Friday, May 28, 2010

Today's bubble: banks buying sovereign debt

From David Rosenberg's Breakfast with Dave.
We are still in the midst of a credit collapse where there is simply too much debt and debt service globally relative to worldwide income. The fact that we had a year-long respite does not alter this view. It was a respite that was induced by what is now an apparent unsustainable pace of bailout and fiscal stimulus in practically every country on the planet, not just the United States. What has happened was that governments bailed out the banks and massively stimulated the economy but because the revenue cupboard was bare, in part due to the savage effects of the global recession, public sector debt loads exploded at all levels of government, and to varying degrees, in every jurisdiction.

But someone had to buy these government bonds, and who else, but the very same banks that the governments rescued! And, they had a super-steep yield curve to generate profits from this bond-buying activity. Talk about a symbiotic relationship.

Not only that, but because of global bank capital rules, these financial institutions were not compelled to put any new capital into reserve against these government bonds because of their investment-grade status from the ratings agencies, when in fact, very few countries actually deserve the ratings they have when one assesses structural deficit ratios, debt/GDP ratios and interest costs/revenue ratios appropriately. Now, ironically, the governments, having saved the banks, only to then rely on the banks to fund their bloated deficits, are now in a situation where their banks need help again because of the eroding quality of the government debt on these bank balance sheets. Talk about a dangerous game of musical chairs. In any event, the Lex column on page 14 of the FT goes to the root of this today and concludes “with most of the worlds’ banks still woefully undercapitalized, Basel’s capital adequacy rules should end zero weightings.”

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