Posts Tagged ‘“balance sheet recession’

WE ARE NOT REPEATING THE MISTAKES OF JAPAN….YET

Pragcap explains why "WE ARE NOT REPEATING THE MISTAKES OF JAPAN….YET".

Cherry blossom festival

Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist 

When confronted with a balance sheet recession the math regarding economic growth gets relatively simple – either the government spends in times of below trend private sector spending or the economy contracts. For several years now I have maintained that we are in a balance sheet recession – an unusual recession caused by excessive private sector debt.  Although this balance sheet recession created the risk of prolonged weakness I have been quick to dismiss the persistent discussions that compare this to anything close to a second great depression - as I showed in 2009 the comparisons were always ridiculous.  The much closer precedent was Japan, where the economy actually expanded throughout their balance sheet recession, but a persistent malaise left a dark cloud over the private sector as they paid down debts.

Over the last year I have consistently expressed concerns that the USA was going to suffer the same fate as Japan, which consistently scared itself into recession due to austerity measures. At the time, most pundits were comparing us to Greece and attempting to scare us into thinking that the USA was bankrupt, on the verge of hyperinflation and general doom. I wrote several negative articles in 2009 & 2010 berating public officials who said the USA was going bankrupt and that the deficit was at risk of quickly turning us into Greece, Weimar or Zimbabwe.  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.  The inflationists, defaultistas and other fear mongerers have been wrong in nearly every aspect of their arguments about the US economy.

US government default was never on the table, the bond vigilantes were not just taking a nap and now, with the passage of the most recent stimulus bill it’s likely that we’ve (at least temporarily) sidestepped the economic decline that was likely to accompany a decline in government spending.  Richard Koo, however, believes we are repeating the mistakes of our past.  In a recent strategy note he said:

“The situation in Europe is no different from that in the US. I therefore have to conclude that the western nations have learned nothing from Japan’s lessons and are likely to repeat its mistakes.”

I have to disagree here.  The most important factor impacting economic growth in the prior year…
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DEBT AND DELEVERAGING: A FISHER, MINSKY, KOO APPROACH

DEBT AND DELEVERAGING: A FISHER, MINSKY, KOO APPROACH

Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist 

The following paper by Paul Krugman is an excellent analysis of the current situation in the United States.  Professor Krugman accepts Richard Koo’s “balance sheet recession” and draws similar conclusions to Koo – primarily that government must maintain large deficits in order to offset the lack of spending by the private sector.  The key component missing in both Krugman and Koo’s argument is the idea that a nation that is sovereign in its own currency cannot default on its “debt”.  Nonetheless, the conclusions we all come to are similar – a temporary deficit is not only necessary, but an economic benefit during a balance sheet recession:

“In this paper we have sought to formalize the notion of a deleveraging crisis, in which there is an abrupt downward revision of views about how much debt it is safe for individual agents to have, and in which this revision of views forces highly indebted agents to reduce their spending sharply. Such a sudden shift to deleveraging can, if it is large enough, create major problems of macroeconomic management. For if a slump is to be avoided, someone must spend more to compensate for the fact that debtors are spending less; yet even a zero nominal interest rate may not be low enough to induce the needed spending.

Formalizing this concept integrates several important strands in economic thought. Fisher’s famous idea of debt deflation emerges naturally, while the deleveraging shock can be seen as our version of the increasingly popular notion of a “Minsky moment.” And the process of recovery, which depends on debtors paying down their liabilities, corresponds quite closely to Koo’s notion of a protracted “balance sheet recession.”

One thing that is especially clear from the analysis is the likelihood that policy discussion in the aftermath of a deleveraging shock will be even more confused than usual, at least viewed through the lens of the model. Why? Because the shock pushes us into a world of topsy-turvy, in which saving is a vice, increased productivity can reduce output, and flexible wages increase unemployment. However, expansionary fiscal policy should be effective, in part because the macroeconomic effects of a deleveraging shock are inherently temporary, so the fiscal response need be only temporary as well. And the model suggests that a temporary rise in government spending not only won’t


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THE UNFORTUNATE MATH BEHIND OUR ECONOMIC PLIGHT

Pragcap argues that the U.S. is in a balance sheet recession, not a gov’t debt crisis, and not a banking crisis (Geithner, Bernanke and Paulson all misdiagnosing the problem).  And it won’t end till 2012 at the earliest. – Ilene 

THE UNFORTUNATE MATH BEHIND OUR ECONOMIC PLIGHT

Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist

Few will argue against the fact that the U.S. economy is sputtering.  For several years now I have been arguing that the government misdiagnosed our problems and subsequently applied the incorrect cure.  If we take a look under the hood at the growth drivers of our economy we can reveal convincing evidence showing that this was in fact the case.

The following chart shows 30 years of US GDP along with potential output.  The blue line represents actual GDP while the red line shows potential GDP.  This represents what economists call the output gap.

output gap THE UNFORTUNATE MATH BEHIND OUR ECONOMIC PLIGHT

(Figure 1)

At the current levels we are running an output gap of just over $1.2T.  This merely means that the U.S. economy would be producing $1.2T more in total GDP if we did not have so much idle capacity.

The math behind the U.S. economic growth of the last 100 years is fairly straight forward.  Economists describe GDP in mathematical format as follows:

Y=C+I+E+G

Y = GDP

C = Personal Consumption Expenditures

I = Fixed Private Investment

E = Net Exports/Imports

G = Government Consumption Expenditures

While all four components matter to the economy the C component (at roughly 71%) is the coaching staff, offense and defense of this football team.   Let’s just call the other three components “special teams” – important, but far less so in the grand scheme of things.   What’s happened to this crucial component of the U.S. economy in the last three years has been remarkable to say the least.  There has been a dramatic stagnation in personal consumption expenditures (PCE).  If we take a look at the historical data it’s truly incredible.  PCE grew at an average rate of 7.5% for almost 50 straight years.  Even more incredible is that this growth has been almost entirely uninterrupted.

PCE THE UNFORTUNATE MATH BEHIND OUR ECONOMIC PLIGHT

(Figure 2)

PCE1 THE UNFORTUNATE MATH BEHIND OUR ECONOMIC PLIGHT

(Figure 3)

When the Nasdaq bubble imploded, American balance sheets were cracked, but not shattered.  Slowly, they began to come back.  But as we all know now a far more nefarious bubble was brewing.  One based on pure debt and speculation.  When the housing bubble imploded in…
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THE DETERIORATING MACRO PICTURE

THE DETERIORATING MACRO PICTURE

Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist 

a statue of a man levering a rock with a stick

Over the course of the last 18 months I’ve been adhering to a macro view that can best be summed up as follows:

1) The explosion in private sector debt (excessive housing borrowing, excessive corporate debt, etc) levels would reveal the private sector as unable to sustain positive economic growth, de-leveraging and deflation would ensue.

2) Government intervention would help moderately boost aggregate demand, improve bank balance sheets, improve sentiment, boost asset prices but fail to result in sustained economic recovery as private sector balance sheet recession persists.

3)  Extremely depressed estimates and corporate cost cutting would improve margins and generate a moderate earnings rebound, but would come under pressure in 2010 as margin expansion failed to continue at the 2009 rate.

4)  The end of government intervention in H2 2010 will reveal severe strains in housing and will reveal the private sector as still very weak and unable to sustain economic growth on its own.

The rebound in assets was surprisingly strong and the ability of corporations to sustain bottom line growth has been truly impressive – far better than I expected.  However, I am growing increasingly concerned that the market has priced in overly optimistic earnings sustainability – in other words, estimates and expectations have overshot to the upside.

What we’ve seen over the last few years is not terribly complex in my opinion.  The housing boom created what was in essence a massively leveraged household sector.  The problems were compounded by the leveraging in the financial sector, however, this was merely a symptom of the real underlying problem and not the cause of the financial crisis (despite what Mr. Bernanke continues to say and do to fix the economy).

As the consumer balance sheet imploded the economy imploded with it.  This shocked aggregate demand like we haven’t seen in nearly a century. This resulted in collapsing corporate revenues.  The decrease in corporate revenues, due to this decline in aggregate demand, resulted in massive cost cutting and defensive posturing by corporations.  This exacerbated the problems as job losses further weakened the consumer balance sheet position.  Consumers, like, corporations, got defensive and began cutting expenses and paying down liabilities.  Sentiment collapsed and we all know what unfolded in 2008.

The government responded by largely targeting the banking sector based on the belief that fixing the banks would fix Main…
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DO BOND MARKETS FUND OUR SPENDING?

DO BOND MARKETS FUND OUR SPENDING?

Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist 

High angle view of a globe on a heap of Indian banknotes and Euro banknotes Vertical

This idea that the United States is the next Greece persists.  We saw it several times this week from various analysts and the regular pundits who continue to trot out this argument despite having been terribly wrong about their hyperinflation and/or default thesis over the last few years.  I think it’s very important that investors understand that the United States cannot default on its obligations in the same way that Greece, a US state or a household can.  Why is it important to understand this?  Because markets are psychologically driven.  Regular readers know I am not the most optimistic prognosticator.  Anyone who has read this site over the last few years knows that I have and continue to believe we are mired in a balance sheet recession.  My outlook is not rosey, but it is not dire either.  I do not believe doom is on the horizon and I most certainly do not believe the United States, as the sovereign supplier of a non-convertible floating exchange rate currency, will default on its obligations.

At the center of this argument is the actual workings of our monetary system. So, how does the United States actually fund itself?  Unlike a household, the United States does not require revenue or debt to fund itself.  The United States government simply credits bank accounts.  They walk into a room and input numbers into computers – literally.  This might sound counter-intuitive to the rest of us who fund our spending through debt issuance or revenue streams, but the same is not true for the Federal Government. This was best explained last week in an interview on BNN by Marshall Auerback, a portfolio strategist with RAB Capital:

“Governments spend by crediting bank accounts.  The causation is that you spend money first.  What happens afterwards is bonds are issued as a reserve drain.  They don’t actually fund anything.  This is one of the great myths that is perpetuated by most of the economics profession.  So the idea that we have “unfunded liabilities” is ludicrous.  If we declare a war, for example, in Iraq or Afghanistan, we don’t go to our bond holders.  We don’t go to China to give them a line-item veto for what we can and can’t spend.  We just spend the money. The implicit assumption here is that somehow we have some external constraint.  The


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REGARDING THOSE “STRONG” CORPORATE BALANCE SHEETS

REGARDING THOSE “STRONG” CORPORATE BALANCE SHEETS

Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist 

Calculator and pencil on top of balance sheet

Brett Arends had an excellent piece on MarketWatch yesterday regarding the true state of US corporations.  You’ve probably heard the argument before that corporations are sitting on record piles of cash – their balance sheets are in immaculate condition. Right?  Wrong!  These comments are generally made without accounting for both sides of the ledger.  What is often ignored is that the total debts of these companies has also skyrocketed.  Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of this in the past when discussing corporate cash levels and Arends (rightfully) sets the record straight.  He notes that corporations are even worse off today (in terms of debt levels) than they were when the crisis began:

“American companies are not in robust financial shape. Federal Reserve data show that their debts have been rising, not falling. By some measures, they are now more leveraged than at any time since the Great Depression.

You’d think someone might have noticed something amiss. After all, we were simultaneously being told that companies (a) had more money than they know what to do with; (b) had even more money coming in due to a surge in profits; yet (c) they have been out in the bond market borrowing as fast as they can.

Does that sound a little odd to you?

A look at the facts shows that companies only have “record amounts of cash” in the way that Subprime Suzy was flush with cash after that big refi back in 2005. So long as you don’t look at the liabilities, the picture looks great. Hey, why not buy a Jacuzzi?

According to the Federal Reserve, nonfinancial firms borrowed another $289 billion in the first quarter, taking their total domestic debts to $7.2 trillion, the highest level ever. That’s up by $1.1 trillion since the first quarter of 2007; it’s twice the level seen in the late 1990s.”

This will also sound familiar to readers of John Hussman who has debunked the cash on the sidelines story more than once:

Interestingly, some observers lament that corporations and some individuals are holding their assets in “cash” rather than spending and investing those balances, apparently believing that this money is being “held back” from the economy. What


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Why The World Is Headed For A Balance Sheet Recession

"Balance sheet recession" explained.  It characterized the Great Depression and Japan’s Lost Decade, and includes weak consumer spending and private sector deleveraging.  During this process, the three Ds come into play: debt deflation, deleveraging, and ultimately depression. – Ilene 

Why The World Is Headed For A Balance Sheet Recession

Courtesy of Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns 

In my post Koo, White, Soros and Akerloff videos from inaugural INET conference I highlighted four speeches from the recent George Soros-sponsored pow-wow. I have already written up a post based on the one by William White in "The origins of the next crisis."

This post serves to give you some colour on another of those speeches, the one by Richard Koo and his balance sheet recession.

 

Koo believes the US, Europe and China are headed for a period of incredibly weak consumer spending not unlike what Japan has been through. Let me say a few words about this balance sheet recession theme, private sector deleveraging, and the related sovereign debt crises. Then, at the bottom, I have embedded a recent paper of his which has a bunch of graphs that explain what Japan has been through as a cautionary tale for the global economy.

I have described Koo’s thesis this way:

Nomura’s Chief Economist Richard Koo wrote a book last year called “The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics” which introduced the concept of a balance sheet recession, which explains economic behaviour in the United States during the Great Depression and Japan during its Lost Decade.  He explains the factor connecting those two episodes was a consistent desire of economic agents (in this case, businesses) to reduce debt even in the face of massive monetary accommodation.

When debt levels are enormous, as they are right now in the United States, an economic downturn becomes existential for a great many forcing people to reduce debt. Recession


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CREDIT MARKETS CONTINUE TO WAVE THE WARNING FLAG

CREDIT MARKETS CONTINUE TO WAVE THE WARNING FLAG

Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist

Caribbean Reef Sharks

One of the primary reasons for our move to sell equities in mid-January was the warning shot the CDS market was sending.  Specifically, we said:

As the problem of debt refuses to go away and in fact, quietly spreads, we’ve seen another slow development over the course of the last few weeks – problems in Greece appear to be worse than originally expected and credit default swaps are sending warning messages again.  The term structure in Greek CDS recently inverted as investors are now increasingly concerned of a default in the next few months.  This is something we saw in 2008 before the financial markets nearly collapsed.  That time the inversion was in Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch CDS.

As the problems in the banking sector unfolded in late Summer 2008 the sovereign debt of the big three developed nations began to skyrocket before reaching a crescendo in early 2009.  What’s alarming with the situation in Greece is the similarities in CDS price action.  The recent uptick could be serving as a warning flag of things to come in 2010 and 2011 when the problem of debt has potential to rear its ugly head again.  Barclays might not have been too far off when they said the probability of a crisis would grow in 2010.

Well, this situation has only worsened in recent weeks and the equity markets have dipped over 5% since our “must sell” signal.  Jim Reid at Deutsche Bank is reiterating the concern we expressed several weeks ago that this is looking increasingly similar to the action in the markets heading up to the Lehman bankruptcy:

“The danger for every risk asset beyond IG credit is that if higher quality assets see forced re-pricing then it surely has to impact the riskier end of markets. The situation is increasingly reminding us of August/September 2008 when the credit market was sending out a strong sell signal to the equity market. Failing a quick sovereign bail-out, the credit markets are sending out a similar sell signal.”

Reid goes on to note that the markets appear to be accelerating what the governments hoped they could heal with time.  In essence, we’ve put all our…
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Weak consumer spending will last for years

This is an excellent overview of our economic situation.  Edward goes beyond consumer spending and discusses debt, capacity, a "balance sheet recession," inflation, deflation, retail sales, commercial real estate, government policy, a statistical recovery and the new normal. - Ilene  

Weak consumer spending will last for years

consumer spendingCourtesy of Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns

It has been my thesis for some time that we are seeing a secular change in consumption patterns in the United States.  This will have grave implications for a world economy used to seeing the American consumer as an economic growth engine and consumer of first choice. Retail sales in the United States have fallen 10% since peaking in November 2007. Much of this decline represents a permanent fall in consumption by overly indebted American consumers.

Having finally had a chance to dissect the retail sales data from last week, I wanted to show you a few graphs which indicate how much consumption has fallen in the present downturn and what the implication is for the future global economy. But, first, I want to start with a broader discussion as to why the fall in US consumption is a longer-term change and not a cyclical one.

The Balance Sheet Recession

Numerous economies seem on there way to recovery: Germany and France, Singapore, and Hong Kong, to name a few, have all posted positive economic growth.  China looks likely to hit its 2009 growth target of 8%. But, the U.S., generally assumed to be a leader in recovery, is looking like a laggard.  Mind you, there are other laggards like Spain and Ireland too.  Why are these countries lagging?  The Balance Sheet Recession.

debtNomura’s Chief Economist Richard Koo wrote a book last year called “The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics” which introduced the concept of a balance sheet recession, which explains economic behaviour in the United States during the Great Depression and Japan during its Lost Decade.  He explains the factor connecting those two episodes was a consistent desire of economic agents (in this case, businesses) to reduce debt even in the face of massive monetary accommodation.

When debt levels are enormous, as they are right now in the United States, an economic downturn becomes existential for a great many forcing people to reduce debt.…
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Phil's Favorites

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Mid-Day Update

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