Thursday, December 3, 2015

3/12/15: Of Debt, Central Banks and History Repeats

Couple of facts via Goldman Sachs' recent research note:

  1. Since the start of 2008, U.S. corporate debt has doubled and the interest burden rose 40 percent. Even as a share of EBITDA, debt servicing costs are up 30 percent, so U.S. corporations’ ability to service debt has declined despite the average interest rate paid by the U.S. corporate currently stands at around 4 percent, as opposed to 6 percent in 2008.
  2. Much of this debt mountain has gone not to productive activities, but into shares buybacks and M&As. Per Goldman’s note: “…the changing nature of corporate balance sheets does raise the question, again, about the lack of organic growth and reinvestment post the crisis.”

And the net conclusion? “…the spectre of rising rates, potential global disinflation, declining operating profits and wider credit spreads continues to create near-term consternation for weak balance sheet stocks.”

Source: Business Insider

Oh dear… paging the Fed…

  • Meanwhile, per IMF September 2015 Fiscal Monitor, Emerging Markets’ corporate debt rose from USD4 trillion in 2004 to USD18 trillion in 2014. Much of this debt is directly or indirectly linked to the U.S. dollar and, thus, Fed policy.

Oh dear… paging the Fed again…

And just in case you think these risks don’t matter, a quick reminder of what Jaime Caruana, head of the Bank for International Settlements, said back in July 2014 (emphasis mine):

  • "Markets seem to be considering only a very narrow spectrum of potential outcomes. They have become convinced that monetary conditions will remain easy for a very long time, and may be taking more assurance than central banks wish to give… If we were concerned by excessive leverage in 2007, we cannot be more relaxed today… It may be the case that the debt is better distributed because some highly-indebted countries have deleveraged, like the private sector in the US or Spain, and banks are better capitalized. But there is also now more sensitivity to interest rate movements."

All of which translates, in his own words into

  • "Overall, it is hard to avoid the sense of a puzzling disconnect between the markets’ buoyancy and underlying economic developments globally."

And as per current QE policies?

  • "There is something strange about fighting debt by incentivizing more debt."

Which, of course, is the entire point of all QE and, thus, brings us to yet another ‘paging Fed moment’:

  • "Policy does not lean against the booms but eases aggressively and persistently during busts. This induces a downward bias in interest rates and an upward bias in debt levels, which in turn makes it hard to raise rates without damaging the economy – a debt trap. …Systemic financial crises do not become less frequent or intense, private and public debts continue to grow, the economy fails to climb onto a stronger sustainable path, and monetary and fiscal policies run out of ammunition. Over time, policies lose their effectiveness and may end up fostering the very conditions they seek to prevent."

Now, take a look at the lengths to which ECB has played the Russian roulette with monetary policy so far:

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