Showing posts with label Dollar Carry Trade. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dollar Carry Trade. Show all posts

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sovereign Debt Default : Price To Pay For Sub Prime Crisis

Sub Prime crisis seems to be a thing of the past. People are now grappling with Sovereign Debt Default crisis in Europe. Investors are accusing European countries for bringing about gloom and doom in the financial world. But what has caused such deplorable financial condition of European nations, a sphere where everything was hunky dory just a couple of years back? As was the general perception then, conditions in European Union was one of growth and prosperity. As per IMF estimates of 2008 GDP and purchasing power parity among various currencies, the Eurozone was the second largest economy of the world. It was a place which was touted to be making a bipolar world with aspirations of giving a countervailing effect to the financial clout of USA. In fact the Euro was deemed to be the next dollar in the coming years, slowly and steadily replacing the dollar in international trade. Central Banks of many countries were increasing their exposure to Euro as their reserve currency. So much so that in 2007 former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan opined  " it is absolutely conceivable that the euro will replace the dollar as reserve currency, or will be traded as an equally important reserve currency". Strong opinion that! But then what happened suddenly within a span of two years that Euro has lost all its sheen? Today Eurozone bonds are hurtling towards acquiring junk bond ratings as many European nations are staring at the spectre of being declared insolvent.

How has this sudden capitulation taken place in such strong and vibrant economies? Why Europe, even US is reeling under the pressure of mounting debt. On 30 June 2010, the Congressional Budget Office(CBO) in US predicted that US debt will reach 62% of GDP by year end, which happens to be the highest percentage since just after World War II. Further, China happens to be the biggest creditor to US and also has huge exposure to Euro in its reserve. So you see, with every crisis of US and Europe in terms of debt servicing, China will be wincing in pain. Many South Asian economies will do the same since their economies in turn are China-centric. In other words Asia will be in pain whenever Europe and US feel the heat of sovereign debt default. As for African nations, most of them are already so badly managed economies that they figure in the Forbes list of top ten worst economies of the world. Since they depend on US and its financial organizations giving aid in some form or the other, Africa also will be under the weather with US economy in spot. That leaves us with South American nations. Well most of those economies are fully dependent on trade with US and hence will be effected too, if US is forced to go through austerity drive to curtail its fiscal challenge. In short, the entire world is under threat of an impending economic crisis.

But our central question still remains unanswered. How has this catastrophic situation come about? What has triggered this avalanche of economic woes upon affluent nations? In quest of an answer let us proceed step by step in the following direction :-
  • The US sub prime crisis had morphed into global credit crisis of epic proportions. As we had seen in my last post on 12th June 2010 titled "Wall Street Shenanigans - Is Iconic Brand US Under Threat?", billions of dollars had been lost by global financial institutions in the wake of sub prime crisis. Every financial institution worth its name was on the verge of being bankrupt.
  • These financial institutions were the backbone of every nation and this backbone was under threat of being broken. That is when Governments had to step in to save these financial institutions. It was a rare display of synchronized actions taken by all nations as they pumped in billions of dollars to save their terminally ill financial institutions. Such heavy injection of steroids(bailout money) is being popularly referred to as "Stimulus Package".
  • This unified stand taken by all nations speak of the severity of  threat of annihilation, since politics of nations has never before allowed the world to be united on any single issue. But this time was an exception, a time to unite for survival. On 28Mar2009 in a post titled " Aftermath of Global Slowdown"   I had emphasized that for the leaders of G20 nations, meeting on 02Apr2009, it was their last chance to steer the world away from global catastrophe. And this time leaders of 20 most powerful nations united to deliver what is now popularly known as "Stimulus Package".
  • Apart from many actions which increased liquidity, Governments across the globe injected money to bail out their financial institutions who had lost billions to the machinations of Wall Street investment banks.
  • This bailout money eroded the coffers of nations making them credit unworthy. Injection of bailout money to save financial institutions at that point was unavoidable, but then measures should have been taken to ensure that this money was used for activities that kickstart economic revival. Instead billions of dollars again ended up in the kitty of people who planned and executed sub prime crisis in the first place. Take the example of AIG taking US tax payers' money as bailout to the tune of $182 billion and immediately paying off counterparties like Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street banks at 100% on the dollar. No negotiations?? Joseph Cassano, former head of AIG's derivatives unit, appearing before Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, said he could have saved tax payers billions of dollars by negotiating harder with banks. Are the American tax payers paying attention?
  • So instead of reviving the economy with activities which create jobs, these billions of dollars of stimulus money were siphoned off  to people who have again used it for more speculative purposes like dollar carry trade. To read more on dollar carry trade do look up my post on 27Nov2009 titled "Dollar Carry Trade - Easy Money in Difficult Times".
  • With no revenue generation activities and empty coffers of nations, time had to come when debt servicing and debt repayment by nations was to become difficult. And that time has now come upon the world in the form of impending Sovereign Debt Default. To get a grasp on the implications of Sovereign debt default it is recommended that you visit my post of 18Dec2009 titled "Sovereign Debt Default Scare - Is Dubai Too Big To Fail?".
From April 2009 till date we have witnessed stimulus induced growth in all markets across the globe. That is artificial recovery and has no fundamental moorings. Nothing has changed on ground as far as growth parameters of nations are concerned. Take the latest US Jobs Report for instance. Last Friday the US unemployment data showed that the nonfarm payrolls fell by 125000 in June 2010. Economic activity is just not picking up in US and hence new jobs are not being created. If new jobs are not created then consumption will fall. Consumption falls then inventories increase and so production activities have to be curtailed. Decreased production requires even less jobs and inspires further fall in consumption. Hence we go into a vicious cycle in which you can imagine what happens to the economy.

Stimulus Induced Growth that we have seen for the last one and half year is at its end. Having taken not enough measures to induce structural economic growth, US is on the path of double dip recession. And history tells us that the Great Depression of 1929 got prolonged for similar reasons. You can get more details on stimulus packages in my post of 17Jan2010 titled "Stimulus Induced Growth - Is It Global Recovery On Steroids". At this stage it is judicious to remember that earlier World Wars were basically fought not for ideological or emotional reasons but for economic reasons, sparked by trade wars. I hope the world leaders are listening.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dollar Carry Trade - Easy Money in Difficult Times

What is driving asset prices to scale newer heights in year 2009? Answer is simple - weak dollar and near zero interest rates in US. It is very simple for global investors to make quick and easy money. Borrow at near zero interest rate in US, short dollar and invest that money in any asset in the country whose currency you have bought. Lets examine all the options available to global investors to make easy money :-
  • Scenario #1. Borrow dollars in US. It is almost free to borrow since you have to pay near zero interest on the dollar borrowed. Put this money to work in US itself by buying any high yielding asset like stocks, commodities, gold etc. As these assets appreciate you will be making money from capital given to you almost free of cost by US Govt. Isn't this a simple equation for making easy money?
  • Scenario #2. Borrow dollars in US. Then sell dollars to buy another currency of a country where interest rate is higher, say India. This arbitrage situation if tapped in India can fetch a global investor about 5% profit through interest differential for doing next to nothing.
  • Scenario #3. Borrow dollars in US. Sell dollars and buy currencies of different emerging markets especially the BRIC countries. Then employ this money in various high yielding risky assets and enjoy rapid appreciation.
Well global investors are doing all the above and maybe more. Dollar has become the international currency for carry trade, a position that yen and Swiss franc used to enjoy till some time back. This drives dollar to depreciate as there is massive supply of dollar for buying various other assets. And that is how we are witnessing this spike in prices of all assets, from stocks to commodities to gold, while the dollar is plummeting.

I am certainly not complaining for what is presently happening across all assets because of dollar carry trade. If it is dollar carry trade plus other positive reasons like turn around from recession, then all the more reason to rejoice! Let us enjoy the spike till it lasts. But the question that begs an answer is 'till when?'. Certainly till US Feds keep the interest rates to near zero. Simple as that! But once the interest rates are hiked in US then the following can happen:-
  • Investors who are short in dollar will cover their positions, making the dollar to appreciate with a spike.
  • Massive unwinding of carry trade will take place with tremendous rush to buy back the dollar after exiting all trades like emerging market stocks, commodities, gold, et al.
  • With dollar rallying significantly, prices of all other assets will plummet which will have the effect of bursting of asset bubble.