Monday, September 16, 2013

The Man Who Predicted the Last Crisis Says Excesses Worse Now

The Bank of International Settlements, BIS, was the only major institution in the world to accurately predict the global financial crisis in 2007.  William White was one of the veteran economists sounding the alarm in 2006 and before.

He is back and he's saying that the global credit excesses are worse than before the last crisis.  From Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at the Telegraph:

“This looks like to me like 2007 all over again, but even worse,” said William White, the BIS’s former chief economist, famous for flagging the wild behaviour in the debt markets before the global storm hit in 2008.

“All the previous imbalances are still there. Total public and private debt levels are 30pc higher as a share of GDP in the advanced economies than they were then, and we have added a whole new problem with bubbles in emerging markets that are ending in a boom-bust cycle,” said Mr White, now chairman of the OECD’s Economic Development and Review Committee.

The BIS said in its quarterly review that the issuance of subordinated debt -- which leaves lenders exposed to bigger losses if things go wrong -- has jumped more than threefold over the last year to $52bn in Europe, and jumped tenfold to $22bn in the US.
The share of “leveraged loans” used by the weakest borrowers in the syndicated loan market has jumped to an all-time high of 45pc, ten percentage points higher than the pre-crisis peak in 2007-2008.


The BIS said investors are snapping up “covenant-lite” loans that offer little protection to creditors, as well as a form of hybrid capital for banks known as CoCos (contingent convertible capital instruments) that switch debt into equity if bank capital ratios fall too low. While CoCos help shield taxpayers from losses in a banking crisis by leaving private creditors with more of the risk, the recent appetite for such an instrument is also a warning sign.  See chart below:


 
The BIS said interbank credit to emerging markets has reached the “highest level on record” while the value of bonds issued in off-shore centres by private companies from China, Brazil and other developing nations exceeds total issuance by firms from rich economies for the first time, underscoring the sheer size of the debt build-up in Asia, Latin Africa, and the Mid-East.

Mr White said the five years since Lehman have largely been wasted, leaving a global system that is even more unbalanced, and may be running out of lifelines. “The ultimate driver for the whole world is the US interest rate and as this goes up there will be fall-out for everybody. The trigger could be Fed tapering but there are a lot of things that can go wrong. I very am worried that Abenomics could go awry in Japan, and Europe remains exceedingly vulnerable to outside shocks.”

Mr White said the world has become addicted to easy money, with rates falling ever lower with each cycle and each crisis. There is little ammunition left if the system buckles again. “I don’t know what they will do: Abenomics for the world I suppose, but this is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” he said.

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