Part 2 – Revelations
Reflections on 2014
As a behaviourally focused economics publication we have been very quiet and inactive during 2014. A year of reflection and introspection, however, we are ready to resume service, with vigour. And what better way to start than with a reflective piece and thoughts on the biggest risk we believe are developing under the surface without warning. Our concluding theme of 2014 is that of moral hazard.
As Margaret Thatcher once said: “There is no society”; we state today that there is ‘No Moral Hazard'; in fact there is only Moral Hazard PLUS.
We believe that there is a strong correlation between QE (Quantitative Easing) and economic moral hazard developing a new strain, mutating like an unseen virus.
QE might have saved the financial system of the developed world, but it it only provided a shot in the arm and acted as a stimulus for sustaining moral hazard.
Economics follow a flow and cyclical pattern, as discussed in our article entitled ‘Information Age Irony‘. These patterns and flows weave themselves into the fabric of our lives and affect individual economies in different ways.
It is important to understand where and how economic cycles develop and flow and how much influence they have on our general economic activities on a day to day basis, but we should not become overly obsessed by them, as they can be short-circuited from time to time by policy and policy-maker’s actions, wherever individually or collectively.
In part 2 of this article we will focus on the revelations of QE and the underlying threat of moral hazard returning on a grander and more catastrophic scale, if it goes unchecked and misunderstood.
© theMarketSoul 2014
The US Debt default that is looming ever larger with each passing day that the US Congress, Senate and White House seem to treat as a brinkmanship fatigue challenge will have a specific default structure or process attached to it, that the rest of the world needs to get to grips with very quickly.
Because, if Americans are willing to engage in quasi-negotiations with each other on this acrimonious level; then world beware, they will treat you with even more disdain and petulance than they have been treating each other.
This is commercial war on a scale we have not experienced for quite some time.
And the most disparaging part of this process or potential risk is that no commentator has yet stood up and called time on this challenge or at the very least attempted to pull the veil from the threat and fall-out the rest of the world will experience.
Of course 17 October 2013 is a technical default breach days only; because as most business people who experienced bankruptcy will attest to is the fact that you can continue to trade (on the goodwill of your creditors) beyond the point of being solvent, so long as those creditors continue to good-naturedly extend some further credit or payment terms to you.
1. The Yield Curve at 30 September 2013 – The day before the US government shutdown officially began
What can clearly be observed from the Yield Curve for Treasury Bills (T-Bills) dated 30 days is that the spread between 30 September 2013 (at 0.10%) to the rate at 11 October 2013 (0.26%) has significantly increased and that the Yield Curve has become inverted. Normally the sign of a recession or other financial calamity to come.
Will Thursday 17 October 2013 be D-Day (for Disaster or Domino-day) when the whole lot starts tumbling down again?
We might have heard it referred to as phrases such as “blinkered vision, short-term thinking”, possibly even “tunnel vision” or something similar; however the challenges of Immediacy is (1) the hidden cost and (2) damage it does to our organisations and culture within those organisations.
This is a behavioural consequence of a much more deep rooted problem. It could possibly be insecurity or ‘over’ control, mistrust or some other behavioural issue.
However, we would like to make a bold statement that the problem is one of an over commented emotional connection to what we do. Too much passion and care in other words. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it must be tempered and balanced by its opposite twin, namely logic and deliberation.
Too often we let the Emotional Intelligence (EI) side of our personalities or just pure emotions (if we lack in the finesses of EI) rule the roost and we park logic and Business Intelligence (BI) at our peril.
When faced with the typical flight or flight scenario of a mini crisis at work or during a project;, stop or pause for a little while in order to achieve two very important objectives:
As an experiment in BI versus EI today and over the course of this week, just think and apply these two simple steps and monitor and evaluate the outcomes and consequences.
You might be pleasantly surprised…
Feedback most welcome.
A walk back in time. #Thoughts from 2010. The #Value of #Synthesis versus #Analysis. #Tyranny and #Innovation
Originally posted on theMarketSoul ©1999 - 2015:
We had some very rewarding conversations recently with business partners and peers regarding the Value of Synthesis versus Analysis.
Synthesis we believe to be a ‘higher level’ skill and experience set than traditional analysis. Synthesis requires a natural ‘incubation period’. Very few people are natural ‘synthesists’. You grow and mature into a ‘natural Synthisist’.
Analysts can be taught. In fact a very lucrative business education industrial complex has been built on the back of ‘creating a production line of analysts’. We call them Business Schools churning out master’s level analysts with the three-letter MBA title behind their names.
Don’t get us wrong on this one. We are not criticising MBAs or the Business Schools that produce them. Far from it; because we believe that part of the ‘evolutionary process’ of ‘incubating a mature synthesist’ is having a deep and fundamental understanding of analysis and the factors that contribute to making…
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We wrote about a particular economic phenomenon referred to in this post about economic cycles and particularly the Kuznets swing; which we find the most interesting and thought provoking cycle. The reason for this is that it is a generational cycle, only lasting or more accurately stated lasting anywhere between 15 – 25 years.
So where are we on this cycle and what does it mean for me, should be the two most obvious questions to answer?
Lets address both separately below.
Firstly we believe we are now around seven years into a downward phase of the Kuznets cycle, therefore to some analysts it would mean that we are either almost half way or to others around a third of the way through this cycle.
Secondly, and more importantly, the impact it has on market participants like all of us:
We believe that the downward phase of a Kuznets swing is the ‘exuberance‘ correcting phase; when markets and other factors of productions contributing to mostly normal market clearing activity ‘got slightly out of kilter’. The Kuznets swing is always there to bring these factors of production into alignment. It is a consolidation phase of the cycle and interestingly for this particular phase, it coincides with disruptive technological advances around Cloud Computing, dis-aggregation of intermediaries, especially in labour markets with labour or skills exchanges appearing everywhere. Examples include, Elance, oDesk, PeoplePerHour, etc..
Furthermore, and this is the most import action point for our readers to understand and appreciate, this consolidation and technological advance has a severe impact of wages levels and the distribution of where actual ‘work’ is being performed.
Hence headlines like the one we spotted this morning regarding real wages in Britain declining relative to other (very unproductive EU cousins) are not helpful without the pundit exploring and engaging n deeper analysis of the underlying drivers for the pressure.
Understand that the world of work is changing much faster than we had ever become used to in previous generations. As active able and willing participants in this market for labour and skills we have clear choices: Up-skill, be competitive appreciate and plan for volatility in the labour supply market, by ensuring flexibility in location, skills and prices. It is especially painful to suffer real wage declines, but remember this is the market’s subtle way of signalling a problem or challenge in that particular market and a way of adjusting in order to restore the natural balance and clearing prices.
We believe every interfering politician and educating commentator should always bear this in mind.
When the Euro zone Debt driven financial crises – yes, it has been dragging on for a little while now; lurching from one convulsion to the next tremor – is headline news across most traditional newspapers in Britain, it is worth pausing briefly to consider the overall ‘management efforts’ of the European leadership and senior bureaucratic establishment and the potential outcomes.
The interesting point to observe today is the development of the crises from one of ‘consolidated rhetoric’ to save the Euro zone and Euro project, to a slow and it now seems inevitable conclusion that certain ‘none performing’ members will have to leave the Euro monetary union. This ‘orderly exit’ is now overdue because the political will, fiscal consolidation and Euro zone wide risk sharing necessary to ensure continued membership, on an equal footing, has been and is being rejected by the electorate as incumbent political leaders and governments stumble and fall as each political reflection point at the ballot box looms.
What is currently not part of the popular discourse is the fact that the risk has moved on from a political, credit and market risk to one of a social or socio-economic dimension. Because ‘austerity proper‘ has not yet begun to bite and embed itself firmly in the economies of most European countries, as part of the process of climbing the stairway on the upward leg of addressing the mountain of sovereign debt built up over the last few years, nobody has really, except for Greece (and a blip in August 2011 in Britain), had to deal with large-scale and continued civil unrest. Yet, this is exactly the scenario we need to prepare for as a few conversations we have been having with analysts and pundits has openly started raising this spectre as another risk factor to add to the volatile cocktail we are already expected to swallow.
Is a full-scale exit by the weaker Euro zone nation states on the cards and the possibility of a wholesale devaluation of the Euro? Well, that depends on where the financial and fiscal power and discipline lies and we believe that most observers of the European Debt Crisis known the instinctive answer to that question…
A final thought is to start preparing yourself for debates and contingency planning around a disorderly exist by weaker Euro zone members. And have large-scale civil unrest as part of the scenarios you need to consider…
After the conclusion to what some pundits called a ‘tumultuous week’ for Europe (week ending 11 May 2012), we still find ourselves asking some important questions.
We all know that the question is not around what growth, where growth or why growth. The fundamental question in Europe now is:
For way too long Europe and its leadership had taken its eye off the growth ball. They had taken their eye off that ball focussing instead on creating the conditions for a ‘stable’ internal market, forgetting that it was all actually centred on competitiveness and growth creation!
Too much needless bureaucratically driven regulation, not creating the sustainable conditions for growth, but rather the spiral into debt driven oblivion…and therefore leading to the volatility and the instability we currently experience!
So the choice now comes down to how do we drive growth, in the face of an electorate that favours public sector driven growth, rather than private sector led growth.
It must make common (or at the very least common enough) sense for private sector growth incentives being created, rather than debt fuelled public sector or even Keynesian focused supply side stimulus. But no, the discourse in Europe has not been around stimulating demand by creating the conditions for competitive led export fuelled growth! Instead, the in-fighting and constant politicking around balanced budgets and debt to GDP ratio targets and endless pacts to patch the patient with half-baked policy sticky plasters has contributed to exactly the opposite outcome the leadership tried to create in Europe, namely a stable platform for internal market competitiveness. They forgot about the world changing outside the ‘Chinese wall’ of an expanded 27 member union.
And now the electorate has firmly rejected the austerity programmes, in both Greece and France, because they have not been educated in the dangers of public sector excesses. Nobody in Europe (except for maybe Sweden) realised that giving the “Engine of Growth”, namely enterprise and entrepreneurs an incentive to create businesses and employment opportunities, is actually tax reductions and not increases, combined with tempering public sector growth and reducing labour market inflexibility. Most European countries have youth unemployment; the hungry, tech-savvy and street smart under 25’s, running in double digits, of anywhere between 15 – 50%, depending on which country or statistics you want to believe…
For the sake of yourselves and the rest of the world, we beg you Europe (and off course we mean the leaders of Europe) to think about the following key growth criteria, as part of any ‘Growth Pact’ you might negotiate in the coming months:
And above all believe, think, do, act and (if you must) enact economic GROWTH!
We take a brief look at two interesting Treasury Yield curves today.
The first Yield Curve takes a snapshot view of the yield curves at the end of Q1 2011 and Q1 2012.
What is very noticeable is the fact that the overall yields for the end of Q1 2012 is significantly lower than a year ago. Taking a look at the at the 5 year T-Note yields as an example, the spread between the end of March 2011 (5Yr T-Notes at 2.24% ) and the end of March 2012 (5Yr T-Notes at 1.04%) was 1.20% down. The question is what factors drove down the ‘risk-free’ rate on US Treasuries?
However, turning our attention to the second graph below, indicates a slightly different perspective; and hence the title of this post. Has and is risk returning to the capital and stock markets to levels we previously experienced?
Not quite, is the short answer, because the spread between 31 December 2011 (0.83%) versus the 1.04% rate at the end of March 2012, only indicates an uptick of 21 basis points in the yield rate. The significance is not the percentage spread, but rather the direction of movement and we will continue our analysis at the end of Q2 2012 to establish whether the direction in Q1 2012 will be maintained into Q2 and beyond.
The final question to ponder is this:
Are we finally seeing the corner turned, or are there still significant risks in the global economy and sovereign debt markets to cause a few further after shocks in the months to come?
Or is this the beginning of what we will call ‘Austerity Anarchy’?
As a case study in behavioural economics goes, the last week in March 2012, in the UK must go down as a classic…
What sparked the ‘run on petrol and filling stations’ is not the aim of our analysis, but rather the deeper underlying cultural psychosis affecting Austerity Britain. However, the austerity is not driven by the current revenue expenditure austerity, but rather the culture of Investment Austerity over many decades that has created a supply chain time bomb in the UK.
There is generally a severe lack of investment in any form of storage capacity. Not as a risk management concept, but rather as a pure short sighted cost management issue.
Yes, land capacity is limited on a small (in places patchily overcrowded; especially down in the South East of England) island and the cost of owning a vast storage network must seem prohibitive; yet having so little risk management or rather ‘buffer’ and shock absorption capacity available must be the vast hidden opportunity cost ‘time bomb’ waiting to derail a sustained or sustainable short run upturn in the economy?
Hidden or in the economists parlance ‘Opportunity Cost’ is generally not an item on any policy maker’s agenda, yet in it lies the ‘unintended consequences’ element that so seldom gets factored into the equation. Yet opportunity cost highlights the risk element we have to factor in. And in this sense we use the word RISK in its proper intended format, namely a quantifiable probabilistic evaluation of the downside of a transaction. Yes, threats are more closely aligned to ‘unintended consequences’ and are the issues we can only subjectively be aware of, but cannot quantify with any degree of accuracy.
Hence, ‘Austerity Anarchy’ is what we believe an angst and siege mentally is, when decision-making (or rather calculus driven decision-making) gets ‘suspended’ and the irrationality of “mankind’s mind” and the mainstream misinformation distribution takes over, creating PANIC in Little Britain and the commentators at theMarketSoul ©1999 – 2012 ask themselves:
“I wonder to myself; could life ever be sane again?” – with thanks to The Smiths
No investor can or should trust institutions without conducting their own due diligence and risk profile / risk appetite assessment first. In the past investors could possibly rely on professional ‘trusted’ advisors to help then navigate the due diligence part, at least in theory. Risk and risk appetite assessment was the more tricky part and not even the professionals had sophisticated enough tools to help their clients through this quagmire landscape.
We believe this is the unintended consequence of over regulation or an over regulated environment. Relational trust has been eroded in favour of ‘legislative trust’ and therefore the impersonal ‘hand of public scrutiny’ is supposed to protect the innocents.
We need to ensure the pendulum swings back to a happy balance between relationship and legislative trust, unburden ourselves from the over regulated and expensive compliance environment we have allowed to engulf and overwhelm us, not adding any value, but stifling innovation instead.
As economic beings we are extremely ‘short-sighted’ by nature. We don’t fully appreciate the differences and interactions between the short-, medium- and long-term.
It was Burns & Mitchell (1946) who tried to measure the economic cycles. Today there are four broad classifications of business cycles as follows:
But the Information Age has undermined these cycles? Or only undermined our understanding of these cycles? That is the key distinction we need to draw.
Are there any longer-term term cycles, which are beginning to contract with advances in Technology.
The Dark Ages (lets say from the collapse of the Roman Empire) until the enlightenment lasted around 1,000 years. The Enlightenment (approximately 1650s) through to the First Industrial Revolution (from mid 1700’s to mid 1800s) lasted around 200 years. The Second Industrial Revolution (driven by electricity from around mid 1800s) lasted another 100 years.
The Third Industrial Revolution, or rather the Digital Revolution is the COMPUTER or DIGITAL AGE.
However, interesting this brief synopsis of economic history is, the actual relevant issue is recognising the length of the TRANSITION period between these ‘Leapfrog’ Technological advances.
We are not very good (yet) at recognising, never mind managing these tectonic shifts in the economic landscape.
Is this were we found ourselves today?
In yesterday’s article, “Where will all the new money come from?” we concluded the brief analysis with the Sovereign Debt Maturity profiles (otherwise known as the Debt Structure) of both the USA and Italy, noting how similar the two profiles looked at first glance.
Digging a bit deeper today, we would like to compare those charts to cliff edges. We trust that the sentiment of the article is that we perceive Central Banks across the globe fretting about the ‘New Money’ we were referring to. With general economic confidence waning and the outlook for a sustainable long-term solution to sovereign over (indulgence) spending fading, the landscape is looking very bleak at moment.
New money will have to be printed (Quantitative Easing or QE) if investors in the capital markets cannot be found to bear the burden of purchasing new Bond and Treasury issues.
Some headlines over the few weeks alluded to Bond auctions in Portugal, Italy and Spain being well supported (see related article at the bottom of this post), but these were not major refunding and roll-over exercises. Greece is continuing to be a welcome distraction for politicians and Central Bankers in both taking investor’s eye off the bigger problems coming along the line in Q2 2012 and in winning time to hopefully come up with a credible longer-term plan to reduce debt levels and then return to growth.
Let’s take a look at some of the crucial Sovereign Debt auctions coming up in the next few months:
The link below provides a time table schedule issued by the US Treasury for T-Bills, T-Notes, T-Bonds and TIPS, for at least the next six months.
To get the equivalent Eurozone calendar is not so easy. (Partly because each individual country issues Bonds, as there is no Central Eurozone issuer of Bonds, but at least a central purchaser, namely the ECB – European Central Bank)
We are currently investigating sources of information for Eurozone Sovereign Debt Bond auctions and will return to this theme in very near future.
Today’s brief analysis of US Treasury Yield curves and the Debt profiles of both the USA and Italy highlights the enduring question in the title of this post.
The first graphic highlights one important issue. We chose 2 August 2011 versus 17 February 2012 as key dates to compare the US Treasury Yield curve. If we cast our minds back to 2 August 2012 two key facts emerge:
The key take-away from the Yield Curve comparison is that even with a ratings downgrade, the US is actually able to borrow new capital at a lower rate of interest 6 months on.
However, to pour a bit of realism into the analysis, we highlight two interesting Debt profile graphics below.
The first one is the USA Treasury Maturity curve (admittedly 6 months out of date), highlighting when the current debt will need to be redeemed or rolled over. The second is the Italian Bond Maturity curve. You will notice just how similar the USA and Italy Debt Maturity profiles are.
From this comparison, the critical question currently for us is:
Where will all the new money come from to roll over the debt maturing during the next 3 – 12 months? QE is one option, but investors still need to be convinced that their capital is safe and relatively risk-free. It is the Risk-free equation (or investor risk appetites) that needs to be explored in more detail.
Doing business anywhere, anytime is never easy!
That is a stark commercial reality, that most business people will accept as a given. But how? now? does is work in a climate of AUSTERITY???
(Apologies for the blatant confusion and poetic licence taken in the previous sentence).
Public and private sectors mostly have an uneasy symbiotic relationship with each other. If the public sector cannot deliver a solution, they have to procure it from a private provider and a private provider (generally, but not always) rub their hands with glee, as it is relatively speaking ‘easy money’ provided you meet and exceed certain framework thresholds.
All nice and cosy, when we are in a growth cycle of the economy; yet ever so tricky when those Framework Procurement Agreements come up for tender during the down slope side of the cycle…
It is odd how the ‘staccato’ relationship between private and public sectors work at different periods during the business cycle. And this is exactly where the public sector, with an astute “commercial hat” on, can take advantage of it’s perceived negotiating strength during the down cycle agreement drafting / tendering process.
Yet, do they take advantage of this?
Our view is that any Public Sector Procurement Framework Agreement with private sector providers will always be a FLOOR, thereby setting the minimum expectations and requirements, without ever really driving proper continuous INNOVATION and COMPETITIVE DYNAMICS to ensure players with ‘skin in the game’ continue to understand and manage their businesses with the proper risk attitude (never mind risk appetite). Rather than act as a (“floor price”) barrier to entry, they should act as ceiling, or rather more ‘bluish sky’ REACH or STRETCH agreements, setting the rules of the game, but not acting as the default pricing mechanism , meaning that the private sector provider must continue to be innovative, rather than wait and ‘cream-off’ the best bits whilst seeing out the agreement time period until the next time anyone bothers to ‘tamper with the height’ of the limbo bar…
Our summary take away from this article:
The Public Sector Procurement Framework Agreement therefore should act as an incentive to compete and have fair access, but never as the default pricing mechanism.
Are the European and more specifically the Euro-zone problems purely a matter of cultural differences, engrained in generations of ‘Nation Staters’ or something deeper in each nation-people’s psychology?
It cannot purely be a difference of political ideology between the leaders and individual nations of Europe that has lead us to the brink of the Euro abyss. But, yet maybe the way the debate and challenges facing Europe are being framed, has a great part to play in it.
Europe always seemed to be a halfway house between cultures, trade, ideologies, beliefs and norms. And the fact that the Euro single currency zone was stitched together based on these ‘halfway house’ ideas should therefore not have been a surprise.
How long does it take to build a vision? Or rather, why did Europe take so long to get to the chasm, build a rickety Monetary Union bridge, without firming up the foundations that holds together the infrastructure once the traffic crossing that bridge started increasing in volume?
If there is something Trade theory should have taught us, it must be that once opportunity (to trade and create wealth) is established, the trickle would eventually turn to a steady stream and the steady stream to an eventual throng. Yet not one European leader or institution foresaw this? Takes us full circle to the original question, namely: “How long does it take to build a VISION?”
The truth might lie somewhere in the nature, establishment and deep rooted psyches of the Europeans themselves. Europe might be the collective noun; yet staunch nation state individualism (the communities we all hunker after) is the actual bedrock and foundation of the people who live in Europe. Unlike the USA, with a common language, full monetary and federal fiscal union, Europe is and will always remain a loosely led together community (but not a collective) of nation states and peoples.
Fairness, freedom, equality and openness, some of the most fundamental tenets of a market and community to function properly, are not necessarily on the agendas when ideological political, rather than economic (for the greater good), issues are considered by both politicians, technocrats and bureaucrats in the institutions and fabric at the heart of a (dis)United Europe.
Therefore, until and unless we can prize Europeans from there deeply held ‘national interest’ debates and frames of reference, in terms of establishing a common and united front; we feel that there is no hope of sustainably solving the Euro-zone sovereign debt and monetary union problems.
A possible mechanism might have to be the establishment of a ‘fourth branch’ of governance, outside the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary, being an outside force or rather an Adjudicator comprised of non dominant European member countries and quite possibly with an Advisory Board consisting of non Europeans themselves, to allow for the establishment of a fair, free and an open implementation of the Legislature’s policy decisions, hence and overseer of the Executive, but an equal to the Judiciary, with a final veto by the citizenry of Europe themselves, as a balancing mechanism, should a stalemate ever arise.
The enabling driver of such an European Adjudicator must surely be the Digital Economy with its various platforms and reach extending now and in the future across the ‘Net’ that is European integration.
The team at theMarketSoul have not been busy enough putting blog article out during January 2012; however, it has given us the opportunity to reflect on the goings on in the various regions around the globe.
The themes of this article are:
The only great point of interest was the State of the Union address by President Barack Obama. Again as a liberal statist the theme of taxation and MORE taxation to come down the road for the ‘more’ well-off in society raised its ugly [spectre] head again.
Oh dear! Let us think very hard about something positive to reflect on this month during the kick-off to 2012…
Enough said. Unfortunately the Eurozone crises (yes, several on different fronts) are still dragging on.
We see yet again how difficult it is to undo a few decades worth of the nation state experiments in Europe and bring everyone together under the guide of collaboration, but with no formal overall governance framework in place. The Eurozone crisis, as well as being one of sovereign over indulgence, is also one of a twisted underground power struggle between the European traditional heavy weights.
But, alas, it is all politics in the end and with Standard and Poor and Fitch getting on the downgrade bandwagon during the month, angering politically challenged politicians like Monsieur Sarkozy (French presidential elections coming up in April and May 2012 [two rounds scheduled, if necessary]).
The Middle East
One matter of interest raised during a panel discussion on the BBC programme DateLine London on 28/01/2012 regarding the tension in the Straits of Hormuz, by Adbel Bari Atwan, is the fact that the entire Iranian issue around nuclear armament is a ‘manufactured’ threat by the USA and Europe. True, with Pakistan, India, Israel, China and Russia being nuclear enabled nations in the region, what difference will one more nation make to this perilous equation? Perception seems to be everything, both in the discourse and actions taken in reshaping the Geo-political order of the post ‘Arabian spring’ Middle East.
Please, just keep collaborating in OPEC; pumping the Black Gold and thus keeping prices lower and stable, for the sake of a stable Global Economy!