Friday, December 9, 2016

9/12/16: Trumpismo and the U.S. Economy


My Village column on the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election and the economic implications of Trumpismo : http://villagemagazine.ie/index.php/2016/12/trumpslump/



Thursday, December 8, 2016

8/12/16: Democratic Party: The Eraser of Middle Class Vote?


More of the same didn't cut it for the American middle class this November, ... and so the Obama voters went to the Republicans, as Hillary Clinton failed to impress onto the middle class any sort of vision they can relate to.

Per Pew Research, out of 57 'solidly middle-class areas' examined, "In 2016, Trump successfully defended all 27 middle-class areas won by Republicans in 2008. In a dramatic shift, however, Hillary Clinton lost in 18 of the 30 middle-class areas won by Democrats in 2008."


So the "deplorables" turned out to be middle-class voters and they clearly heard Hillary Clinton applying a new descriptive term to them. The term they did not quite embrace.

Now, if I were an adviser to the Democratic Party, I would start by putting its leaders in front of a mirror and ask them to point out every little wrinkle and crease in their faces that makes them so publicly loath middle-class as to endorse a candidate that called them 'deplorables'. Step one of the multi-year journey toward rebuilding the party will then be accomplished.

Rest of Pew Research analysis here.

7/12/16: Bloomberg Blows the Cover on Apple's Irish Tax Dodge, Again


So you know the $13 billion that Apple, allegedly, owes Ireland?.. It really never did owe Ireland much. Instead, it owes the money to taxpayers outside Ireland - in countries where actual business activities took place and in the U.S., where Apple tax avoidance scheme starts, ends and start again. Here's how Bloomberg explains it: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2016-apple-profits/


Oh, yeah, you are reading it right: "a popular corporate tax haven"... that'll be Ireland (per Bloomberg). expect loud protests from Dublin to Bloomberg offices and, potentially, a re-drawing of the scheme to alter the wording...

But you do get an idea: 10 years, at, say $600 million payments, that'll be almost half the $13 billion 'owed to Ireland' that is really U.S. taxpayers cash...

Monday, November 14, 2016

13/11/16: Oil Prices: Still in the Whirlpool of Uncertainty

This is an unedited, longer, version of my article for the Sunday Business Post covering my outlook for oil prices.


Traditionally, crude oil acts as a hedge and a safe haven against currencies and bond markets volatility. Not surprisingly, during the upheaval of the U.S. Presidential election this week, when dollar went into a temporary tailspin, equity markets sharply contracted and bonds prices fell, all eyes turned to the risk management staples: gold, oil and, on a more exotic side of trades, Bitcoin. Gold and Bitcoin did not surprise, staunchly resisting markets sell-offs and gaining in value. But oil prices tanked. The old, historically well-established correlation did not apply. Instead of rising, U.S. oil futures fell in the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s surprise victory, and then, in line with the stock markets, futures rose. Within the day, U.S. crude futures prices were back at USD45.27 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, while Brent rose back USD46.36 marker. More broadly, the S&P 500 Energy Sector Index rose 1.5 percent within 12 hours of the election results announcement.

This breakdown in historical patterns of correlations between crude and financial assets prices underlines the simple reality of the continuous oil markets slump: we are in the new normal of systemically low oil valuations underpinned by the very same driving forces that precipitated the crude price collapse from over USD100 per barrel to their mid-to-high 40’s today. These forces are three-fold, comprising reduced demand for energy, reduced demand for oil as a source of energy, and increased supply of oil.

Prices and Stocks

Currently, oil prices are rebounding from the eight-week lows, but prices remain sensitive to any signals of changes in demand and supply. The reason for this is the excess stockpile of oil stored in tankers, ground facilities and at refineries. Most recent U.S. federal data showed oil stockpiles swelling well ahead of the markets expectations, as producers continue to pump oil unabated.

U.S.-held inventories of oil were at 2.43 million barrels at the beginning of November, based on the data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. American Petroleum Institute puts total stocks of oil in storage and production at 4.4 million barrels - more than 1 million barrels in excess of the seasonally-adjusted forecast for demand. And at the end of October, the U.S. posted a 34-year record in weekly increases in crude and gasoline stocks - at 14.4 million barrels.

The U.S. is no exception to the trend. OPEC recently revised its outlook for oil price recovery for the next three years based on the cartel’s expectation that current levels of production will remain in place for longer than anyone anticipated. Per OPEC latest forecast, we won’t see oil hitting USD60 per barrel until 2020. Only twelve months ago, OPEC forecast for 2020 was USD80 per barrel.

Similar forecasts revisions were produced a month ago by the IMF. In its World Economic Outlook forecast, the IMF revised its outlook for 2016 crude prices from USD50.54 per barrel forecast in October 2015 to USD 42.96 per barrel. 2017 full year price forecast moved from USD55.42 in October 2015 to USD50.64 in October 2016. If in 2015 the IMF was predicting oil prices to hit USD60 marker by mid-2018, today the Fund is projecting oil prices remaining below USD58 per barrel through 2021.


Both, the OPEC and the IMF forecast lower global economic in 2016 and 2017. The IMF outlook is based on world GDP expanding by just 3.08 percent in 2016 and 3.4 percent in 2017, well below post-Crisis average of 3.85 percent and pre-crisis average of 4.94 percent. OPEC forecast for oil prices is based on similarly pessimistic growth outlook for 3.4 percent average growth over the next six years, down from 3.6 percent forecast issued in October 2015.

Alternative Energy: Rising Substitutes

As demand for energy in general remains weak, alternative sources of energy are starting to take a larger bite out of the total energy consumption. Solar power capacity has almost tripled in the U.S. over the last 3 years. Renewables share of the U.S. power supply rose from around 4 percent of total power generation in 2013 to 8 percent this year, on its way to exceed 9 percent in 2017. Solar energy supply is now growing at a rate of almost 40 per annum, spurred on by the Federal solar tax credits, extended by the Congress in early 2016. In Germany, following the Government adoption of Energiewende policies — a strategy that aims to move energy supply away from oil and uranium — renewables now provide almost 30 percent of electricity, on average. And Gwermany’s upper chamber of parliament, the Bundesrat, has passed a resolution calling on the EU to create a system of harmonised taxation and vehicle duties that can ensure that only emission-free cars will be registered in Europe by 2030. On the other side of the spectrum, in the OPEC member states and Russia, renewables energy production is currently standing at below 5 percent of total energy demand. While the number is relatively low, it is rising fast and countries from Saudi Arabia to United Arab Emirates to Russia - all have significant ambitions in terms of lifting non-oil based energy output. In Abu-Dhabi, a recently approved solar energy project will deliver electricity at a cost below coal-fired power plants, at 2.42 US cents per kilowatt-hour, setting world record for the cheapest solar energy supply. Dubai plans to get 25 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2030. The target is to reach 75 percent by 2050. Even Iran is opening up to use of renewables, with wind and solar investments in 2016-2017 pipeline amounting to close to USD12 billion. In Jordan, just one wind farm - a 38-turbine strong Tafila - is supplying 3 percent of country electricity, since production began in 2015.

All-in, globally, estimated 7 percent of oil demand decline over the last 5 years is accounted for by energy sources substitution. The key drivers for this trend are new environmental agreements, putting more emphasis on alternative energy generation, local environmental pressures (especially in China), and the desire to shift oil production to export markets, away from domestic consumption. Another incentive is to use clean power to reduce domestic subsidies to fossil fuels. According to the IMF report published earlier this year, Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia account for almost one half of the total worldwide energy subsidies. Since the onset of the oil price shock, UAE, Egypt, Oman and Saudi Arabia have been cutting back on fossil fuels subsidies and bringing retail prices for energy closer to market standards.

The second order effect of the above changes in energy composition mix is that moving away from subsidised fossil fuels improves markets transparency and reduces corruption. It also compensates for declines in oil prices in terms of exports earnings.

Drilling at These Prices?

As slower global growth and increasing substitution away from fossil fuels are suppressing demand for oil, supply of the ‘black gold’ is showing no signs of abating. Per latest OPEC statement, oil producers, especially in North America, surprised markets analysts by failing to curb production volumes in response to weak prices.  OPEC members have been running production volumes near historical records through out the 3Q 2016. And in the U.S., the Energy Department raised its production forecasts for both 2016 and 2017. However, U.S. crude output this year is unlikely to match the 2015 levels - the highest on record since 1972. All in, the Energy Department now estimates that 2016 average daily production will be around 8.8 million barrel per day (bpd), which is lower than 9.5 million bpd delivered in 2015, but more than forecast for 2016 back in September. Likewise, for 2017, the Energy Department revised its September forecast from 8.57 million bpd to just over 8.7 million bpd in October. Through the second and third quarters of 2016, North American drillers actually increased drilling activity as prices improved relative to late 2015. The number of active oil rigs operating in the U.S. is now up by more than 130 compared to May counts and the rate of new rigs additions is remaining high, rising to 2 percent last week alone.

Russia and Iran

A combination of stagnant or even declining demand, and expanding production means that the only change in the flat trend in oil prices over the next 6-12 months can come only from a policy shock on the supply side. For OPEC, Iran and Russia such a shock is unlikely to happen. Majority of oil exporting economies have either fully (as in the case of Russia and Iran) or partially (as in the case of Saudi Arabia) adjusted their economic policy frameworks to reflect low price of energy environment.

I asked, recently, Konstantin Bochkarev of Forex-BKS, who is one of the leading financial markets analysts working in the Russian markets for a comment on the current state of play in Russian economic policies in relation to oil prices. In his view, “It looks like the worst is over for the Russian economy in terms of adaptations to low oil prices, Western sanctions, geopolitical risks and other challenges of last two years. Sub-50-55 USD oil or even $40 is the new reality and it doesn’t scare any more. On the other hand low efficiency of the economic policy in Russia (due to a lot of constraints like the lack of reforms and the will to change anything before the President election in 2018) means that there’s rather huge cap for the Russian GDP growth which can be limited by 1%-1.5% at 40-55 USD oil.” Overall, “the «crisis policy» which was rather successful during this recession and led to the stabilization of the macroeconomic situations. The recapitalization of the Russian banking system, free float of the Russian ruble, higher interest rates, the transparency of the CBR policy and rather tight budget policy. All these measures finally led to 6% inflation by the end of 2016, rather sufficient decrease in volatility of the Russian ruble and less correlation with oil prices.” And moving away from the petroleum-dominated economy has had even deeper impact. Per Bochkarev, “Oil can’t solve all your problems any more whether it’s 40$ or 100$, because changing social and business environment, external and internal challenges demand something more than budget without deficit or stable cash flow. Still low oil prices can accelerate changes in the Russian economy and society and lead to some necessary reforms or unpopular measures.”

In a sense, Russian experience shows the direction that many oil exporting economies are heading in the age of low oil prices: the direction of accelerated fiscal and monetary responses and gradual structural economic reforms. In some areas, Russia took its medicine first and in a larger dose, but other big producers, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as UAE are also traveling down the same path.

As an aside, it is worth noting that Iranian production is growing ahead of expectations. Per Bloomberg report:  “Output at the fields west of the Karoun River, near Iran’s border with Iraq, rose to about 250,000 barrels per day from 65,000 barrels in 2013, the Oil Ministry’s news service Shana reported Sunday, citing President Hassan Rouhani at a ceremony to formally open the project. Iran had expected to reach that output target by the end of the year, Mohsen Ghamsari, director for international affairs at the National Iranian Oil Co., said in September.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-13/iran-pumps-more-oil-as-saudi-minister-calls-for-opec-output-cuts)

Since the easing of the sanctions, starting with end of January 2016, Iran’s output rose from just around 2.82 million bpd to ca 3.65 million bpd.

Russian producers are also hardly feeling a pinch. According to Bochkarev, “Tax system plays a much more important role in the Russian oil companies production decisions than the rise or fall in oil prices. Whether oil is $40 or $100 per barrel majors are generating generally the same financial results. Besides almost oil majors are stable even at $30 oil. The decreases in oil prices are easily compensated by the fall in the ruble exchange rate. So cost control or cost cutting plays much more important role in other sectors of the Russian economy.”

Still, Russia and Iran might be heading into a direct competition in the European markets, where geopolitics and legacy contracts are changing the playing field away from simple price competition. This new - since January 2016 - competitive dynamic may be a longer term, rather than a current issue, however, according to Bochkarev. “It doesn’t look like that Iranian oil is huge challenge for Russian majors next several years. Numerous consumers who stopped buying the oil from Iran due to sanctions made some changes to their refinery or productions lines and equipment. So Iran has to offer some kind of bonus or lower oil prices to make them return to its oil. Probably it’s much easier for Iran to deal with China, India and other countries in Asia in order to find export markets for its oil. Iran can try to restore market share in Europe but the other hand of such policy can be lower oil prices or necessary discounts. LNG Imports from the US as well as the bigger role of Qatar and Iran in the future are already evident in European markets. The unique status of Gazprom is probably now a matter of the past but the more competitive market can finally make Gazprom more competitive.”

Trump Cards

Which means that economic policies shocks that can alter the current flat growth trend for oil prices are unlikely to come from the OPEC+ countries. Instead, the key to the near-term future variation in oil price trend will most likely come from the U.S. The markets are still assessing the full impact of Mr. Trump’s victory on his foreign and energy policies - the two key areas that are likely to alter the supply side of oil equation, as well as his economic policies that might influence the demand side and inflation. Starting with the latter, if - as promised during the election - the new White House Administration deploys a significant infrastructure and spending stimulus across the U.S. economy, we can expect both the demand for oil to firm up, clearing out some, but not all of the excess supply currently available in the markets. A stimulus to the U.S. growth is also likely to trigger higher inflation. With oil generally being a historical hedge against inflationary pressures, the likely outcome of improved growth performance across the U.S. will be a rise in oil prices from the current range of mid-40s to mid-50s and upper-50s, slightly above the IMF forecasts for 2017 and well ahead of the current market prices.

On the other hand, President-elect has promised to shift Federal supports away from alternative energy toward ‘clean coal’, oil and gas sectors. If he gets his way, the impact will be more American oil flowing to exports and higher excess supply, with lower prices. Mr. Trump’s election is likely to see the Republicans-controlled Congress moving to approve more export-driven pipelines, reducing the cost of oil transport from shale oil rich regions, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as North Dakota, and increasing incentives to boost production levels. Beyond stimulating production of the U.S. oil, Trump Administration is also likely to green light Keystone XL pipeline that will connect Canadian oil sands to exports terminals in the Gulf of Mexico. This will further expand supply of cheaper oil in the global markets.


Combining the two factors, it appears that the current IMF and OPEC outlook for 2017 for oil prices may be rather optimistic.

Barring a significant surge in global (as opposed to the U.S. alone) growth, and absent supportive cuts to production by the OPEC and other major producing countries, in all likelihood we will see oil prices drifting toward USD52-55 per barrel range toward the second half of 2017. Until then, any significant repricing of oil from USD47-48 per barrel price levels up will be a speculative bet on strong economic growth uptick in the U.S.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

11/11/2016: Europe's 'Convincing' Recovery


Europe's strong, convincing, systemic recovery ... the meme of the European leaders from Ireland all the way across to the Baltics, and save for Greece, from the Mediterranean to Arctic Ocean comes to test with reality in the latest Pictet Quarterly and if the only chart were all you needed to see why the Continent is drowning in populist politics, here it is:


As Christophe Donay and Frederik Ducrozet explain (emphasis is mine):

"Since 2008, the world’s main central banks have used a vast array of transmission channels: currency weakening to reboot exports; reflation of asset prices to boost confidence; a clean-up of banks’ balance sheets to boost the credit cycle. But, ultimately, all these measures have failed as economic growth remains subdued. Indeed, the belief that countries have become trapped in suboptimal growth and that developed economies, especially in Europe, look set to complete a
‘lost decade’ of subpar growth (see graph) since the financial crisis forms the third strand of criticism of monetary policy."

Whatever one can say about the monetary policy, one thing is patently obvious: since the introduction of the Euro, the disaster that is European economy became ever more disastrous.

Enter Trumpist successors to characterless corporatist technocrats... probably, first for worse, and hopefully later, at least, for better...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

9/11/16: Bitcoin vs Ether: MIIS Students Case Study


Following last night's election results, Bitcoin rose sharply in value, in line with gold, while other digital currencies largely failed to provide a safe haven against the extreme spike in markets volatility.

In a recent project, our students @MIIS have looked at the relative valuation of Bitcoin and Ether (cryptocurrency backing Ethereum blockchain platform) highlighting

  1. Fundamental supply and demand drivers for both currencies; and
  2. Assessing both currencies in terms of their hedging and safe haven properties
The conclusion of the case study was squarely in line with Bitcoin and Ether behaviour observed today: Bitcoin outperforms Ether as both a hedge and a safe haven, and has stronger risk-adjusted returns potential over the next 5 years.



Thursday, November 3, 2016

Friday, October 28, 2016

28/10/16: Rising Risk Profile for Italy


Euromoney Country Risk on Italian referendum and rising risks relating to Euro area's third largest economy:




Monday, October 24, 2016

24/10/16: Hacktivism on the rise? Welcome to the well-predicted future


Given a rising prevalence and impact of the cyber attacks in recent weeks, here are some slides from my February 2016 course notes on ERM with warnings about the same back at the end 2015 - start of 2016:











Sunday, October 23, 2016

23/10/16: Too-Big-To-Fail Banks: The Financial World 'Undead'

This is an un-edited version of my latest column for the Village magazine


Since the start of the Global Financial Crisis back in 2008, European and U.S. policymakers and regulators have consistently pointed their fingers at the international banking system as a key source of systemic risks and abuses. Equally consistently, international and domestic regulatory and supervisory authorities have embarked on designing and implementing system-wide responses to the causes of the crisis. What emerged from these efforts can be described as a boom-town explosion of regulatory authorities. Regulatory,  supervisory and compliance jobs mushroomed, turning legal and compliance departments into a new Klondike, mining the rich veins of various regulations, frameworks and institutions. All of this activity, the promise held, was being built to address the causes of the recent crisis and create systems that can robustly prevent future financial meltdowns.

At the forefront of these global reforms are the EU and the U.S. These jurisdictions took two distinctly different approaches to beefing up their respective responses to the systemic crises. Yet, the outrun of the reforms is the same, no matter what strategy was selected to structure them.

The U.S. has adopted a reforms path focused on re-structuring of the banks – with 2010 Dodd-Frank Act being the cornerstone of these changes. The capital adequacy rules closely followed the Basel Committee which sets these for the global banking sector. The U.S. regulators have been pushing Basel to create a common "floor" or level of capital a bank cannot go below. Under the U.S. proposals, the “floor” will apply irrespective of its internal risk calculations, reducing banks’ and national regulators’ ability to game the system, while still claiming the banks remain well-capitalised. Beyond that, the U.S. regulatory reforms primarily aimed to strengthen the enforcement arm of the banking supervision regime. Enforcement actions have been coming quick and dense ever since the ‘recovery’ set in in 2010.

Meanwhile, the EU has gone about the business of rebuilding its financial markets in a traditional, European, way. Any reform momentum became an excuse to create more bureaucratese and to engineer ever more elaborate, Byzantine, technocratic schemes in hope that somehow, the uncertainties created by the skewed business models of banks get entangled in a web of paperwork, making the crises if not impossible, at least impenetrable to the ordinary punters. Over the last 8 years, Europe created a truly shocking patchwork of various ‘unions’, directives, authorities and boards – all designed to make the already heavily centralised system of banking regulations even more complex.

The ‘alphabet soup’ of European reforms includes:

  • the EBU and the CMU (the European Banking and Capital Markets Unions, respectively);
  • the SSM (the Single Supervisory Mechanism) and the SRM (the Single Resolution Mechanism), under a broader BRRD (Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive) with the DGS (Deposit Guarantee Schemes Directive);
  • the CRD IV (Remuneration & prudential requirements) and the CRR (Single Rule Book);
  • the MIFID/R and the MAD/R (enhanced frameworks for securities markets and to prevent market abuse);
  • the ESRB (the European Systemic Risk Board);
  • the SEPA (the Single Euro Payments Area);
  • the ESA (the European Supervisory Authorities) that includes the EBA (the European Banking Authority);
  • the MCD (the Mortgage Credit Directive) within a Single European Mortgage Market; the former is also known officially as CARRP and includes introduction of something known as the ESIS;
  • the Regulation of Financial Benchmarks (such as LIBOR & EURIBOR) under the umbrella of the ESMA (the European Securities and Markets Authority), and more.


The sheer absurdity of the European regulatory epicycles is daunting.

Eight years of solemn promises by bureaucrats and governments on both sides of the Atlantic to end the egregious abuses of risk management, business practices and customer trust in the American and European banking should have produced at least some results when it comes to cutting the flow of banking scandals and mini-crises. Alas, as the recent events illustrate, nothing can be further from the truth than such a hypothesis.


America’s Rotten Apples

In the Land of the Free [from individual responsibility], American bankers are wrecking havoc on customers and investors. The latest instalment in the saga is the largest retail bank in the North America, Wells Fargo.

Last month, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a $185 million settlement with the bank. It turns out, the customer-focused Wells Fargo created over two million fake accounts without customers’ knowledge or permission, generating millions in fraudulent fees.

But Wells Fargo is just the tip of an iceberg.

In July 2015, Citibank settled with CFPB over charges it deceptively mis-sold credit products to 2.2 million of its own customers. The settlement was magnitudes greater than that of the Wells Fargo, at $700 million. And in May 2015, Citicorp, the parent company that controls Citibank, pleaded guilty to a felony manipulation of foreign currency markets – a charge brought against it by the Justice Department. Citicorp was accompanied in the plea by another U.S. banking behemoth, JPMorgan Chase. You heard it right: two of the largest U.S. banks are felons.

And there is a third one about to join them. This month, news broke that Morgan Stanley was charged with "dishonest and unethical conduct" in Massachusetts' securities “for urging brokers to sell loans to their clients”.

Based on just a snapshot of the larger cases involving Citi, the bank and its parent company have faced fines and settlements costs in excess of $19 billion between the start of 2002 and the end of 2015. Today, the CFPB has over 29,000 consumer complaints against Citi, and 37,000 complaints against JP Morgan Chase outstanding.

To remind you, Citi was the largest recipient of the U.S. Fed bailout package in the wake of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, with heavily subsidised loans to the bank totalling $2.7 trillion or roughly 16 percent of the entire bailout programme in the U.S.

But there have been no prosecutions of the Citi, JP Morgan Chase or Wells Fargo executives in the works.


Europe’s Ailing Dinosaurs

The lavishness of the state protection extended to some of the most egregiously abusive banking institutions is matched by another serial abuser of rules of the markets: the Deutsche Bank. Like Citi, the German giant received heaps of cash from the U.S. authorities.

Based on U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) data, during the 2008-2010 crisis, Deutsche was provided with $354 billion worth of emergency financial assistance from the U.S. authorities. In contrast, Lehman Brothers got only $183 billion.

Last month, Deutsche entered into the talks with the U.S. Department of Justice over the settlement for mis-selling mortgage backed securities. The original fine was set at $14 billion – a levy that would effectively wipe out capital reserves cushion in Europe’s largest bank. The latest financial markets rumours are putting the final settlement closer to $5.4-6 billion, still close to one third of the bank’s equity value. To put these figures into perspective, Europe’s Single Resolution Board fund, designed to be the last line of defence against taxpayers bailouts, currently holds only $11 billion in reserves.

The Department of Justice demand blew wide open Deutsche troubled operations. In highly simplified terms, the entire business model of the bank resembles a house of cards. Deutsche problems can be divided into 3 categories: legal, capital, and leverage risks.

On legal fronts, the bank has already paid out some $9 billion worth of fines and settlements between 2008 and 2015. At the start of this year, the bank was yet to achieve resolution of the probe into currency markets manipulation with the Department of Justice. Deutsche is also defending itself (along with 16 other financial institutions) in a massive law suit by pension funds and other investors. There are on-going probes in the U.S. and the UK concerning its role in channelling some USD10 billion of potentially illegal Russian money into the West. Department of Justice is also after the bank in relation to the alleged malfeasance in trading in the U.S. Treasury market.

And in April 2016, the German TBTF (Too-Big-To-Fail) goliath settled a series of U.S. lawsuits over allegations it manipulated gold and silver prices. The settlement amount was not disclosed, but manipulations involved tens of billions of dollars.

Courtesy of the numerous global scandals, two years ago, Deutsche was placed on the “enhanced supervision” list by the UK regulators – a list, reserved for banks that have either gone through a systemic failure or are at a risk of such. This list includes no other large banking institution, save for Deutsche. As reported by Reuters, citing the Financial Times, in May this year, UK’s financial regulatory authority stated, as recently as this year, that “Deutsche Bank has "serious" and "systemic" failings in its controls against money laundering, terrorist financing and sanctions”.

As if this was not enough, last month, a group of senior Deutsche ex-employees were charged in Milan “for colluding to falsify the accounts of Italy’s third-biggest bank, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA” (BMPS) as reported by Bloomberg. Of course, BMPS is itself in the need of a government bailout, with bank haemorrhaging capital over recent years and nursing a mountain of bad loans. One of the world’s oldest banks, the Italian ‘systemically important’ lender has been teetering on the verge of insolvency since 2008-2009.

All in, at the end of August 2016, Deutsche Bank had some 7,000 law suits to deal with, according to the Financial Times.

Beyond legal problems, Deutsche is sitting on a capital structure that includes billions of notorious CoCos – Contingent Convertible Capital Instruments. These are a hybrid form of capital instruments designed and structured to absorb losses in times of stress by automatically converting into equity. In short, CoCos are bizarre hybrids favoured by European banks, including Irish ‘pillar’ banks, as a dressing for capital buffers. They appease European regulators and, in theory, provide a cushion of protection for depositors. In reality, CoCos hide complex risks and can act as destabilising elements of banks balancesheets.

And Deutsche’s balancesheet is loaded with trillions worth of opaque and hard-to-value derivatives. At of the end of 2015, the bank held estimated EUR1.4 trillion exposure to these instruments in official accounts. A full third of bank’s assets is composed of derivatives and ‘other’ exposures, with ‘other’ serving as a financial euphemism for anything other than blue chip safe investments.



The Financial Undead

Eight years after the blow up of the global financial system we have hundreds of tomes of reforms legislation and rule books thrown onto the crumbling façade of the global banking system. Tens of trillions of dollars in liquidity and lending supports have been pumped into the banks and financial markets. And there are never-ending calls from the Left and the Right of the political spectrum for more Government solutions to the banking problems.

Still, the American and European banking models show little real change brought about by the crisis. Both, the discipline of the banks boards and the strategy pursued by the banks toward rebuilding their profits remain unaltered by the lessons from the crisis. The fireworks of political demagoguery over the need to change the banking to fit the demands of the 21st century roll on. Election after election, candidates compete against each other in promising a regulatory nirvana of de-risked banking. And time after time, as smoke of elections clears away, we witness the same system producing gross neglect for risks, disregard for its customers under the implicit assumption that, if things get shaky again, taxpayers’ cash will come raining on the fires threatening the too-big-to-reform banking giants.


Note: edited version is available here: http://villagemagazine.ie/index.php/2016/10/too-big-to-fail-or-even-be-reformed/.


22/10/16: U.S. Election: Can There Even Be a Winner?


Despite offering, to many people, especially those tending to think of themselves as either 'liberal left' or centre to centre-right, the upcoming U.S. Presidential vote offers one alternative: voting for Hillary Clinton. It is an undesirable alternative for many of them. And yet, given the state of her opposition, it is (allegedly) the only one.

Hence, it is rare in the current political sh*t storm (which does not qualify for a mature debate) to see reasoned, well-argued analysis of the potential outrun of Hillary Clinton. And, hence, it is very important to try to understand such an outrun.

One of the best articles on the topic I have run across (no, I do not fully agree with it in its entirety, which, of course, does not subtract from its merits) is here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-election-debate-commentary-idUSKCN12K1IL.

There are serious and measured facts provided in the piece on, for example, Hillary Clinton's innate inability to inspire even her core constituency. And there are serious claims being made about incremental change potential from the Clinton Presidency, or at least a claim to such change as a mandate. There is a very important point of learning here for the Republican party, even though that point is not original and was, in fact, made by the previous Republican nomination contestant, Ohio Governor John Kasich.

But the most important bit remains as noted above: the devision, the gap, the chasm that separates American voters by socio-demographic lines: "White non-college-educated voters are going two-to-one for Trump, 62 percent to 31 percent, according to the ABC News-Washington Post poll. College graduates favor Clinton by more than 20 points, 55 to 34 percent. For the first time in more than 50 years, whites with a college degree are voting Democratic, 51 to 38 percent."

That is right: American society is now divided to the point of mutual aversion across the education line. And this is something that the next President will have to live with and deal with. Given that Hillary Clinton is failing to energize her own core constituency, what chance does she have in energizing two disparate demographics into finding a reconciling common ground? Recall that Hillary Clinton readily and cheerfully labeled a large strata of the American majority "as a “basket of deplorables . . . racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it.”" Not a hell of a lot of confidence in her ability to heal the nation can be glimpsed from this statement.

And, as the author concludes: "Each of the last four presidents – George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama – promised to bring the country together. They all failed. There is little prospect that either Clinton or Trump – two of the most divisive figures in U.S. politics – can heal the divide. Two Americas, two interpretations."

And that sad prospect is way more significant, more important than the actual outrun of the November 8 vote.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

22/101/16: Cashless Society: Efficiency 1 : Privacy 0


My comments on the dangers associated with the idea of the 'cashless society' where traditional money is replaced by fully captured (by data flows) and de-privatized electronic accounts: http://www.gold-eagle.com/article/cashless-society-%E2%80%93-risks-posed-war-cash.