The visible hand in economics

Archive for the ‘Financial Economics’ Category

With the official cash rate set to fall even further later this week, shares become relatively appealing when compared with other financial instruments, such as bonds and term deposits.

The old adage of ‘buy low, sell high’ seems fitting, given the battering shares the world over have taken in the past while. The NZX and Dow Jones industrial averages, for example, are both down around a quarter from their respective values six months ago.

But just when is the market ‘low’?

I don’t know! If I did, I’m sure I’d be a lot wealthier than I am. However, I thought it would be useful to write a blog entry to stimulate discussion and debate on what TVHE readers are picking for the sharemarket:

  1. Is now a good time to buy?
  2. What industries/companies would you consider investing it?
  3. What factors are influencing your decisions to invest, or not?

I look forward to hearing our readers’ views on the current state of the sharemarket.

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Over at Kiwiblog they cover John Key’s speech at the APEC summit. The following passage is quoted, and then David Farrar suggests that economics blogs should discuss it – it seems simple enough so lets give it a go together 🙂

The question is: faced with this situation again would we do something different to address it? To my mind, this question should lead economies to consider whether monetary policy, fiscal policy, and prudential policy should be more counter-cyclical, and lean against credit growth in an upswing

Now, this by itself tells me very little. Simply put, John Key appears to be saying that “credit market policy” should be counter-cyclical. Now, just 18 months ago people were complaining about interest rates being too high – that is counter-cyclical monetary policy guys, and it helps to tighten domestic credit markets. Our institutions have been relatively prudent (as lenders and households actually do face the risk associated with there decisions, unlike the US 😛 ).

Of course, there is more to this statement than just that – there are good inferences and a bad inferences to make from the flavour of the speech. Let me sketch them out – then we can discuss them, or whether these inferences are fair 🙂

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Or so Russel Norman said when asked by Paul Henry earlier this week what the most common misconception about the Greens is. What do you think? I’m going to try a poll for the first time ever on tvhe, hopefully it works:)

I somehow stumbeled across this article from the greens (don’t ask me how..) which I think illustrates their understanding of economics

I’ll be honest and admit I stopped reading the article after the paragraph i’m about to reproduce so I’m open to accusations of trolling, but this was little gem

“Reducing saving by cutting KiwiSaver is the same as increasing debt. It won’t show on the Government’s balance sheet, because Key has swapped Government debt for private debt. Lower savings will show up on households’ balance sheets as increased private debt, which is already too high,” Ms Fitzsimons says.

Two points here:

Read the rest of this entry »

Over at Market Movers, Felix Salmon discusses “Lehman’s Lies“.

In the wake of the collapse, it was clear that if Lehman couldn’t be trusted, then it would be silly to trust any other troubled financial institution, either — AIG, WaMu, Wachovia, Fortis, Hypo Real Estate, you name it.

This breakdown in “trust” destroyed the delicate equilibrium we were in, and has sent us spinning towards a worse set of outcomes.

Fundamentally, this has happened because “trust” (the fact that we would be playing a “infinitely” repeated game, which then rewards people for collusive behaviour) had allowed us to bypass the asymmetric information problem inherent in the market. With that trust gone, no-one will lend or purchases assets, as they think that only the worst deals are available on the market.

In this light, the behaviour of Lehman appears to be a major factor behind the crisis we now find ourselves in – damned investment banks 😛

100 basis points slashed by the Reserve Bank of Australia. There cash rate is now 6%. A 50 basis point cut was expected, 75 seemed possible, 100 is epic.

At the start of the recent freeze in credit markets a 75 basis point cut by the RBNZ seemed highly unlikely – but possible. Now a 75 basis point cut is looking increasingly likely – and 100 basis points also seems possible. To put this in perspective – the Bank may have felt that a 50 point cut in October was on the cards following the September cut. Financing costs have now moved up so much that it is (sort of) like the previous cut never happened – implying we need a 100 basis points of cuts just to get where the Bank was aiming, maybe 😛

Does this indicate that the economic situation for Australiasia has deteriorated rapidly – yes and no.

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I have spent so much time blabbing about asymmetric information without every explaining what I meant. As a result I feel that everyone deserves a little explanation. Thanks goes out to Akerlof and the lemons hypothesis.

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A popular explanation of the booming in house prices according to, well, everyone is that there was lots of “credit washing around” which convinced people that they should go and bid up house prices. An example of this logic is shown in this statement at the very good Big Picture blog:

The bubble in home prices, fueled by the ready availability of credit, resulted in an underestimate of the risks of residential real estate

Personally, I think this type of thinking has the causality all mixed up – if there was any error it was because people “underestimated the risks” associated with the price of residential real estate, and therefore given the “price” of credit the housing market appeared to be a better bet than it actually was. As a result, the entire blame for the bubble and associated crisis should lie with the fact that risk wasn’t being appropriately identified – not with some mystical belief that credit was springing up all over the place. If the risk problem was unsolvable, then we can blame central banks for leaving the price of credit (not its “availability) to low – however, this is a secondary issue to risk.

The whole concept of the “availability of credit” is somewhat of a misnomer.

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It appears that many people fear a contraction in the economy – and are determined to bring to justice any factors that could lead to such a situation.

As of late, one such factor was the “credit crisis”, which has lead to a sudden freeze in lending and potentially to a contraction in economic growth in many of the worlds largest economies.

Given that it was a seemingly inevitable freezing in the credit market that has caused this reduction in economic activity many people state that it we should have regulated the credit market more – to prevent this sort of contraction from happening.

However, even if we do take the current slump in the credit market as inevitable – I am not convinced that this type of regulation would have improved the situation.

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I don’t like thinks that sound like conspiracy theories – and the title of this post does! However, I am starting to get the impression that this is one situation where it may actually be the case. Overall it stinks like socialism for the rich (good cartoon here, good article here)

Two articles from Bloomberg this morning have pushed me into this view:

Bernanke Signals U.S. Should Pay More for Bad Debt

Bernanke Says Normal Markets Needed or Growth to Halt

As Felix Salmon states here, Bernanke’s interest in paying the hold to maturity price for assets just doesn’t make sense when a good proportion of the assets aren’t going to mature – and even if they wish to take into account risk, the US Treasury does not have time to sufficiently evaluate the risks.

Surely the aim of the bailout should be to do as little as possible to ensure that credit markets start functioning again – in this sense, over paying for assets seems excessive.

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I see that this is a popular topic at the moment, so I thought I would add my two cents.

Before doing so I’d like to point out that the Rates Blog has a good piece on it, and this Stuff article gives the opinion of most of the banks (BNZ’s currency strategist also gives a good breakdown on the Rates blog).

Now the way I see it, there are two channels that this crisis can and will impact on the New Zealand economy:

  1. Impact on export/import prices and volumes,
  2. Impact on domestic interest rates.
  3. Update: Impact on capital investment

Outside of these two channels global events will have no impact on New Zealand. This involves assuming that external factors don’t beat around our consumer and producer confidence for no reason, and that net migration does not change. Although these assumptions aren’t completely true, I think it is fair to assume that the impact of these factors is relatively minor.

As a result, lets talk about these channels.

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Following the “revelation” that a loan shark in Porirua was charging 8% interest per week on loans, the government has offered to do nothing. Blogs on the left hand side of the spectrum were irritated by this, as they feel that people are being taken advantage of (the Standard) (Tumeke) (Frontline – prior to this incident). Lets investigate the issue.

Now I am not disputing the fact that people are, in some sense, “being taken advantage of”, however I do disagree with the solution that the other blogs follow – setting a cap on interest rates. In this sense I am in agreement with government policy. Read the rest of this entry »

Following the freezing of Hanover finance’s finances we have heard that the National Australia Bank, and the Australia New Zealand Bank have both had to increase provisions for bad debt (NAB, ANZ).

These revelations put the relatively dovish stance of the RBA and the RBNZ in perspective – after all, central bankers are more than aware of the fact that the Great Depression was, at least partially, the result of a collapse in the banking sector which exacerbated a tightening in credit conditions. In a sense, the credit crisis in Australasia is now as bad as it has been in modern times – even if (arguably) things are improving in other parts of the world.

Even so, every time I attempt to pat the RBA or RBNZ on the back a couple of phrases come in the back of the head and prevent me, these phrases are “moral hazard” and “inflation”.

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So far we have discussed Kiwisaver and national savings in fairly loose terms. We know that (part of) the purpose of Kiwisaver was to increase national savings and that our interest in national savings stems from the fact that we want New Zealand to have more productive capital.

So before we can discuss the myriad of burning questions surrounding these issues – and more broadly surrounding New Zealand’s productivity (such as if Kiwisaver achieves the greater capital goal even if it theoretically doesn’t increase savings) we need to ask, what is the savings problem?

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Megan McArdle worries a little about the moral hazard problem that JP Morgan and the Fed’s ‘rescue’ of Bear Stearns creates (although her major point is that we should be relieved that it was rescued from default). knzn’s take on the issue puts the problem in perspective:

[Hypothetical future investor]: I own a major stake in an investment bank, and I’m getting concerned about their risk management. Should I bring this up at the shareholders’ meeting?

[Hypothetical friend]: I don’t see why. What’s the worst that can happen? The bank will go sour, the Fed will arrange a bailout, and you’ll only lose 95 percent of the money you invested, 96 tops. What’s the big deal?

Talking to Agnitio today, he mentioned that the result of having a top personal tax rate above the company tax rate is tax avoidance and evasion. The idea being that people with wealth will try to pipe income through businesses to avoid paying the top tax rate. Well, it seems he’s empirically justified in that view (kinda) Read the rest of this entry »

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