When Ben does IT, the markets get the needed boost. When Super Mario does IT, the markets don’t want to do the same thing. The first effects of the LTRO were positive, but this has all faded away, and the major countries, Spain and Italy, have once again fallen back into the abyss. Why isn’t Europe reacting as positively as the US markets to QE/LTROs? By Voxeu.
The ECB has managed a massive expansion of its balance sheet with long-term refinancing operations. This has been called the equivalent of quantitative easing, as done by the Fed and the Bank of England. This column thus argues that the main obstacle for the ECB is not tight limits on the purchase of government bonds. Rather, it is the absence of a banking and fiscal union and the heterogeneity within the Eurozone that reduces the effectiveness of the ECB instruments.
With the launching of the three-year longer-term refinancing operations (LTROs) in December 2011, the Eurosystem has entered new territory (see Wyplosz 2012). Its balance sheet (stripped out of foreign-exchange reserves and assets that have no relevance for monetary policy such as legacy assets of the national central banks) has jumped from about 5% of GDP before the crisis to about 10% in 2009–10 and now close to 18%. This is only marginally lower than the levels reached by the balance sheets of the Bank of England and the Fed (respectively 23% and 20%, again without foreign-exchange reserves and other assets of no relevance).1 On the face of it, Mario Draghi seems to be emulating Mervyn King and Ben Bernanke, but with a lag (Figure 1).
So far so vanilla. Now lets look at how, as the ETF market has grown, the clever boys and girls of finance have found ‘innovative’ ways of pumping those ETFs up a bit, just like they did to Securities.
Use of Derivatives in ‘Synthetic’ ETFs
The main innovation in ETFs has been the creation of what are called ‘synthetic’ ETFs which instead of actually buying or even borrowing a basket of shares, use derivatives to track the value of the underlying market without the need to match its composition. Instead the Synthetic ETF enters into an asset swap agreement with a counterparty using an over-the-counter (OTC) Derivative. Before explaining what the heck that means let’s just look at how quickly the Synthetic market has grown.
Synthetic ETFs have grown very rapidly in Europe and in Asia. In Europe Synthetic ETFs are now 45% of the over all ETF market. Synthetics doubled their market share between 08 and 09.
The key to Synthetics is the Counterparty. What happens is the ETF Sponsor designs the deal, the AP (Apporved Participant. Usually one of the big banks or brokers) buys the basket of assets to make it, but then swaps that basket with the Counterparty for a different basket of assets in a derivative swap deal. However it turns out that rather too often for comfort, not only will the Sponsor and the AP be the same bank, but more often than not it will be the Asset Management branch of the same bank who will be the Swap Counter-party as well. It is quite common for the same bank to play all three roles. So a single bank creates the ETF, appoints itself as AP so it can fund it and then its Asset Management desk becomes the derivative counterparty in order to mutate the whole thing into a synthetic ETF. Think about what this does to the risk. What was market risk, where the risk was spread out across all the different shares, is now a single counterparty risk. The bank has effectively put all the ETF’s risk in one basket – itself.
Guest post by Doug Short.
The Fed’s latest strategy for managing the economy,Operation Twist, has less than two months to go. The program was announced on September 21st of last year with the stated purpose of selling $400 billion in shorter-term Treasury securities by the end of June 2012 and using the proceeds to buy longer-term Treasury securities. The Fed assumed this would put downward pressure on longer-term rates, which would stimulate the economy through “a broad easing in financial market conditions.” In other words, more loans at lower rates.
How effective has this strategy been? Here is a snapshot of selected yields and the 30-year fixed mortgage since the inception of Operation Twist.