Top 10 at 10: Foreign interest in property?; China's "dollar trap"; Lloyds HBOS retrenching
26th May 09, 12:48pm
Here's my Top 10 links at 10 am. I welcome your additions in the comments below. I'm so glad I don't work for a big corporate anymore. 1. Alastair Helm has some interesting data in his unconditional blog on realestate.co.nz showing the increases and decreases in interest from foreigners in New Zealand property. However, it shows interest in properties to buy from Australia and the UK are flat to falling, but are rising from other markets. This suggests to me that the most lucrative sources of cashed-up expats, Australia and the UK, are not going to a fuel another immigration led property boom. 2. Mark Gilbert at Bloomberg says "The Dollar is Dirt, Treasuries are Toast and the AAA is gone".
Several policy missteps suggest that investors should stop trusting -- and lending to -- the U.S. government. These include the state's pressure on Bank of America Corp. to buy Merrill Lynch & Co.; the priority given to Chrysler LLC's unions over the automaker's secured creditors; and the freedom that some banks will regain to supersize executive bonuses by giving back part of the government money bolstering their balance sheets.3. China is still buying record amounts of US Treasuries despite Beijing's fears about a US dollar collapse, the FT reports, adding Chinese officials say they are stuck in a "dollar trap" because the US Treasury market is the only one big and liquid enough to handle China's reserves.
In March alone, China's direct holdings of US Treasury securities rose $23.7bn to reach a new record of $768bn, according to preliminary US data, allowing China to retain its title as the biggest creditor of the US government. "Because of the sheer size of its reserves Safe [China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange] will immediately disrupt any other market it tries to shift into in a big way and could also collapse the value of its existing reserves if it sold too many dollars," said a western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.4. Alan Kohler at BusinessSpectator is also pointing out the sharp rise in bond yields in recent weeks on fears of increased supply from governments borrowing heavily to finance big deficits.
Despite the prospect of deflation, the bond market is panicking about a tsunami of supply, following decisions by governments everywhere to try to borrow their way out of the crisis. Who, the market wants to know, is going to lend all the money? And more importantly "“ at what price?5. Lloyds Banking Group is looking at selling stakes in various companies that were acquired by HBOS during its headlong expansion before the Lloyds takeover, the FT.com reports. This is an ominous sign for many New Zealand borrowers, often in property development, that borrowed heavily from Bank of Scotland International, which is now part of Lloyds. Also, the Independent says Mediaworks (TV3/RadioWorks) owes over NZ$500 million to Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, both of whom are retrenching to Britain. 6. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at The Telegraph comments on the rise in US government bond yields, suggesting it might trip up any recovery. Of course, higher US bond yields means higher bond yields (and therefore long term mortgage rates). He raises the ugly prospect of a failure in one of the big US government bond auctions due in the next week and has a great quote from a Kyle Bass.
The yield has risen over 90 basis points since March when the US Federal Reserve first announced its controversial plan to buy Treasury bonds directly, a move designed to force down the borrowing costs and help stabilise the housing market. The yield-spike may be nearing the point where it threatens to short-circuit economic recovery. While lower spreads on mortgage rates have kept a lid on home loan costs so far, mortgage rates have nevertheless crept back up to 5pc. The US is not alone in facing a deficit crisis. Governments worldwide have to raise some $6 trillion in debt this year, with huge demands in Japan and Europe. Kyle Bass from the US fund Hayman Advisors said the markets were choking on debt. "There isn't enough capital in the world to buy the new sovereign issuance required to finance the giant fiscal deficits that countries are so intent on running. There is simply not enough money out there," he said. "If the US loses control of long rates, they will not be able to arrest asset price declines. If they print too much money, they will debase the dollar and cause stagflation. "The bottom line is that there is no global 'get out of jail free' card for anyone", he said.7. This is a book I want to buy and read. Barry Ritholz from The Big Picture has written a book called "Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy". Here he explains the background to the book, including the fairly sensational detail about how the book's publisher McGraw Hill pressured him to tone down criticism of the ratings agencies. McGraw Hill owns Standard and Poor's.
Astonishing things happened as the book progresses. The more I researched and wrote, the more it was apparent we were witnessing the greatest heist ever made. By the last section of the book, history's biggest transfer of wealth "” from the taxpayer to the Banksters "” was taking place. Trillions were being shifted from the responsible to the reckless, from the prudent to the incompetent. It was infuriating "” and you will see as the book progresses my initial academic tone gets replaced with greater snark and anger. I not only had my ending, I had a new cause "” exposing those who caused this mess, be they Democrat or Republican, Corporate CEO or derivatives trader.8. Martin Wolf argues in FT.com that Britain should go out of its way to diversify away from its dependence on the financial sector, given the damaging fallout from its collapse in the last year. He even suggests taxing the industry specifically. 9. Cattle rustling is on the rise in America, according to Reuters. 10. Here's a must read from VoxEU about why the US dollar is likely to weaken further and how difficult it will be for current account deficit countries (like ours) to fund any budget deficits in a future world with heavier financial regulation and deleveraging.
The new financial landscape "“ with greater financial regulation and lower leverage "“ is likely to make this shortage of international capital more persistent. In turn, the retrenchment of private savers "“ especially in oil-exporting countries and Japan "“ and expansionary fiscal policies almost everywhere are likely to lead us towards a "savings drain" by global lenders "“ the opposite of the "savings glut" in pre-crisis years.In a new financial landscape in which leverage is limited by worldwide regulation, and where the gradual digestion of toxic assets will weigh on bank's balance sheets for some time, limiting the availability of credit, the US will face tougher terms to finance its external imbalance. In our view, these tougher terms, together with the sharp increase in US household savings, could have gone a long way towards unwinding the global imbalances in a non-traumatic way. However, that would have entailed passive fiscal and monetary policies and a politically unpalatable economic contraction. Instead, a massive fiscal stimulus partially financed directly by the Fed through the purchase of Treasuries should ultimately lead to a reversal of the dollar bonanza. Perfectly at odds with the global imbalance premonitions of the early 2000s, the dollar's weakness will likely be the best gauge of the turnaround of the global crisis.