A few thoughts on why the Banks are not lending. By Golem XIV.
Governments, so they tell us, want the banks to lend into the real economy to get people working, earning, buying and paying both their taxes and their debts. Problem is, I do not think the financial industry shares this desire. They say they do. They say they are doing their bit. But they are not. The abject failure of the UK’s 2011 ‘Project Merlin’ is a good example. Project Merlin was the voluntary agreement between UK banks and government to set and meet targets for lending to small and medium businesses. The big five UK banks all agreed to lend. The data showed, however, that they all lent less in every quarter. I talked to the CEO of a UK bank which specializes in raising capital for medium sized businesses and he told me there was less and less funding around. He said the big banks and the big funds simply didn’t want to know. They had other plans.
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.
The bazooka has supposedly saved the Eurozone, but what flexibility going forward does the ECB actually have? According to the article below, the ECB’s space to manoeuvre inflation has become narrow. From Voxeu.
In December, the ECB successfully forestalled a financial crisis by stepping in with a big bazooka and inundating the market with liquidity. Unfortunately, the big bazooka has come at a cost; the composition of the ECB’s balance sheet has changed dramatically.
Under standard monetary policy, when there is a sudden increase in money growth, the central bank can increase its short-term interest rate and thereby reduce its short-term loans to banks. This policy causes a reduction of bank lending to households and firms, which absorbs excess liquidity and prevents an acceleration of inflation. The ECB has lost its ability to implement this type of anti-inflationary policy.