Apologies for my absence

Apologies for my absence over the last week. My computer was damaged during a thunderstorm. Even though I unplugged and powered off, it was dead as a dodo when I tried to turn it back on. Backups are only as good as the recovery software unfortunately (in future I will take mirror images of my hard disk), so I am going through the tiresome process of setting everything up manually.

Regards, Colin

Murray has endorsed macroprudential | Macrobusiness.com.au

Posted by Houses and Holes
At 12:52pm on December 8, 2014
Published with permission from Macrobusiness.com.au.

From Callam Pickering:

The one glaring problem with the Financial System Inquiry is that it didn’t push hard for the introduction of macroprudential policies. That takes the heat off both the RBA and APRA.

The truth is that higher capital requirements — combined with higher risk weighting on mortgages and tax reform — would have a similar (potentially larger) effect as macroprudential policies. In the long term financial system and tax reform is clearly the better approach to creating an efficient and sustainable housing and financial sector, but these reforms will take longer to implement.

That’s right. Murray’s principle recommendations are macroprudential. APRA is now free (and is being urged) to implement higher capital requirements. They do not require anything from government to go ahead. This is basically the model of MP envisaged by Prof Ross Garnaut.

A more interesting question is whether or not APRA will still act on specific areas of risk such as interest-only loans. These are a menace, as the US bust showed, and are surging. Murray did not mention them, being too granular, but said the following on MP more particularly:

The global financial crisis (GFC) prompted policy makers and regulators around the world to reconsider their approach to maintaining financial stability. Some countries at the epicentre of the crisis have since expanded their prudential perimeters and adopted more formal and centralised institutional arrangements. This includes establishing single entities with responsibility for macro-prudential regulation. Australia has long adopted what could be called a ‘macro-prudential’ approach to supervision under the rubric of financial stability. Yet, Australia’s institutional structure is relatively informal and decentralised. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and APRA each have responsibility for financial stability. However, most macro-prudential tools can only be deployed by APRA. This places a strong premium on cooperation between the two agencies.

Against the background of developments overseas, the Inquiry has considered whether Australia should change its institutional arrangements for making and implementing financial stability policy.

However, the Inquiry does not see a strong case for change in this area. Although approach has advantages and disadvantages, alternative institutional approaches are yet to be tested — as indeed is the effectiveness of many macro-prudential tools. For this reason, the Inquiry recommends no fundamental change to the current institutional arrangements for financial stability policy and no change to the prudential perimeter at this time.

That is neither here nor there and APRA will still be free to raise capital requirements for specific loans if it sees fit.

Economics is just politics masquerading as science | Pragmatic Capitalism

From Cullen Roche:

….much of economics is just politics masquerading as science

In an earlier blog, Roche discusses the reasons for this (emphasis added):

  • Most of economics involves conforming a political bias with a world view.  For instance, most Keynesians start with government spending and taxing, how those government policies can influence the economy and then interpret a “model” in such a way that confirms their political bias.  Monetarists start with the central bank and interpret a more laissez-faire view of a “model” to interpret how policy can impact the economy.  Austrians start with the private sector and build a “model” that seeks to eliminate government.  So on and so forth.  Every “school” of economics has a very specific ideology and the political lines are very clearly drawn.  This doesn’t even approach “science”.  It’s more like religion.

 

  • If economics were more of a science it would start with stylized fact.  It would start purely with how the system works and how it functions at the operational level instead of looking at how a certain political entity can use certain policies to conform to a particular world view.

 

  • Why did most economists fail to predict the crisis or prescribe the right cures?  Because they’re not working from the foundation of stylized fact.  They’re working from a policy bias position that renders their world view inapplicable much of the time.

 

  • So, what is economics good for?  Unfortunately, not very much given that so much of it is really just a policy debate masquerading as a scientific debate.   And until we start getting more scientific, like say, trying to figure out how key institutions (like banks) in our monetary system operate, then we’re just chasing our own tails thinking that economics is useful.

Read more at Economists are Politically Biased and That’s a Good Thing | Pragmatic Capitalism.

Australian banks rally on Murray Report

The ASX 200 Financial sector (ex-REITs) responded well to release of David Murray’s report into the financial services industry. As the largest constituent of the ASX 200 index, comprising more than one-third of market capitalization, sector performance is critical in determining future direction of the broader index. Breach of resistance at 7220 suggests that the correction is over. Follow-through above 7400 would confirm a fresh primary advance.

ASX 200 Financial ex Property

David Murray’s Financial System Inquiry

The Final Report of the Financial System Inquiry, led by ex-Commonwealth Bank CEO David Murray, calls on Australian banks to become “unquestionably strong” to prevent another financial crisis. The FSI calls for increased bank capital in the form of common equity, with capital ratios increasing from an average of 9.1% to the 12.2% threshold for the top quartile of international banks. The FSI also proposes that banks increase their average risk-weighting for home mortgages to 25-30% compared to current weightings as low as 15%.

Chris Joye from the AFR estimates that the first proposal would require about $21 billion in new capital, while increased risk-weighting would require an additional $15 billion. There may be some overlap between the two, but the combined requirement is likely to be more that $30 billion.

Impact on consumers is likely to be negligible. The FSI projects that a 1% increase in bank capital ratios would increase the weighted cost of capital by 6 basis points (0.06%) because of the higher cost of equity capital.

Bank Funding Costs with Increased Capital

But this does not take account of lower risk premiums required, for debt and equity, when capital is increased. A reduction of debt funding costs to 3.65% and equity to 14.75% would offset the increase in equity capital; so the actual cost increase may be considerably smaller.

A resilient banking system would not only avoid significant losses of GDP (as high as 158 percent) in the event of a financial crisis, but would save up to 900,000 jobs according to the FSI. In addition, reduced risk of a government bailout would minimize the threat to government debt levels and Australia’s AAA credit rating. Banks would also benefit through improved profitability and stronger growth prospects.

My concerns with FSI are mainly long-term. Raising capital ratios to the top quartile of international banks would certainly improve the resilience of Australian banks, but this is a moving target. We can expect average capital held by international banks to increase as other countries conduct their own reviews into the adequacy of bank funding. Also, leverage ratios (ignoring risk-weighting) remain low and should be progressively lifted towards a long-term goal of 6 to 8 percent. Reliance solely on risk-weighted capital ratios can encourage industry-wide concentration in low-risk-weighted assets which in turn will elevate risk. Lastly, bail-in bonds are dangerous — any attempt at conversion would destroy creditor confidence in the banking system with far-reaching repercussions — and should be discouraged.

I believe that stronger capital ratios are a win for both Australian taxpayers and bank shareholders. Implementation of the FSI recommendations would be a major advance towards building a resilient and sustainable banking sector.

A long-term view

Better than expected US jobs data and strong German factory orders helped to rally markets Friday. Also, ECB chief Mario Draghi’s Thursday announcement is seen as supporting broad-based asset purchases (QE) early in 2015. A long-term view of major markets may help to place current activity in perspective.

The S&P 500 continues a strong advance, with rising 13-week Twiggs Money Flow indicating medium-term buying pressure. Long-term and medium targets coincide at 2250* and we should expect further resistance at this level.

S&P 500 Index

* Target calculation: 1500 + ( 1500 – 750 ) = 2250; 2050 + ( 2050 – 1850 ) = 2250

CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) continues to indicate low risk typical of a bull market.

S&P 500 VIX

Germany’s DAX broke resistance at its earlier high of 10000, suggesting a further advance. Recovery of 13-week Twiggs Momentum above zero indicates continuation of the up-trend. The long-term target is 12500*, though I cannot see this being reached until tensions in Eastern Europe are resolved.

DAX

* Target calculation: 7500 + ( 7500 – 2500 ) = 12500

The Footsie is testing long-term resistance at 6900/7000. Respect of the zero line by 13-Week Twiggs Money Flow indicates long-term buying pressure. Breakout above 7000 would signal a fresh primary advance, with a long-term target of 10500*.

FTSE 100

* Target calculation: 7000 + ( 7000 – 3500 ) = 10500

China’s Shanghai Composite Index broke resistance at 2500 and is likely to test the 2009 high at 3500. Rising 13-week Twiggs Money Flow indicates strong (medium-term) buying pressure.

Shanghai Composite Index

Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index is testing resistance at its 2007 high of 18000. 13-Week Twiggs Money Flow respecting the zero line indicates long-term buying pressure. Breakout would signal another primary advance. A long-term target of 28000* seems unachievable unless one factors in rising inflation and continued devaluation of the yen.

Nikkei 225 Index

* Target calculation: 18000 + ( 18000 – 8000 ) = 28000

Weak ASX 200 performance is highlighted by the distance below its 2007 high of 6850. Falling commodity prices have retarded the recovery and are likely to continue for some time ahead.

The 2005-2008 Australian commodities boom was squandered, damaging local industry and hampering the current recovery. Norway successfully weathered a similar commodities boom in the 1990s, protecting local industry while establishing a sovereign wealth fund that is the envy of its peers. Their fiscal discipline set a precedent which should be followed by any resource-rich country looking to navigate a sustainable path through a commodities boom and avoid the dreaded “Dutch Disease”.

Respect of support at 5000 would indicate the primary up-trend is intact — but declining 13-week Twiggs Money Flow indicates selling pressure. Reversal of TMF below zero or breach of support at 5000/5150 would warn of a down-trend.

ASX 200

* Target calculation: 5000 + ( 5000 – 4000 ) = 6000

The daily chart shows a slightly improved perspective. 21-Day Twiggs Money Flow oscillating around zero signals indecision. Recovery above 5400 would suggest the correction is over. But reversal below 5200 is as likely and would warn of a test of primary support at 5120/5150.

ASX 200 daily

A 3-Sentence Explanation Of What Crashing Oil Prices Mean For America | Business Insider

Charles Schwab’s Liz Ann Sonders offers some simple maths that puts it all into perspective. In three sentences:

Consumer spending represents 68% of the US economy. Oil and gas capex represents about 1% of US GDP and less than 9% of US total capex (which in turn represents about 12% of US GDP). Therefore, the benefit of lower energy prices to the consumer and many businesses greatly outweighs the significant hit to energy companies and/or energy-oriented capex, especially in energy-oriented states.

Read more at A 3-Sentence Explanation Of What Crashing Oil Prices Mean For America | Business Insider.

Will falling commodity prices cause deflation?

Some readers expressed concern about falling commodity prices, especially crude oil, and whether this will cause global deflation. This confuses the cause with the symptom.

Crude

Falling prices are largely benign except where caused by a contraction of the money supply. Commodity prices may fall when there is an excess of supply over demand, but this is soon absorbed by changes in consumer behavior. Discretionary spending will rise in response to the savings, so that aggregate demand is unaffected.

A contraction in the money supply, however, is far more serious. Slow growth in the monetary base (below growth of real GDP) results in less money chasing the same goods, driving down prices. Supply and demand in this case are unchanged, but prices fall because of a contraction in the money supply. Wages, however, are sticky and do not fall in line with prices, leading to falling profits, cuts in production and job layoffs. Falling income from lower profits and fewer jobs leads to a contraction in aggregate demand, causing further cuts to production and income.

Contraction of the money supply also places pressure on banks to reduce lending. This danger was highlighted by Irving Fisher in the 1930s. Contracting credit reduces not only new investment but forces existing borrowers to liquidate some of their assets, mainly stocks and property. The surge of selling, and limited availability of credit, drives down asset prices. A feedback loop results, with falling asset prices prompting banks to further contract lending — in turn causing more price falls. That is the central bankers’ equivalent of a perfect storm. The graph below shows how close we came in 2009 to a deflationary spiral.

Working Monetary Base

Slow growth in the monetary base caused a sharp contraction in bank lending (below zero) in 2009. Only prompt action by the Fed averted a 1930’s-style collapse of the financial system.

The Fed indicated in October that it will curtail QE and no longer expand its balance sheet to support money supply growth. Should we expect another contraction of the money supply as in 2008?

The answer is: NO. When we look at the graph of the Fed balance sheet below, we can see that total asset growth [red] is slowing. But bank deposits at the Fed — excess reserves that earn interest at 0.25% p.a. — are slowing at an even faster rate. That means that the actual amount of money flowing into the banking system is not contracting, but increasing.

Fed Total Assets and Excess Reserves

The following graph shows a net growth rate (of Total Assets minus Excess Reserves on Deposit) of more than 20 percent. Expect growth to slow over time, but the Fed can adjust the interest rate payable on excess reserves to ensure that it remains positive.

Fed Total Assets minus Excess Reserves

Deflation is a far bigger problem for the Euro. After a “whatever it takes” surge in 2012, the ECB attempted to contract its balance sheet far too soon — withdrawing treatment before the patient had fully recovered. They also do not have excess reserves on deposit, like the Fed, which could soften the impact.

ECB Total Assets

The result has been faltering economic growth and price levels falling dangerously close to deflation.

ECB Total Assets

The ECB appears to have recognized its error, indicating that it will expand its balance sheet if necessary to avert a monetary contraction. If they learn from their past mistakes, the ECB should be able to avoid any threat of deflation.

A Solution for Afghanistan’s Opium Crisis? | The Diplomat

Sohrab Rahmaty makes a strong case for changing the strategy to control illicit opium production in Afghanistan:

….In the 1970s, Turkey was a major source of illicit opium for the drug trade. In just four years, and with the help of an American-led initiative, Turkey was able to transform its illegal opium trade into a viable and profitable legal industry. The Turkish government instituted a program that offered to license farmers’ crops for medical purposes, resulting in Turkey becoming a leader in the opiates-based medical field. There is no reason why Afghanistan should not pursue a similar path….

The cost of establishing a legitimate industry would be a fraction of the cost of “containment” of the illicit industry and would also strengthen central government control over outlying regions.

Read more at A Solution for Afghanistan’s Opium Crisis? | The Diplomat.

Crude oil: A zero-sum game?

“The current fall in price does nothing to offset the squeeze on the total economy from rising costs,” Grantham writes. “It merely transfers massive amounts of income from one subgroup (oil producers) to another (oil consumers), in a largely zero-sum game….”[Business Insider]

The above quote from Jeremy Grantham made me do a double-take. His “largely zero-sum game” refers to the global playing field. Oil producers such as the Saudis, Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria and Iran will earn less per barrel, while oil consumers like China and the EU will gain an equivalent amount per barrel. More importantly, oil consumers will receive a substantial boost to their economies. The “zero-sum game” assumes that crude production will remain constant. But consumption is likely to rise significantly as plunging oil prices deliver more savings to consumers, providing a massive stimulus to local economies. That in turn will lead to increased production of crude oil. A win-win for producers and consumers.

The Nymex Light Crude monthly chart shows a breach of long-term support at $75/barrel. Brent crude is in a similar down-trend. Target for the (WTI) decline is $40/barrel*.

Nymex Crude

* Target calculation: 75 – ( 110 – 75 ) = 40

Plunging prices may slow the establishment of new wells, but existing wells are likely to continue pumping as long as the price per barrel of crude is higher than the marginal cost. Marginal costs ignore sunk (or fixed) costs like exploration and establishing a new well. They are merely the variable costs that would be saved — like wages and consumables — if production is halted. Marginal costs are far lower than the producers’ total cost and are not yet threatened.

As for the long-term viability of producers at lower prices, the following chart is worth repeating. Prior to the 2005 “China boom”, the ratio of crude prices to CPI oscillated between 0.1 and 0.2. Over the last few years it has soared to between 0.4 and 0.6. A fall back to 0.2 would harm new, marginal producers (i.e. US fracking) but should not affect core producers. Whether governments reliant on “oil-welfare” — like Russia, Iran and Venezuela — are sustainable is an entirely different matter.

Nymex Crude

A tale of two economies

Stock markets in Western Europe and Asia are rallying on the strength of falling oil prices, joining the US in a bull trend. But primary producers, largely dependent on commodity exports, are likely to suffer as a result of falling prices. Australia is no exception.

The S&P 500 continues a primary advance. A conservative target would be 2200*. Rising 13-week Twiggs Money Flow indicates medium-term buying support. Reversal below 2000 is unlikely, but would warn of another correction.

S&P 500 Index

* Target calculation: 2000 + ( 2000 – 1800 ) = 2200

CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) indicates low risk typical of a bull market.

S&P 500 VIX

Germany’s DAX is testing resistance at its earlier high of 10000. Recovery of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow above the declining trendline suggests medium-term buying pressure. Breakout above resistance would offer a conservative target of 11000*. Reversal below 9000 is unlikely, but would warn of a primary down-trend.

DAX

* Target calculation: 10000 + ( 10000 – 9000 ) = 11000

The Footsie is also testing long-term resistance on the monthly chart — at 6900/7000. The sharp rise on 13-Week Twiggs Money Flow indicates strong medium-term buying pressure, but resistance at the December 1999 high is likely to be solid. Reversal below 6500 remains unlikely.

FTSE 100

China’s Shanghai Composite Index cleared resistance at 2440/2500, signaling a primary up-trend. 13-Week Twiggs Money Flow respect of its rising trendline confirms (medium-term) buying pressure. I remain wary of China. The recent rate-cut by the PBOC is cause for concern, not jubilation.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target calculation: 2500 + ( 2500 – 2000 ) = 3000

Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index is headed for long-term resistance at 18000. 13-Week Twiggs Money Flow oscillating above the zero line indicates long-term buying pressure. Reversal below 16500 is unlikely.

Nikkei 225 Index

* Target calculation: 16000 + ( 16000 – 14000 ) = 18000

The ASX 200 is undergoing another correction. Respect of support at 5250/5300 would indicate the primary up-trend is intact — but 13-week Twiggs Money Flow reversal below zero warns of strong selling pressure. Breach of support is likely and would warn of a test of 5000.

ASX 200

* Target calculation: 5650 + ( 5650 – 5300 ) = 6000

Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine by Timothy Snyder | The New York Review of Books

Yale University’s Timothy Snyder, a leading historian on Eastern Europe, discusses the Russian media claim that the Ukrainian government are fascist:

The strange thing about the claim from Moscow is the political ideology of those who make it. The Eurasian Union is the enemy of the European Union, not just in strategy but in ideology. The European Union is based on a historical lesson: that the wars of the twentieth century were based on false and dangerous ideas, National Socialism and Stalinism, which must be rejected and indeed overcome in a system guaranteeing free markets, free movement of people, and the welfare state. Eurasianism, by contrast, is presented by its advocates as the opposite of liberal democracy.

The Eurasian ideology draws an entirely different lesson from the twentieth century. Founded around 2001 by the Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, it proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. Rather than rejecting totalitarian ideologies, Eurasianism calls upon politicians of the twenty-first century to draw what is useful from both fascism and Stalinism. Dugin’s major work, The Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, follows closely the ideas of Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi political theorist. Eurasianism is not only the ideological source of the Eurasian Union, it is also the creed of a number of people in the Putin administration, and the moving force of a rather active far-right Russian youth movement. For years Dugin has openly supported the division and colonization of Ukraine.

Read more at Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine by Timothy Snyder | The New York Review of Books.

Russia: EU is the real enemy | Tim Snyder

Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale University says that, despite the spin, the European Union is Russia’s real enemy — not America — and a Western-leaning Ukraine is part of the problem.

The Kremlin’s propaganda war on Western values

Yale University’s Timothy Snyder is the world’s leading historian of Eastern Europe. His series of articles in the New York Review of Books has been hailed as the definitive analysis of this crisis.

Phil Hughes

We mourn the passing of Australian test cricketer Phil Hughes.

Phil Hughes

The 25-year old was struck on the neck while attempting to hook a short delivery in a Sheffield Shield game on Tuesday. The blow ruptured an artery and Hughes did not regain consciousness after collapsing on the field. He died in hospital two days later. The cricket world is devastated by his loss.

ASX 200 rallies despite weaker AUD

The Australian Dollar followed through below support at $0.8650, confirming a (primary) decline with a target of $0.80*. Declining 13-week Twiggs Momentum below zero strengthens the bear signal. Recovery above $0.8650 is unlikely.

AUDUSD

* Target calculation: 0.87 – ( 0.94 – 0.87 ) = 0.80

The ASX 200 respected support at 5300. Follow-through above 5450 would suggest a fresh advance. A 21-day Twiggs Money Flow trough at zero indicates short-term buying pressure. Reversal below 5300, however, would test primary support.

ASX 200

The ASX 200 Financial sector (ex-REITs) is the largest constituent of the ASX 200 index. 13-Week Twiggs Money Flow oscillating above zero suggests healthy buying pressure despite the Murray Inquiry’s likely call for increased bank capital [AFR]. The sector index successfully tested support at 7050, indicating another test of 7400.

ASX 200 Financial ex Property

Stronger dollar, weaker gold

Ten-year Treasury Note yields retreated below 2.30%, signaling another test of primary support at 2.00%. Declining 13-week Twiggs Momentum below zero suggests a continuing down-trend. Recovery above 2.40% is unlikely, but would warn of a rally to 2.65%.

10-Year Treasury Yields

* Target calculation: 2.30 – ( 2.60 – 2.30 ) = 2.00

The Dollar Index is testing resistance at its 2008/2010 highs between 88 and 90. Rising 13-week Twiggs Momentum indicates a healthy (primary) up-trend. Expect retracement or consolidation below resistance, but failure of support at 84 is unlikely.

Dollar Index

* Target calculation: 84 + ( 84 – 79 ) = 89.00

Gold

Low inflation and a strong dollar reduce demand for gold. Low interest rates reduce the carrying cost of gold, but the appeal is muted when inflation expectations remain low. Gold is testing its new resistance level at $1200/ounce. Respect is likely and would confirm a long-term target of $1000*. Declining 13-week Twiggs Momentum below zero indicates a strong down-trend.

Spot Gold

* Target calculation: 1200 – ( 1400 – 1200 ) = 1000

Falling crude threatens gold

Nymex Light Crude broke long-term support at $76/barrel, signaling a further decline. Sharply falling 13-week Twiggs Momentum reinforces this. Brent crude is in a similar down-trend. Long-term target for WTI is $50/barrel*.

Nymex Crude

* Target calculation: 80 – ( 110 – 80 ) = 50

Supply is booming and OPEC members appear unwilling to agree on production cuts [Bloomberg]. Goldman Sachs project WTI prices of around $74/barrel in 2015 [Business Insider], but the following chart of real crude prices (Brent crude/CPI) suggests otherwise.

Nymex Crude

Prior to the 2005 “China boom”, the index seldom ventured above 0.2. The subsequent surge in real crude prices produced two unwelcome results. First, higher prices retarded recovery from the 2008/2009 recession, acting as a hand-brake on global growth. The second unpleasant consequence is a restored Russian war chest, financing Vladimir Putin’s geo-political ambitions.

I suspect that crude prices are not going to reach the 2008 low of close to $30/barrel, but the technical target of $50 is within reach. Given the propensity of gold and crude prices to impact on each other, the bearish effect on gold could be immense.