Le négationnisme économique, Pierre Cahuc et Andre Zylberberg, 2016

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Pour le grand public, un grand nombre d’intellectuels et de journalistes, et même certains économistes dissidents ou hétérodoxes, l’économie ne serait pas une discipline scientifique. Selon eux, l’analyse économique  se réduirait à des arguties théoriques, le plus souvent déconnecté de la réalité. Ce jugement est erroné. Ce n’est pas le sujet abordé qui permet de qualifier la discipline de scientifique, c’est la méthode employée pour valider les résultats. Depuis 3 décennies, l’économie est devenue science expérimentale dans le sens plein du terme.

Le négationnisme repose sur trois pilier: 1.L’ethos, la qualité de celui qui s’exprime. Avec deux figures ; l’intellectuel engage et le grand patron.2. La désignation de boucs émissaires: pour les uns, la Finance, pour les autres l’Etat. 3. Le logos ou l’art de construire le raisonnement, de le faire apparaitre logique et capable de répondre à toutes les objections.

Pour Sartre, le vrai intellectuel est un technicien du savoir conscient que sa connaissance est façonnée par l’idéologie dominante. Dès lors il doit combattre l’idéologie dominante afin d’être en mesure de produire du vrai savoir. Ce sont les économistes hétérodoxes qui se reconnaissent pour la plupart sous la bannière des ‘économistes atterrés’ (manifeste de 2010). Ils dénoncent une science économique orthodoxe au service du libéralisme, ne défendant que les intérêts de la classe dominante.

Faut-il changer d’école pour réussir: oui mais seulement si les enfants ont moins de 13 ans. Il existe de meilleur moyen pour permettre aux familles pauvres de réussir à l’école: investir dans les très jeunes enfants  de 3 et 4 ans (Perry Preschool programme). Pour les adultes les plus défavorisés, les politiques de formation n’améliorent pas significativement le sort de leurs bénéficiaires. A choisir, il vaut mieux subventionner l’embauche avec des baisses de charges sociales ou réduction d’impôts.

La hausse du salaire minimum n’a pas eu d’impact négatif sur l’emploi dans les fast-foods du New Jersey. Tant que le salaire minimum est plus faible que le salaire choisi par l’employeur, celui-ci voit sa marge réduite mais va continuer à embaucher. Les hausses de salaires minimums n’agissent pas toujours dans le même sens.

Fernand Braudel: tout au long de l’histoire, les entrepreneurs les plus puissants ont cherché à se protéger de la concurrence avec l’appui du pouvoir en place. Les plus farouches opposants à la dure loi de la concurrence sont le plus souvent des capitalistes à la tête de grandes entreprises qui cherchent à préserver ou augmenter leurs parts de marche.

Le programme Quaero a reçu 90 million d’euro pour relever le défi mondial des géants américains Google et Yahoo. Il s’est achevé en Décembre 2013 et on ne trouve pas trace de ce moteur de recherche sur internet…

En règle générale, la puissance publique, même épaulée par des chefs d’entreprises talentueux, n’est pas mieux a même que les investisseurs privés de choisir les bons projets.

Une synthèse des travaux d’évaluation des politiques volontaristes de regroupement d’entreprises (cluster) confirme que l’intervention des pouvoirs publics via subvention et la sélection de projets spécifiques n’améliore pas véritablement les performances des entreprises. Elles devraient plutôt créer un environnement favorable à la mobilité des entreprises, de la main d’œuvre et des organismes de formation…

La production d’une pseudoscience mettant en doute le consensus établi par la communauté des chercheurs est une constante de la stratégie négationniste.

La conclusion de Schumpeter revient à dire que nous serions collectivement beaucoup moins riches sans l’incessant mouvement de créations et de destructions d’emplois. La prospérité provient en grande partie des réallocations d’emplois.

Marché n’est pas synonyme d’absence de régulation. Au contraire, le marché financier ne peut remplir correctement son rôle que s’il est supervisé….

La cohérence d’un raisonnement ne prouve rien quant à la validité des conclusions.

Le consensus actuel s’appuyant sur plus de 40 ans de recherche sur la question va à l’encontre du jugement des économistes atterrés: un marché financier concurrentiel supervisé par des autorités de régulation indépendantes du pouvoir politique, avec des acteurs prives responsables de leurs ressources, constitue un moyen efficace d’allouer l’épargne et de favoriser la croissance.

Stiglitz, comme Tobin, se déclare partisan d’une taxe sur les transactions financières non pas pour prendre de l’argent là où il y en a (Sarkozy, Hollande, le pape…) mais pour améliorer le fonctionnement des marchés financiers (afin de limiter les transactions erratiques et mal informes des traders non-professionnels). Une comparaison entre Chine et Hong Kong montre qu’en moyenne une hausse des taxes  diminue la volatilité des cours financiers (1996-2009).

Moins d’impôt sur les revenus incite à travailler plus (Iceland). Au RU une hausse de la fiscalité équivalente à 1% du PIB se traduit au bout de 3 ans par une baisse de 2.5% du PIB (3% aux US). La pression fiscale a un impact négatif sur la croissance à moyen terme.

Effet Laffer: une hausse des taxes, au-delà d’une certaine limite, finit par diminuer les recettes fiscales. Mais pour la France on est  vraisemblablement très loin de cette situation…

Cette expérience naturelle (transfert de ressource de l’Etat fédéral aux Etats et montants additionnels résultant de la mise à niveau des chiffres de population suite au recensement) nous apprend que l’injection d’un dollar supplémentaire de dépenses publiques est associe en moyenne a une augmentation du revenu de 1.6 dollar. Les dépenses publiques ont donc un effet multiplicateur: elles entrainent  un accroissement de revenu supérieur au montant injecte. L’impact est plus élevé là où le revenu par habitant est faible. Il est pratiquement nul dans les comtes les plus riches. De façon similaire, une diminution de 1 dollar des dépenses publiques d’une collectivité locale en 2008-2009 a provoqué une contraction de 1.6 dollar du revenue sur son territoire.

Les Fonds Européens de Développement: un examen méticuleux de 600 programmes d’investissement de 1993 à 2006  révèle  un effet positif sur le revenu par habitant seulement dans 30% des cas. Les aides européennes  améliorant le revenu dans les régions ou le niveau d’éducation, de sante et de justice est élevé. Les dépenses publiques n’ont pas systématiquement des effets multiplicateurs dans les zones à sous-emploi important.

La médicine keynésienne faite de relance par les dépenses publiques financées par du déficit budgétaire, peut être adaptée en période de récession et sous-emploi. Le Recovery Act d’Obama a réussi car les conditions étaient réunies. Comment expliquer le soutien inconditionnel aux remèdes keynésiens? Ils sont indolores et universels. Il ne faut pas changer l’économie, juste augmenter la dépense publique…

La loi de Malthus (dans une économie agricole, la population a tendance à augmenter plus vite que les ressources) : la surpopulation réduit le revenu des habitants.  C’est ce que confirme le cas du Rwanda. Six années après la fin du génocide, les survivants ont des revenus plus élevés dans les zones ou les massacres furent les plus massifs. Ils cultivent des exploitations plus grandes, ont plus de bétails et consomment plus.

1980 – on estime à 125.000 le nombre de cubains ayant émigré avant la fermeture du port de Mariel en septembre 1980. La moitie s’était installé à Miami (soit une hausse de 7% de la population active). En comparaison avec 43 autres villes américaines en termes de salaires et d’emplois, l’immigration massive des cubains a été absorbée sans effet négatif sur les résidents (même sur les populations les plus exposées à la concurrence des nouveaux réfugiés).

L’Autriche a accueilli 100.000  refugies bosniaques entre 1992 et 1995 avec un effet très faible sur les salaires et l’emploi des populations d’origine. L’accroissement des populations en âge de travailler ne fait pas systématiquement baisser les salaires ou créer du chômage.

Les études en Allemagne, au Québec et en France aboutissent toutes à la même conclusion: la réduction du temps de travail ne crée pas d’emplois. L’emploi des jeunes ne s’améliore pas lorsque les seniors se retirent du marché du travail. Au contraire,  une baisse de l’emploi des seniors induite par interventions publiques est plutôt associée a une diminution de l’emploi des jeunes.

Les medias mettent ainsi aux mêmes niveaux des conclusions scientifiques et des opinions pseudo scientifiques (d’apparence crédible mais en opposition aux connaissances établies) afin de présenter des vues équilibrées. Ainsi, paradoxalement, le souci de maintenir une réputation d’objectivité de la part des medias ne favorise pas la connaissance scientifique.

La folie des banques centrales, Patrick Artus et Marie-Paule Virard, 2016

 

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Lorsque l’argent ne coute rien

On compte sur les banquiers centraux pour relancer la croissance, combattre la déflation, aider a résoudre l’endettement des Etats, conjurer l’éclatement de l’euro, faire repartir l’investissement…on a fini par vouloir régler avec la monnaie tous les problèmes, et d’abord ceux de l’économie réelle. Or le recours systématique à l’inondation monétaire dès qu’un déficit de croissance se fait jour n’a aucun sens.

En continuant à inonder la planète de liquidités, les banquiers centraux jouent un jeu dangereux et l’issue pourrait bien faire de la crise de 2007-2008 une aimable répétition avant un nouvel accident plus dévastateur encore. L’inflation étant revenue à un niveau inférieur à l’objectif de 2%, les banquiers centraux se sentent désormais les mains libres pour s’occuper de la croissance et de l’emploi dans un contexte ou la pression des politiques et des opinions publiques jouent dans ce sens. Par ailleurs, les politiques monétaires sont de plus en plus inefficaces à mesure que les pays sont de plus en plus endettés (plus on est endetté, moins on s’endette a nouveau). L’abondance de liquidité existante amène à pratiquer l’inondation monétaire pour espérer obtenir un résultat.

Un relèvement des taux américains serait le signe que l’injection massive de liquidités qui dopent les marchés depuis 2007, touche à sa fin. Et avec elle la période d’argent facile qui a permis de se refaire après la crise de 2007 et déclencher un incroyable boom sur les actifs financiers.

Il n’existe aucune limite technique à l’augmentation du bilan des banques centrales: une banque centrale peut toujours créer de la monnaie pour acheter des actifs.

Le Quantitative Easing fonctionne de la manière suivante. La banque centrale crée de la monnaie en créditant des lignes de dépôt des institutions financières, cette monnaie étant la contrepartie d’achat de titres (de la dette) détenus par les institutions financières sur les marches financiers. Pour ces institutions, ces créances sont donc converties en argent frais, leur permettant de distribuer d’avantage de crédits, ce qui est censé doper l’activité et la croissance. En outre, l’achat d’obligation fait baisser leur rendement (la demande fait monter leur prix donc leur rendement baisse) ce qui incite les investisseurs à acheter d’autres actifs (dont les prix montent créant un effet de richesse). De plus la baisse des rendements obligataires entraine une baisse des taux de prêts bancaires: autant de vitamines pour l’économie. En tirant l’ensemble des rendements vers le bas, le QE  peut espérer favoriser la dépréciation de la monnaie et rendre les exportations plus compétitives. Avec son programme de QE de 1140 milliard d’euro (10% de la masse monétaire) en 18 mois (fin Sept 2016), la BCE fait mécaniquement baisser le cours de l’euro.

La situation ou le taux d’intérêt est durablement inférieur au taux de croissance est bien pathologique puisqu’elle incite les acteurs économiques à s’endetter au-delà du raisonnable. C’est bien ce que l’on observe depuis une quinzaine d’année. De même en pratiquant une politique de taux d’intérêt à long terme très bas associée a la monétisation des dettes publiques dans les cadres du QE, elles ont encouragé les gouvernements à laisser filer les déficits publics (parce que les intérêts à payer sur la dette sont très faible). Lorsque la dette est détenu par la banque centrale, l’état lui verse les intérêts sur cette dette, mais ensuite la banque centrale, qui transfère ses profits a l’état, les lui rend

La base monétaire mondiale tourne autour de 20 000 milliards de dollars. Nous pensons que la liquidité mondiale va continuer d’augmenter pendant plusieurs années.

Les bulles sur les prix d’actifs sont de retour: la politique laxiste des banquiers centraux n’a pas fait revenir l’inflation (celles de salaires ou des biens) mais elle a nourri l’inflation des prix des actifs notamment actions et immobilier. Les banques font apparaitre un effet de richesse nécessaire à la stimulation de la demande par l’enrichissement des détenteurs de portefeuilles.

Avec des politiques monétaires très expansionniste et des taux d’intérêt à long terme demeurant inferieurs a la croissance nominale, les valeurs boursières sont tirés vers le haut.

A NY, le Standard & Poor’s 500 a progressé de 72% entre sept 2010 et sept 2015. Le Nikkei s’est apprécié de 93%. A Londres le QE a plutôt nourri la bulle immobilière. A Shanghai, la bourse s’est envole de 150% entre Juin 2014 et Juin 2015 et a alimente le train de vie d’un nombre croissant de Chinois de la classe moyenne. La bourse devient dans un certain nombre de pays un instrument de politique monétaire.

Les banques souhaitent compenser une demande trop faible en raison du manque de pouvoir d’achat des revenus salariaux par une expansion ininterrompue du crédit et des revenus non-salariaux. La manœuvre est périlleuse: les pires excès sont à craindre si les investisseurs sont incités à croire que les banques centrales encouragent la prise de risque et les ‘assurent’ contre une baisse des actifs. Il y a alors formation de bulle doublée d’une augmentation de l’endettement (grâce au taux d’intérêt faible).

Une remonte des taux d’intérêt provoqueraient des pertes massives sur les portefeuilles d’obligations achetés avec des coupons très faibles par les investisseurs.

Le recours au QE lorsque la situation des marches financiers est bonne ne peut que faire enfler les bulles: c’est bien la preuve qu’une banque centrale ne devrait pas utiliser celle-ci comme instrument de politique monétaire pour soutenir l’économie.

A l’été 2015, les perspectives de croissance des pays émergents a provoqué des sorties de capitaux de ces pays 10 fois plus importantes qu’il y a dix ans, ce qui explique l’effondrement de leurs devises (les devises –hors China- ont perdu 30% contre le dollar depuis Janvier 2014)

La création monétaire – indispensable lorsqu’il se produit une crise de liquidité en 2009 – ne sert strictement à rien lorsqu’on parle de la faiblesse de la productivité, de l’innovation, du niveau de qualification de la population active,  de l’insuffisance de l’investissement dans les infrastructures…Ces politiques ont des effets pervers sur le plan structurel: elles protègent les faibles contre le risque de défaut (grâce a des taux d’intérêt bas) mais les incitent aussi à profiter de cette protection. Elles contrarient le processus de ‘destruction créatrice’ en évitant la disparition des ‘faibles’ (et cela au détriment des agents économiques les plus dynamiques). Elles favorisent le développement de la partie de l’économie liée aux prix des actifs, a l’endettement, a la spéculation…

En Chine, la politique monétaire provoque une accélération du crédit qui ne finance pas l’investissement des entreprises, mais la construction, les infrastructures avec le risque d’excès à la fois d’investissement et d’endettement.

Au japon le programme de QE a fait perdre (volontairement) 35% de la valeur du yen face au dollar depuis l’automne 2012 (même politique de dévalorisation de la monnaie en Europe et en Chine) mais les exportations n’ont pas suivi. On a parlé de ‘dépréciation sans exportation’ avant de conclure que les stratégies de change des années 80 avaient perdu de leur pertinence avec la globalisation des chaines de production.

Dollar, euro, yen ont cédé plus de 20% de leur valeur en 3 ans. En l’absence de coordination internationale, on risque d’assister à une surenchère qui fera encore plus de dégât sur la croissance mondiale.

Il y a fort à parier qu’une remonté des taux d’intérêt n’est pas pour demain car la première banque qui le fera exposera sa monnaie a l’appréciation.

Même les périodes de croissance avec baisse du chômage ne font plus revenir l’inflation. La théorie économique qui lie la baisse du chômage a l’inflation par le biais de l’augmentation du pouvoir d’achat et des salaires ne fonctionne plus (la courbe de Phillips liant croissance des salaires, prix et taux de chômage, n’est plus vérifiée).

Des reformes pour éviter le pire

  1. Les banques centrales doivent laisser de cote l’objectif d’inflation (qui restera faible certainement) et veiller plus à la stabilité financière (contrôle des prix d’actifs, de la liquidité…)
  2. S’adapter à une faible croissance potentielle (plutôt que d’essayer de retrouver les niveaux élevés d’antan).
  3. Faire en sorte que le FMI coordonne les politiques monétaires et de changes.
  4. Renoncer aux politiques monétaires expansionnistes qui durent trop longtemps et notamment lorsque le problème de l’économie n’a rien à voir avec la politique monétaire mais est lie a l’absence de réformes etc. qui bloque la croissance.
  5. Se donner un objectif de liquidité mondiale et commencer à réduire les liquidités très doucement. La base monétaire devrait progresser a peu près comme le PIB mondial en valeur. Ce dernier a progressé de 8-9% par an entre 2000 et 2009. La base monétaire a augmenté de 17% par an

 

L’hydre mondiale, Francois Morin, 2015

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L’objectif de ce livre est de démontrer que « l’être » des plus grandes banques mondiales est effectivement de nature systémique et que seule action qui changerait cela est susceptible de prévenir un prochain cataclysme financier.

Cet ouvrage démontrera l’existence d’un oligopole bancaire a l’échelle mondiale. Celui-ci est constitué de banques systémiques, au nombre de 28 selon le G20. Nous observerons que 11 sont en fait beaucoup plus puissantes que les autres…et, face à des états surendettés, le rapport de force entre Etat et banques s’est progressivement inversé. C’est ce qui explique l’emprise de l’oligopole bancaire sur la conduite des politiques économiques et le cycle des affaires.

Plusieurs de ces banques ont pris l’habitude de s’entendre entre elles, notamment sur les prix essentiels que sont les taux de change et les taux d’intérêt.

Cet oligopole est de formation récente. Il est né de la globalisation des marchés monétaires et financiers survenue vers le milieu des années 90. Les premières ententes frauduleuses n’ont été détectées qu’autour de 2012.

Les banques systémiques sont les seules a proposer aux entreprises des contrats de produits dérivés.  Ces contrats permettent d’assurer contre les risques que représentent les variations de prix de produits dits sous-jacents, comme le cours des actions, le prix de matières premières, les taux de change. La valeur des produits assurés par ces contrats (dites valeurs notionnelles) représente des sommes astronomiques – en 2013, ce montant était de 710 000 milliard de dollars, soit 10 fois le PIB mondial.  Ces contrats fournissent une sorte de stabilité des prix, ce qui est absolument necessaire à la poursuite de leurs activités.

On sait que la création et la gestion de la monnaie dans le monde développé sont uniquement le fait de banques privées et de banques centrales indépendantes. Cela signifie que les états ont abandonné au cours des 40 dernières années toutes souverainetés en matière monétaire.

Depuis le milieu des années 90, les crises systémiques se sont enchainées ; leur cause est chaque fois la spéculation à base de produits dérivés crées par les grandes banques systémiques.

La crise de la dette publique ne tient pas à une soi-disant gabegie des finances publiques depuis 30 ou 40 ans. Le surendettement est dû à la réparation des dégâts toujours plus considérables causés par cette finance globalisée et l’oligopole qui en est le cœur.

Si l’on veut éviter le prochain cataclysme financier…il faut militer d’urgence pour un nouveau Bretton Woods qui permettrait de mettre en place une monnaie commune (et non unique) par rapport à laquelle toutes les autres monnaies pourrait se référer dans des rapports stables.

7 top banks in 2013:  JP morgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Credit Agricole and BNPParibas.  Dans les 28 banques systémiques: Poids prééminent des acteurs bancaires occidentaux (30% US, 30% EU avec 8 banques chacun) et seulement 4 banques asiatiques (3 du Japon, une de Chine).

En 2013, les banques ont généré 200 milliard de profit, un chiffre d’autant important qu’il est réalisé en pleine crise économique.  Les rémunérations des dirigeants des 8 banques américaines concentre 50% des rémunérations de ce panel.  Ces hausses vertigineuses (pour Goldman Sachs l’écart entre le revenu du dirigeant principal au salaire moyen est de 400 (il est de 20 chez Sumitomo, Japon) de revenu des dirigeants est un phénomène récent, qui s’est accélérée seulement a partir des années 1980.

 

Endettement public mondial (200 pays) est de 48 000 milliard de dollars en 2012. Le bilan total des 28 banques systémiques est de 50 000 milliard de dollars.

Pour les seules produits dérivés, les hors bilans des banques systémiques sont près de 15 fois supérieurs à leurs bilans (et presque 10 fois le PIB mondiale en 2012). L’encours de valeurs notionnelles (710 000 milliards) apparait comme une mesure significative de capitaux qu’il convient de protéger pour combattre l’instabilité monétaire et financière internationales. Et le 14 premières banques gèrent 90% du total des encours notionnelles. Les 5 banques américaines ont un part de 38%, les 4 de la zone Euro représentent 26%, 3 banques britanniques 21% et 2 banques suisse (13%).

La BRI estime régulièrement qu’un peu plus de 90% des échanges de produits dérivés sont réalisés entre institutions financières. Il n’y a qu’une très faible proportion de ces échanges qui servent a la couverture de risques pour les acteurs de l’économie réelle.  Ceci est déjà un indice de l’existence d’une interconnexion périlleuse.

Les produits dérivés apparaissent ainsi comme le plus important vecteur de l’interconnexion financière des banques, et donc comme le principal facteur de fragilisation du système en cas de choc.

Il existe 5 institutions internationales (Global Financial Market Association pour les banques systémiques uniquement, Institute of International Finance, une source de recherche économique et la tête pensante de la finance globalise, International Swaps et Derivatives Association avec 800 membres…) à l’intérieur desquelles s’exprime la volonté de l oligopole dans la défense de ses intérêts dans le monde de la finance globalise. Les banques systemiques sont majoritaires dans les organes dirigeants de chacune d’elles et 4 en président un des conseils d’administration (JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, Société Générale et BNP Paribas). Ces institutions sont dévouées à la défense de l’intérêt collectif du secteur bancaire.

 

La majorité des exchanges sur les marche des changes (30 fois le PIB mondiale chaque annee): 80% des exchanges sont inities par les 10 premiers intervenants sur ce marche – ces derniers sont tous des banques systémiques. On peut conclure que la formation des taux de change des devises relève à l’évidence de l’action d’acteurs oligopolistiques mondiaux. Et la plupart des taux courts (Libor, Euribor, Tibor) sont des taux de marche qui dépendent principalement de relations directes entre les banques. Les banques centrales fixent toutefois certains de ces taux: les taux directeurs (les taux qu jour le jour par exemple)

Le dollar Libor a 3 mois : chaque jour 18 banques participant à l’élaboration du taux en annonçant les taux pratiques la veille. On en retire les 4 estimations les plus hautes et les 4 les plus basses et on calcule la moyenne des 10 restantes.  Or 14 des 18 banques sont des banques systémiques qui ont donc une capacité réelle d’exercer une influence sur la formation du taux d’intérêt Libor USD. Et ce marché sert aussi de référence pour un nombre important de produits financiers.

Les marchés obligataires sont dits aussi marchés de la dettes publiques.  Depuis que les banques centrales sont indépendantes de Etats, la seule voie de financement pour ces derniers est l’appel au marche obligataire. Toute dette publique est de lors compose a peu de chose près d’obligations. En raison de l’importance des besoins, les Etats font appel a des panels de grandes banques stables, les Primary Dealer, qui sont majoritairement des banques systémiques.

Depuis quelques annees, s’est développé le trading a haute frequence, qui confie a des logiciels ayant des temps de réponses extrêmement bref et qui s’accaparent désormais la majorité des ordres en bourse.  La part des transaction au comptant (38 pour cent des transactions mondiales) a bondi de 9 a 35% entre 2008 et 2013. Ce trading est devenu la nouvelle mine d’or des plus grandes banques (5 banques américaines représentant 54% des activités, Goldman Sachs en tête).

Entre 2007 et 2011, la dette publique mondiale s’est accrue de 54%, soit un rythme annuel deux fois plus grand qu’avant la crise financière: il a fallut recapitaliser des banques et soutenir l’activité économique (qui n’a elle progressée que de 26%). Ratio de dette publique sur PIB: US 111%, Japon 243% RU 90%, Allemagne 78%, France 93%, Italie 132%. Zone Euro 92% (alors que le critère de convergence est a 60%). Le surendettement est fondamentalement liée a la crise financière, et non pas à une gestion délétère des finances publiques.

Comparaison des bilans des trois principales banques (de 3 pays US,UK, France) par rapport a la dette de ces pays: BNP Paribas et Barclays gèrent des totaux de bilan supérieurs a la dette publique de leur pays: la force des banques révèle et accroit la faiblesse de leur Etats. Le résultat est moins marqué pour JP Morgan Chase dont le total de bilan n’est que de 24% de la dette publique américaine.

En 2014 le FMI a reproché au secteur bancaire de bloquer les reformes nécessaires a son assainissement (en matière  de produits dérivés, du principe de ‘too big to fail’…)

Du blanchiment d’argent aux affaires de manipulation de taux (Libor, Euribor) en passant par la vente de produit financiers toxiques, on ne compte plus les procédures judiciaires dans lesquels HSBC le groupe est impliqué (valable pour toutes les grandes banques). Ces mastodontes bancaires se relevant toujours indemnes des pires scandales due à la place central de ceux-ci dans le financement de l’économie.

 

 

The Hidden Wealth of Nations, Gabriel Zucman, 2015

 

Tax havens are at the heart of financial, budgetary, and democratic crisis.

On a global scale, 8% of the financial wealth of households is held in tax havens. In the spring of 2015 foreign wealth held in Switzerland reached $2.3tn.  Since April 2009, when countries of the G20 held a summit in London and decreed the ‘the end of bank secrecy’, the amount of money in Switzerland has increased by 18%. For all the world’s tax havens combined, the increase is close to 25%. And we are only talking about individuals here. 55% of all the foreign profits of US firms are now kept in such havens.

To fight offshore tax avoidance, the first measure is to create a worldwide register of financial wealth, recording who owns what. Financial registry exist but they are fragmentary (Clearstream).

In France, on the eve of the 1914-18 war, a pre-tax stock dividend of 100 francs was worth 96 francs after tax. Throughout the 19th century, European families paid little or no tax. In 1920 the world changed. Public debt exploded. That year the top marginal income tax rose to 50%, in 1924 it reached 72%. The industry of tax evasion was born.

In 1920, the wealth was made up of financial securities: stock and bonds payable to the bearers. Owners looked for safe places to keep them.  The bank then took the responsibility for collecting dividends and interest generated by those securities. Many banks could do this but Swiss bank offered the possibility of committing tax fraud. Off-balance sheet activities are the holding of financial securities for someone else (they don’t belong to the bank but to clients). The most rapid growth of assets in Swizerland were in 1921-22 and 1925-27. Swiss bank secrecy laws followed the first massive influx of wealth (from France mostly), not the reverse.

For the most part, non-Swiss residents who have accounts in Switzerland do not invest in Switzerland – not today, not in the past. Swiss bank offshore successes owes nothing to the strength of the Swiss francs. It has to do with tax evasion.

Charles de Gaulle imposed a condition on the rapprochement between Switzerland and the allies in 1945: Berne was to help identify the owners of undeclared wealth. For Congress it was out of the question to send billions of dollars via the Marshall Plan without trying to tax French fortunes hidden in Geneva. Berne then engaged in a vast enterprise of falsification: they certified that French assets invested in US securities belonged not to French people but to Swiss citizens or to companies in Panama.

Recent policy changes are making it more difficult for moderately wealth individuals to use offshore banks to dodge taxes: for them the era of banking secrecy is coming to an end. The decrease of little account is more than made up for by the strong growth of assets deposited by the ultra-rich, in particular coming from developing countries.

In Switzerland, banks managed $2.3tn belonging to non-resident. $1.3tn belong to Europeans (DE,FR,IT,UK), mostly through trust and shell corporations domiciled in the British Virgin Islands. 40% is placed in mutual funds, principally in Luxembourg.  With more than $150bn in Switzerland – more than the US has, a country with a GDP 7 times higher – the African economy is the most affected by tax evasion.

If we look at the world balance sheet, more financial securities are recorded as liabilities than as assets, as if planet Earth were in part held by Mars. This amount to $6.1tn in 2014 and the bulk of the imbalance comes from Luxembourg, Ireland and Cayman Islands. This imbalance is a point of departure for estimate of the amount of wealth held in tax havens.  I estimate that $7.6tn (8% of global household financial assets) is held in accounts located in tax havens (this includes $1.5bn of bank deposits). The true figure, all wealth combined, is 10% or 11%.

It is one of the great rules of capitalism that the higher one rises on the ladder of wealth, the greater the share of financial securities in one’s portfolio. Corporate equities – the securities that confer ownership of the means of production, which leads to true economic and social power – are especially important at the very top.

On a global level, the average return on private capital, all class of assets included, was 5% per year during the last 15 years. Slightly decreased since the 1980-90, when it was closer to 6%. This is real rate, after adjusting for inflation.  Prudent funds, with 40% low risk bonds, have earned on average 6% per year. Those who invest in international stocks have returned more than 8%. As for Edge funds, reserve for the ultra-rich, their average performance has exceeded 10%.

Africa :30% of wealth held abroad; Russia:52%; Gulf countries: 57%; Europe:10%; US and Asia:4%

Foreign Account Tax Compliant Tax (FATCA): passed by Congress and Obama’s administration in 2010 – Financial institutions throughout the world must identify US clients and inform the IRS to ensure that tax on interest income, dividends and capital gains are paid. Foreign banks refusing to disclose accounts held by US taxpayers face sanctions: a 30% tax on all dividends and interest income paid to them by the US. Tax havens can be forces to cooperate if threatened with large-enough penalties.

To believe that tax havens will spontaneously give up managing the fortunes of the world’s tax dodgers, without the threat of concrete sanctions, is to be guilty of extreme naïveté.

The IRS signed a check for $104 million to the ex-banker of UBS, Bradley Birkenfeld, who revealed the practice of his former employer.  But one may well doubt the effectiveness of this strategy as to rely exclusively on whistle blowers to fight against tax-havens is not strong policy.

The EU saving tax directive, applied in the EU since July 2005 is to fight against offshore  tax evasion by sharing information between countries about clients. Yet this was a failure: Lux and Austria were granted favourable terms and do no exchange information with the rest of Europe. Lux could give the persistence of banking secrecy in Switzerland to block any revision of the directive. Lux and Austria instead of sharing information must apply a withholding tax (35%) which is less than the top marginal income tax in France. Then the tax applies only to EU owners, not to accounts held by shell corporations, trusts or foundations. And the directive applies only to interest income, not dividends. Why? This is a mystery. Was it incompetence? Complicity? The main effect has been to encourage Europeans to transfer their wealth to shell corporations (+10% in Switzerland, in the months that followed the entre into force of the Directive). Swiss bankers have deliberately torpedoed the saving tax directives. No sanctions, no verifications foreseen…it is high time to wake up to reality.

Currency Wars, James Rickards (2011)

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Applied Physics Lab : the Pentagon was about to launch a global financial war (simulation) using currencies and capital markets instead of ships and planes.

During the first part of the depression that began in 2007, sovereign wealth funds were the primary source of bailout money. SWF invested over $58bn (in Citigroup, Meryll Lynch, Morgan Stanley). These investments were decimated by the panic of 2008 – SWF lost vast amount of money (which propped the US government to step in later on to avoid those losses) yet influence that came with them remained. SWF could then be used to exercise malign influence over target companies, to steal technology, sabotage new projets, stifle competition, engage in bid rigging, recruit agents or manipulate markets (including those in strategic commodities such as oil, copper etc.).  Such activities were not common, let alone the norm, but they were possible.

The president has nearly dictatorial powers to freeze any accounts that try to disrupt the financial market (by dumping Treasury notes on the open market in vast quantities). Destroying confidence in the dollar would be far more effective than dumping a particular dollar denominated instrument. If the dollar collapse, all dollar denominated markets would collapse with it. And the president’w power to freeze accounts would be moot.

A currency war, fought by one country through competitive devaluations of its currency against others, is the most destructive and feared outcomes in international economics. It revives the ghosts of the Great Depression, the 1970s, the crises of the UK pound in 92, Russian rubles in 98 a.o.

Two currency wars : 1921 to 1936 and 1967 to 1987. Classic gold standard 1870-1914, creation of Fed 1907-1913 and WWI and treaty of Versailles 1914-1919.

1870-1914: golden age in terms of noninflationary growth coupled with increasing wealth and productivity in the industrialized and commodity producing world.

1907-1913: 1907 the failure of Knickerbocker Trust to corner the copper market led to a run on the bank in a market that was already nervous and volatile after massive caused by the 1906 earthquake. This led a more general loss of confidence, which led to a stock market crash and further bank runs and finally a full scale liquidity crisis and financial crisis. The threat was stemmed only by collective action of the leading bankers in the form of a private financial rescue organized by JP Morgan. A central bank to act as an unlimited lender of last resort to private banks was needed before panic arose.

Currency war 1 : Germany moved first in 1921 with a hyperinflation designed initially to improve competitiveness and then taken to absurd lengths to destroy an economy weighed down by the burden of war reparations. France moved next in 1925. The US moved in 1933…then England.  In round after round of devaluation and default, the major economies of the world raced to the bottom, causing massive trade disruption, lost output and wealth destruction along the way.

Germany destroyed it currency to get out from under onerous war reparations demanded by France and England. In fact, those reparations were tied to gold mark and subsequent treaty protocols were based on a % of German exports regardless of the paper currency value.

Hyperinflation in Germany:  diners offered to pay for meals in advance the price would be vastly higher by the time they finished. The demand for banknote was so great that, by 1923, the notes were being printed on one side only to conserve ink.  The currency collapse also strengthened the hand of German industrialists who controlled hard assets in contrast to those relying solely on financial assets. Hyperinflation can be used as policy lever: it produces fairly predictable sets of winners and losers and can be used to rearrange social and economic relations among debtors, creditors, labor and capital (while gold is kept to clean up the wreckage if necessary).

I don’t give a shit about the lira – Richard Nixon, 1972.

Although conceived in the form of a grand international agreement, the Bretton Woods structure was dictated almost single-handedly by the United States at a time when US military and economic power was at a height not seen again until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In Jan 1965, France converted $150 million of dollar reserve into gold and announced plan to cover another $150 million soon (that is equivalent to $12.8bn as at 2011). De Gaulle helpfully offered to send the French navy to the US to ferry the gold back to France. This came at a time when US businesses were buying up European companies and expanding operations in Europe with grossly overvalued dollars, something De Gaulle referred to as ‘expropriation’. The redemptions of dollars for gold had enable France to become a gold power, ranking behind only the US and Germany, and it remains so today.

In 1969 the IMF took up the ‘gold shortage’ cause and created a new form of international reserve asset called the special drawing right (SDR). SDR was manufactured out of thin air without tangible back up and allocated among members in accordance with their IMF quotas.  There were small issuance in 1970-72, then in 1981 (as a response to oil price and global inflation) and then in 2009, as a response the deep depression which followed the financial crisis of 2007-8.

On Sunday, august 15, 1971, President Nixon preempted the most popular show in America, Bonanza, to present a live television announcement of what he called his New Economic Policy consisting of immediate wage and price controls, a 10% surtax on imports and the closing of the gold window.  The announcement was referred ever since as the Nixon Shock.

Stagflation – a combination of high inflation and stagnant growth in the US – which lasted from 1973 to 1981 was the exact opposite of the export led growth that dollar devaluation was meant to achieve. The proponent of devaluation could not have been more wrong. The fact that the policy failed spectacularly in 1973 did not deter the weak-dollar crowd. The allure of quick fix for industries in decline and those with structural inadequacies is politically irresistible.

By 1987, gold was gone from international finance, the dollar had devaluated, the yen and the mark were ascendant, sterling had faltered, the euro was in prospect and China had not yet taken its own place on the stage. The relative peace in international monetary matters rested on nothing more substantial than faith in the dollar as a store of value based on a US growing economy and stable monetary policy by the Fed. These conditions largely prevailed through the 1990s.  Currency crisis did arrive (Sterling in 1992, Mexican peso in 1994, Asia-Russia crisis in 97-98) but did not threatened the dollar. The dollar was typically a safe haven when they arose.

 

The main battle lines being drawn are a dollar-yuan theater across the Pacific, a dollar-euro theater across the Atlantic and a euro-yuan theater in the Eurasia landmass.

Participation in currency war today is no longer confined to the national issuers of currency and their central banks. Involvement extends to IMF, World Bank as well as hedge funds, global corporation and private family offices of the superrich. (George Soros “broke the Bank of England” in 1992).

Today the risk is the collapse of the monetary system itself – a loss of confidence in paper currencies and massive flight to hard assets.

The low rate policy of the Fed was justified initially  as a response to challenges of the 2000 tech bubble collapse, the 2001 recession, the 9/11 attacks and Greenspan’s fear of deflation (the last being the main determinant for the Fed). China was now exporting its deflation to the world, partly through a steady supply of cheap labour and the low rate policy was to offsets the effects in the US.

Lower rates meant that all types of dubious or risky deals could begin to look attractive, because marginal borrowers would ostensibly be able to afford the financing costs. The sub-prime residential loan market and commercial real estate market both exploded in terms of loan originations, deal flow, securitisations …due to Greenspan’s low rate policies.

The process of absorbing the surplus of dollars entering the Chinese economy, especially after 2002, produced a number of unintended consequences. The yuan is pegged to the dollar, it does not trade freely and its use and availability are tightly controlled by the Central Bank of China. The Chinese central bank did not just take the surplus dollars, but rather purchased them with newly printed yuan. This meant that as the Fed was printing dollars, the Chinese central bank printed Yuans to maintain the pegged exchange rate.

The central bank of China (like all others) prefer highly liquid government securities issued by the US treasury. As a result, the Chinese acquired massive quantities of US treasury obligations. By 2011 Chinese foreign reserve were approximately US$2.85tr, US$950bn in US government obligations (32%).  (US$ 3.2tr in Nov 2016; US$1.15tr in US obligation – 36%). A monetary powder keg that could be detonated by either side if the currency wars spiraled out of control.

The principal accusation leveled by the US against China, since 1994, is that China manipulates its currency in order to keep Chinese export cheap for foreign buyers. But China’s export is not an end in itself. The real end of Chinese policy is jobs for the young workers in coastal factories, assembly plants and transportation hubs.

The US has now chosen the G20 as the main arena to push China in the direction of revaluation (Chinese are more deferential to global opinion than to US opinion alone. Chinese are attentive to the G20 in ways that they may not be when it comes to other forums.

The relationship between Euro and Dollar is better understood as co-dependence rather than confrontation.

Although the bankruptcy of Leman Brother was filed in US federal courts after bailed out attempt failed, some of the largest financial victims and worst-affected parties were European hedge funds that had done over-the-counter swaps business (ie. Directly between parties, without any supervision as provided by exchange trading for instance) or maintained clearing accounts at Lehman’s London affiliates.

Investors happily snapped up billions of euros in sovereign debt from the likes of Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland at interest rates only slightly higher than solid credits such as Germany. This was done on the basis of high ratings from incompetent rating agencies, misleading financial statements from government ministries and wishful thinking by investor that a euro sovereign would never default.

2010 Euro debt crisis: banks would buy sovereign bonds in the belief that no sovereign would be able to fail. Sovereigns happily issued bonds to finance no sustainable spending.  European banks gorged also on debt issued by Fannie Mae and other collateralized debt obligations (CDO). The European banks were the true weak links in the global financial system.

In 2010, of the $236bn of Greek debt, 15bn was owed to UK, 75 to France and 45 to German entities. Of $867 billion of Irish debt, 60bn was to France, $188 to UK and $184 to Germany. Of the 1.1tn of Spanish debt, 114 was to UK, 220 to French entities and 238 to German. The mother of all inter-European debt was the $511bn that Italy owed to France.

The sovereign debt was owed to other countries’ banks. This was the reason for the Fed’s secret bailout of Europe in 2008. This was the reason Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac bondholders never took any losses when those companies were bailout by the US taxpayers in 2008. The European banking system was insolvent so subsidizing Greek pensioners and Irish banks was a small price to pay to avoid watching the all edifice collapse.

The relationship between euro and yuan is simply dependent. China is emerging as a potential savior of Greece, Portugal and Spain, based on self-interest and cold calculation. China has an interest in strong euro as EU is its largest trading partner: a devaluation of the Euro would be costly for China. China interest in supporting the Euro is as great or greater than its interest in maintaining the Yuan peg against the dollar. China’s motives include diversifying its reserve position to include more euros, winning respect of friendship in Europe, gaining access to sensitive infrastructure through foreign direct investment. By buying sovereign bonds from peripheral countries, China help Germany to bear the costs of European bailouts and avoid the losses it would suffer if the euro collapsed. China stabilize the Eurasia flank while it fights the US, its main front in the currency war.

The G20 is perfectly suited to US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner’s modus operandi, which he call ‘convening power’.

Government spending and business investment might play a role, but American consumer, at 70% or more of GDP, has always been the key to recovery.  In 2008, 2009 the G20 summits had also been preoccupied with plans to rein in the banks and their greed-based compensation structures, which provided grotesque rewards for short term gains but caused long term destruction of trillions of dollars.

The IMF: in the 1980s and 1990s it had assisted developing countries’ economies suffering foreign exchange crises by providing finance conditioned upon austerity measures designed to protect foreign bankers and bondholders. Yet with the elimination of gold, the rise of floating exchange rates and pilling up of huge surpluses in developing countries, the IMF entered the 21st century with no discernable mission. And suddenly the G20 breathed new life into the IMF….

Quantitative Easing which consist of increasing money supply to inflate asset prices and weakening the dollar through inflation. In its simplest form, QE is printing money. Fed buys treasury debt securities from a select group of banks called primary dealers. The primary dealer have a global base of customers, sovereign funds, other central banks, pensions funds, institutional investors and high net worth individuals. When Fed want to reduce money supply, they sell securities to the primary dealers. Securities go to the dealers and the money paid to the Fed simply disappears. Conversely, to increase money supply, Fed buy securities from the dealers and pay with fresh printed money (which then support further money creation by the banking system).

China’s policy of pegging the Yuan to the dollar was based on the mistaken belief that the Fed would not abuse its money printing privileges. Now the Fed was printing with a vengeance (through QE in 2009-10)

Collateral damage of the currency war:  through a combination of trade surpluses and hot money flows seeking higher investment returns, inflation caused by US money printing soon emerged in South Korea, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand

This is the down side of Convening power. The absence of governance can be efficient if people in the room are likeminded of if one party has the ability to coerce the others, as it was the case when the Fed confronted the 14 families at the time of the LTCM bailout (Long Term Capital Management was a very successful hedge funds (40+% return) with almost $100bn investment in derivatives in 1998 when the default of Russia caused panic in the market.  LTCM highly leveraged investment started to crumble and banks and funds that had invested in LTCM wanted their money back. To save LTCM and avoid a collapse of the banking system, the Fed convinced 15 (or 14) banks to bail out LTCM (in return for 90% ownership of the Fund) with Fed lowering funds rate to make this easier. Once financial firms realized the Fed would bail them out, they become more willing to take risk, and this contributed to a situation that led to the financial crisis in 2007-8).

March 11, 2011 the earthquake in Japan. The yen surged against the dollar, bolstered by expectation of massive yen repatriation to fund reconstruction. Some portion on Japanese reserve outside the country ($2tn) would have to be converted back in Yen and brought back home: this led the price surge. This seemed to fit nicely with US goals but Japan wanted the opposite (a cheap yen would help promote japan export and help recovery). With no G20 to agree on a plan, the three US, Japan and European central banks would work together, under the banner of the G7 french minister Lagarde to coordinate an attack on the yen that consisted of massive dumping of yen by central banks and corresponding purchases of dollars, euros, Swiss francs etc. The attack continued across time zones as European and New York Markets opened. Lagarde deft handling on the yen crisis led her to replace Strauss-Khan as head of IMF in June 2011.

Keynes’s theory: stimulus programmes work better in the short term than the long term. They work better in a liquidity crisis than solvency crisis and better in mild recession than in severe one. And they work better in economies that have low debt level.

The Value at Risk is a method used by Wall Street to manage risk: it measure risk of a portfolio with certain risk offset against others. This is the VaR that gave the all clear to high leverage and massive off-balance sheet exposure before the crisis (and it is still in use today). But the flaws  and limitations were well known (notably it does not guarantee against all positions to fall at the same time) but were ignored as VaR permitted the pretense of safety that allows firms to use high leverage and make larger profit while being backstopped by tax payers when things went wrong.

The destructive legacy of financial economics is hard to quantify but $60tn in destroyed wealth in the months following the panic of 2008 is a good estimates. Derivative contracts did not shift risks to strong hands, instead it concentrated risk in the hands of the too big to fail.

Today government spending has grown so large and sovereign debt burdens so great that citizen rightly expect that some combination of inflation, higher taxation and default will be required to reconcile to debt burden with the means available to pay it.

Thought emerges from the human mind in the same complex, dynamic way that hurricanes emerges from the climate.

Between June 2000 and June 2007, the amount of over the counter foreign exchange derivatives went from $15tn to $57tn, a 367% increase. Interest rates derivative went from $64tn to $381tn, a 589% increase. Equity derivatives went from $1.9tn to $9.5tn, a 503% increase.

Actual mortgage losses are still less than $300bn. When derivatives and other instruments are included, total losses reached over $6tn, an order of magnitude greater than actual losses.

Next time it will be different. Based on theoretical scaling metrics, the next collapse will not be stopped by governments, because it will be larger than government.

It is well understood that the sun uses far more energy than a human brain. Yet the sun is vastly more massive than a brain. When differences in mass are taken into account, it turns out that the brain uses 75,000 times as much energy as the sun (in Chaisson’s standard units).

China would never dump it Treasury securities because it has far too many of them. The Treasury market is deep, but not that deep, and the price of Treasuries would collapse long before more than a small fraction of China’s bond could be sold. Resulting losses would fall on the Chinese themselves. Between 2004 and 2009, China secretely doubled it official holding of gold. China argues that secrecy was needed to avoid running up the price of gold… China’s posture toward the US dollar is likely to become more aggressive as its reserve diversification becomes more advanced.

Marc 30, 2009 AFP reports that China and Russia are cooperating in a creation of a new global currency. Dec 13, 2010 Sarkozy calls for the consideration of a wider role for SDR. Dec 15, 2010 Russia and China are launching a yuan-ruble trade currency settlement.

America has become a nation of guinea pigs in a grand monetary experiment, cooked up in petri dish of the Princeton economics department.

Easy money and dollar devaluation are designed to work together to cause actual rates low to get the lending and spending machine back in gear.

Fundamentally monetarism is insufficient as a policy tool not because it gets the variables wrong because the variables are too hard to control. Velocity is a mirror of consumer confidence and cand be highly volatile. The money supply transmission mechanism can from base money to bank loans can break down because of lack of certainty, lack of confidence on the part of the lenders and borrowers.

Because debt and deficits are now so large, the US has run out of dry powder. If struck by another financial crisis, its ability to resort to deficit spending would be impaired.

As long as profits continue on Wall Street, the hard questions will not be asked, let alone answered.

In 2011 US dollar is 61% of identified reserves. The next largest is the euro with just over 26%. The IMF reports a slow but steady decline of the dollar over the last 10 years (from 71%). [from internet in 2016: In 2014, USD dollar is up to 63% and Euro down to 22%].

Eichenberg research led to a plausible and fairly benign conclusion that a world of multiple reserve currencies, with no single dominant currency, may once again be in prospect. It is a world of reserve currencies adrift. Instead of a single central bank like the fed abusing its privileges, it will be open season with several central banks to do the same.  There would be no safe harbor reserve currency and markets would be more volatile and unstable.

SDR is world money, controlled by the IMF, backed by nothing and printed at will. Experts object to use the word money for the SDR as citizen can’t obtain them. They are a medium of exchange : nations can settle their local currency trade balances with other nations in SDR.

Smaller is safer – the correct approach is to break up big banks. Gold standard will bring more certainty, greater stability in inflation, interest rates and exchange rates . This will promote investment.

Early 2012, by unilaterally excluding Iran from the dollar payment system, the US caused the a currency collapse, hyperinflation and sky-high interest rate in a matter of days.  Later US pressured the SWWIFT governing board to exclude Iranian banks from its facilities.  While smuggling of dollars (from Iraq) to help make payment kicked in rapidly, this was only a fraction of the global commerce Iran lost. Iran was too important to remain a complete pariah and ideas for trade financing mechanisms that did not involve the dollar were proposed. And later in 2012 BRICs suggested the creation of a multilateral bank to facilitate lending and payments among emerging markets. An unintended consequence of US sanctions on Iran.

The End of Alchemy, Mervyn King, 2016

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The post-war confidence that Keynesian ideas – the use of public spending to expand total demand in the economy – would prevent us from repeating the errors of the past was to prove touchingly naïve. Expansionary policies during the 1960s, exacerbated by the Viet-Nam war, led to the great inflation of the 1970s, accompanied by slow growth and rising unemployment – the combination known as stagflation.

My own accounts of event (re the crises) will be made available to historians when the twenty-year rule permits their release.

Today we are stuck with extraordinary low interest rates, which discourage saving – the source of future demand – and, if maintained indefinitely, will pull down rates of return on investment, diverting resources into unprofitable projects. Both effects will drag down future growth rates.

Three bold experiments since the 1970s:  to give central banks much greater independence in order to stabilize the inflation; to allow capital to move freely between countries and encourage a fixed exchange rates (in Europe, between China and US); to remove regulations limiting  the activities of the banking and financial system (more competition, new products, geographic expansion) to promote financial stability.

Three consequences : the Good was a period between 1990 and 2007 of unprecedented stability of both output and inflation – the Great Stability with inflation targeting spreading to 30 countries; the Bad was the rise of debt level: eliminating exchange rate flexibility in Europe and emerging markets led to growing trade deficits and surpluses. Richer country could borrow to finance deficits and long term interest rates began to fall (too much saving). Low long term interest has an immediate effect: the value of assets (today’s value) – specially houses – rose. As value increased, more borrowing was needed to buy those assets – from 1986 to 2006, household debt increase from 90% of household income to 140% (in the UK). The Ugly was the development of an extremely fragile banking system. Separation between commercial and investment banking was removed. Trading of new and complex financial products among banks meant that they became closely connected: a problem in one would spread rapidly to others. Equity capital (funds provided by shareholder of the bank) accounted for a declining proportion of overall funding. Leverage (the ratio of total assets (liabilities) to equity capital rose to extraordinary level (more than 30 for most bank, up to 50 for some before the crises)

Total saving in the world was so high that interest rates, after allowing for inflation, fell to level incompatible in the long run with a profitable growing market economy.

No country had incentives to do something about imbalances. If a country had, on its own, tried to swim against the tide of falling interest rates, it would have experience an economic slowdown and rising unemployment, without having an impact on the global economy or the banking sector.

In 2002, the consensus was that there would eventually be a sharp fall in the value of the US dollar, which would produce a change in spending patterns. But long before that could happen, the banking crises of September and October 2008 happened.

Opinions differ as to the cause of the crises: some see it as financial panic as confidence in bank creditworthiness fell and investors stopped lending to them- a liquidity crises. Other see it as the outcome of bad lending decisions by banks – a solvency crises. Some even imagine that the crises was solely an affair of the US financial sector.

The story of the crises

After the demise of the socialist model, China, Soviet Union, India embraced the international trading system. China alone created 70 million manufacturing jobs, far exceeding the US 42 million jobs in US and Europe combined (in 2012). The pool of labour supplying the world trading system more than trebled in size (depressing real wages in other countries). Advanced countries benefited from cheap consumer goods at the expense of employment in the manufacturing sector. China and other Asian countries produced more than they were spending and saved more than they were investing a home (in the absence of social safety net, and a one child only policy in China preventing parents to rely on their children when retiring). There was an excess of saving, which pushed down long term interest rates around the world. Short term interest rate are determined by central banks but long term interest rate result from the balance between spending and saving in the world as a whole. IN recent times, short term real interest (accounting for inflation) have actually been negative (official rates have been less than inflation).  In the 19th century, real rates were positive and moved within 3% to 5%. It was probably 1.5% when the crises hit and since then has fallen further to around zero. Lower interest rate and higher market prices for assets boosted investment. It appeared profitable to invest in projects with increasing low real rates of return. For a decade or more after the fall of Berlin wall, consumer benefited from lower prices on imported goods. Confronted with persistent trade deficit, developed countries (US, UK, part of Europe) relied on central banks to achieve growth and low inflation by cutting short term interest to boost the growth of money, credit and domestic demand. This was an unsustainable path in many, if not most, countries. Saving in Asia and debt in the West produce major macroeconomic imbalance. Normally capital flow from mature to developing countries where profitable opportunities abound. Now emerging economies were exporting capital to advanced economies where opportunities were more limited. Most of these financial flow passed through the western banking system leading to a rapid expansion of bank balance sheets (all bank’s asset – the loans to customers – and liabilities – the deposit and loans taken by the banks). As western banks also extended credit to household and companies, balance sheets expanded. As asset prices increased, debt levels increased (more expensive to buy new houses, so more borrowing). With interest rate low, the bank also took more risk, in an increasingly desperate hunt for higher return. Central banks, by allowing the amount of money in the economy to expand, did little to prevent this better yield seeking behavior. In addition pensions funds and insurance were trying to find ways of making their saving more attractive. Banks created new financial instruments based (derived from ) basic contracts (hence ‘derivative’) such as collateralized debt obligation (CDO), more risky but with better return assets. Because return were higher (even if sometimes the financial instruments were very risky or even fraudulent) there was no shortage of buyers. Financial assets increased rapidly:  from ¼ of GDP in the US, it was 100% by 2007. It was 500% of GDp in the UK, even higher in Ireland. Bank leverage rose to 50 to 1 (for 1 dollar provided by shareholder, the bank borrowed more than 50). Substantial profits were made so regulators took an unduly benign view of these developments. The interaction between the macroeconomic imbalances (extra saving) and the developing banking system that generated the crises. Most policy maker believed that unsustainable pattern of spending and saving, would end with the collapse of the US dollar. The dollar was the currency in which emerging economies were happy to invest (the renminbi was not convertible – China in 2014 owned US$4tn). So the dollar remained strong and it was the fragility of the banks that first revealed the fault lines. First law of financial crises: an unsustainable position can continue for far longer than you would believe possible. The second law of financial crises: when an unsustainable position ends it happens faster than you could imagine.  In august 2007, BN Paribas announced it stopped paying investors on three funds invested in the sub-prime market. End of 2007 market liquidity in a wide range of financial instrument dried up: the banks were vulnerable to the US sub-prime mortgage – loans to households on low incomes who were highly likely to default. In September, central banks did not believe the problem could bring down large bank: the stock of mortgage was only US$ 1tn, so losses could not be large enough for the system as a whole. This time however banks had made large bets on sub-prime markets (derivative contracts). Although those bets cancelled out as whole, some banks were in the money, other were under water. Because it was impossible to tell those apart in the short term, all banks came under suspicion. They stooped lending to each other. Banks needed injection of shareholder’s capital (not new loans as central banks were offering). Two options: either to recapitalize or to drastically reduce lending – for the economy, the former was preferable. The system staggered for a year. In Sept 2015 Lehman Brothers failed, generating a run on the US banking system by financial institutions (such as money market funds). The run spread to other advanced economies: banks around the world found it impossible to finance themselves (because no one new which bank were safe. It was the biggest global financial crisis in history. With Bank unable to refinance themselves, the Central Bank had to intervene (with recapitalization of banks starting less than a month later). The problem was that government ended up guaranteeing all private creditors of the banks, imposing on future taxpayers a burden of unknown attitude.  Between autumn of 2008 and summer 2009, 10 millions jobs in US and Europe were lost, world trade fell more rapidly than during the Great Depression. In May 2009, the US treasury and Fed announced that banks could withstand the losses under different adverse scenarios. The banking crises ended but the economic crises remained. By 2015 there had still been no return to the growth and confidence experience earlier.

The strange thing is that after the biggest financial crisis in history, nothing much has changed in terms either of the fundamental structure of banking or the reliance on central banks to restore macroeconomic prosperity.

In practice buyers and sellers simply cannot write contracts to cover every eventuality, and money and banks evolved as a way of trying to cope with radical uncertainty.

In the middle of 2015, we were still searching for a sustainable recovery despite cuts in interest rates and the printing of electronic money on an unprecedented rate. Central banks have thrown everything at their economy and the results have been disappointing.

The sharper the downturn, the more rapid the recovery. Not this time.

From an imbalance between high and low-saving countries, the disequilibrium has morphed into an internal imbalance of even greater significance between saving and spending within economies.

Central bank had to create more money by purchasing large quantities of assets from private sector – the practice known as Quantitative Easing. QE was long regarded as a standard tool of monetary policy – but the scale on which it has been implemented is unprecedented.

Pounds, shilling and pence where already used in 1066 (Domesday book was the first inventory of wealth done at the time). The decimalization of anglo-saxon monetary unit happened on 1971.

The amount of money in the US economy remains stable at around 2/3 of GDP. The share of bank deposit in total has also been roughly constant at 90% (no less than 97% in the UK) (the rest is in coins and banknotes). The amount of money in the economy is determined less by the need to buy ‘stuff’ and more by the supply of credit created by private sector banks responding to borrowers.

The ability to expand the supply of money in times of crisis is essential to avoid a depression. The experience of emergency money reveals that the private sector will not always be able to meet the demand for acceptable money. [in short : Acceptable money is money accepted by all banks, based of confidence in these banks to meet their obligation if needed – what was missing in the early days of the crisis. In those days, only government was able to issue assets that were acceptable by all banks]

The creation of independent central banks with clear mandate to maintain the value of a currency in terms of a representative basket of goods and services, proved successful in stabilizing inflation in 1990s and 2000s. The conquering of inflation over the past twenty-five years was a major achievement in the management of money, and one, despite the financial crisis, not to be underrated.

5,500 tons of gold are in the vault of the Bank of England (worth US$235bn). 6,700 tons are in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The US hold 8,000 tons in reserve, 10,784 tons are in reserve in the Euro area, 1,000 tons in China, Uk only has 310 tons as reserve.(Wikipedia: est. 170,000 tons of gold mined on earth as at 2011).

Most money are created is private sector institutions – banks. This is the most serious fault line in the management of money in our societies today.

If before the crisis banks had exited the riskier types of lending, stopped buying complex derivative instruments they would, in the short term, have earned lower profit. Even understanding the risks, it was safer to follow the crowd.

It is remarkable how equal global banks are in terms of size. Among the twenty biggest banks, the ratio of assets of the largest to the smallest is little more than two to one. These 20 banks accounted for assets of US$42tn in 2014, compared with the world GDP of US$80tn, and for almost 40% of total world-wide bank assets.

Investment banks have been described as inventing new financial instrument that are “socially useless”. With their global reach, their receipt of bailouts from taxpayers, and involvement in seemingly never ending scandals, it is hardly surprising that the banks are unpopular.

Bank grew fast: JP Morgan today accounts for almost the same proportion of US banking as all of the top ten banks put together in 1960. Most of this has taken place in the last 30 years and has been accompanied by increasing concentration. The top ten banks in the US account for 60% of GDP (was 10% in 1960). In the UK, the assets of the top ten banks amount to over 450% of UK GDP, with Barclays and HSBC both having assets in excess of UK GDP.

In less than 50 years, the share of highly liquid assets held by UK banks declined from 33% of their assets to less than 2% today. The turning point came when the balance sheet of the financial sector became divorced from the activities of households and companies. Deregulation and derivatives in 1980 contributed to this divorce. Lending to companies is limited by the amount they wish to borrow. But there is no corresponding limit to the size of transaction in derivatives. The market for derivative in 2014 is just over US$20tn, about ½ of the assets of the largest 20 banks.

Since 1999 in the US, stand-alone investment bank that were previously organized as partnership (ie risk shared between partners – so more controlled) turned themselves into limited liability companies (where only assets are at stake, not borrowings to invest in shady business).

With a growing proportion of bank activity deriving from trading of complex instruments, it was difficult to work out how big the risks actually were. The banks themselves seemed not to understand the risks they were taking. And, if that was the case, there was not much hope for regulators could get to grips with the potential scale of the risk.

Whether selling oversized mortgage to poor people in the US, selling inappropriate pension and other financial product to millions of people in the UK, rigging foreign exchange and other markets, failing to stop subsidiaries  from engaging in money laundering and tax evasion, there seem no ends to the revelations about what bank had been doing. The total fines imposed on banks world wide since the banking crisis ended in 2009 amounted to around $300 billion.

Perhaps the enormous losses banks incurred in the crisis, and the fines levied by regulators around the world, will bring a change of heart in the banking sector.

Many of the substantial bonuses that were paid as a result of trading in derivatives reflected not profit earned in the past year but the capitalized value of a stream of profits projected years into the future. Such accounting proved more destructive than creative.

Someone who invested $1000 in Berkshire Hathaway in 1985 would by the middle of 2015 have an investment worth $161,000. A compound annual rate of return of 17%.

Limited liability  in a bank with only small margin of equity capital means that the owner have incentives to take risks – to gamble for resurrection- because they receive all the profits when gamble pays off, whereas their downside exposure is limited. Those who manage other people’s money are more careless than when managing their own.

Money market funds were created in the US as way to get around the regulation that limited the interest rates banks could offer on their accounts. They were attractive alternative to bank accounts. Such funds were exposed to risk because the value of the securities in which they invested was liable to fluctuate. But the investors were led to believe that the value of their funds was safe. Total liability at the time of the crisis repayable on demand was over $7tn.

All non-bank financial institutions have been describe has shadow banking. Special purpose vehicle issue commercial papers – not dissimilar to bank deposit – and purchase long term securities (such as bundles of mortgages. Edge funds are also part of this shadow banking, although because they do not demand deposit, the comparison with banks is less convincing. Financial engineering allows banks and shadow banks to manufacture additional assets almost without limits, with 2 consequences: first, the new instruments are traded between big financial institutions, more interconnection results and the failure of one firm causes troubles for the others. Second, many of the banks position even out when seen as a whole, balance sheets are not restricted by the scale of the economy. When the crisis started in 2007, no one knew which banks were most exposed to risk.

And in some country the size of the banking sector had increased to a point where it was beyond the ability of the state to provide bailouts without damaging its own financial reputation – Iceland, Ireland – and it proved a near thing in Switzerland and the UK.

Equity, debt and insurance are the basic financial contract underpinning our economy. The total global financial stock of marketable instruments (stocks, bonds) plus loans must be well over $200tn.  Over the last 20 years, a wide range of new and complex instruments has emerged (known as derivatives as elaborate combination of debt, equity and insurance contracts). Derivatives typically involve little up-front payment and are a contract between two parties to exchange a flow of returns or commodities in the future.(Wikipedia : total derivatives market value as at 2014: $1,500tn, 20% more than in 2007) .

Credit Default Swap (CDS): the seller agrees to compensate the buyer in the event of default; Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS): a claim on a payments made on a bundle of hundreds of mortgages; Collateral Debt Obligation (CDO) a claim on cash flows from a set of bonds or other assets that is divided into tranches so that the lower tranches absorb the losses first –with investor able to choose which tranche to invest in. A set of five pairs of socks – like a CDO – is a legitimate tactics by a sharp salesman to sell contracts of different value (there is always a pair of socks you would never wear….).

It was rather like watching two old men playing chess in the sun for a bet of $10, and then realizing that they are watched by a crowd of bankers who are taking bets on the result to the tune of millions of dollars.

Derivative also allowed a stream of expected future profits, which might or might not be realizes, to be capitalized into current values and show up in trading profits, so permitting large bonuses to be paid today out of uncertain future prospect. These trading, with the benefit of hindsight, were little more than zero sum activity generating little or no output.

By adopting accounting convention of valuing the new instrument at the latest observed price (marking to market) and including all changes in asset values as profits, optimism in the future, whether justified or not, created large recorded profits from the trading of these new securities. In effect, anticipated future profits were capitalized and turned into current profits.

Once markets realized that different banks had different risks of failure then the whole concept of single interbank borrowing rate (LIBOR) became meaningless. With few or no transactions taking place, it was difficult and at times impossible for banks to know what rate to quote. It matters because LIBOR is used as a reference rate in drawing up derivative contracts worth trillion dollars. The benchmark interest rate used in those contract had shallow foundations and in a storm it just blew away.

High frequency trading: trader have faster access to the exchange, the computer of such firm can watch the order flow and then send in their own orders microseconds ahead of other traders, so jumping the queue and getting to the market before the price turns against them.

The switch from a fixed rule, such as gold standard, to the use of unfettered discretion led to the failure to control inflation, culminating in the great inflation of the 1970’s. Attention turned to the idea of delegating monetary policy to independent central banks with a clear mandate to achieve price stability.

Monetary policy affects output and employment in the short-run and prices in the long run. There are lags in the adjustment of prices and wages to change in demand.

The method used to create money was to buy government bonds from the private sector in return for money. Those bond purchases were described as unconventional and known as quantitative easing (QE). But open market operations to exchange money for government securities have long been a traditional tool of central banks, and were used regularly in the UK during the 1980s.

The outbreak of the First World War saw the biggest financial crisis in Europe, at least until the events of 2008. Yet even after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, there was barely a ripple in the London markets.

Countries like Germany have become large creditors, with a trade surplus in 2015 approaching 8% of GDP, and countries in the southern periphery are substantial debtors. Although much of Germany’s trade surplus is with non-euro area countries, its exchange rate is held down by membership of the euro area, resulting in an unsustainable trade position.

The ECB would, Draghi said, ‘do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough’. It was clear that ECB would buy Spanish and Italian sovereign debt. 10 year bond yields started to fell. By end of 2014, ten-year yield in Greece had fallen from 25% to 8%. Spain from 6% to below 2%. By end of 2014, Spain was able to borrow more cheaply than the US. Draghi’s commitment had obviously done the trick.

The euro area must pursue one, or some combination of the following four ways forward:

  1. Continue with unemployment in the south until prices and wages have fallen enough to restore the loss of competitiveness.
  2. Create a period of high inflation in Germany, while restraining prices and wages in the south, to eliminate differences in competitiveness.
  3. Abandon the need to restore competitiveness within the euro area and accept the need for transfers from north to south to finance full employment in the periphery. Such tranfers can well exceed 5% of GDP.
  4. Accept a partial or total break up of the euro are

 

Some economist would like to return to the original idea of the monetary union – with a strict implementation of the no bail-out clause (which makes it illegal for one member to assume the debts of another) in the European Treaty. “Economically and politically, relaxing the no bail-out clause would open the door for a massive violation of the principle of no taxation without representation, creating a strong movement toward a transfer union without democratic legitimacy”.

Although the provisions of the European Treaty had the appearance of binding treaty commitments, in times of crisis the treaty was simply ignored or reinterpreted according to political needs of the moment.

Art 125: the no bail out clause which makes it illegal for one member to assume the debt of others.

Swiss dinars in Iraq: the value of the Swiss dinar had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with the economic policies of the government issuing the Swiss dinar, because no such government existed.

The tragedy of the monetary union in Europe is not that it might collapse but that, given the degree of political commitment among the leaders of Europe, it might continue, bringing economic stagnation to the largest currency bloc in the world and holding back recovery of the wider world economy.

The key to ending the alchemy is to ensure that the risks involved in money and banking are correctly identified and borne by those who enjoy the benefits from our financial system.

The toxic nexus between limited liability, deposit insurance and lender of last resort means that there is a massive implicit subsidy to risk-taking by banks.

Since the crisis, the minimum amount of equity a bank must use to finance itself – capital requirement – has been raised and banks must also hold a minimum level of liquid assets related to deposits (and other financing that could run from the bank within 30 days). Regulators also look at the shadow banking sector and conduct stress test. Countries such as UK and US have introduced legislation to separate, or ring-fence, basic banking operations from the more complex trading activities of investment banking. And most countries have introduced special bankruptcy arrangements (to protect depositors). Regulators have pursued cases of misconduct by bank employees and the banking system has changed a great deal:  Goldman Sachs balance sheet is 25% smaller in 2015 than in 2007. Many banks have turn to more traditional banking. Is all this enough? I fear not. More radical reforms are needed.

Since the bank bail outs in most advanced economies were huge, it is surprising that more has not been done since the crisis to address fundamental problem.

Irving Fisher : We could leave the banks free… to lend money as they please, provided we no longer allowed them to manufacture the money which they lend. In short nationalize money but do not nationalize the banks.

The prohibition on the creation of money by private banks is not likely to be sufficient to eliminate alchemy in our financial system.

It is time to replace the lender of last resort by the pawn broker for all seasons.  First ensure that all deposits are backed by either actual cash or a guaranteed contingent claim on reserves at the central banks. Second ensure the provision of liquidity insurance is mandatory and paid upfront. Third, design a system which imposes a tax on the degree of alchemy in our financial system – private financial intermediaries should bear the social cost of alchemy.

 

Keynes argued that when short term and long term interest rates had reached their respective lower bounds, further increases in the money supply would not lead to lower interest rates and higher spending. Once caught in this liquidity trap, the economy could persist in a depressed state indefinitely.

But the flaw with the great stability was that many people confused stability with sustainability. From the perspective of conventional macroeconomics, the situation looked sustainable. But the composition of demand was not, with disequilibrium resulting from China and Germany encouraging exports and trade surpluses. The consequence of those surpluses was significant lending to the rest of the world, with more savings invested in the world capital market. Long term interest rates started to fall (from 4% to 2% a year in 2008) and as a result asset prices (stocks, bonds, houses) rose (as future spending are discounted at a low long term rate). Household brought forward consumption and investment spending from the future to the present. GDP was evolving on a right path but the stability brought about was not sustainable: the demand was just unsustainably too high.

In 2014, Jaime Caruana, the General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements said ‘there is simply too much debt in the world today’. And Adair Turner, former chairman of Financial Service Authority, asserted that ‘ the most fundamental reason why the 2008 financial crisis has been followed by such a deep and long lasting recession is the growth of real economy leverage across advanced economies over the previous half-century’. Although such statements point to the great fragility resulting from high debt levels, debt was a consequence, not a cause of the problems that led to the crisis. Debt resulted from the need to finance higher value of stock of property. In turn, those higher values were a reflection of the lower level of long term real interest rates. The real causes of the rise of debt were the ‘saving glut’ and the response to it by western central banks that led to the fall of real interest rates.

Short term Keynesian stimulus boosts consumption, reduces saving, and encourages households to borrow more. But in the long term, US and UK need to shift away from domestic spending toward exports, to reduce trade deficit, to raise the rate of national saving and investment. The irony is that those countries most in need of the long term adjustment, the US and UK, have been most active in pursuing the short term stimulus.

By 2015, corporate debt defaults in the industrial and emerging markets economies were rising. Disruptive though a wave of defaults would be in the short run, it might enable a reboot of the economy so that it could grow in a more sustainable and balanced way. More difficult is external debt…Sovereign debts are likely to be a major headache for the world in years to come. Should these debt be forgiven? Greece encapsulates the problems. When debt was restructured in 2012, private sector creditors were bailed out. Most Greek debt is now owed to public sector institutions (ECB, IMF). There is little chance that Greece will be able to repay its debt (austerity in Greece cannot work because exchange rate cannot fall to stimulate trade).

In 1931, a crisis of the Austrian and German banking system led to the suspension of reparations. They were largely cancelled altogether at the Lausanne conference in 1932. In all Germany paid less than 21 billion marks (out of 132 billion original figure of the Reparations Commission), much of which was financed by overseas borrowing on which Germany subsequently defaulted. ‘ A debtor country can pay only when it has earned a surplus on its balance of trade, and …the attack on German exports by means of tariffs, quotas, boycotts etc. achieves the opposite result’ (Schaft, 1934)

One way of easy the financing problems of the periphery countries would be to postpone repayment of external debt to other member of the Euro area until the debtor country had achieved export surplus.

Debt forgiveness, inevitable though it may be, is not a sufficient answer to all our problems. In the short run, it could even have the perverse effect of slowing growth.

Resentment towards the conditions imposed by the IMF (or the US) in return for financial support has also led to the creation of new institutions in Asia, ranging from Chiang Mai Initiative, a network of bilateral swap arrangments between China, Japan, Korea and ASEAN, to the Chinese led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank created in 2015.

Because the underlying disequilibrium has not been corrected, it is rational to be pessimistic about future demand. That is a significant deterrent to investment today. To solve this our approach must be twofold: to boost expected income through raising productivity and encourage relative prices, especially exchange rate, to move in a direction that support a more sustainable pattern of demand and production. The second element can be achieved through promotion of trade and restoration of floating exchange rates.

After the crisis, demand for Chinese exports fell away, and chines authority allowed credit to expand in order to boost construction spending. But before the crisis there was already excessive investment in commercial property. As a result, empty blocks of apartment and offices are a commonplace sight in new Chinese cities.

Chine now faces serious risks from its financial sector.  A policy of investing one half of its national income at low rates of return financed by debt is leading to an upward spiral of debt in relation to national income.

Germany will find that it is accumulating more and more claims on other countries, with the risk that those claims turn out to be little more than worthless paper. That is already true of some of the claims of the euro area as a whole on Greece.