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LQD: Banking's risky business - or - the mirage of the financial sector

by Metatone
Wed Jul 14th, 2010 at 12:27:52 PM EST

It's hard to trim this article to be a reasonable quote - so I encourage you to read it all. It's not news, we've discussed the illusory nature of some of the financial sector profits that have been booked plenty of times, but it's good to see the Bank of England publishing research on the topic...

Banking's risky business | Larry Elliott | Comment is free |


Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s had the public held the financial sector in such low esteem. Yet that was not the picture of the banks painted by government data. The national accounts published by the Office for National Statistics showed that the financial sector was making its biggest contribution since the mid-1980s to the UK economy; between the third and fourth quarters there was a record increase in the value of the services provided by the banks.

Confused? Clearly, there's something not quite right about a state of affairs where banks are both contributing massively to the economy while at the same time being rescued from collapse. Fortunately, an answer to this conundrum was provided given today in a paper by Andrew Haldane, the Bank of England's director of financial stability. It also has much wider ramifications, which we'll get to later.

Haldane's paper, given at a London School of Economics' conference on the future of finance argues that the answer to the puzzle lies in the way the ONS measures the value of financial services.


FISIM is calculated by subtracting the interest rate on deposits from the interest rate on loans and multiplying by the number of outstanding bank balances.

What happened in the fourth quarter of 2008 was that banks assumed there would be a massive increase in defaults on loans. They responded, entirely rationally, by increasing interest rates to cover the expected losses. That meant the gap (spread) between interest rates on deposits and interest rates on loans widened, the value of the financial sector's services as measured by FISIM increased, and this showed up in the national accounts as an increase in output.

"In other words," Haldane says, "at times when risk is rising, the contribution of the financial sector to the real economy may be overestimated." If he is right, the recession during the winter of 2008-09 was probably even worse than the official statistics suggest.

But there are longer-term implications too. The waves of financial liberalisation seen in Britain from the early 1970s to 2007 were justified on the grounds that the City was booming, providing higher returns to the economy than other sectors. Indeed, as Haldane notes, finance outstripped the rest of the economy in terms of growth by around 1.5 percentage points a year.

But what if that growth was in large part the result of higher risk taking, manifested in the increased leverage of the banks and speculative trading in increasingly exotic financial instruments? Haldane wonders whether the contribution made by the financial sector these past few decades has been more mirage than miracle. Looking at how the returns to banking have reversed as some of the risks they were taking have materialised, there is only one answer: mirage

Comments >> (10 comments)

John Hagel highlights Return on Assets...

by Metatone
Thu Apr 22nd, 2010 at 04:46:37 PM EST

John Hagel is one of those "business gurus" whose work is very much a mix of the interesting and the ideological.

He has a new book out and a blog promoting it... one part of it touches on something that seems very interesting:

Edge Perspectives with John Hagel: Economic Recovery? Don't Count On It.

In our new book, The Power of Pull, we summarize the metrics that we developed for the Shift Index - the first attempt to quantify the longer-term trends that have been re-shaping the business landscape over the past four decades.  Of the 25 metrics in the Shift Index, one metric in particular stands out: return on assets for all public companies in the US.  Since 1965, return on assets has collapsed by 75% - it has been a sustained and substantial erosion in performance.  There is no evidence of any flattening of this trend, much less turning it around.

Read more... (11 comments, 513 words in story)

LQD: Hyenas look to Portugal

by Metatone
Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 08:07:30 AM EST

With the Greek member of the Euro herd under (some? imperfect?) protection by other members... the hyenas look for another stragger - Portugal?

The Next Global Problem: Portugal « The Baseline Scenario

What happened to the global economy and what we can do about it The Next Global Problem: Portugal

with 65 comments

By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson

The bailout of Greece, while still not fully consummated, has brought an eerie calm in European financial markets.  It is, for sure, a massive bailout by historical standards.  With the planned addition of IMF money, the Greeks will receive 18% of their GDP in one year at preferential interest rates.  This equals 4,000 euros per person, and will be spent in roughly 11 months. 

Despite this eye-popping sum, the bailout does nothing to resolve the many problems that persist.  Indeed, it probably makes the euro zone a much more dangerous place for the next few years. 

Next on the radar will be Portugal.  This nation has largely missed the spotlight, if only because Greece spiralled downwards.  But both are economically on the verge of bankruptcy, and they each look far more risky than Argentina did back in 2001 when it succumbed to default.

The main problem that Portugal faces, like Greece, Ireland and Spain, is that it is stuck with a highly overvalued exchange rate when it is in need of massive fiscal adjustment.  Portugal spent too much over the last several years, building its debt up to 78% of GDP at end 2009 (compared to Greece's 114% of GDP and Argentina's 62% of GDP at default).  The debt has been largely financed by foreigners, and as with Greece, the country has not paid interest outright, but instead refinances its interest payments each year by issuing new debt.  By 2012 Portugal's debt-GDP ratio should reach 108% of GDP if they meet their planned budget deficit targets.  At some point financial markets will simply refuse to finance this Ponzi game.

To resolve its problems, Portugal needs major fiscal tightening.  For example, just to keep its debt stock constant and pay annual interest on debt at an optimistic 5% interest rate, the country would need to run a 5.4% of GDP primary surplus by 2012.  With a 5.2% GDP planned primary deficit this year, they need roughly 10% of GDP in fiscal tightening.  It is nearly impossible to do this in a fixed exchange rate regime - i.e., the eurozone - without massive unemployment.  The government can only expect several years of high unemployment and tough politics, even if they are to extract themselves from this mess. 

front-paged by afew

Read more... (30 comments, 554 words in story)

Tragedy of the Commons - Race to Exports

by Metatone
Tue Mar 9th, 2010 at 09:31:55 AM EST

In yesterday's open thread, I posted this excerpt from an interesting blog by Rebecca Wilder:

The endgame for Europe: wage cutting and the battle for exports

Yesterday I argued that Latvia's cost-cutting efforts are evident compared to a cross-section of European Union countries. Latvia's efforts, while commendable, were very much a function of the emergency IMF loan in December 2008 and the ensuing recession in 2009.

After an email exchange with Marshall Auerback, and thinking more about the cross-section of Europe, I now see a very scary trend emerging across Europe: the fight for exports.


Latvia's model: drop wages to increase export income. Greece: drop wages to increase export income. France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, etc., etc. It's impossible that the whole of the Eurozone will drop wages to increase export income. It's especially bad for countries like Latvia or Hungary, where the lion's-share of trade occurs withing the boundaries of Europe.

And what happens when export income does not provide the impetus for aggregate demand growth? Well, there's not much left. Can't devalue the currency (via printing money), and tax revenues will fall faster than a ten-pound weight: rising deficits; rising debt; rising debt service (via surging credit spreads). Sovereign default seems like a near-certainty somewhere in the Eurozone!

Comments focussed on the hyperbole about sovereign defaults... but I think the heart of the piece asks questions about an important assumption - is export-led growth the panacea?

Read more... (26 comments, 822 words in story)

LQD: 1000ft view energy physics model of the economy?

by Metatone
Thu Dec 3rd, 2009 at 08:03:11 AM EST


Is Global Warming Unstoppable?
ScienceDaily (Nov. 24, 2009) -- In a provocative new study, a University of Utah scientist argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions -- the major cause of global warming -- cannot be stabilized unless the world's economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.

Now that's a pretty hyped up opening statement. I think there are some holes in it, but that result isn't what I find interesting about the model. What caught my eye comes further down...

frontpaged - Nomad

Read more... (38 comments, 456 words in story)

LQD: Yorkshire Ranter on "thinktanks"

by Metatone
Wed Dec 2nd, 2009 at 12:27:39 PM EST

From :

Starts out shooting fish in a barrel...

[Detail excised]


It's Benny Peiser, "director" of the "Global Warming Policy Foundation", still hawking the intellectually dishonest, busted on its own terms talking point about "no warming for 10 years".

Read more... (8 comments, 280 words in story)

LQD: Mileuristas arrive in BusinessWeek

by Metatone
Sun Oct 11th, 2009 at 04:54:28 AM EST

Migeru has posted about the Spanish "Mileurista" - an under-employed generation, now BW notices the phenomenon elsewhere too...

The Lost Generation - BusinessWeek

Bright, eager--and unwanted. While unemployment is ravaging just about every part of the global workforce, the most enduring harm is being done to young people who can't grab onto the first rung of the career ladder.

Affected are a range of young people, from high school dropouts, to college grads, to newly minted lawyers and MBAs across the developed world from Britain to Japan. One indication: In the U.S., the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds has climbed to more than 18%, from 13% a year ago.

For people just starting their careers, the damage may be deep and long-lasting, potentially creating a kind of "lost generation." Studies suggest that an extended period of youthful joblessness can significantly depress lifetime income as people get stuck in jobs that are beneath their capabilities, or come to be seen by employers as damaged goods.

Equally important, employers are likely to suffer from the scarring of a generation. The freshness and vitality young people bring to the workplace is missing. Tomorrow's would-be star employees are on the sidelines, deprived of experience and losing motivation. In Japan, which has been down this road since the early 1990s, workers who started their careers a decade or more ago and are now in their 30s account for 6 in 10 reported cases of depression, stress, and work-related mental disabilities, according to the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development.

When today's unemployed finally do get jobs in the recovery, many may be dissatisfied to be slotted below people who worked all along--especially if the newcomers spent their downtime getting more education, says Richard Thompson, vice-president for talent development at Adecco Group North America, which employs more than 300,000 people in temporary positions. Says Thompson: "You're going to have multiple generations fighting for the jobs that are going to come back in the recovery."

Comments >> (3 comments)

LQD: letter of the law?

by Metatone
Mon Sep 7th, 2009 at 04:53:39 PM EST

human capital, "Matrix" style «
But there is one case where "human capital" is exactly the right term: corporate-owned life insurance, a.k.a. "dead peasants insurance" or "dead janitors insurance." "Through so-called janitors insurance, hundreds of companies have taken out life-insurance policies on millions of workers of all kinds -- with the companies as the beneficiaries. Employers take out the coverage because the policies provide tax-free investment buildup for the companies and provide tax-free death benefits when the workers, former employees and retirees die."


But bankers now appear to have taken the lead in perfecting this innovation, using death benefits on current and former workers as a tax-free means to fund executive bonuses and retirement income.


Insurers had a strong interest in building this business, of course, and those interested in "institutional entrepreneurship" might find a great tale in how insurance companies managed to persuade state regulators that companies had an "insurable interest" not only in current employees but in those they had fired years ago. (The Wall Street Journal describes one bank that bought life insurance on a credit risk manager who had already survived two brain surgeries; fired him four months later; and subsequently collected $1.6 million when he died.)

Comments >> (8 comments)

Gapper highlights the move to the East

by Metatone
Fri Apr 24th, 2009 at 11:01:25 AM EST

In his latest FT column (which I only have access to on paper) John Gapper explains how the rising number of consumers outside the US is changing the dominant design paradigms in the car industry.

He further asserts that the car industry is a leading indicator of such trends and in the article extends it to other industries.

A short piece from his blog on the same topic:

(P.S. If anyone has access to the article and wants to post salient bits in the comments, they would be very welcome.) | John Gapper's Business Blog

The Cayenne was built with the US market in mind but the Panamera - Porsche's first saloon/sedan car - has an Asian tilt. The Chinese car market has become the second most important luxury car market in the world, and the Panamera is being launched there in January.

One distinctive quality of the Chinese market is that rich consumers often employ a chauffeur to signal their elevated status and they prize long wheelbase cars. BMW even makes a long wheelbase Series 5 car for the market - a rare variation on its global product approach.


I suspect that what goes for the luxury market obtains more widely. The crisis in the US auto market - and the fall of Detroit - will further undermine its dominant status.

Read more... (5 comments, 425 words in story)

A fragment on energy and economic growth

by Metatone
Fri Jan 9th, 2009 at 04:56:58 PM EST

Understanding Society is an interesting blog working through a philosophy of social science.

The latest post is about the Economic History and it's well worth reading. I'll put in a short link and excerpt as a courtesy, but my real interest is in one particular graph:

UnderstandingSociety: Economic history analyzed

The history of a region or people encompasses a multitude of aspects of social life: culture, religion, political institutions, social movements, environmental change, technology, population--and the circumstances and processes of economic change that the region undergoes. One does not need to be a reductionist in order to observe that the economic circumstances a society experiences, and the processes of change that these circumstances undergo, have a profound influence on other aspects of social and cultural change. Improved agricultural productivity can support population growth; it can enhance the coercive power of state institutions; and it can make possible the flourishing of intricate institutions of religion and education. Likewise, the constraints created by slow or negative economic productivity growth in a region can stifle the development of other important social processes. So economic history, as a discipline within history more broadly, is a crucially important field of historical inquiry.

Read more... (3 comments, 364 words in story)

LQD: Monbiot on Trains, Wales, Colonialism

by Metatone
Tue Dec 30th, 2008 at 05:06:14 AM EST

We've discussed the Welsh railway network and possible North-South plans on ET before. Monbiot comes up with an interesting historical point about infrastructure as the sign of an extractive economy and highlights a new proposal. Had any of our Welsh types heard of it?

George Monbiot: Dr Beeching turned the country I have come to love into an outpost of empire | Comment is free | The Guardian

n this spirit I have to record that something is missing. Its absence offends my newfound national pride. It mocks our attempt to become a coherent country. It means that the Gogs (of north Wales) and the Hwntws (of south Wales) will for ever be at each other's throats. It means that the greenest nation in the UK is locked into unsustainability. It is also bleeding ridiculous. As far as I can discover, this is the only country in Europe that you cannot traverse by train without spending most of the journey passing through another. The only rail link that allows you to travel from north to south crosses the border near Llangollen and doesn't re-enter Wales until it approaches Abergavenny, 100 miles away.

The railway map of Wales is a classic indicator of an extractive economy. The lines extend either towards London or towards the ports. As Eduardo Galeano established in The Open Veins of Latin America, the infrastructure of a country is a guide to the purpose of its development. If the main roads and railways form a network, linking the regions and the settlements within the regions, they are likely to have been developed to enhance internal commerce and mobility. If they resemble a series of drainage basins, flowing towards the ports and borders, they are likely to have been built to empty the nation of its wealth for the benefit of another. Like Latin America, Wales is poor because it was so rich. Its abundant natural resources gave rise to an extractive system, designed to leave as little wealth behind as possible.

Read more... (15 comments, 577 words in story)

Graham Watson challenges Declan Ganley to a public debate.

by Metatone
Sat Dec 20th, 2008 at 06:00:57 AM EST

Graham Watson MEP
Graham Watson is the Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for South West England and Gibraltar. Graham is also the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament. The ALDE Group is the largest third force ever in the 28 year history of the European Parliament.

In his Dec. 12 videoblog Graham Watson welcomes the launch of Libertas as a party for the European elections and hopes it will draw them into honest debate. He further hopes that Mr Ganley will be more open about Libertas funding and contacts with the United States.

He finally challenges him to a public debate in the European Parliament in January about the future of Europe.

The blog also contains segments on the possibilities for "Green New Deal" stimulus and thoughts on the Lisbon process.

Promoted by DoDo

Comments >> (6 comments)

LQD: Linda Kaucher on GATS

by Metatone
Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 11:15:36 AM EST


General Agreement on Trade in Services - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is a treaty of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that entered into force in January 1995 as a result of the Uruguay Round negotiations. The treaty was created to extend the multilateral trading system to service sector, in the same way the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) provides such a system for merchandise trade.

Read more... (7 comments, 931 words in story)

Economic structures, stability and privatization

by Metatone
Sat Nov 15th, 2008 at 06:08:29 AM EST

das monde's comment on tax cuts (and his earlier diary) which he linked to got me thinking:

das monde:

What if (just if) tax cuts make a problem, not a solution? What if we are on the way to coordinated collapse while we all follow the same and faulty (be it libertarian or communist) theory?

What would coordinated tax cuts would solve, compared with non-coordinated tax cuts? Aren't world's economies already under tax cuts steroids for a decade already? How strange it is: the deep crisis happens with the infamous "race to the bottom", while economies were blooming under "punitive" taxes in the 60s.

A concurrent second opinion is posted here.

and then there was In Wales diary:

European Tribune - Bury the Washington Consensus?

The key message here is that the Washington Consensus consisting of 'deregulation, privatisation and unfettered markets' must end.

Promoted by afew

Read more... (14 comments, 1353 words in story)

LQD - China grumbling about the dollar

by Metatone
Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 04:21:17 AM EST

Rumours and counter-rumours abound about the Chinese feelings on the dollar:

naked capitalism: China Launches Salvo Against Dollar Hegemony (Updated)

We have seen reports on various China-focused blogs and even in the US media that China is increasingly chafing over the US dominance in financial affairs, and is particularly unhappy about the role of the dollar.

A Lazy Quote Diary that serves its purpose: setting off a good discussion - afew

Read more... (46 comments, 573 words in story)

ASEM Summit - LQD

by Metatone
Sat Oct 25th, 2008 at 12:35:10 PM EST

Global economy talks call for greater role for IMF | Business |

Asian and European leaders today called for more international regulation and a stronger role for the International Monetary Fund in response to the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.

The call for changes to the international financial system came at the end of a two-day summit of 43 Asian and European leaders in Beijing, discussing what began as a crisis in the US housing market that went on to infect the global economy.

Echoing the call from Beijing, the US president, George Bush, said that agreement on principles for reform would be essential in preventing another disaster.

Bush, who will host a global summit on the financial crisis next month, said in his weekly radio address: "In recent weeks, concerns about the availability of credit, the safety of financial assets, and the volatility of the stock market have made many families understandably anxious about their economic future."

Read more... (2 comments, 529 words in story)

Looting the past and stealing the future - council houses in the UK

by Metatone
Tue Sep 30th, 2008 at 08:20:00 AM EST

Today I came across a great article by John Harris in The Guardian about the consequences of Thatcher's "Right to Buy" legislation.

In the global scheme of things, this is perhaps a smaller issue, although the provision of government housing interacts with that issue of the day - the property boom. However, it shines a light on a microcosm of the overall neo-liberal scam - creating temporary prosperity by selling off the wealth accumulated in the past and stealing from future generations, in this case by offloading the negative consequences on to them. I've synthesised his article with some experiences from estates near to where I live to try to understand the phenomenon.

[In banking the theft from the future appears more direct, monetizing future cash flows into the present.]

Read more... (5 comments, 1706 words in story)

UK Political Cycle turns on rail...

by Metatone
Mon Sep 29th, 2008 at 11:22:56 AM EST

Whilst the Tories are most famous for privatising the British Railways organisation, it's often forgotten that they spent 10 years before that championing the motor car and air travel and denigrating and running down the finances of rail.

To that extent, this announcement at their party conference is somewhat surprising, and indicates that some things do seem to have shifted:

Read more... (45 comments, 423 words in story)

The Austrian Experiment....

by Metatone
Sat Sep 27th, 2008 at 07:07:04 AM EST

Do you think 16 and 17 year olds should be voting in national elections?

Fran posted this article in the Salon:

Austria opens the polls to 16-year-olds - Europe, World - The Independent

Austria becomes the first country in the European Union to grant its 16-year-olds the right to vote in a general election this weekend but the move has provoked widespread controversy and criticism, even from the teenagers heading for the ballot box for the first time.

The new law lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 was passed last year by Austria's grand coalition government of conservatives and Social Democrats. It was expected to be used for the first time in polls scheduled for 2010, but the governing coalition was consumed by infighting and collapsed in July. And 200,000 new Austrian voters aged 16 and 17, now have a chance to vote on Sunday.

The move is designed to offset what is seen as a demographic imbalance caused by the Alpine state's rapidly ageing population. Last year Austria's 65-year-olds exceeded the number of 15-year-olds in the country. However, critics have argued that given the snap elections, the youngsters have not had enough time to prepare themselves as a result. And some of the would-be voters - who can purchase beer and wine even though they cannot drive or do military service - concur.

"I don't agree with the idea of teenagers of my age being given the right to vote," said Julia Tauschek, a 16-year-old high school pupil from the Austrian town of Linz yesterday. "We simply don't know enough about politics and we are not taught much about them at school either."

Within the EU, this is the first national election in which 16 and 17 year olds will vote.

According to Wikipedia municipal elections in some states in Germany and of course lower level elections in Austria have already taken place under similar rules, but I would argue that the election of the national government is a psychologically different affair that we should all be watching closely.

Read more... (15 comments, 554 words in story)

The Voice of Murdoch calls defeat...

by Metatone
Fri Sep 26th, 2008 at 10:51:37 AM EST

Well, on economics, perhaps... at least temporarily...

We've discussed before the role of Irwin Stelzer as henchman of Rupert Murdoch and high priest of the News International Voodoo Economics Order...

So it was with some surprise that I came across this speech, linked to in the Guardian:

Irwin Stelzer: Capitalism as we knew it is finished | Comment is free |

This is the opening of a lecture given by Irwin Steltzer on 'The Political Economy of America' to the Centre for Policy Studies on Thursday September 25 2008. To read the full text, go here.

Choice quotes from the speech below (my emphases):

Read more... (15 comments, 778 words in story)

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