Sunday, August 19, 2007

Do you reckon that the worst is over?

A couple of months ago, back in 7th May 2007, I blogged on the following posting: It's Bubble Everywhere. Mr. Grantham mentioned the following:

  • 'The necessary conditions for a bubble to form are quite simple, and number only two,' he said in his letter. 'First, the fundamental economic conditions must look at least excellent - and near perfect is better. Second, liquidity must be generous in quantity and price: it must be easy and cheap to leverage. If these two conditions have ever been present without causing a bubble, it has escaped our attention.'

This generous liquidity is now seriously challenged yes? (You can read Mr. Grantham's full commentary here: )

June 20th 2007, Beware the driving forces behind surging asset prices, Dr. Marc Faber made the following comments.

  • Asset prices have soared in value everywhere in the world since October 2002. Prices of stocks, commodities, real estate, art and every kind of useless collectible have shot up. Even bond prices have until recently gone up as interest rates fell.

    That all asset classes increased in value simultaneously around the world is most unusual.

    Previous asset bubbles were concentrated in just one or a few classes: in the 19th century, canal and railway shares; in 1929, US equities; in the late 1970s, conglomerates; in 1980, gold, silver and oil; in 1989, Japan and Taiwan; in 2000, the telecoms, media and technology sectors.

    The beauty today is that every kind of asset is grossly inflated. How could this happen?

    Already ahead of 2000, the US Federal Reserve pursued an ultra-expansionary monetary policy. Then, after the March 2000 peak in the Nasdaq, the Fed eased monetary conditions massively. All asset prices soared, particularly for US homes. A subsequent boom in refinancing and home equity extraction injected an overdose of adrenalin into consumption-addicted US households. Thus, the US trade and current account deficit soared from less than $200bn in 1998 to above $800bn.

    In turn, the US current account deficit provided the world with the so-called excess liquidity, pushing up international reserves and the prices of assets ranging from Warhol paintings to rare violins.

    However, two asset classes stand out as big losers: the Zimbabwe dollar and the US dollar.
    The latter has been in a downtrend since 2001. Its value depends on the worst possible combination of factors: arrogant, bold and ignorant neo-conservatives; and Ben Bernanke, who prides himself by exclaiming that "we have the printing presses".

    Luckily, Robert Mugabe has reminded the world that the more money a government prints, the weaker its currency and the higher its inflation and interest rates will climb.

    Rather than travel to Beijing to lecture the very well-educated Chinese who in recent years have accumulated foreign exchange reserves of over $1,200bn, Mr Bernanke and Hank Paulson would have found it more productive to spend a few days in Harare, where they could have studied the devastating consequences of excessive money and credit.

    In fact, we have already reached the danger zone. It is no longer the real economy that is driving asset prices.

    In a credit, and hence asset price-driven economy, money supply and credit must continue to grow at an accelerating rate in order to sustain the expansion.

Money supply and credit suspension must continue!

Then the subprime mess came really messy and nasty and simply put a huge spanner to liquidity!

Here is an excert of an extremely imformative article posted on ( here )

  • Today that market is a mess. As defaults have increased, investors who bought bonds and other securities based on the mortgages have found their securities losing value, or in some cases difficult to value at all. Some hedge funds that feasted on the securities imploded, and investors as far away as Germany and Australia have suffered. Central banks have felt obliged to jump in to calm turmoil in the credit markets.

    It was lenders that made the lenient loans, it was home buyers who sought out easy mortgages, and it was Wall Street underwriters that turned them into securities....

Aug 14th 2007, the folowing article was posted by Fortune on CNN.Money, Is the worst over?

  • Here's a 10-point guide to what we know and don't know about the troubles, and what the repercussions are likely to be:

    Why did America's subprime mortgage woes have such a big impact on world financial markets?

    Because these mortgages were lumped together in packages and sold as asset-backed securities all over the world, particularly in Europe. Often the initial securities were themselves put into new packages, leveraged up and resold as so-called collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). They are a sort of derivative play on the underlying mortgages, just as futures and options are a play on stocks and commodities. Big banks have whole securitization departments who create these instruments. They do so to profit from the difference between the long-term returns these investment vehicles produce and their more plain vanilla short-term borrowing, and to earn fees.

    Who bought them?

    Everyone, and that's the problem. The CDO market has exploded in recent years: More than $100 billion worth of structured cash CDOs were issued in the fourth quarter of last year alone, according to CreditFlux Data+, a London firm that tracks them (and that doesn't include the even more arcane "synthetic" CDOs). Banks, institutional investors and hedge funds have been the main customers, but some retail investors have also bought into them through the asset-backed securities, or ABS, funds that some of the biggest European banks sell to the public. Everyone who bought these securities was given the same pitch, namely that they were a relatively safe bet, since much of the paper had AAA ratings, but offered higher returns than regular corporate bonds.

    So what went wrong?

    The number of delinquencies in the U.S. subprime mortgage market has been rising and is now substantially larger than anyone expected - about 14 percent of the total, up from about 10 percent in 2004 and 2005. That means there's a strong likelihood that some of the securities holders, especially those where the underlying mortgages were taken out in the past couple of years, are sitting on losses.

    Those troubles have been massively compounded by the aggressive use of leverage in CDO packages. When U.S. blue chip financial players like Bear Stearns and then a variety of European banks began reporting problems, panic quickly gripped the markets. That turned into a vicious circle: These debt instruments have now become impossible to price because nobody wants to buy them any longer. And since they can't be priced, the size of the losses aren't clear, which in turn has given rise to more rumors about financial players in trouble. Banks in continental Europe especially simply stopped lending to one another, which is why the liquidity dried up in the credit markets as a whole and the European Central Bank had to jump in.

    How big is the problem, really?

    Nobody is quite sure. Patrick Artus, an economist at Natixis in Paris, reckons the total damage inflicted by subprime woes is a relatively manageable $45 billion, which is the difference between the expected rate of mortgage delinquencies and the current much higher rate. Another French bank that is an important player in the derivatives market, Sociéte Générale, reckons that even if things really turn sour, the worst will be losses of about $100 billion. That may sound like a lot, but it's the equivalent of about 1 percent of the total market capitalization of the S&P 500.

    Such calculations highlight the real issue here, that the panic has been due more to a collapse of confidence than to any financial cataclysm. "We're still primarily looking at a liquidity crisis rather than a credit or a solvency crisis," says Fitch's Rawcliffe.

    Is it really over?

    No. The market "remains very, very fragile," says a top executive at one of the leading European banks. Some confidence has been restored into the international banking system and its overnight lending patterns by the big injections of central-bank funds, but nobody has yet dared to start buying that subprime paper in any sizeable quantities. And because there's so little transparency about who is sitting on what size losses, the rumors continue to swirl.

    Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, who has long warned about the risk of financial contagion, reckons some other parts of the U.S. housing market including home equity loans and second mortgages are starting to display what he calls the same "toxic characteristics" as the subprime sector. More optimistically, Neil McLeish, the chief European credit strategist at Morgan Stanley, says that, "we have passed the absolute peak of that anxiety and uncertainty." But even he believes that credit market conditions will be more difficult in the coming months and, "there is still some risk of additional volatility" at least for the next month or so.

    Who are the biggest casualties?

    Banks and financial market players across the world are starting to come clean about their exposure and losses, partly in order to help restore confidence in the market. The losses incurred by Wall Street titans Bear Stearns (Charts, Fortune 500) and Goldman Sachs (Charts, Fortune 500), which this week announced it is putting $2 billion into one of its hedge funds, have received the most publicity. Outside the United States, firms such as insurer AXA (Charts) and BNP Paribas in France have frozen or shut problem funds, while a range of banks including NIBC of the Netherlands and Commerzbank in Germany have detailed their exposure and expected losses.

    The biggest international victim to date is a mid-sized German bank called IKB Deutsche Industriebank that its peers, including a government-owned bank, stepped in to rescue earlier this month, taking over $11 billion of credit lines and putting up a $4.7 billion funding package. IKB had been an aggressive player in the CDO market, through two off-balance sheet firms that it used to pump up its commission income and advisory fees. In the end, its exposure to dodgy securities through these two firms far exceeded the bank's liquidity and equity capital.

    Is anyone safe?

    Not completely, but barring some huge problem nobody yet knows about, major banks seem in the best position to weather this storm because they have the strongest balance sheets and are able to refinance their operations most easily thanks to the extra liquidity that central banks have put into the market in the past week. "Being a bank and having access to the central bank (credit) windows is key at the moment," says the top European banker.

    Hedge funds are another story, as the Goldman Sachs-run one that was bailed out this week shows, although some of these funds foresaw the troubles and have been aggressively shorting the subprime sector and any securities relating to it.

    Why didn't central banks cut interest rates in response?

    Some critics of the European Central Bank, especially in France, are saying that its interest rate policy, which has consisted of regular rate hikes to counteract inflation, has partly fueled this crisis. "One can ask if the ECB isn't becoming a prisoner of its rate-increase strategy," Thierry Breton, the former French finance minister said this week. But bank economists are generally more supportive and say that the ECB acted smartly with its three consecutive days of huge money-market interventions - the biggest of which was a whopping $130 billion injection last Thursday. "It's a demonstration of the financial system operating as it should," said James Nixon, a London-based economist at France's Société Générale, who says that the troubles primarily affect the financial sector rather than the wider economy.

    While the Fed did cut rates in 1998 during the last derivatives meltdown, involving Long Term Capital Management, central banks may not need to this time if markets continue to calm down. Indeed, the big question now is whether the ECB and the Bank of Japan will go ahead and raise rates in the next month, as they had signaled before the crisis. Roubini isn't sure, and thinks that the Fed may well move to reduce U.S. rates quite soon. "The likelihood of a cut in rates is now much higher," he says.

    What does this mean for the world economy?

    So far, not all that much - but keep your fingers crossed. Growth in Europe and Asia remains buoyant, even if the U.S. outlook is unclear. Some borrowing by companies and individuals is bound to get more expensive as markets adjust and restore a risk premium. But "it's not obvious that the repricing will lead to an economic slowdown," says Société Générale's Nixon, although there's a possibility that Britain's economy, which has thrived because of its heavy dependence on financial services, may be vulnerable. Roubini thinks the United States will bear the brunt of what he sees as an inevitable slowdown of consumer spending related to the housing woes, and reckons that this could ultimately spill over to the global economy if it's sufficiently severe. "The effect on the real economy in the rest of the world depends on whether there's a hard landing in the U.S." he says.

    Will there be any regulatory fall out?

    This is almost inevitable, especially in Europe where it's now clear that many of the purchasers of these securities didn't fully appreciate the risks they were taking. Look for the first moves to come in Germany, where bank bail-outs are exceedingly rare. The last time a bank got into serious trouble there was in 1974, when the Herstatt Bank collapsed after some disastrous forays into foreign-exchange trading that bear some similarity to IKB's woes. Regulators quickly followed up with an overhaul of the national banking system. It's not clear that IKB's rescue will have the same dramatic repercussions, but it's already prompting tough questions about how a mid-sized bank could end up with such an enormous exposure to risky assets via an off-balance-sheet firm.

    "I suspect that at the end of this, regulators will ask themselves if this very rapid expansion (of transactions involving asset-backed securities) has been a good thing for banks, or if the risk comes back to haunt you," says Fitch's Rawcliffe. Watch also for credit agencies to come under pressure to do a better job at assessing the market risk of exotic financial instruments

Posted on Aug 17th, 2007: How Now Brown Cow?

And not forgetting Another Interview with Dr.Marc Faber

In a swift reaction, the Fed had cuts its discount rate and the US Stocks Soars.


Blogger Seng, has given his opinions Was Friday Bottom for KLCI?

Trade Mike who is on holdiays made a brief posting, Another Friday, Another Plunge Protection Team Rescue

  • ...Then the Plunge Protection Team (aka the Federal Reserve) went to work and lowered the discount rate by 50 basis points. That gave the market a quick boost and certainly hurt a lot of bears. It’s interesting to note though that the indices generally closed below their opening levels. So there was no follow-through buying after the pre-market pop… not even panic buying from surprised bears. Options expiration probably played some part in Friday’s action as well. It’ll be interesting to see whether we get any follow-through next week.

And here are some interesting articles.

  • Behind the Financial Crisis: Info Failure
    Markets can't work when lenders don't know what collateral is worth

    Peter Coy

    The hardest thing to come by in the current financial crisis isn't money—it's reliable information. The lack of information—specifically, hard information about what assets are really worth—explains why prices in some markets are gyrating so wildly, and why trading in other markets has virtually ground to a halt.

    The Federal Reserve is doing its best to restore confidence—most notably by cutting the discount rate by half a percent to 5.75% on Aug. 17 (see, 8/17/07,
    "Fed Move Lifts Stocks").

    But the Fed is running up against a big obstacle: If you don't trust the value of an asset, you won't be willing to buy it no matter how cheap your borrowing costs are. In an Aug. 17 commentary, Merrill Lynch (MER) economist David Rosenberg wrote: "Financial institutions, in general, are paralyzed by the lack of information [about asset values].… What brings this to an end, ultimately, is better information and transparency."
    click here for rest of the article

Have a look at this easy to understand table posted in this blog posting: Major Central Bank Intervention in the Current Global Liquidity Crisis

And last but not least, let's check out what the folks at are saying:

  • Fed Panics: Set-Up for the Next Leg Down?
    Although the initial reaction is one of euphoria, today's surprise discount rate cut by the Federal Reserve may have unintended consequences. In fact, it will likey be the trigger for the next leg down in the unfolding bear market.

    For one thing, the move suggests that policymakers are worried -- really worried -- about the state of the economy, despite repeated assertions to the contrary. That is likely to force a rethink by nervous bulls in corporate America and elsewhere who have reluctantly accepted the party line that all is well.

    The abrupt shift in stance, following meeting after meeting where policymakers expressed concerns over the pace of inflation, may also signal that thinking has become muddled at the Fed. Or that monetary policy is now in the hands of investment bankers and hedge funds. Some might even start wondering whether Bernanke & Co. have lost their way, at least in the near term. Not exactly a reason for optimism at a time when credit markets are under siege and risk is being dramatically repriced.

    Clearly, the bears were caught off guard by the surprise cut. However, while a burst of short-covering and speculative buying can heighten the drama and paint a picture of benevolent central bankers riding to the rescue, it will also add to confusion about where policymakers stand. What happened to the new, more transparent Fed? Worse still, is this a sign that we returning to the bad old bubble-blowing days of the Greenspan era?

    Finally, although equity markets have been under a great deal of pressure lately, the S&P 500 index is still basically up on the year. What’s more, the latest reading on gross domestic product signaled to many that U.S. growth remained on track. The big risk in shooting off a round of monetary bullets this early in the game is that the effect doesn’t last very long. In that case, the mood is likely to be even uglier during the next round of liquidation and deleveraging.

    All in all, today’s move, while positive for sentiment in the short run, is unlikely to represent anything more than a temporary shot of adrenalin for wounded markets. Once the injection wears off, the bearish disease will likely be back in force.


Do you reckon that the worst is over?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Here's another article: What Caused the Housing Bust

  • What is so unusual about the current times that so many smart people could be so catastrophically wrong?

    Porter comment: What happened (and what is still happening) is simply leverage in reverse, or what people used to call a "run on the bank."

    For nearly 10 years, as interest rates fell from 1995 to 2005, the mortgage and housing business boomed as more and more capital found its way into housing. With lower rates, more people could afford to buy houses. That was good. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for some people to figure out that with rates so low, they could buy more than one. Or even nine or 10. As more money made its way into housing, prices for real estate went up – 20% a year for several years in some places. The higher prices created more equity... that could then be used as collateral for still more debt. This is what leads to a bubble.

    Banks, hedge funds, and insurance companies were happy to fund the madness because they believed new "financial engineering" could take lower-quality home loans (like the kind with zero down payment) and transform these very risky loans, made at the top of the market, into AAA-rated securities. Let me go into some detail about how this worked.

    Wall Street's biggest banks (Goldman Sachs, Lehman Bros., Bear Stearns) would buy, say, $500 million worth of low-quality mortgages, underwritten by a mortgage broker, like NovaStar Financial. The individual mortgages – thousands of them at a time – were organized by type and geographic location into a new security, called a residential mortgage-backed security (RMBS).

    Unlike a regular bond, whose coupon is paid by a single corporation and organized by maturity date, RMBS securities were organized into risk levels, or "tranches." Thousands of homeowners paid the interest and principal for each tranche. Rating agencies (like Moody's) and other financial analysts, believed these large bundles of mortgages would be safer to own because the obligation was spread among thousands of separate borrowers and organized into different risk categories that, in theory, would protect the buyers. For example, the broker (like NovaStar) that originated the mortgages would be on the hook for any early defaults, which typically only occurred in fraudulently written mortgages. After that risk padding, the next 3%-5% of the defaults would be taken out of the "equity slice" of the RMBS.

    The "equity slice" was the riskiest part of the RMBS. It was typically sold at a wide discount to the total value of the loans in this category, meaning that if defaults were less than expected, the buyer of this part of the package could make a capital gain in addition to a very high yield. Even if defaults were average, the buyer would still earn a nice yield.

    Hedge funds loved this kind of security because the yield on it would cover the interest on the money the fund would borrow to buy it. Hedge funds could make double-digit capital gains annually, cost-free and risk-free... or so they thought. As long as home prices kept rising and interest rates kept falling, almost every RMBS was safe. Even if a buyer got into trouble, he could still sell his home for more than he paid or find a way to restructure the debt. On the way up, from 1995-2005, there were very few defaults. Everyone made money, which attracted still more money into the market.

    After the equity tranche, typically one or two more risk levels offered higher yields at a lower-than-AAA rating. After those few, thin slices, the vast majority of the RMBS – usually 92% of the loan package – would be rated AAA. With an AAA rating, banks, brokerage firms, and insurance companies could own these mortgages – even the exotic mortgages with changing interest rates or no down payments. With the magic of financial engineering and by ordering the perceived risk, financial firms from all over the world could fill their balance sheets with higher-yielding mortgage debt that would pass muster with the regulators charged with making sure they held only the safest assets in reserve.

    For a long time, this arrangement worked well for everyone. Wall Street's banks made a fortune packaging these securities. They even added more layers of packaging – creating CDOs (collateralized debt obligation) and ABSs (asset-backed security) – which are like mutual funds that hold RMBS.

    Buyers of these securities did well, too. Hedge funds made what looked like risk-free profits in the equity tranche for years and years.

    Insurance companies, banks, and brokers were able to earn higher returns on assets by buying RMBS, CDOs, or ABSs instead of Treasury bonds or AAA-rated corporate debt. And because the collateral was considered AAA, financial institutions of all stripes were able to increase the size of their balance sheets by continuing to borrow against their RMBS inventory. This, in turn, supplied still more money to the mortgage market, which kept the mortgage brokers busy. Remember all the TV ads to refinance your mortgage and the teaser rate loans?

    The cycle kept going – more mortgage securities, more leverage, more loans, more housing – until one day the marginal borrower blinked. We'll never know whom or why... but somewhere out there, the "greater fool" failed to close on that next home or condo. Beginning in about the summer of 2005, the momentum began to slow... and then slowly... imperceptibly... it began to shift.

    All the things the cycle had going for it from 1995 to 2005 began to turn the other way. Leverage, in reverse, is devastating.

    The first sign of trouble was an unexpectedly high default rate in subprime mortgages. Beginning in early 2007, studies of 20-month-old subprime mortgages showed a default rate greater than 5%, much higher than expected. According to Countrywide Mortgage, the default rates on the riskiest loans made in 2005 and 2006 are expected to grow to as high as 20% – a new all-time record. The big jump in subprime defaults led to the first hedge-fund blowups, such as the May 2007 shutdown of Dillon Reed Capital Management, which lost $150 million in subprime investments in the first quarter of 2007.

    Since Dillon Reed Capital, dozens of more funds have blown up as the "equity slice" in mortgage securities collapsed. Remember, these equity tranches were supposed to be the "speed bumps" that protected the rest of the buyers. With the safety net of the equity tranche removed, these huge securities will have to be downgraded by the rating agencies. For example, on July 10, Moody's and Standard and Poor's downgraded $12 billion of subprime-backed securities. On August 7, the same agencies warned that another $1 billion of "Alt-A" mortgage securities would also likely be downgraded.

    Now... these downgrades and hedge-fund liquidations have hugely important consequences. Why? Because as hedge funds have to liquidate, they must sell their RMBSs, CDOs, and ABSs. This pushes prices for these securities down, which results in margin calls on other hedge funds that own the same troubled instruments. That, in turn, pushes them to sell, too.

    Very quickly the "liquidity" – the amount of willing buyers for these types of mortgage-backed securities – disappeared. There are literally no bids for much of this paper. That's why the subprime mortgage brokers – the Novastars and Fremonts – went out of business so quickly. Not only did they take a huge hit paying off the early defaults of their 2005 and 2006 mortgages, but the loans they held on their books were marked down, with no buyers available and their creditors demanding greater margin cover on their lines of credit... poof... The assets they owned were marked down, they couldn't be readily sold, and they had no access to additional capital.

    The failure of the subprime-mortgage structure – which started with higher-than-expected defaults, led to hedge fund wipeouts, and then to mortgage broker bankruptcies – might have been contained to only the subprime segment of the market. But... the risk spread because of the financial engineering.

    With Wall Street wrapping together thousands of mortgages from different underwriters, it's likely that hundreds of financial institutions around the world have traces of bad subprime and Alt-A mortgage debt on their books. Parts of these CDOs were rated AAA. Almost any financial institution could own them – especially hedge funds. Hedge fund investors quickly figured this out – and asked for their money back.

    And so, in July, liquidity fears began to creep through the entire mortgage complex. Not because the mortgages themselves were all bad or even because the mortgage securities were all bad – but because all the market players knew a wave of selling, led by hedge funds, was on the way. Nobody wants to be the first buyer when they know thousands of sellers are lined up behind them.

    The market "locked up." Nobody would buy mortgage bonds. And everyone needed to sell. Suddenly even Wall Street's biggest banks – the very firms that created these mortgage securities – were suffering huge losses, as the bonds kept getting marked down as hedge funds and other leveraged speculators had to sell into a panicked market.

    It's a classic "run on the bank," except today the function of the traditional bank has been spread out among several institutions: mortgage brokers, Wall Street security firms, hedge-fund investors, and banks. The real problem is that the long-dated liabilities (a 30-year mortgage) were matched not by reliable depositors, but by fly-by-night hedge funds, which were themselves highly leveraged and subject to redemptions.

    That's why even as the top executives in these firms believed their mortgages were safe and sound, they can't get the funding they need to hold onto them through the crisis. As Keynes predicted, the lives of every higher-leveraged financial institution is precarious: " The market can be irrational longer than you can remain solvent."

    The hedge funds have no solution. Redemptions will force them to sell. They'll continue to pressure the market, resulting in huge losses. Hundreds of funds will likely be liquidated.

    Wall Street's investment firms, if they can find additional capital to meet margin calls, might weather the storm... depending on how far it spreads. We saw a move in this direction this week when Goldman announced $3 billion in additional funding for its big hedge funds.

    For most mortgage brokers, the party is over – goodnight. Something like 90% of them will be out of business by the end of the year.