Several years before the financial crisis descended on us, I put forward the concept of “black swans”: large events that are both unexpected and highly consequential. We never see black swans coming, but when they do arrive, they profoundly shape our world: Think of World War I, 9/11, the Internet, the rise of Google.
In economic life and history more generally, just about everything of consequence comes from black swans; ordinary events have paltry effects in the long term. Still, through some mental bias, people think in hindsight that they “sort of” considered the possibility of such events; this gives them confidence in continuing to formulate predictions. But our tools for forecasting and risk measurement cannot begin to capture black swans. Indeed, our faith in these tools make it more likely that we will continue to take dangerous, uninformed risks.
Guest post by Peter Tchir.
Europe has played a dangerous game of catching falling knives. Do nothing. Markets weaken. Have some meetings and vague plans. Markets turn more negative. Complain about speculators. Market starts to panic and economies constrict. Politicians and Central Bankers talk more. Markets swing up and down between hopes of some new solution and fears that they don’t do anything. Big summit, big announcement, big rally then back to doing nothing.
It is a cycle we have seen over and over in Europe. It seems as though we are entering another phase where we likely see some weakness. The summit was disappointing, but the market will take some time to challenge the resolve of the EU and ECB. The “whatever it takes” pronouncement culminating in the OMT “modality” was too painful for shorts.
I think the bailout of Spain is largely priced in, which means that even in a perfect world, most of the upside is there, and more and more, it looks like we won’t get some big plan, but another set up modalities and conditionalities that leave the bailout in constant doubt.
Eventually Europe will act too late and the falling knife will really hurt someone. The other problem is the growing number of politicians who seem to think that exits won’t cause contagion – I think they are horribly wrong, but we move closer to the day one of the people in power thinks they can pull it off.
No need to be long Europe here, and I would be short Spanish and Italian bonds here. Greek bonds remain more interesting just because the next phase really has to be write-downs of the official sector debt, which should benefit the PSI bonds.
Must read on the doomsday cycle. Via Voxeu.
Industrialised countries today face serious risks – for their financial sectors, for their public finances, and for their growth prospects. This column explains how, through our financial systems, we have created enormous, complex financial structures that can inflict tragic consequences with failure and yet are inherently difficult to regulate and control. It explains how this has happened and why there are more and worse crises to come.There is a common problem underlying the economic troubles of Europe, Japan, and the US: the symbiotic relationship between politicians who heed narrow interests and the growth of a financial sector that has become increasingly opaque (Igan and Mishra 2011). Bailouts have encouraged reckless behaviour in the financial sector, which builds up further risks – and will lead to another round of shocks, collapses, and bailouts.
This is what we have called the ‘doomsday cycle’ (Boone and Johnson 2010). The cycle turned in 2007-8 and was most dramatically manifest in the weeks and months that followed the fall of Lehman Brothers, the collapse of Iceland’s banks and the botched ‘rescue’ of the big three Irish financial institutions.
The consequences have included sovereign debt restructuring by Greece, as well as continuing problems – and lending programmes by the IMF and the EU – for Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. Italy, Spain and other parts of the Eurozone remain under intense pressure.
Yet in some circles, there is a sense that the countries of the Eurozone have put the worst of their problems behind them. Following a string of summits, it is argued, Europe is now more decisively on the path to a unified financial system backed by what will become the substance of a fiscal union.
Latest research by Ice Cap Asset Management.
Imagine a World where all bank tellers, bank voicemail messages, bank emails and even bank faxes all end with – “Dude, I owe you big time.”
“Thank you, have a nice day, sincerely yours, and do not hesitate to contact us” will all become niceties from the past.
As far as we are concerned, there have only been two dudes in the history of the World. The 1982 Hollywood hit Fast Times at Ridgemont High produced Jeff Spicoli as the World’s very first dude. It wasn’t until 16 years later we were gifted the dude of all dudes – Jeff Lebowski from The Big Lebowski.
Yet, today, for some strange reason the big banks feel the need to expand their World domination strategy and position themselves right next to the dude. And with that, the righteous title of dude will be tarnished forever more.
Of course, to understand the big banks sudden interest in becoming dudes, we have to step deep into the cryptic World of the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR for short, or soon to become LieBOR for everyone else.
With Draghi managing taking the focus away from the great LIBOR scandal, we shouldn’t forget about the LIBOR situation. As we all know, there can’t be only one bank involved in the scandal. Reuters brings some more clarity on the subject.
New details from court documents and sources close to the Libor scandal investigation suggest that groups of traders working at three major European banks were heavily involved in rigging global benchmark interest rates.
Some of those traders, including one who used to work at Barclays Plc in New York, still have senior positions on Wall Street trading desks.
Until now, most of the attention has involved traders at Barclays, which last month reached a $453 million settlement with U.S. and UK authorities for its role in the manipulation of rates. Now, it is becoming clear that traders from at least two other banks – UK-based Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and Switzerland’s UBS AG – played a central role.
Among them, the three banks employed more than a dozen traders who sought to influence rates in either dollar, euro or yen rates. Some of the traders who are being probed have worked for several banks under scrutiny, raising the possibility that the rate fixing became more ingrained as traders changed jobs. (Full article here).
Rickards, hedge fund manager and the author of the must read Currency war, delivers some rather harsh comments regarding the derivatives world. Ban derivatives….From USN.
Myth No. 3: Bank management has derivatives risks under control using mathematical models that capture the complex interaction of factors embedded in derivatives trades. This view is laughable on its face given the continual series of notorious derivatives fiascoes from Long-Term Capital Management to AIG to J.P. Morgan and many others.
Yet, this myth is pernicious at a deeper level because many bank managers actually believe it. They have constructed elaborate management tools based on empirically false assumptions about the frequency and severity of bad events and the correlations among them. Risk managers sometimes acknowledge these limitations but then say their tools are “better than nothing.” This is false too. Bad tools are not better than nothing. They lead to bad investments with the taxpayers picking up the losses every time things go wrong. It would be more honest to admit what we don’t know and limit derivatives until the state of the art improves.