Posts Tagged ‘Bailout’


Second Leg of Crisis Beginning: Hedge Fund Manager

Published: Tuesday, 31 Aug 2010 | 5:38 AM ET
By: Patrick Allen
CNBC Senior News Editor
September and October hold bad news for stock markets and banks remain overleveraged as we head into the second leg of the financial crisis according to Pedro De Noronha, the managing partner at Noster Capital in London.

“We are seeing one of the most challenging years for investors ever,” De Noronha told CNBC Tuesday. “Major investors are simply leaving the market. When it looks like markets are about to fall off the cliff they rally and vice versa.

“There are problems coming from the resetting of US mortgages and (the) euro area remains a big worry,” he said.
“Germany is unwilling to save any other European country,” De Noronha said. “Merkel used up lots of political capital saving Greece and she saved the Greek bond market in order to save the French and German banking system from more big losses.”
“There are four or five countries that have major structural problems that should not be in the euro,” he said. “I still have (yet) to see a politician who will shoot themselves in the head on austerity.”
“The Greeks have no choice but to cut, the others like Spain are not doing enough, I am with the ‘Austerian’ school and do not buy the Keynesian argument,” he said.
On Monday, Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called for another big stimulus program for the US, saying “(e)verything is pointing to the need for more spending.”
Laughable Tests?
De Noronha said he is also very worried about the banking industry and is shorting five of the biggest bank stocks in Europe: UBS, Barclays cnbc_comboQuoteMove(‘popup_barc-ln_ID0EGGAC15839609’);[BARC-LN 308.30 5.90 (+1.95%) ] cnbc_quoteComponent_init_getData(“barc-ln”,”WSODQ_COMPONENT_BARC-LN_ID0EGGAC15839609″,”WSODQ”,”true”,”ID0EGGAC15839609″,”off”,”false”,”inLineQuote”); , Intesa Sanpaolo, Unione de Banche and BBVA.
“The recent stress tests made me laugh,” he said. “We only stress tested what the banks told us, I did not see anyone testing anyone until they had gone broke.”
“When I look at Tier 1 Capital ratios, I find things propping them up that are not assets that can be drawn on in a crisis,” he said. “The real capital 1 ratio of some major banks is just 1.7 percent and I am shorting five major European banks as a result.”
The majority of banks remain over leveraged going into what could be the second leg of the financial crisis, De Noronha added.

“The regulators used 6 percent as the threshold for defining the minimum capital ratios, but that 6 percent number includes non-cash assets such as deferred tax assets and goodwill,” he said. “If you use only tangible book equity the 6 percent of the biggest offenders turns into closer to 2 percent which implies a leverage ratio of 50 times. That is hardly conservative for current the current economic reality.”

On Tuesday, Credit Suisse took a different stance, boosting its rating on banking to “overweight” from “market weight,” saying that economic risks are “overplayed” and that “funding should be less costly than initially feared.”
© 2010 CNBC.com

Global Economy – Second Leg of Crisis Beginning: Hedge Fund Manager – CNBC

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Richard Russell’s Daily Letter

August 9, 2010 — Headline from page one, New York Times, Aug. 7: “Nation Lost 131,000 Jobs As Governments Cut Back. Hiring By Private Sector Anemic in July.”

Headline from the Weekend Investor section of the August 7 Wall Street Journal“How To Beat Deflation. Strategies to Protect Your Portfolio From and Take Advantage of the — Dreaded ‘D’ word.”

The specter of deflation is cropping up in many media outlets today. In fact, I’d say that deflation talk has almost become popular. The key question is this — Fed Chief Bernanke is obviously reading and hearing all about the “coming deflation.” What will Bernanke do about it? I think he will fight deflation with all the weapons at his command. And Bennie has a lot of weapons, least of which is printing “money.”
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The air is filled with rumors and contrary opinions, so many that it is literally impossible to follow them all. Some of the opinions and views have such earth-shaking implications that it’s difficult to ignore them. But as my subscribers know, we’re not a news site, and we don’t invest or divest based on the news of the day.

A few examples — I just finished my friend, John Mauldin’s always excellent column (how does he travel continuously and write the column?). Rather than paraphrase what John is writing, I’m including an actual segment from John’s latest column —“Main Street may be about to get its own gigantic bailout. Rumors are running wild from Washington to Wall Street that the Obama administration is about to order government-controlled lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to forgive a portion of the mortgage debt of millions of Americans who owe more than what their homes are worth. An estimated 15 million U.S. mortgages are implicated.”
Russell Comment. Would Obama actually do this? My answer is that Obama and his buddies are so frantic to get the economy moving again that they would be willing to try anything.
Beyond mortgages, Americans are so loaded with debt that maybe the next Obama step would be to forgive ALL personal debts in the US. Better still, why not return to the year of Jubilee and cancel out ALL world debts (I don’t think holders of US Treasuries would go for that one).
The current issue of Barron’s is fascinating. The inimitable Alan Abelson notes that stocks are not cheap. Alan asks, “Where is it written that a market that in a not too distant-past values stocks at 60 time earnings, can’t value them, if the outlook sours, at six to eight times earnings?”
Russell Comment — Yes, I have noted that the big booster in bull markets and the big killer in bear market is the change in price/earning ratios, rather than the actual change in earnings.
But here’s what I really want to talk about. From the cover page of Barron’s — “Why the Fed Will Soon Print $2 Trillion.” The related major article is entitled, “Time to Print, Print, Print,” and is written by Jonathan R. Laing. The author believes that the Fed has only one way to go, “Quantitative easing,” and maybe printing another $2 trillion of fed notes (dollars). Laing concludes, “so it’s more than likely that the big artillery of quantitative easing will be unleashed to push the economy out of its despond. It’s high time to get out the money-printing machines. Damn the risks of triggering a bit of inflation and some modest investment bubbles. The alternatives are far worse.”
Then (believe it or not) in the same issue of Barron’s we see an article by my old friend, Robert Prechter, the guru of the Elliott Wave thesis. Robert explains how a great contraction in credit and debt will bring about deflation. Robert notes that the amount of dollar-denominated debt worldwide is some $57 trillion. . . The already-issued debt and potential debt is poised to overwhelm the possibility of management monetization. The Fed’s assets amount to $2.3 trillion, a drop in the global debt bucket.”
Robert concludes his frightening article as follows — “If you are positioned for more inflation — as the vast majority of investors are — you are likely to find yourself on the wrong side of the monetary bet. Positioning for deflation simply means avoiding traditional investments, especially risky debt, and maintaining maximum safety in cash equivalents, held in the safest institutions. If you shed market and institutional risk, you can sail through deflationary times unscathed.” 

Russell Comment — Whew, how’s that for a scary contrary opinion? Robert believes that way to safety in a deflation is to have cash, and lots of it. My concern with this approach is that I question the safety of the US dollar (and all fiat money, for that matter). So in an all-out deflation, Robert Prechter will be sitting in all cash or US Federal Reserve notes. But the dollar is collapsing, and with a US that is deflating, none of our foreign creditors will want dollars (in fact, they will be trying to get rid of dollars). With fiat money in retreat all over the world — and currencies devaluing against each other, the world’s peoples will turn to the only money they can trust — gold. I’m aware that Prechter believes gold will be heading down in a deflation, I disagree.

I was there during the Great Depression, and I can tell you nobody at that time had dollars. But if you did have dollars they were trusted and they were considered as good as gold. Today, it’s different. The very validity of the dollar is in question.

By the way, Prechter believes the Dow will end its bear market at a value of 400. If so, Prechter is looking for a calamity comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

Russell response — I distrust all scenarios and predictions, although I read ’em all and find many of them fascinating. In the end, I only trust the wisdom of the stock market. I haven’t liked the recent action of the stock market, and I’ve advised my subscribers to get out of stocks. From our standpoint, when it comes to news events, our main interest is not in the news, but in the stock market’s reaction to the news.

The stock market will tell its story as we go along and in its own good time. Our job is to ignore all opinions and forecasts and to follow the stock market and believe what it’s telling us.

Gold has advanced seven days in a row, and should be ready to back off a bit. The many arguments and rumors regarding gold are almost deafening. I don’t give a damn what the gold bulls or the gold bears say, I follow the price action as best I can. Often, the best test — is what an item can or can’t do. On the latest correction, gold held 1100 — bullish. Can Dec. gold climb into the 1300s, which would be a record high? That’s what I’m waiting to see. By the way, gold may be forming a head-and-shoulders bottom. More technicals — the 200-day moving average for Dec.gold is at 1155.10. The 50-day MA for Dec. gold is at 1215.90, which is bullishly above the 200-day MA. If Dec. gold can close above 1215.90, that would be a bullish development.

The Federal Open Market Committee meets tomorrow. Will they hold interest rates at zero and will they accelerate their printing? If they do, it will put pressure on the dollar and it will be bullish for gold. If they boost interest rates, expect gold to correct.

TODAY’S MARKET ACTION:

My PTI was up 7 at 6117. The moving average at 6095, so my PTI is bullish by 22.
The Dow was up 45.19 to 10698.75.
Transports were up 59.09 at 4516.35.

Utilities were up 1.30 to 395.02.

NASDAQ was up 17.22 to 2305.69.

S&P was up 6.15 to 1127.79.

September crude was up 0.78 at 81.48.
Total Volume on the NYSE and associated exchanges was 3.43 bn.

There were 2199 advances and 830 declines on the NYSE.

There were 305 new highs and 15 new lows
The Big Money Breadth Index was up 4 at 807.

Dollar Index was up 0.26 at 80.67. Euro was down 0.49 at 132.25. Yen was down 0.60 to 116.48. Currency prices as of 1 PM Pacific Time.

Bonds: Yield on the 10 year T-note was 2.82. Yield on the long T-bond was 4.01. Yield of the 91 day T-bill was 0.14%.

December gold was down 2.70 to 1202.60. September silver was down 0.23 to 18.24.

My Most Active Stocks Index was up 2 to 200.

GDX was up 0.02 to 50.19.

HUI was down 0.22 to 459.72.

CRB Commodity Index was down 0.12 at 274.59.

The VIX was up 0.40 to 22.14.

Late Notes — Dow up 45, Trannies up 59, Utes up almost 2. It’s increasingly more difficult to be bearish on this market when my PTI remains bullish. It was up 7 today to 6117, making my PTI bullish by 22 points. As for the “internals,” well you heard the PTI report. NYSE breadth was good, 2199 issues higher, only 830 down, 305 new highs and 15 new lows. Up volume on the NYSE was an impressive 71% of up + down volume. 

Dollar Index was up 0.26 to 80.67. Are there too many bears on the dollar. When the shorts overdo it, you know what happens — the item goes UP. Bonds were slightly lower. Dec. gold was down 2.70 to 1202.60, but still holding above 1200. Tomorrow Bernanke and the gang meet for the Fed Open Market Committee, and everybody is waiting breathlessly to hear what the gang comes up with. 

My pen-pal, the one and only Dennis Gartman notes that the M-2 is diving and that the adjusted monetary base has gone nowhere for the last nine months. John Williams reconstructs the broad M-3 money supply and shows that it is diving. So what’s going on — is the Fed playing games with us? Can the market and the economy go up without a rising money supply?

Never mind, we go by the action of the market, and so far, the action has been OK, although a bit ragged. 

See you tomorrow, with diamonds hidden in my hair — wait, Faye just cut most of my hair off. I’m walking around with a buzz cut, can this be me?

Adios,

Russell

Expensive stones, most of them over one billion years old.

With the advent of GIA (Gemological Institute of America) certificates, diamonds are becoming a leading safe-haven item. You can send a diamond to the GIA and get a recognized certificate showing the cut, carat, color and clarity of your diamond. Seasoned buyers will not buy a diamond without a GIA “cert.” These certs have finally put diamonds in a different category. You can now buy a diamond a receive (with a cert) a close approximation of what the stone is worth.

India is fast becoming the center of diamond cutting and trading. The best diamonds have come from the Golconda area of India. The Golconda diamonds were “whiter than white.” By the way, the Golconda mines are exhausted. The lower the nitrogen content of a diamond, the whiter the stone is. Golconda diamonds have a nitrogen content of 2% to down to 1%, making them the whitest of all diamonds. Actually, a few other diamonds sport this low nitrogen content, and despite the fact that they don’t come from India, they are still called Golconda diamonds. Only about 1% of all diamonds are classified as Type IIA or Golconda diamonds. These special diamond bring huge prices. For instance, a well-cut internally flawless Type IIA diamond of 5 carats may sell for over one million dollars. 

As a rule, white diamonds are judged on their whiteness — the whiter, the better. Colored stones are judged by the depth of their color and the evenness of their color throughout the stone. 

Diamonds as a safe haven have one big advantage over gold. Millions of dollars worth of stones can cross a border hidden in a tiny packet or sewed into the lining of your pants. And with the advent of GIA certs, you can be reasonably assured of what they are worth. High-grade stones are so hot today that dealers have been calling retailers and asking them if they have any overage in their diamond inventory. There is almost no bargain diamonds for sale today. The best deals are seen when a professional outfit buys a diamond from a private party, a party that knows nothing about the value of their diamond. 

Thus you see ads in the newspapers as follows: “We want your gold and jewelry and particularly your diamonds. Nobody pays higher prices than we do.”

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The MasterBlog


Blackstone’s Byron Wien Singlehandedly Refutes The Double Dip, Hilarity Abounds
To all the bulls out there, we have a Wien-er just for you. In an essay that is basically a sequel to last week’s job application in a second-tier position in the administration by a Moody’s strategist and a Princeton economist (yes, yes, we know… oxymorons), the BlackStone head of something, Byron Wien, says the fututre for the market, the economy, and pretty much everything else is brighter than a nuclear bomb (incidentally one going off today would likely send the market into the greatest melt up in history). 


Lest there be any confuction what Byron’s view is: “My view is that the economy is going through a temporary lull and business conditions will improve later this year and in 2011.” At least Wien is honest: “In preparing this essay I used research from Goldman Sachs, Lord Abbett, Credit Suisse and International Strategy and Investments for arguments on both sides of the double-dip issue.” Mmhmm – that some serious “both sides” source list. And the piece de resistance: “The factors that argue against a resumption of the recession are the strong liquidity position of corporations which have 6% of their assets in cash, a level not seen since the 1960s, and the fact that both housing and autos are at low levels of production and not likely to drop further.” 


Over the weekend we will present an extended analysis finally putting to rest the inane argument that corporations are flush with cash: while true on a gross basis, the net level of cash vs debt, and especially vs equity, is at one of the worst levels in history. This ongoing childish avoidances of the liability side of the corporate balance sheet must stop and someone has to finally shut up these so called sophisticated economists and their endless lies.  


Feel free to print out two copies of the attached Wien essay: we hear his work “product” is much better in two ply format.
  h/t FMX Connect

View article…


Eleven Banks Will Fail EU Stress Tests: Strategist

BANKS, EU, STRESS TESTS, ECONOMY, POLITICS
Posted By: Robin Knight | CNBC Associate Web Producer
CNBC.com
| 14 Jul 2010 | 08:20 AM ET
Eleven banks including Germany’s Commerzbank and Italy’s Banco Popolare will fail the European Union’s stress tests, Alessandro Roccati, director at Macquarie Securities, told CNBC Wednesday.
“We identify a handful of banks which would need more capital in a base case stress scenario; these are: all Greek banks, Bankinter, Postbank, Banco Popolare, BCP, Commerzbank andSabadell,” a report from Macquarie Securities said.
Even though the number of banks likely to fail the test is relatively small, it may not allay fears onthe health of the overall European banking sector, the note said.
Of the 46 listed banks being tested by the EU, only eleven will have insufficient capital, but of the total 91 banks, including non-listed banks, the number will be greater, Roccati said.
“The key concern and the key differentiating factor is actually the cost of credit and not the decrease in revenues due to a slowdown of the economy,” he said.
European banks may need a minimum of 6 percent tier-1 capital ratio in order to pass the stress tests, according to a Dow Jones report Wednesday. Roccati pointed out that the current regulations require a 4 percent tier-1 capital ratio.
Banks that do fail the stress tests may have some breathing space in which to raise capital as they are unlikely to need to issue debt in the very short term, according to Roccati.
If the troubled banks can’t recapitalized themselves or be funded by their sovereign governments, it will fall to the EU’s central backstop fund to bail them out, he said.
Given the concerns over the sector, Macquarie said he favors BNP Paribas, UBS, SEB, DnB NOR, Nordea, and Erste Bank. Macquarie recommended caution on Iberian and Greek banks.
– Watch the full interview with Alessandro Roccati above.

© 2010 CNBC.com


They Did Their Homework (800 Years of It)

THE advertisement warns of speculative financial bubbles. It mocks a group of gullible Frenchmen seduced into a silly, 18th-century investment scheme, noting that the modern shareholder, armed with superior information, can avoid the pitfalls of the past. “How different the position of the investor today!” the ad enthuses.
It ran in The Saturday Evening Post on Sept. 14, 1929. A month later, the stock market crashed.
“Everyone wants to think they’re smarter than the poor souls in developing countries, and smarter than their predecessors,” says Carmen M. Reinhart, an economist at the University of Maryland. “They’re wrong. And we can prove it.”
Like a pair of financial sleuths, Ms. Reinhart and her collaborator from HarvardKenneth S. Rogoff, have spent years investigating wreckage scattered across documents from nearly a millennium of economic crises and collapses. They have wandered the basements of rare-book libraries, riffled through monks’ yellowed journals and begged central banks worldwide for centuries-old debt records. And they have manually entered their findings, digit by digit, into one of the biggest spreadsheets you’ve ever seen.
Their handiwork is contained in their recent best seller, “This Time Is Different,” a quantitative reconstruction of hundreds of historical episodes in which perfectly smart people made perfectly disastrous decisions. It is a panoramic opus, both geographically and temporally, covering crises from 66 countries over the last 800 years.
The book, and Ms. Reinhart’s and Mr. Rogoff’s own professional journeys as economists, zero in on some of the broader shortcomings of their trade — thrown into harsh relief by economists’ widespread failure to anticipate or address the financial crisis that began in 2007.
“The mainstream of academic research in macroeconomics puts theoretical coherence and elegance first, and investigating the data second,” says Mr. Rogoff. For that reason, he says, much of the profession’s celebrated work “was not terribly useful in either predicting the financial crisis, or in assessing how it would it play out once it happened.”
“People almost pride themselves on not paying attention to current events,” he says.
In the past, other economists often took the same empirical approach as the Reinhart-Rogoff team. But this approach fell into disfavor over the last few decades as economists glorified financial papers that were theory-rich and data-poor.
Much of that theory-driven work, critics say, is built on the same disassembled and reassembled sets of data points — generally from just the last 25 years or so and from the same handful of rich countries — that quants have whisked into ever more dazzling and complicated mathematical formations.
But in the wake of the recent crisis, a few economists — like Professors Reinhart and Rogoff, and other like-minded colleagues like Barry Eichengreen and Alan Taylor — have been encouraging others in their field to look beyond hermetically sealed theoretical models and into the historical record.
“There is so much inbredness in this profession,” says Ms. Reinhart. “They all read the same sources. They all use the same data sets. They all talk to the same people. There is endless extrapolation on extrapolation on extrapolation, and for years that is what has been rewarded.”
ONE of Ken Rogoff’s favorite economics jokes — yes, there are economics jokes — is “the one about the lamppost”: A drunk on his way home from a bar one night realizes that he has dropped his keys. He gets down on his hands and knees and starts groping around beneath a lamppost. A policeman asks what he’s doing.
“I lost my keys in the park,” says the drunk.
“Then why are you looking for them under the lamppost?” asks the puzzled cop.
“Because,” says the drunk, “that’s where the light is.”
Mr. Rogoff, 57, has spent a lifetime exploring places and ideas off the beaten track. Tall, thin and bespectacled, he grew up in Rochester. There, he attended a “tough inner-city school,” where his “true liberal parents” — a radiologist and a librarian — sent him so he would be exposed to students from a variety of social and economic classes.
He received a chess set for his 13th birthday, and he quickly discovered that he was something of a prodigy, a fact he decided to hide so he wouldn’t get beaten up in the lunchroom.
“I think chess may be a relatively cool thing for kids to do now, on par with soccer or other sports,” he says. “It really wasn’t then.”
Soon, he began traveling alone to competitions around the United States, paying his way with his prize winnings. He earned the rank of American “master” by the age of 14, was a New York State Open champion and soon became a “senior master,” the highest national title.
When he was 16, he left home against his parents’ wishes to become a professional chess player in Europe. He enrolled fleetingly in high schools in London and Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, but rarely attended. “I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be doing,” he recalls.
He spent the next 18 months or so wandering to competitions around Europe, supporting himself with winnings and by participating in exhibitions in which he played dozens of opponents simultaneously, sometimes while wearing a blindfold.
Occasionally, he slept in five-star hotels, but other nights, when his prize winnings thinned, he crashed in grimy train stations. He had few friends, and spent most of his time alone, studying chess and analyzing previous games. Clean-cut and favoring a coat and tie these days, he described himself as a ragged “hippie” during his time in Europe. He also found life in Eastern Europe friendly but strained, he says, throttled by black markets, scarcity and unmet government promises.
After much hand-wringing, he decided to return to the United States to attend Yale, which overlooked his threadbare high school transcript. He considered majoring in Russian until Jeremy Bulow, a classmate who is now an economics professor at Stanford, began evangelizing about economics.
Mr. Rogoff took an econometrics course, reveling in its precision and rigor, and went on to focus on comparative economic systems. He interrupted a brief stint in a graduate program in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to prepare for the world chess championships, which were held only every three years.
After becoming an “international grandmaster,” the highest title awarded in chess, when he was 25, he decided to quit chess entirely and to return to M.I.T. He did so because he had snared the grandmaster title and because he realized that he would probably never be ranked No. 1.
He says it took him a long time to get over the game, and the euphoric, almost omnipotent highs of his past victories.
“To this day I get letters, maybe every two years, from top players asking me: ‘How do I quit? I want to quit like you did, and I can’t figure out how to do it,’ ” he says. “I tell them that it’s hard to go from being at the top of a field, because you really feel that way when you’re playing chess and winning, to being at the bottom — and they need to prepare themselves for that.”
He returned to M.I.T., rushed through what he acknowledges was a mediocre doctoral dissertation, and then became a researcher at theFederal Reserve — where he said he had good role models who taught him how to be, at last, “professional” and “serious.”
Teaching stints followed, before the International Monetary Fund chose him as its chief economist in 2001. It was at the I.M.F. that he began collaborating with a relatively unfamiliar economist named Carmen Reinhart, whom he appointed as his deputy after admiring her work from afar.
MS. REINHART, 54, is hardly a household name. And, unlike Mr. Rogoff, she has never been hired by an Ivy League school. But measured by how often her work is cited by colleagues and others, this woman whom several colleagues describe as a “firecracker” is, by a long shot, the most influential female economist in the world.
Like Mr. Rogoff, she took a circuitous route to her present position.
Born in Havana as Carmen Castellanos, she is quick-witted and favors bright, boldly printed blouses and blazers. As a girl, she memorized the lore of pirates and their trade routes, which she says was her first exposure to the idea that economic fortunes — and state revenue in particular — “can suddenly disappear without warning.”
She also lived with more personal financial and social instability. After her family fled Havana for the United States with just three suitcases when she was 10, her father traded a comfortable living as an accountant for long, less lucrative hours as a carpenter. Her mother, who had never worked outside the home before, became a seamstress.
“Most kids don’t grow up with that kind of real economic shock,” she says. “But I learned the value of scarcity, and even the sort of tensions between East and West. And at a very early age that had an imprint on me.”
With a passion for art and literature — even today, her academic papers pun on the writings of Gabriel García Márquez — she enrolled in a two-year college in Miami, intending to study fashion merchandising. Then, on a whim, she took an economics course and got hooked.
When she went to Florida International University to study economics, she met Peter Montiel, an M.I.T. graduate who was teaching there. Recognizing her talent, he helped her apply to a top-tier graduate program in economics, at Columbia University.
At Columbia, she met her future husband, Vincent Reinhart, who is now an occasional co-author with her. They married while in graduate school, and she quit school before writing her dissertation to try to make some money on Wall Street.
“We were newlyweds, and neither of us had a penny to our name,” she says. She left school so that they “could have nice things and a house, the kind of things I imagined a family should have.”
She spent a few years at Bear Stearns, including one as chief economist, before deciding to finish her graduate work at Columbia and return to her true love: data mining. “I have a talent for rounding up data like cattle, all over the plain,” she says.
After earning her doctorate in 1988, Ms. Reinhart started work at the I.M.F.
“Carmen in many ways pioneered a bigger segment in economics, this push to look at history more,” says Mr. Rogoff, explaining why he chose her. “She was just so ahead of the curve.”
She honed her knack for economic archaeology at the I.M.F., spending several years performing “checkups” on member countries to make sure they were in good economic health.
While at the fund, she teamed up with Graciela Kaminsky, another member of that exceptionally rare species — the female economist — to write their seminal paper, “The Twin Crises.”
The article looked at the interaction between banking and currency crises, and why contemporary theory couldn’t explain why those ugly events usually happened together. The paper bore one of Ms. Reinhart’s hallmarks: a vast web of data, compiled from 20 countries over several decades.
In digging through old records and piecing together a vast puzzle of disconnected data points, her ultimate goal, in that paper and others, has always been “to see the forest,” she says, “and explain it.”
Ms. Reinhart has bounced back and forth across the Beltway: she left the I.M.F. in Washington and began teaching in 1996 at the University of Maryland, from which Mr. Rogoff recruited her when he needed a deputy at the I.M.F. in 2001. When she left that post, she returned to the university.
Despite the large following that her work has drawn, she says she feels that the heavyweights of her profession have looked down upon her research as useful but too simplistic.
“You know, everything is simple when it’s clearly explained,” she contends. “It’s like with Sherlock Holmes. He goes through this incredible deductive process from Point A to Point B, and by the time he explains everything, it makes so much sense that it sounds obvious and simple. It doesn’t sound clever anymore.”
But, she says, “economists love being clever.”
“THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT” was published last September, just as the nation was coming to grips with a financial crisis that had nearly spiraled out of control and a job market that lay in tatters. Despite bailout after bailout, stimulus after stimulus, economic armageddon still seemed nigh.
Given this backdrop, it’s perhaps not surprising that a book arguing that the crisis was a rerun, and not a wholly novel catastrophe, managed to become a best seller. So far, nearly 100,000 copies have been sold, according to its publisher, the Princeton University Press.
Still, its authors laugh when asked about the book’s opportune timing.
“We didn’t start the book thinking that, ‘Oh, in exactly seven years there will be a housing bust leading to a global financial crisis that will be the perfect environment in which to sell this giant book,’ ” says Mr. Rogoff. “But I suppose the way things work, we expected that whenever the book came out there would probably be some crisis or other to peg it to.”
They began the book around 2003, not long after Mr. Rogoff lured Ms. Reinhart back to the I.M.F. to serve as his deputy. The pair had already been collaborating fruitfully, finding that her dogged pursuit of data and his more theoretical public policy eye were well matched.
Although their book is studiously nonideological, and is more focused on patterns than on policy recommendations, it has become fodder for the highly charged debate over the recent growth in government debt.
To bolster their calls for tightened government spending, budget hawks have cited the book’s warnings about the perils of escalating public and private debt. Left-leaning analysts have been quick to take issue with that argument, saying that fiscal austerity perpetuates joblessness, and have been attacking economists associated with it.
Mr. Rogoff, because of his time at the I.M.F., has also come under fire.
In the years before and during Mr. Rogoff’s tenure, critics including the prominent economist Joseph Stiglitz accused the I.M.F. of having a cold-hearted, doctrinaire approach to its work in poorer countries. Some of that criticism still clings to Mr. Rogoff. For his part, he contends that the I.M.F. did what it could for countries with intractable problems, and that the critics’ approaches would have made troubled economies even weaker.
Perhaps because “This Time Is Different” is empirical rather than proscriptive, it has defied categorization.
The New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks, for example, praised the book as “the best explanation of the crisis” but referred to it as a history book, rather than a work of economic analysis, since it is “almost entirely devoid of theory.” (The implication being, of course, that genuine “economic analysis” must be hypertheoretical.)
Of course, it’s not as if history is an entirely new ingredient in economic study. There have been other vibrant historical recountings of financial crises, including “Manias, Panics and Crashes,” the 1978 book by Charles Kindleberger. Such books have typically been narrative, though, unlike the data-intensive “This Time Is Different.”
But even in its quantitative perspective and breadth, the book still stands on the shoulders of an economic classic, “A Monetary History of the United States: 1867-1960,” written by another great male-and-female pair of economists, Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz.
“What Friedman and Schwartz did for the U.S. was heroic,” says Ms. Reinhart. “Ken and I have benefited from the use of the Internet to track down books, sources and experts to help us with our work. Friedman and Schwartz did not.”
While Professors Reinhart and Rogoff may have had technological advantages in their research, they weren’t able to outsource much of the number-crunching to graduate students — in part because they wanted to be able to stay close to the data themselves, but also because few students are interested in or trained for that kind of work.
The economics profession generally began turning away from empirical work in the early 1970s. Around that time, economists fell in love with theoretical constructs, a shift that has no single explanation. Some analysts say it may reflect economists’ desire to be seen as scientists who describe and discover universal laws of nature.
“Economists have physics envy,” says Richard Sylla, a financial historian at the Stern School of Business at New York University. He argues that Paul Samuelson, the Nobel laureate whom many credit with endowing economists with a mathematical tool kit, “showed that a lot of physical theories and concepts had economic analogs.”
Since that time, he says, “economists like to think that there is some physical, stable state of the world if they get the model right.” But, he adds, “there is really no such thing as a stable state for the economy.”
Others suggest that incentives for young economists to publish in journals and gain tenure predispose them to pursue technical wizardry over deep empirical research and to choose narrow slices of topics. Historians, on the other hand, are more likely to focus on more comprehensive subjects — that is, the material for books — that reflect a deeply experienced, broadly informed sense of judgment.
“They say historians peak in their 50s, once they’ve accumulated enough knowledge and wisdom to know what to look for,” says Mr. Rogoff. “By contrast, economists seem to peak much earlier. It’s hard to find an important paper written by an economist after 40.”
MICROECONOMICS — the field that focuses on smaller units like households and workers, as opposed to big-picture questions about how national economies function — has embraced real-world data-mining. (Think “Freakonomics.”)
Macroeconomics has been slower to change, but the popular success of “This Time Is Different” and related work seems to be changing how macro practitioners approach their craft.
It has also changed how policy makers think about their own mission.
Mr. Rogoff says a senior official in the Japanese finance ministry was offended at the suggestion in “This Time Is Different” that Japan had once defaulted on its debt and sent him an angry letter demanding a retraction.
Mr. Rogoff sent him a 1942 front-page article in The Times documenting the forgotten default. “Thank you,” the official wrote in apology, “for teaching the Japanese something about our own country.”

Economists Who Did Their Homework (800 Years of It) – NYTimes.com

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Greek Default-Swap Costs Only Beaten by Venezuela: Chart of the Day

The cost of insuring Greek government debt is now second only to that of Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez has declared “economic war” against the “bourgeoisie.”
The CHART OF THE DAY shows that credit-default swaps on Greek government bonds, in red, have overtaken Argentina, which failed to pay more than $80 billion in December 2001. The Latin American nation still has more than $6 billion of defaulted securities outstanding after its second attempt to restructure.
“Greece isn’t Argentina,” said Niels Jensen, a portfolio manager at London-based investment firm Absolute Return Partners LLP, which oversees more than $300 million. “From an economist’s point of view, there’s no question that it’s much, much worse.”
Greece’s debt burden last year was equivalent to about 115 percent of gross domestic product, compared with a level of about 60 percent for Argentina when it defaulted. Credit swaps signal there’s a more than 67 percent chance the southern European nation won’t meet its commitments within the next five years.
Venezuela’s Chavez, a 55-year-old former army paratrooper who champions a socialist ideology, oversees an economy that may contract 2.5 percent this year, according to Bank of America Corp.
“You’ve declared an economic war against me, so I accept your challenge, stateless bourgeoisie,” Chavez said June 2 after business chambers criticized his handling of the economy. “I’m declaring an economic war with the help of the people and workers.”
Credit-default swaps pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent should an issuer fail to adhere to its debt agreements.
(To save a copy of this chart, click here.)
To contact the reporter on this story: John Glover in London at johnglover@bloomberg.net

Greek Default-Swap Costs Only Beaten by Venezuela: Chart of the Day – Bloomberg


June 4, 2010

Debtors’ Prism: Who Has Europe’s Loans?

FRANKFURT
IT’S a $2.6 trillion mystery.
That’s the amount that foreign banks and other financial companies have lent to public and private institutions in Greece, Spain and Portugal, three countries so mired in economic troubles that analysts and investors assume that a significant portion of that mountain of debt may never be repaid.
The problem is, alas, that no one — not investors, not regulators, not even bankers themselves — knows exactly which banks are sitting on the biggest stockpiles of rotting loans within that pile. And doubt, as it always does during economic crises, has made Europe’s already vulnerable financial system occasionally appear to seize up. Early last month, in an indication of just how dangerous the situation had become, European banks — which appear to hold more than half of that $2.6 trillion in debt — nearly stopped lending money to one another.
Now, with government resources strained and confidence in European economies eroding, some analysts say the Continent’s banks have to come clean with a transparent and rigorous accounting of their woes. Until then, they say, nobody will be able to wrestle effectively with Europe’s mounting problems.
“The marketplace knows very little about where the real risks are parked,” says Nicolas Véron, an economist at Bruegel, a research organization in Brussels. “That is exactly the problem. As long as there is no semblance of clarity, trust will not return to the banking system.”
Limited disclosure and possibly spotty accounting have been long-voiced concerns of analysts who follow European banks. Though most large publicly listed banks have offered information about their exposure — Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt says it holds 500 million euros in Greek government bonds and no Spanish or Portuguese sovereign debt — there has been little disclosure from the hundreds of smaller mortgage lenders, state-owned banks and thrift institutions that dominate banking in countries like Germany and Spain.
Depfa, a German bank that is now based in Dublin, is one of the few second-tier European banking institutions that have offered detailed disclosures about their financial wherewithal, and its stark troubles may be emblematic of those still hidden on other banks’ books.
Despite boasting as recently as two years ago of its “very conservative lending practices,” Depfa, which caters primarily to governments, has flirted with disaster. It narrowly avoided collapsing in late 2008 until the German government bailed it out, and today its books are still laden with risk.
DEPFA and its parent, Hypo Real Estate Holding, a property lender outside Munich, have 80.4 billion euros in public-sector debt from Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy. The amount was first disclosed in March but did not draw much attention outside Germany until last month, when investors decided to finally try to tally how much cross-border lending had gone on in Europe.
Before Greece’s problems spilled into the open this year, investors paid little heed to how much lending European banks had done outside their own countries — so it came as a surprise how vulnerable they were to economies as weak as those of Greece and Portugal.
“Everybody knew there was a lot of debt out there,” said Nick Matthews, senior European economist at Royal Bank of Scotland and one of the authors of the report that tallied up Greek, Spanish and Portuguese debt. “But I think the extent of the exposure was a lot higher than most people had originally thought.”
Concern has quickly spread beyond just the sovereign bonds issued by the three countries as well as by Italy and Ireland, which are also seriously indebted. Private-sector debt in the troubled countries is also becoming an issue, because when governments pay more for financing, so do their domestic companies. Recession, along with higher interest payments, could lead to a surge in corporate defaults, the European Central Bank warned in a report on May 31.
Hypo Real Estate has hundreds of millions in shaky real estate loans on its books, as well as toxic assets linked to the subprime crisis in the United States. In the first quarter, it set aside an additional 260 million euros to cover potential loan losses, bringing the total to 3.9 billion euros. But that amount is a drop in the bucket, a mere 1.6 percent of Hypo’s total loan portfolio. Hypo has not yet set aside anything for money lent to governments in Greece and other troubled countries, arguing that the European Union rescue plan makes defaults unlikely.
The European Central Bank estimates that the Continent’s largest banks will book 123 billion euros ($150 billion) for bad loans this year, and an additional 105 billion euros next year, though the sums will be partly offset by gains in other holdings.
Analysts at the Royal Bank of Scotland estimate that of the 2.2 trillion euros that European banks and other institutions outside Greece, Spain and Portugal may have lent to those countries, about 567 billion euros is government debt, about 534 billion euros are loans to nonbanking companies in the private sector, and about 1 trillion euros are loans to other banks. While the crisis originated in Greece, much more was borrowed by Spain and its private sector — 1.5 trillion euros, compared with Greece’s 338 billion.
Beyond such sweeping estimates, however, little other detailed information is publicly known about those loans, which are equivalent to 22 percent of European G.D.P. And the inscrutability of the problem, as serious as it is, is spawning spoofs, at least outside the euro zone. A pair of popular Australian comedians, John Clarke and Bryan Dawe, who have created a series of sketches about various aspects of the financial crisis, recently turned their attention to the bad-debt problem in Europe. After grilling Mr. Clarke about the debt crisis in a mock quiz show, Mr. Dawe tells Mr. Clarke that his prize is that he has lost a million dollars. “Well done,” says Mr. Dawe. “That’s an extraordinary performance.”
On a more serious front, Timothy F. Geithner, the United States Treasury secretary, visited Europe at the end of May and called on European leaders to review their banks’ portfolios, as American regulators did last year, to separate healthy banks from those that need intensive care.
Others say that if such reviews do not occur, the banking sector in Europe could be crippled and the broader economy — dependent on loans for business expansions and job growth — could stall. And if that happens, says Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, the Continent’s banks could find themselves sinking even further because “European governments won’t be in a position to help them again.”
LENDING practices at Depfa may have seemed conservative before its 2008 meltdown, but its business model had always been based on a precarious assumption: borrowing at short-term rates to finance long-term lending, often for huge infrastructure projects.
From its base in Dublin, where it moved from Germany in 2002 for tax reasons, Depfa helped raise money for the Millau Viaduct, the huge bridge in France; for refinancing the Eurotunnel between France and Britain; and for an expansion of the Capital Beltway in suburban Virginia. Depfa was also a big player in the United States in other ways, like lending to theMetropolitan Transportation Authority in New York and to schools in Wisconsin.
Before the current crisis, Depfa was proud of its engagement in Mediterranean Europe. In its 2007 annual report, the company boasted of helping to raise 200 million euros for Portugal’s public water supplier and 100 million euros for public transit in the city of Porto. In Spain, it helped cities such as Jerez refinance their debt and helped raise money for public television stations in Valencia and Catalonia as well as raise 90 million euros for a toll road in Galicia. And in Greece, Depfa raised 265 million euros for the government-owned railway and in 2007 told shareholders of a newly won mandate: providing credit advice to the city of Athens.
Depfa said it performed a rigorous analysis of the creditworthiness of its customers, including a 22-grade internal rating system in addition to outside ratings. More than a third of its buyers earned the top AAA rating, the bank said in 2008, while more than 90 percent were A or better.
The public infrastructure projects in which Depfa specialized were considered low-risk, and typically generated low interest payments. Yet because long-term interest rates were typically higher than short-term rates, Depfa could collect the difference, however modest, in profit.
To outsiders, Depfa still looked like a growth story even after the subprime crisis began in the United States. Hypo Real Estate, which focused on real estate lending, acquired Depfa in 2007. After the acquisition, Depfa kept its name and its base in Dublin.
But when the United States economy reached the precipice in September 2008, banks suddenly refused to make short-term loans to one another, blowing a hole in Depfa’s financing and leaving it with a loss for the year of 5.5 billion euros and dependent on the German government for a bailout.
As Hypo’s 2008 annual report said of Depfa: “The business model has proved not to be robust in a crisis.”
Even with Depfa’s myriad travails, most investors weren’t aware of the extent of its cross-border problems until it disclosed them this year.
The question now hanging over Europe is how many other banks have problems similar to Depfa’s, but haven’t disclosed them.
On May 7, the cost of insuring against credit losses on European banks reached levels higher than in the aftermath of theLehman Brothers collapse in the United States. Officials at the European Central Bank warned that risk premiums were soaring to levels that threatened their ability to carry out their fundamental role of controlling interest rates.
Three days later, European Union governments joined with the International Monetary Fund to offer nearly $1 trillion in loan guarantees to Europe’s banks. At the same time, the European Central Bank began buying government bonds for the first time ever to prevent a sell-off of Greek, Spanish and other sovereign debt.
The measures, widely regarded as a de facto bank rescue, restored some calm to the markets, but critics said that the aid merely bought time without reducing overall debt load. Europe’s major stock indexes and the euro have continued to fall as investors remain dubious about the ability of Greece and perhaps other countries to repay their debts.
Even so, figuring out which banks may be most exposed to those countries largely remains a guessing game.
Regulators in each country know what assets their domestic banks hold, but have been reluctant to share that information across borders. Lucas D. Papademos, vice president of the European Central Bank, which gets an indication of banks’ health based on which ones draw heavily on its emergency credit lines, said at a news conference Monday that a small number of banks were “overreliant” on that funding.
But Mr. Papademos, who retired last Tuesday at the end of his term, wouldn’t be more specific. He said European banks would undertake a vigorous round of stress tests by July.
It’s obvious that Greek and Spanish banks hold large amounts of their own government’s bonds. Spanish banks hold 120 billion euros in sovereign debt, according to the Spanish central bank. But a central bank spokesman said that those holdings were not a problem because, thanks to the European Union’s rescue plan, the prices of Spanish bonds have recovered.
Guessing also falls heavily on public and quasipublic institutions like the German Landesbanks, which are owned by German states sometimes in conjunction with local savings banks. Five of Germany’s nine Landesbanks required federal or state government support after they loaded up on assets that later turned radioactive, ranging from subprime loans in the United States to investments in Icelandic banks that failed.
According to the Royal Bank of Scotland study, banks in France have the largest exposure to debt from Greece, Spain and Portugal, with 229 billion euros; German banks are second, with 226 billion euros. British and Dutch banks are next, at about 100 billion euros each, with American banks at 54 billion euros and Italian banks at 31 billion euros.
“Banks continue to not trust each other,” says Jörg Rocholl, a professor at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin. “They know other banks are sick, but they don’t know which ones.”
DEPFA and Hypo Real Estate, meanwhile, face continued setbacks as they try to steer back to health. Hypo reported a pretax loss for the group of 324 million euros in the first quarter, down from 406 million euros a year earlier.
At the end of May, the German government raised its guarantees for Hypo to 103.5 billion euros from 93.4 billion. Some analysts say they think the bank may need more aid in the future.
“I don’t think it’s over yet,” says Robert Mazzuoli, an analyst at Landesbank Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart.

Raphael Minder contributed reporting from Madrid.

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