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reprinted from Express Tribune, 8th June 2015

We live in a world awash with money. Not only can the banks create 20 times more money than the amount they receive as deposits, but an enormous shadow banking system has come into existence which creates massive amounts of credit without any regulatory restrictions. At a time of the global financial crisis, the value of financial instruments was more than 10 times the world GDP. Daily trade in foreign exchange is around $4 trillion, while actual merchandise trade is only $50 billion. This huge excess clearly represents speculation and gambling, rather than currency exchange for the needs of trade.

The ways of the super-rich Lords of Finance are far beyond the ken of ordinary mortals like you and I. Winning and losing bets in millions of dollars daily are just a small part of the thrill of living. One of the important tools they use is buying on margin. This means that you can buy $50 worth of stocks or foreign currency by paying just $1. In effect, the dealer loans you the remaining $49 by using your stocks as collateral. If the stock goes up to $51, you can sell and get out with a quick 100 per cent profit on your investment. If the stock declines to $49, you again sell and get out of the market, losing your marginal payment of $1.

In the 1970s, the dollar was de-linked from gold officially by former US president Nixon. Distrusting the unbacked dollar, the Hunt brothers decided to buy up all the silver in the world. By 1979, they had nearly cornered the global market, taking possession of nearly three million kilograms, about a third of the entire world supply. In the process, they drove up the price of silver from $6 to $50 an ounce, and became richer than the fabled King Croesus. The eight-fold price increase created a dire situation for jewellers around the world. Tiffany’s took out a full page ad in The New York Times, condemning the Hunt Brothers and stating “We think it is unconscionable for anyone to hoard several billion dollars worth of silver and thus drive the price up so high.”

The fates intervened to prevent the Hunt brothers from becoming the kings of silver. The Hunt brothers angered the Reagan Administration in the US, which played dirty to bring them down. COMEX, the regulatory body for commodity exchange, suddenly changed the rules for trading in silver, doubling the margin requirements. This required the Hunt brothers to put up about double the cash for the silver they had purchased on the margin. At the same time, the FDIC changed the rules to prevent banks from lending to purchase commodities. The bear trap closed around the Hunt brothers, who watched helplessly as silver prices started sliding and crashed on “Silver Thursday” on March 27, 1980. Although they lost billions, and eventually had to declare bankruptcy, we need not feel pity for the Hunt brothers. Their rich daddy had foreseen this possibility and created protected trust funds for both brothers amounting to $100 million each, more money than common folks see in a lifetime of earning.

One of the favourite games played by the super-rich is speculating in foreign exchange. Buying on margin provides enormous leverage; one can buy a billion dollars worth of currency for a paltry $20 million. This allows you to attack weak currencies and take them down, making an enormous profit in the process. George Soros created the Quantum Fundto attack the British Pound, speculating on its devaluation. The Bank of England tried to protect the pound with all the means at its disposal, but was eventually forced to yield, creating billions in profits for Soros (for more details see: Go for the Jugular). Similarly, big money forced open the doors of the East Asian Miracle economies to foreign investors, and crashed these economies while yielding tremendous profits to the investors.

The use of leveraging, derivatives and other complex financial tricks within the unregulated shadow banking system creates a huge amount of excessive credit, which actually changes the rules of game. As the Global Financial Crisis of 2007 demonstrated dramatically, the conventional textbook theories currently being taught in universities throughout the world, do not apply to the modern economy. The most radical change has been the failure of the quantity theory of money. Professional economists were very surprised when huge increases in the money supply did not result in proportional increase in prices, in violation of the quantity theory. The US printed trillions of dollars for the Iraq War and for bailouts and quantitative easing following the Global Financial Crisis, but there was no corresponding increase in consumer prices. Similar phenomena were observed throughout the world. In Pakistan, there has been a 350 per cent increase in the money supply, but only a 250 per cent increase in prices over the past decade.  Professor Richard Werner has solved the mystery by showing that the excess money goes into creating price bubbles in land, housing, stocks and other speculative financial assets. Prices of these assets do rise, but these do not enter the consumer price index, and hence do not cause inflation. Interestingly, Werner’s theories are not well known among economists.

Another serious consequence of excessive money supply being held in the form of inflated assets is that the concept of an equilibrium exchange rate is no longer well defined. Previously, the equilibrium was defined by matching supply and demand for currency, which was based on the real trade balance between exports and imports. Now the speculative transactions, being done at whims of the super-rich, overwhelm the real economy. What controls the exchange rate is largely expectations. The topic of self-fulfilling expectations has gained prominence in the recent literature on monetary theory. If rumours are spread that a currency will decline, people will sell the currency and cause it to decline. Equilibrium theories do not show any significant misalignment of the Pakistan rupee exchange rate, as current popular accounts would have it. The ultimate test today rests on Central Bank interventions. If the State Bank is intervening in the markets by selling dollars to prevent a fall in the price of the rupee, then the rupee is overvalued. However, State Bank Reserves are steadily growing, showing that the rupee is actually undervalued, contradicting the views of leading economic pundits in Pakistan.

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The existing international financial architecture, left over institutions from the Bretton Woods period, proved useless to prevent or warn against the 2007-2008 crisis, or even less, solve it. Only when a new presidential grouping (G20) meeting was called for in London in March 2009, the issues of how to coordinate countercyclical policies and inject resources into the economies were discussed. At that time, a UN high level Commission was created to propose reforms to the international financial architecture. The results of what became known as the Stiglitz Commission came to light in April 2010; the Commission’s recommendations were, however, shunned by some large UN member countries due to their rejection of the principle of global solutions for global problems. Indeed, some European countries and the US still insist on national solutions, that is on the use of local regulatory agencies in the international financial field.

Eight years have elapsed since the crisis emerged in 2007. There are no negative impact on the real sector as well as the financial sector is still being felt by leading financial institutions or Central Bank’s authorities. The major financial problems are dealt with at a national level in spite of being a global problem. Since 2010, the SEC has levied large fines against TBTF banks’ wrongdoings according to the definition of LIBOR, the commodity markets, the exchange markets and the fraudulent sale of collateralized debt obligations with credit risk approval from the three large American credit rating agencies; European regulators have done some of the same. Simultaneously, vulture funds attacked Argentina and made evident a nonsense of having the last creditor obtaining a better payment terms than the first one, breaking the usual understanding of the pari passu principle while a New York judge held the country hostage to his decisions. Finally all the G7 economies have come to reflect over 100% public debt on GDP ratios with only one approach to resolving this problem: austerity affecting economic growth, the price levels, and employment. As a consequence, debt indexes have increased sharply, depressing economic activity and prices.

From this background emerges the need for a new international financial architecture.
The conference, that is being organized by Oscar Ugarteche and Alicia Puyana,  focuses on the current global financial scenario and what appears as the new international financial architecture, which poses many questions that need to be addressed:

  • How did the crisis affect the structure of the financial sector in the different regions of the world? What kinds of provisions where implemented to manage the impact?
  • Has the financial crisis influenced the financial flows for productive sectors in the regions?
  • Have the regional financial architectures been adequately reformed after the crisis? Do they have any margin of autonomy to reform, or are they totally dependent on foreign banks and external funds?
  • Can vulture funds be considered as an element of the so-called new financial structure to prevent crises, or are they one more cause of instability?
  • Are the IMF and the available existing international reserves sufficient to prevent another major crisis?
  • Can the IMF be reformed, despite European and US reluctance to do so?
  • How should debt reduction mechanisms function in this new global scenario?
  • Are there lessons from the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980’s for Europe? Or is it a new type of crisis?
  • Are the austerity programs recently imposed on indebted countries an appropriate policy measures to prevent financial crisis, such as the one in 2008?

Papers falling within the broad topic of the conference as well as on related aspects that are not explicitly noted here are welcomed.

As the Chair of the Wea Conferences, I invite you all to submit papers and participate in the Discussion Forum.

For deadlines, guidelines and submission: http://itnifa2015.weaconferences.net/

I have written a summary of the main arguments of Mian and Sufi in “House of Debt”. This book provides the answer to the question “How does macro-economics need to change, in light of the Global Financial Crisis?” This has been asked of many but none have given a satisfactory answer. Mian and Sufi analysis is to the GFC what Keynes was to the Great Depression — in fact Mian and Sufi provide the first satisfactory explanaton for both events.  My full length review is available from SSRN at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2517476..  Below I provide an excerpt from my review which gives the history of the Global Financial Crisis, linking it causally to the East Asian Crisis. Read More

 

The huge growth of deregulated finance has been associated to a new financial regime and great transformations in the pattern of economic growth. Looking backward, there has been a narrow relationship between the crisis of the post-war accumulation pattern, the evolution of the international monetary system and the process of financial deregulation. In fact, as Bello  warned, in the 1980s, Reaganism and structural adjustment were not successful attempts to overcome the post-war accumulation crisis. One decade later, the Clinton administration embraced globalization as an American strategy. First, this strategy aimed to accelerate the integration of production and markets by transnational corporations. Secondly, it aimed to create a multilateral system of global governance centered on the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

 

 

 

Global liquidity, stimulated by the evolution of the American monetary policy since the early 1990s, favored the expansion of private capital flows and deepened the interconnections between national financial systems. The notion of a financial-led accumulation regime highlights that finance decisively shape a pattern of accumulation where low growth rates and a high degree of financial fragility have been observed. The growth of financial assets, generated by debt cycles, has included growing and sophisticated risk management practices. The financial expansion also proved to subordinate the pace of investment to financial commitments, enhanced deep international imbalances and reinforced macroeconomic volatility. In this scenario, financial capital has exercised control over social and economic structural forms in order to foster cycles of capital valorization, thanks to the centralized money at disposal.