Thursday 16 June 2011

Till “Debt” do us part.

The Stock markets in USA, reached their bottom only two years ago.  It was June 2009 when S&P 500 reached a low of 666, Dow reached a low of 6470. Two years hence S&P reached a high of 1370, Dow reached a high of 13870. They doubled!
So the factors which caused the stock markets to collapse in the 1st place have all been sorted out, correct? Otherwise how come such a parabolic gravity defying moves?  But then we are shocked to see that unemployment is still above 9%. We are shocked. Even after spending over US $ 2 trillion, what we have to show for? Only the wealth effect in the stock market and commodity speculation. Sad but true. So what is driving the stock markets? For answer let us look at the following picture.

It is the huge amount of leverage built up on margin , helped by QE1 and QE2 , that has encouraged the investors, speculators and yield hungry pension funds to pile on to the long side based on the mantra  “ don’t fight the Fed”.  Margin levels are almost at the same level where they were in 2008.
But debt on debt does not help growth of GDP. If you have read the excellent book, “This time is different” by Reinhart & Rogoff, you know that after the debt has reached a certain percentage of GDP, it actually reduces growth and leads to default. Reinhart & Rogoff have given numerous examples from the last 700 years of various countries, where Countries have defaulted because they took on excessive debt. And we see that happening in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal and in so many other places. Japan has become a country in perpetual deflation for the last 3 decades and most likely the same situation awaits us here. The similarities between USA and Japan are too much to ignore, but that is a discussion topic for another day.
When the going was good, Greenspan was giving away free money and creating another bubble, all these banks and speculators have borrowed and invested, rather speculated on various assets, whose value today is less than half of what it was initially. Thus there is debt destruction or balance sheet contraction. Even the two trillion US Dollar that helicopter Ben has pumped in the system in the last 2 years, have not been able to increase the money  supply in the system because the banks are busy repairing their balance sheet to the extent they can. They are now holding approx. US Dollar 1.5 trillion in their cash reserve and hoping that when the sushi hits the fan now, they would be able to survive.
The problem facing us is not inflation, in spite of the money pumping because everywhere the value is getting destroyed, be it home equity for the individuals or loan portfolio of the banks. The powers that be have tried to fight this with more debt and it is failing. And they know that they are facing the demons of deflation.
Now we go back to the chart at the top. When deflation finally hits the shore, when the contagion from Europe catches up with USA and the dominos fall, the margins will be called 1st and this time there will not be anyone to re-inflate it again. According to Russell Napier, the S&P 500 will reach 400 at the end of the true bear market. If such a situation should arise, all the castles of sands will be washed out to sea because:  the final bear market stage "is caused by distress selling of sound securities, regardless of their value, by those who must find cash market for at least a portion of their assets."

1 comment:

  1. It seems that we can’t control our debt anymore and it controls us. I am not an expert to judge government and its way of spending money but it’s impossible to see any positive effects, at least in those spheres where the changes are necessary. It’s important to set an effective budget which will help to boost the economy but it’s not worth to rely on borrowing and making debts. To my opinion, the main American problem is in a debt-based economy, the government and most of consumers can not live within their means and use different lending products like credit cards, loans online and other options. To fix that problem I think that it’s necessary to make changes into the system and use experience of countries who have already gone through similar economic problems.