of credit growth for 2009-2020 were modelled:
• Global leverage decrease. Global credit stock would grow at 5.5% per annum, reaching US$ 196 trillion in 2020. To
meet consensus economic growth under this scenario, equity would need to grow almost twice as fast as GDP.
• Global leverage increase. Global credit stock would grow at 6.6% per annum, reaching US$ 220 trillion in 2020.
Likely deleveraging in currently overheated segments militates against this scenario.
• Flat global leverage. Global credit stock would grow at 6.3% per annum to 2020, tracking GDP growth and reaching
US$ 213 trillion in 2020 – almost double the total in 2009. This scenario, which assumes that modest
deleveraging in developed markets will be offset by credit growth in developing markets, provides the primary credit
growth forecast used in this report.
Will credit growth be sufficient to meet demand?
Rapid growth of both capital markets and bank lending will be required to meet the increased demand for credit – and it is
not assured that either has the required capacity. There are four main challenges.
Low levels of financial development in countries with rapid credit demand growth. Future coldspots may result from the
fact that the highest expected credit demand growth is among countries with relatively low levels of financial access. In
many of these countries, a high proportion of the population is unbanked, and capital markets are relatively undeveloped.
Challenges in meeting new demand for bank lending. By 2020, some US$ 28 trillion of new bank lending will be
required in Asia, excluding Japan (a 265% increase from 2009 lending volumes) – nearly US$ 19 trillion of it in China
alone. The 27 EU countries will require US$ 13 trillion in new bank lending over this period, and the US close to US$
10 trillion. Increased bank lending will grow banks’ balance sheets, and regulators are likely to impose additional capital
requirements on both new and existing assets, creating an additional global capital requirement of around US$ 9 trillion
(Exhibit vi). While large parts of this additional requirement can be satisfied by retained earnings, a significant capital gap in
the system will remain, particularly in Europe.
The need to revitalize securitization markets. Without a revitalization of securitization markets in key markets, it is doubtful
that forecast credit growth is realizable. There is potential for securitization to recover: market participants surveyed by
McKinsey in 2009 expected the securitization market to return to around 50% of its pre-crisis volume within three years.
But to rebuild investor confidence, there will need to be increased price transparency, better data on collateral pools, and
better quality ratings.
The importance of cross-border financing. Asian savers will continue to fund Western consumers and governments:
China and Japan will have large net funding surpluses in 2020 (of US$ 8.5 trillion and US$ 5.7 trillion respectively), while
the US and other Western countries will have significant funding gaps. The implication is that financial systems must
remain global for economies to obtain the required refinancing; “financial protectionism” would lock up liquidity and stifle
US$ RESERVE CURRENCY
SocGen crafts strategy for China hard-landing
Société Générale fears China has lost control over its red-hot economy and risks lurching from boom to bust over the next year, with major ramifications for the rest of the world.
Société Générale said China's overheating may reach 'peak frenzy' in mid-2011
- The French bank has told clients to hedge against the danger of a blow-off spike in Chinese growth over coming months that will push commodity prices much higher, followed by a sudden reversal as China slams on the brakes. In a report entitled The Dragon which played with Fire, the bank's global team said China had carried out its own version of "quantitative easing", cranking up credit by 20 trillion (£1.9 trillion) or 50pc of GDP over the past two years.
- It has waited too long to drain excess stimulus. "Policy makers are already behind the curve. According to our Taylor Rule analysis, the tightening needed is about 250 basis points," said the report, by Alain Bokobza, Glenn Maguire and Wei Yao.
- The Politiburo may be tempted to put off hard decisions until the leadership transition in 2012 is safe. "The skew of risks is very much for an extended period of overheating, and therefore uncontained inflation," it said. Under the bank's "risk scenario" - a 30pc probability - inflation will hit 10pc by the summer. "This would cause tremendous pain and fuel widespread social discontent," and risks a "pernicious wage-price spiral".
- The bank said overheating may reach "peak frenzy" in mid-2011. Markets will then start to anticipate a hard-landing, which would see non-perfoming loans rise to 20pc (as in early 1990s) and a fall in bank shares of 50pc to 75pc over the following 12 months. "We think growth could slow to 5pc by early 2012, which would be a drama for China. It would be the first hard-landing since 1994 and would destabilise the global economy. It is not our central scenario, but if it happens: commodities won't like it; Asian equities won't like it; and emerging markets won't like it," said Mr Bokobza, head of global asset allocation. However, it may bring down bond yields and lead to better growth in Europe and the US, a mirror image of the recent outperformance by the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
- Diana Choyleva from Lombard Street Research said the drop in headline inflation from 5.1pc to 4.6pc in December is meaningless because the regime has resorted to price controls on energy, water, food and other essentials. The regulators pick off those goods rising fastest. The index itself is rejigged, without disclosure. She said inflation is running at 7.6pc on a six-month annualised basis, and the sheer force of money creation will push it higher. "Until China engineers a more substantial tightening, core inflation is set to accelerate.
- The longer growth stays above trend, the worse the necessary downswing. China's violent cycle could be highly destabilising for the world." Charles Dumas, Lombard's global strategist, said the Chinese and emerging market boom may end the same way as the bubble in the 1990s. "The basic strategy of the go-go funds is wrong: they risk losing half their money like last time."
- Société Générale said runaway inflation in China will push gold higher yet, but "take profits before year end".
- The picture is more nuanced for food and industrial commodities. China accounts for 35pc of global use of base metals, 21pc of grains, and 10pc of crude oil. Prices will keep climbing under a soft-landing, a 70pc probability. A hard-landing will set off a "substantial reversal". Copper is "particularly exposed", and might slump from $9,600 a tonne to its average production cost near $4,000. Chinese real estate and energy equities will prosper under a soft-landing,
- The bank likes regional exposure through the Tokyo bourse, which is undervalued but poised to recover as Japan comes out of its deflation trap. If you fear a hard landing, avoid the whole gamut of Chinese equities. It will be clear enough by June which of these two outcomes is baked in the pie.
PIMCO'S NEW NORMAL: According to PIMCO, the coiners of the term, the new normal is also explained as an environment wherein “the snapshot for ‘consensus expectations’ has shifted: from traditional bell-shaped curves – with a high likelihood mean and thin tails (indicating most economists have similar expectations) – to a much flatter distribution of outcomes with fatter tails (where opinion is divided and expectations vary considerably).” That is to say, the distribution of forecasts has become more uniform (as per Exhibit 1).
While John Noyce covers his usual fare of weekly FX technical developments, with an emphasis on the EURUSD, the AUDUSD, the USDSEK, the NZDUSD, and broadly the extremely low level of implied vol in FX (unlike commodities - we expect a switch from commodity implied vol to FX very soon), as well as a very curious collapse in correlation between G10 FX implied vol basket, the VIX and the EURAUD spot. But the most notable observation is what may happen to stocks now that the 55 Day Moving Average is in danger of being breached for the first time in 123 days. The two key support trendlines are the August uptrend since August, which is at 1,300 and the 55 DMA, which is at 1,284. Should both of these be taken out, there is no technical support until the Jackson Hole level of mid 1,000s.
The S&P has so far done the absolute minimum correction, in terms of it has tested the uptrend from the August ‘10 lows at 1,300
However, as discussed in a number of updates and client meetings over the last couple of weeks, the thing which “concerns” us in terms of it being a warning of a larger move is the fact that the market has been above the 55-dma for such an extreme period on a daily close basis.
With Wednesday’s close above the market having spent 123 consecutive daily sessions above this particular moving average (it hasn’t made a daily close below since 1st September ‘10). This is very extreme by historic standards and takes the S&P to a greater period above its 55-dma than that which equity markets in other regions (particularly Asia) managed before they began to correct over recent weeks.
The other notable point about the recent price action is the extreme move seen on Monday where the market posted its largest one-day %age decline since the recent rally began in earnest on 27th August ‘10.
In terms of levels from here;
The uptrend from the 27th August low’s at 1,300
A similar size correction to that which took place from the 5th November high to the 16th November low (in point terms) would target 1,290
The 55-dma stands at 1,284
In conclusion we’re by no means making an argument for a real “downtrend” in equities to begin, it’s too early to make that type of statement, but, the risks of a larger correction developing do seem quite high.
Also, the US is now more overstreteched than any other world markets:
The charts above show the same count of the number of days the market achieved above the 55-dma for the Kospi and Taiex (the Korean and Taiwanese benchmarks)
These two markets, from their lows in May ‘10, developed some of the cleanest and most steady trends of the various national benchmark indices in the Asian region. However, even given that backdrop, they only managed to achieved 111 and 109 consecutive daily closes above their respective 55-dmas before breaking back below on a daily close basis and correcting further.
With this in mind, just in pure comparison terms, the chances that the S&P achieves a daily close back below its 55-dma which stands at 1,284 seem quite high (as a reminder, up until Wednesday, the S&P has made 123 consecutive daily closes above its 55-dma).
When the Fed announced that MBS/agency purchases would be a part of QE1 way back in 2008, few were surprised. After all that was the easiest way to lower interest rates on mortgages: a topic that back then seemed critical as there was still hope that the Fed had some control over housing (a premise since proven false now that housing is well into its double dip round). Yet the Fed's purchases of Treasurys seemed somewhat arbitrary: after all, why buy the most liquid rate security, and more importantly, which derivative asset class was the Fed targeting through UST purchases? And just before QE Lite and QE2 was announced there were additional rumors that the Fed would go after MBS again to assist housing (recall all those Pimco purchases of MBS on margin - of course, only later was it discovered that Gross hopes to get them all put back to Bank of America). To the surprise of many, the Fed picked Treasurys as the preferred security of choice once again. The debate was open: if the Fed is targeting the housing market it should be buying MBS again. No such luck. So now that two years of QE (in their 1, Lite and 2 iterations) are in the history, we finally can run some correlation analyses to see just what asset class the Fed had been targeting all along. The attached chart presents the very simple result.
The chart below shows total Fed holdings of USTs and of the SPY.
Now here's a thought: the Fed has another $800 billion in UST purchasing dry powder left under QE2 alone...
...Of course the chart above excludes the price of gold in US currency, which confirms that on a real basis, the value of the black line has declined over the same period as it has gotten progressively more diluted with pieces of linen courtesy of the red line.
From Credit Trader
CBOEs recent introduction of the SKEW Index brings the realities of the options market (and real fear indexes) to retail investor's eyes. With so much attention paid to the VIX (the anachronsitic FEAR index) and especially its dropping over the last few months, investors are led to believe that risk is reducing but lo and behold, as many Pros know, the cost of protecting against a much more serious drop (or tail event) has increased quite notably with out-of-the-money options vols rising notably. The chart below shows this quite clearly as VIX (At-the-money vol) ebbs away (red arrows) as the day-to-day vol of more 'normal' mark-to-market movements is culled thanks to the liquidity fueled effervescence, the rise in out of the money (or crisis/event risk) vol has risen dramatically (white arrows). This can only go on so long as vol arbitrageurs will creep up the moneyness curve (to hedge the tail risk) and eventually impact the ATM. This happened in early 2010 and is happening again currently.
The recent moves in the major credit indices also fits with this world view as any smarter-than-the-average bear capital structure arbitrageur knows that the skew (and specifically the out of the money vol market) has a much better relationship with credit than the near-the-money. One other potential way to think of this (hattip to Artemis recent article on this) is that the skew better represents the real market value of the Bernanke Put (i.e. how much is the market pricing in the never-ending story of a Fed-provided safety net) - perhaps notable that the SKEW began to rise very shortly after Jackson Hole and the QE2 plan came online.
The bottom line: “One may argue that every country has the right to be wrong so long as it doesn’t cause harm to others.”
Without naming names, they cite three sets of circumstances in which there is a risk of such harm.
(1) Large current-account deficits, by definition, require the economy running them to import a lot of capital from abroad. If, for some reason, the foreign capital stops coming suddenly, “these evidences often lead to large financial disruptions” that can affect many countries. This, they say, argues for “surveillance”–among the IMF’s favorite words–not only on the magnitude of current-account deficits but on a broader set of indicators.
(2) Large current-account surpluses reflect “unfair competition,” that is a combination of a low exchange rate coupled with low domestic demand that is economically quite similar to tariffs-cum-export subsidies. Tariffs imposed to this end are illegal under the World Trade Organization rules. (Can you say: C-H-I-N-A?)
So should the same be true of cheap currencies and high savings rates that reduce domestic demand? It depends. “Proving intent– namely, that surpluses reflect a deliberate strategy designed to gain competitive advantage–is likely to be difficult. Ignoring intent may be politically unacceptable.”
(3) When part of the world economy is trapped in an economic circumstance in which interest rates are at zero and can’t fall any further (can you say U-S-A or Japan?), then “a larger current account surplus in a given country reduces demand and output in other countries and thus affects them adversely.”
This concern, the IMF economists say, is “logically well founded.” When interest rates cannot decline in other countries in response to an increase in global savings–”as is arguably the case in several large advanced economies”–then a large current-account surplus in one (obviously, China) can lead to lower demand and lower output in others. This case, they note, is specific to the current moment in economic history, and isn’t likely to prevail for long.
Multilateral surveillance — essentially peer pressure with facts — can be useful and important, Blanchard and Milesi-Ferretti concludes, when are spillover effects from deficits or surpluses.
Surveillance by the IMF or the G20, they say, can (a) provide a forum for discussions of differences in nations’ assessments of current conditions and (b) “as a potentially useful commitment device for countries to implements some of the required but politically unpalatable fiscal or structural adjustments,” an approach, they note, now being attempted by European economies that share the euro and thus are vulnerable to damage from each other’s unsustainable policies.