Sunday, May 26, 2013

26/5/2013: FTT v Sovereigns' Addiction to Debt



FT.com reports (http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/c3121802-c480-11e2-9ac0-00144feab7de.html?ftcamp=published_links%2Frss%2Fhome_us%2Ffeed%2F%2Fproduct#axzz2UQE68h14) that 

"The European Central Bank has offered to help the EU redesign its financial transactions tax to avoid any ‘negative impact’ on market stability, highlighting official fears about the implementation of the levy."

So far so good, as FTT indeed is likely to cut liquidity in the markets, reducing markets efficiency, and potentially increasing volatility, rather thane educing it.

Of course, the original idea the EU came up involved levying tax on trading in bonds, equities and derivatives. So one would expect the following prioritisation from the ECB concerned with markets impacts:
1) Not to distinguish between bonds and equities in tax application and rates, as the two instruments are de facto long-only instruments in either corporate (real) economy, banks (financial economy) and sovereigns (for bonds - which somewhat qualifies as a real economy as well).
2) Levy tax primarily on derivative instruments (although here, tax can be avoided much easier)
3) Recognise that in the restricted competition environment and with legacy subsidies from the crisis period still in place for incumbent financial institutions, any FTT will be at least in part passed onto retail investors and savers, and in more extreme cases - e.g. duopoly model of banking in Ireland - onto all retail users of banking services)
4) Real economy - incomes, investment, entrepreneurship, unemployment, etc - will be most impacted by the FTT levied on real assets - equities and some (not all) bonds and this effect will be stronger the stronger is the banking and investment banking sector concentration in the economy.

Alas, as is clear from the FT.com article, the ECB is not concerned with (3) and (4) whatsoever, and it is unconcerned with (1) either. It also seems to be aware of (2) pitfalls. Aside from that, ECB is concerned with the perennial task faced by all European Government - the obsession of raising as much tax revenue as possible while incentivising more debt pumped into sovereign bond markets.


Per FT.com: "The ECB believes markets should efficiently “transmit” changes in interest rates to the real economy." You might think that this means transmitting higher (lower) ECB rates into higher (lower) (a) Government bond yields and (b) higher/lower cost of private credit. Err… you would be wrong.

Per FT.com there are rumours that "…the ECB would prefer to have a limited UK-style stamp duty on equities". What can possibly go wrong, then?

ECB concern is clearly to grease the wheels of sovereign bond markets. The fact that FTT will reduce markets liquidity in real instruments & will cost retail investors in the end - well, that is hardly ECB's concern at all. ECB like the EU Governments is only worried about own coffers & give no attention to the economy.  

Equity markets volatility (FTT original raison d'être is to reduce volatility) had NOTHING to do with the current crises. The ECB focus on 'UK-styled stamp duty on equities', if confirmed, thus exposes FTT as a pure scam to raise more tax revenues, not a measure to deal with 'markets instability'. 

As FT.com quotes one of the market participants: "bond markets were a “phenomenally attractive” way of channelling savings into investment." Alas, it is not - corporate bonds are debt. Shoving more debt while disincentivising equity investment is not a great idea for long term sustainable funding.

In Europe, lending money to Governments, including to fund dodgy unfunded pensions and white elephant projects, is tax-wise deemed to be more laudable than to invest in equity of real enterprises. By corollary, lending to companies is also deemed to be more preferential than funding them via equity. One of the outcomes of this decades-long preferential treatment of debt is the current crisis: over-bloated and under-funded public spending coupled with too much private debt (including banking debt) against too little equity (the latter imbalance drove the bailouts of banks in euro area periphery).

With this in mind, talking about 'Robin Hood' taxes on Financial Services in EU is equivalent to believing in Santa's Magic raindeer as a viable alternative for public transport.

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