Friday, December 28, 2007


Felix Salmon overview of CDO creation with over-collateralisation.

But what happened over the past few years was that demand for those AAA-rated CDO tranches went through the roof, and it became harder and harder to find a nice diverse universe of BBB-rated bonds to throw into the cauldron. As a result, the ingredients getting thrown into the cauldron started getting less and less diverse, until it reached the point that all, or nearly all, of them were, in some way or another, ultimately reliant on subprime mortgage payments.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Risk and liquidity
looks at the way the the move away from risk has affected liquidity in markets like the US treasuries and European bonds.

"Indeed, even in the US Treasury market, the spread between buy and sell prices for securities issued by the Treasury before the current quarter has become a lot wider than normal. “Traders and banks are in risk-reduction mode,” said Tom di Galoma, head of Treasury trading at Jefferies."

There is a higher price to pay and a wider spread.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Chinese Reserves looks at the slowing pace of Chinese reserves.
"However, the monthly increase represented the smallest rise since September 2006. Indeed, after rising at between $40bn and $50bn per month in the first seven months of this year, Chinese foreign exchange reserves rose by just $23bn in August and $24bn in September"

The Chinese continue to print yuan and exchange it for US dollars. It is a step forward that the Chinese are developing a diversified portfolio. However, it does not remove the impression that their saving is too high.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Mercurial from the latin mercurious
Mercurial comes from Latin Mercurius, "Mercury," the Roman god of commerce and messenger of the gods.

A reminder of the flexibility or signalling quality.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

USD weakness


EADS announced Q3 "earnings" today, wherein they reported a loss of "only" €776 million, better than the expected €1.15 billion loss. But the insight on currency hedging is instructive; through the first 9 months of the year, EADS saw $11.8 billion worth of hedges mature: th4e average rate was 1.14 EUR/USD. In their stead, EADS has placed fresh hedges totally $15.1 billion, with an average rate of 1.37. That is a material change in competitiveness that is no doubt being mirrored elsewhere in Europe (or at least France); why else would Nicolas Sarkozy warn the US Congress that dollar weakness could lead to "economic war"?
Speaking of the US Congress, the Joint Economic Committee welcomes Ben Bernanke to the dance floor today for testimony on the US economic outlook. We can expect him to be peppered with queries on subprime, housinng, and the banking system, and perhaps also the level of the dollar. Yesterday's barrage of Fed speakers made it pretty clear that they are comfortable with where rates are as things currently stand, though we should probably expect BB to note that the Fed stands ready to act should conditions deteriorate markedly from here.

What's interesting is that several of yesterday's speakers also mentioned the level of the dollar, a topic that has been absent from their comments for the past several years. Could we perhaps be morphing towards a May 2006 scenario, wherein the Fed belatedly realizes that they are suffering from a credibility deficit and decides to "talk tough" to restore the balance, even in the face of crumbling risky asset prices?.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Investment responses to prices

FT's Lex talks about a change in strategy at BT in response to evidence that oil prices will be higher than they had forecast.

If deals and capital spending follow, it would represent a U-turn by BP. It is also understandable why oil majors use cautious long term forecasts. Nonetheless with spot oil prices now almost four times BP’s current planning assumption, it looks likely that Mr Hayward will turn the capex tap on.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Free Exchange on a story that has been circulating.

When Bundchen, 27, signed a contract in August to represent Pantene hair products for Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co., she demanded payment in euros, according to Veja, Brazil's biggest weekly magazine. She'll also get euros for the deal she reached last October with Dolce & Gabbana SpA in Milan to promote the Italian designer's new fragrance, The One, Veja reported. Bundchen earned $33 million in the year through June, Forbes reported in July.

Friday, November 02, 2007


The FT on the problems with the spread between retail and crude oil that cost ExxonMobile in the latest quarter.

Declines within Exxon’s refining and marketing business were no surprise. The entire sector has taken a hit, with third quarter refining earnings generally down by half as compared with a year ago and margins down as much as 90 per cent from May highs. Exxon’s malaise was less severe than most, with refining profits down 30 percent. But the company’s shares slipped 2.7 per cent on concerns over its weak exploration and production volumes. Exxon’s upstream business is generally a strength, but the volatility of its profits there is bound to increase as price-sensitive gasoline becomes a bigger proportion of its production.

Macro Man supplies the picture and an analysis that suggests that the retail price of petrol will soon follow the crude price sharply higher.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Housing and consumption

Willem Buiter looks at the effect of housing on consumption. Amidst it all

Likewise, some current home owners may be planning to ‘trade down’ later in life, for instance when the family home gets replaced by a smaller property when the children leave home, following retirement or following the death of one’s spouse. For them the fundamental value of their endowment exceeds the present discounted value of their current and future planned consumption of housing services. Against that, there are also persons planning to trade up in the housing market.

This is probably a most important point. Given the number of people that seem to regard their property as their pension. There is an implicit belief that there will eventually be a mass trading down. Presumably, this will concertina the gap between family and smaller homes.

The other important point is

The argument for an effect of housing wealth on consumption over and above the pure wealth effect, is that housing wealth is collateralisable. Households-consumers can borrow against the equity in their homes and use this to finance consumption. If they are otherwise liquidity-constrained or credit-constrained, a boost to housing wealth would boost consumption by more than the pure wealth effect.

Buiter plays down this effect. However, outside credit cards, which are notoriously expensive, this is the cheapest and easiest way for the average person to access credit and liquidity. A rise in house prices provides a significant increase in the abililty to borrow, particuarly if, as is usually the case, it corresponds to an increase willingness on the side of financial instutions to offer credit.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mechanism design

Here is Alex Tabarrok on mechanism design.

Evan Davis on the same issue.

Al Roth on Mechanism Design.

Here is another overview which looks at the issue of market failure more generally.

Imperfect Knowledge

John Kay, marvulous as usual, on information and knowledge.

A new book* by Roman Frydman and Michael Goldberg coins the phrase “imperfect knowledge economics” to describe this world of fundamental uncertainty. They use the systematic failure of attempts to analyse exchange rate swings to illustrate the hopelessness of a search for economic explanations that transcend time and place. Frequent discontinuities and transitions in the ways market participants view events mean that economic models, like historical narratives, are context specific. The search for “sharp prediction” – the mantra of the modern scientific economist who seeks to replicate the successes of physics for social science – is doomed to failure.

This seems to be at the heart of exchanges rates. They move to a different tune at different times. The model changes over time. Maybe that is why technical analysis is so prevalent: there is a search for pattern. It suggests that any modelling must try to find the trigger that switches from one model to another.

Interest rates and risk-taking

Vasso P. Ioannidou and others look at the relationship between the level of short term interest rates and the amount of risk that a bank is prepared to take using a natural experiment in Bolivia (where the economy is dollarised and therfore monetary policy is set outside). They find that banks take more risk when interest rates are low: lending standards decline and ex-post default rates rise. However, banks do not charge more for the increased risk.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sharia law and interest

Willem Buiter looks at the creation of financial products that are consistent with Sharia law amidst a more wide-ranging defence of debt.

The explosion of wealth, much of it held in financial form, among oil- and gas-exporting nations, many of which adhere, at least notionally, to fundamentalist-literalist forms of Islam, has led to an explosion of financial engineering aimed at circumventing the Quranic ban on riba. Considerable ingenuity and vast amounts of resources are devoted to the construction of financial products that are economically equivalent to interest-bearing loans or interest-bearing bonds, but theologically equivalent to permissible Islamic risk-sharing instruments. The process of certifying financial products as Sharia-compliant is time-consuming and costly; those with the religious authority to provide the desired certification (typically Islamic scholar-jurists) often don’t understand finance. Financial experts tend not to be well-versed in Sharia law and its application to financial structures. Those with the power of certification can extract significant rents from the issuers and buyers of Sharia-compliant problems.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Banking problems

Willem Buiter gives a great overview of recent problems in the banking industry.

Daniel Gross on the distribution of CDOs.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Changes in China

Michael Pettis on the 17th Chinese National Peoples' Congress
If either of Bo (Xilai - current trade minister) or Zhou (Xiaochuan - Governor of the Peoples' Bank of China) are promoted onto the Standing Committee, I think we may end up seeing smarter and more preemptive activity in dealing with China’s monetary imbalance. If inflation figures for September and October stay above 5% or even accelerate I think we may see an acceleration of RMB appreciation even earlier than expected. This is all speculation, but like a lot of people in China I will be following the NPC rumor mill very closely.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Before the invention of Northern Rock

Tuesday 27 September 1664 (Pepys' Diary):
"Piggot came to see me, and desire my going down to Brampton Court, where for Piggot’s sake, for whom it is necessary, I should go, I would be glad to go, and will, contrary to my purpose, endeavour it, but having now almost 1000l., if not above, in my house, I know not what to do with it, and that will trouble my mind to leave in the house, and I not at home."

This is about £100,000 in today's money according to this site.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Gillian Tett provides a good overview of LIBOR and some of the questions that have been raised recently about its use. Quotes no longer appear firm and the largest banks seek other forms of liquidity. The main quesion is whether this will continue when current conditions stabilise.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Fed Governor Kevin Warsh discusses liquidity and its relationship to confidence.

Northern Rock

The FT looks at the problems that remain at Northern Rock.

The biggest hurdle facing any potential bidder is the cost of Northern Rock’s balance sheet. At the end of June, the bank’s balance sheet stood at £113.5bn, about £80bn of which was funded through the capital markets. Not all of this is due immediately: Northern Rock has almost £46bn tied up in mortgage-backed securities, which should be unaffected by the bank’s travails.

Even so, any institution looking to take over Northern Rock would still have to be highly confident that it could raise more than £30bn in financing in the short term. In the current environment, even some of the world’s largest banks consider this a stretch.

But raising the necessary financing would only be the first step. The cost of borrowing is also crucial. According to analysts at Citigroup, Northern Rock’s assets generate a return of slightly more than 6 per cent. That is less than the current cost of borrowing in the three-month interbank markets. In other words, any institution that took on Northern Rock’s balance sheet and financed it through the short-term money markets would currently be making a loss.

There are further complications. The immediate panic among customers has abated, but savers are likely to remain wary of Northern Rock for some time. This means the deposit base, which has already fallen by £3bn, is likely to shrink further. Northern Rock has also revealed investments in debt securities, including structured investment vehicles and collateralised debt obligations, which will have to be written down.

The Guardian raises some questions by the shareholders for those in charge.

He emphasised the board was "well aware" of its responsibility to its many shareholders, "including tens of thousands of small shareholders", and its largest shareholder, the charitable Northern Rock Foundation, to which it gives 5% of pre-tax profits to support good causes.

However, the bank has yet to explain why it refrained from informing the stock market of a deterioration in its finances in the middle of August. The governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, told the Treasury select committee last week that he was alerted to an impending crisis on August 14.

The shareholder group said it wanted to know why an announcement was delayed until the rescue package was finalised on September 14.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

The group and the individual

NYT looks at the evolution of behaviour that supports group cohesion. Those societies that had strong group ties (either through religion or other norms) probably had better chance of survival than those that did not. However, there is an argument that suggests that indivudlalism now is more condusive to innovation.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The Global Liquidity Blog points to a couple of references to the reintermediation that is expandinng banks' balance sheets. This is helping to encourage the demand for liquidity and could also lead to a desire to increase capital.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bank Run 2

The BBC on the Northern Rock depositors trying to withdraw funds.

"The Chancellor says 'don't panic' but that's what the captain on the Titanic said, and that went down"

Friday, September 07, 2007


Excellent overview by Mark Thoma of the role of SIVs in the current liquidity crisis.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

TIC data

Just a note to remember that the TIC data do not fully represent UK financial flow.

From Brad Setser

Some of the flows from Europe are pretty easy to explain. Most of the UK’s purchases of Treasuries, for example, seem to be bought by institutions that are either acting for the world’s central bank or doing a roaring business buying US treasuries when the US market is open and selling those Treasuries to China (and others) when their markets are open. Every year the survey revises the UK’s holdings of Treasuries down by something like $100b, and revises the holdings of China and others up. Much the same process likely happens with Agencies, though in that market, Russia could be almost as important as China.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The demand for money

The FT looks at the difficulties in the money market as banks hoard cash and scramble for additional liquidity. This puts another perspective on the debate conducted by William Polley about the optimal amount of cash to hold.

The demand for liquidity is not constant and the cost of iliquidity can increase dramatically at times.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Financing the US deficit

The FT reports on the increased appetite for US acquisitions amongst Asian entities. This should help to mitigate the slide in the US unit that Barry Eichengreen talks about today.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Limits to arbitrage

Good to look again at Schliefer and Vishney, The Limits of Arbitrage and Keynes' "Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent",
The context?

Brad DeLong with the coverage of John Meriwether's LTCM call for more money.

More on barriers to bottom fishing from Felix Salmon.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The operation of the UK money market

The FT has a good overview of the operation of the UK money market and its interaction with the central bank amidst a story about a 'misunderstanding' between Barclays and HSBC.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Marshall Plan

Naill Ferguson on Greg Behrman's 'The Most Noble Adventure'.

The total aid package was equivalent to less than three per cent of the recipient countries’ combined national income, and it represented less than a fifth of their gross investment.

To gauge the true importance of the Marshall Plan, it is crucial to get a sense of the amounts involved. Behrman writes, “From June 1947 to its termination at the end of 1951, the Marshall Plan provided approximately $13 billion to finance the recovery . . . of Western Europe.” This was less than half the Europeans’ initial request and four billion dollars less than President Truman’s initial proposal to Congress, but it was still serious money. Behrman computes that, in today’s dollars, “that sum equals roughly $100 billion, and as a comparable share of U.S. Gross National Product it would be in excess of $500 billion.” That’s actually an understatement. In fact, the total amount disbursed under the Marshall Plan was equivalent to roughly 5.4 per cent of U.S. gross national product in the year of Marshall’s speech, or 1.1 per cent spread over the whole period of the program, which, technically, dated from April, 1948, when the Foreign Assistance Act was passed, to June, 1952, when the last payment was made. A Marshall Plan announced today would therefore be worth closer to seven hundred and forty billion dollars. If there had been a Marshall Plan between 2003 and 2007, it would have cost five hundred and fifty billion. By comparison, actual foreign economic aid under the Bush Administration between 2001 and 2006 totalled less than one hundred and fifty billion, an average of less than 0.2 per cent of G.D.P.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Financial Engineering

Brad Stetser with an overview of the comments on financial engineering. This emphasises the uncertainty and the lack of liquidity that is affecting the market. It also highlights the importance of the Fed change to provide confidence that some funds, without access to the discount window, can use banks to push illiquid collateral through to the Fed in exchange for cash.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The discount window

The FT has a story about how the Fed accompanied the cut in the discount rate with a reassurance to financial institutions that, other than the penalty rate, it would not discriminate against institutions that used the window. This certainly seems to be a change from the traditional position that would, it was suggested, mean additional scrutiny of banks that were frequent visitors to the window.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Squeezing the regulatory balloon

Charles Wyplosz has a nice overview on the way that risk has been pushed out of the banking system into other sectors of the financial system. The problem is not so large, particularly in relation to the overall size of the system, but it is not clear where the risk now lies.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The meaning of liquidity

The Lex column today looks at the relative health of the IPO market, with VMware's stock rising strongly on its first day. This suggests that there is money available for firms. There is some "liquidity" in a broad sense, but there is no "liquidity" in the credit markets. The first use of the term is more associated with money and its availability. Central banks that peg their currencies still have funds to park and these will continue to flow. However, the second meaning of the term means that the market is not functioning in certain sectors. The weaker players have to be shaken out before any kind of normality returns. The FT notes today that the commercial paper market is also affected. The situation is similar to the caution and fear that was in the equity market when people were looking for another Enron or Worldcom.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Who are the noise-traders?

John Campbell "who are the noise traders?" Thanks to Mark Thoma

Using the estimated relation between trades of different sizes and institutional ownership, Ramadorai, Schwartz, and I construct daily institutional flows in individual stocks and find that they have several interesting characteristics. Daily institutional trades are highly persistent and respond positively to recent daily returns but negatively to longer-term past daily returns. Institutional trades, particularly sales, generate short-term losses but longer-term profits. One source of these profits is that institutions anticipate both earnings surprises and post-earnings-announcement drift (the tendency for stock prices to continue moving in the same direction after an earnings surprise).

These results suggest that institutional investors do exploit certain well-known patterns in stock returns, but in doing so they trade urgently and move prices against themselves, causing prices to rise temporarily when they buy and, even more noticeably, to fall temporarily when they sell. As prices return to normal a day or two after institutional trading, institutions appear to make losses but in the longer run they earn profits from their abilities to pick stocks.

Be careful what you wish for....(2)

One thing that is often forgotten amongst the discussion of whether the EUR will take the USD role as the world's reserve currency is that the Bundesbank fought for years to prevent the D-mark taking on that role. The concern at the German central bank was that this could force them to draw their attention away from domestic price stability. Indeed, they had a good taste of that with the D-mark's role in the ERM with, notably, Norman Lamont famously haranguing Helmut Schlesinger in Bath for lower rates. In 1998 the Fed cut rates not just for the US economy but also to provide financial stability globally. Today the WSJ makes the point that the ability of the Bank of England to stand back and allow short term interest rates to rise owns something to the pound not being a reserve currency. It may also be related to the way the UK money market has an automatic penalty window that puts a 75bp cap on overnight rates. More on that here and here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Interesting input on Greg Clark's assetion that the industrial revolution is a result genetic rather than institutional change. I particulary like the assertion that the decline in real interest rates is a reflection of a more cautious and less hedonistic nature. Of course, there is a dispute that the higher the interest rate, the more interesting you are!

Brad DeLongtakes it up.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Feeding the demand for AAA credit

Flexi Salmon explains the way that AAA credit is created when there is a scarcity pushing prices up above the cost of putting together the pieces.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Thanks to Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture

"Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent."
— John Maynard Keynes

"The only thing that can console one for being poor is extravagance."
— Oscar Wilde

"It is pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness; poverty and wealth have both failed."
— Kin Hubbard

"The key to making money in stocks is not to get scared out of them."
— Peter Lynch

"If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem."
— JP Getty

"You try to be greedy when others are fearful, and fearful when others are greedy."
— Warren Buffett

"A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing."
— Oscar Wilde

"Do you know the only thing that gives me pleasure? It is to see my dividends coming in."
— John D. Rockefeller

"A gold miner is a liar standing beside a hole in the ground."
— Mark Twain

"There was a time when a fool and his money were soon parted, but now it happens to everybody."
— Adlai Stevenson

"It is generally agreed that casinos should, in the public interest, be inaccessible and expensive. And perhaps the same is true of Stock Exchanges."
— John Maynard Keynes

"The safe way to double your money is to fold it over once and put it in your pocket. "
— Frank Hubbard

"Save a little money each month and at the end of the year you'll be surprised at how little you have."
— Ernest Haskins

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Friday 27 May 1664 (Pepys' Diary):
"This morning my taylor brought me a very tall mayde to be my cook-mayde; she asked 5l., but my wife offered her but 3l. 10s. — whether she will take it or no I know not till to-morrow, but I am afeard she will be over high for us, she having last been a chamber mayde, and holds up her head, as my little girle Su observed"

Friday, July 27, 2007

Reserves and liquidity

Brad Setser identifies one of the links between Asia and energy-producing central bank FX intervention and the supply of funds to financial markets. The BIS (table 5c) show a $53.5bn repayment by central banks of borrowing from private banks. Of course, this opens the way for lending to other institutions, like private equity firms.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Manufacturing or service sector

Inside a much longer item about The quiet rebirth of the manufacturer: Jonathan Guthrie talks about the blurred line between manufacturing and service sector industries.

"In time, the negative connotations of the word “manufacturing” may simply be bypassed because the term itself is obsolete. Rolls-Royce, for example, is these days primarily a service business that happens to make some rather good jet engines. At the other end of the size scale, Powerlase, a West Sussex business I visited on Monday, designs and markets high-tech laser systems. Which, incidentally, it builds itself."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Credit and private equity

Maybe I am wrong already - some evidence here that the Chrysler and Boots deals may be facing indigestion and that banks will be less keen to providing financing deals in the future now that they are less certain about unloading this in some sort of package to others.

The big uncertainty remains Asian and energy-producing central banks. Will then step up to purchase these assets at higher yields?

Credit outlook

Evaporation of liquidity in the CDO market is becoming more evident. The risk now is that this starts to affect the financing of other projects.

Concerns about the credit markets were exacerbated by a JPMorgan report that said sales of collateralised debt obligations – complex debt instruments that have helped fuel the global credit boom – have plummeted from $50.6bn in June. As of July 20, there had been $19.9bn in sales of CDOs, which pool loans and bonds into securities. Since then there have been no new deals. The diminishing demand for CDOs is raising fears that banks will be left with debt that has been used to finance leveraged buy-outs, affecting their appetite for future deals.

It is not clear if this just takes some of the steam out of the private equity market or becomes a more pronounced drying up of credit. Given the flow of finance from central banks in Asia and energy-producing countries, the softer landing still seems the more likely for now.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tony Dye

I finally found something from Motley Fool on Tony Dye.

This is the article that announces his departure from Phillips and Drew. Here, before the benefit of hindsight, we have an idea of the loneliness of standing out from the crowd of "noise-traders".

Mr Dye's supporters say that he will eventually be proved right. In fact, they've been saying it for so long that it has become a bit of a cracked record. In any event, it would require one hell of a crash now to prove him right. Even if that occurred, I bet he wouldn't take the opportunity for a belated entry to the technological band wagon and it would be everyone else's turn to explain how they will end up being right.

There is also an interview with Tony Dye one year later.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Diversity and productivity

From Science
An unexplained combination of diversity and productivity that echoes New York and London and many others.....

This is an important paper because it demonstrates genetic diversity can lead to a marked increase in performance," says entomologist and neuroscientist Gene Robinson of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Previous studies of the impact of diversity on hive function had yielded inconsistent results, he notes, but the new one is the longest and most comprehensive. It's not clear why diverse hives would be more productive, but one theory is that the bees are more sensitive to work-related stimuli and thus more likely to take on various tasks. As for the reported disappearance of honey bees and collapses of hives (Science, 18 May, p. 970), Robinson says that lack of diversity isn't thought to be a cause. The queens in most commercial beekeeping operations are mated with multiple drones.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Core vs headline

John Berry at Bloomberg

In a commentary sent to Citigroup's clients July 13, economist Robert V. DiClemente at Citigroup Global Markets Inc. called the issue of overall or ``headline'' inflation versus core inflation ``a false debate.''

``The Fed's commitment to price stability does not entail choosing one over the other,'' he said. ``History has demonstrated that so-called core measures are a good guide to headline inflation's ultimate path.''

DiClemente noted that from 1984 until 2005, the cumulative increase in core prices was consistently a bit greater than that in overall prices. Then the surge in energy prices tipped the balance the other way.

In the short run, the overall measures are much more volatile. ``Policy that responded to such short-run deviations in overall prices would not only put the economy on a roller coaster, it would risk distorting important relative price signals, possibly undermining economic efficiency and policy's own credibility,'' he said.

The old same story. It is not about the level of prices, it is about the rate of increase in prices; not the cost of living, but the change in the cost of living. There are problems with the traditional core because food and energy have been particularly buoyant recently. However, the subdued nature of the core rate suggests that these increases have not YET fed back into other prices. The timmed-mean core measure is probably better
More here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rumours in the insurance market

Tuesday 19 April 1664 (Pepys' Diary):
"‘Change full of news from Guinny, some say the Dutch have sunk our ships and taken our fort, and others say we have done the same to them. But I find by our merchants that something is done, but is yet a secret among them."

Friday, July 13, 2007

From CDOs to CDS

The problems in the CDO market are now having an impact on the cost of insuring against default. The FT reports that the financial institutions with a number of different links to the CDO market have been hardest hit.

Along with other areas of the CDS markets, these groups recovered some ground on Thursday, but BoA for instance was still trading at a spread of about 20 basis points – which means it costs $20,000 annually to insure $10m worth of its debt over five years. This is up by about one-third since the start of the week.

BoA has direct lending home owners, a business in packaging CDOs and holdings of CDO products. Other financial institutions have less exposure.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Credit tightening

A couple of stories in the FT point towards some tightening in the credit market. The first looks at a general tightening of credit condition while the second concentrates on the Spanish market. The spread of this caution could cause a moderation in business activity in the coming months. However, with abundant global liquidity this is not likley to be sufficient to affect the whole economy. More important will probably be the reaction of consumer spending in developed countries to the increase in domestic interest rtaes that is taking place.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Who holds CDOs?

The FT has a report on Citibank information on the owners of CDOs.

Similarly, I guessed that those buying the so-called “equity” tranches (which are wiped out first if the value of the underlying assets falls) would be hedge funds or investment banks.

Not so. Measured on a global basis, Citigroup’s data suggests that its hedge fund clients hold about 50 per cent of their CDO exposure in equity tranches. But, asset managers who are not classic hedge funds have more than 40 per cent of their CDO exposure in equity tranches too.

Indeed, these asset managers hold less than 20 per cent of their CDO exposure in the form of AAA-rated, senior tranches. And – most striking of all – that proportion of senior debt is actually lower than at hedge funds, insurance companies or banks. (Banks have a whopping 60 per cent of their CDO exposure in senior tranches, although this pattern varies sharply across regions.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The law of one price Arbitraging Chinese stocks:
"Can anyone exploit the $75bn arbitrage opportunity? Companies can. They could raise equity in Shanghai and use the proceeds to repurchase Hong Kong shares at a premium to their market price. Whether state-controlled companies are prepared to exploit so openly the appetite of mainlanders to overpay for equity is doubtful. But they are beginning to do something fairly similar by raising money in Shanghai to buy real assets, to which Hong Kong shareholders will have a pro-rata claim. PetroChina has just said it will raise $6bn. Others without Shanghai listings like CNOOC and China Mobile should pile in too. They will help prick a bubble and raise dirt cheap capital, which should keep the state and foreign investors happy respectively. Pity, though, China’s punters."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Road rage

Pepys Diary 1 February 1663/64

Here I hear how two men last night, justling for the wall about the New Exchange, did kill one another, each thrusting the other through; one of them of the King’s Chappell, one Cave, and the other a retayner of my Lord Generall Middleton’s.

There was an advantage to be next to the wall, out of the shit in the road and a little less exposed to chamber pots from the upper levels.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The song remains the same....

From the diary of Samuel Pepys Friday 11 December 1663.

"I to the Coffeehouse and there among others had good discourse with an Iron Merchant, who tells me the great evil of discouraging our natural manufacture of England in that commodity by suffering the Swede to bring in three times more than ever they did and our owne Ironworks be lost, as almost half of them, he says, are already."

Thanks Phil

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dark Liquidity

Changes to the buyers of fiancial products are encourging changes to market itself. The rise of hedge funds, algorithermic trading and the increase size of some traditional funds are putting pressure on exchanges to lower costs and reduce market impact. "Consolidation among fund management groups, for example, is giving the buyside pricing power it once did not have. Moreover, the rise of hedge funds and the advent of so-called algorithmic trading is altering the buy-side landscape. As demands from their own customers change, the banks must change with them."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cutomer focus pays

Thanks to The Big Picture for the paper showing that firms with the highest customer satisfaction also out-perform the market.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The buck stops....

People keep wondering where the risk lies with the packaging and passing of credit risk. this article in the FT points to Credit Derivative Product Companies (CDPC) as being anxious to get hold of the risk.

This nascent industry is still very small, with only four groups in operation. But this year could see a raft of new CDPCs hit the market, all hoping to take a slice of this credit derivatives business and make more of it than banks can.

More than a dozen hopeful firms are in the works, backed by a mixture of private equity, hedge fund and investment bank sponsors.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Inflation index

Mixing up a chagne in relative prices with inflation.

Wolfgang Munchau:
"The problem was that the official inflation index no longer reflected many people’s personal shopping basket. The index basket is full of manufactured goods largely produced in Asia, while we spend most of our money on services, such as childcare, education, healthcare, transportation, travel and gastronomy."

Monday, May 07, 2007

Insider trading

Some information on the latest activity in the options market compared to the norm.
Paul Kedrosky provides the link.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Nature or nurture

The purpose of the status system is to enable children to compete successfully with their peers. In order to do this, they must acquire self-knowledge. Children have to discover how they compare with other children along a variety of dimensions. Am I tall or short, strong or weak, pretty or plain, smart or dull? Without answers to these questions, they would have no way of deciding whether to try to dominate others or yield without a fight, to make suggestions or follow the suggestions of others, to turn down potential mates in hopes of doing better or take whatever comes along. Based on their understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, of the options offered by their environment, and of the particular set of other children with whom they must compete, children work out their own individual strategy of behaviour. "I'm not good in maths," James (the boy whose mother is a poor disciplinarian) admits. But he's popular with his peers. Every child has to find out what he is good at and place his bets on the things that are most likely to pay off. Even identical twins will find different niches to occupy.

Prospect Magazine with a fascinating look at nature vs nurture.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


There is a good overview of the PFI at the FT today.

The item calls overall for an assessment of the costs and benefits. The costs are clearly associated with the increased cost of borrowing and the fact that some projects are miscalculated so that the private sector makes huge profits. The benefits seem to come from the increased chance that projects will be completed on time and the transfer of risk to the private sector.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Increase in global labour supply

Martin Wolf: "First, by simply weighing each country’s labour force by the share of exports in total GDP, the authors conclude that the effective global labour supply quadrupled between 1980 and 2005, with half of the increase coming from east Asia. "

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Behavioural finance

Why the Human Brain Is a Poor Judge of Risk -:
"And it's not just risks. People are not computers. We don't evaluate security trade-offs mathematically, by examining the relative probabilities of different events. Instead, we have shortcuts, rules of thumb, stereotypes and biases -- generally known as 'heuristics.' These heuristics affect how we think about risks, how we evaluate the probability of future events, how we consider costs, and how we make trade-offs. We have ways of generating close-to-optimal answers quickly with limited cognitive capabilities. Don Norman's wonderful essay, Being Analog, provides a great background for all this."

ABX.HE index

Cleveland Fed on the ABX.HE index:
"This is the ABX.HE index, which is based on credit default swaps on different tranches of subprime mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Admittedly, unless you’re a financial markets junky it’s not at all clear what this index is saying, other than something called BBB is moving a lot more than the stuff called AAA. Let’s try to deconstruct what’s going on, keeping in mind that this is most definitely not investment advice. "

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Economist's view links to a story from the NY Times that looks at how debt has been stigmatised over time. It highlights a cycle of financial innovation, missuse and regulation that is apparent in the US mortgage market. The article suggests that the end result is that people are better off.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sarkozy and the EUR

From Simon Derrick

French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy says: "Competition is such with globalisation that we don't need to fight inflation like we fought inflation 30 years ago. I want the Europeans to be able to do with the EUR what the Americans do with the USD, the Japanese with the JPY and the Chinese with the CNY (i.e. use their powers to influence exchange rates). It's the very least." He adds: "We are depriving ourselves of an instrument to create growth, provide jobs, for purely ideological reasons. Well, the EUR doesn't belong to Trichet ... and I'm not the only one in Europe who thinks so."

Should make ECB job more difficult if EUR appreciates and core inflation rises to 2.0%.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Credit marke still in operation.

Freeport prices $6bn bond:
"The US debt markets absorbed the biggest junk bond deal for 18 years on Wednesday in spite of concerns about losses in the subprime mortgage market that have diminished investor appetite for risky debt.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold priced a $6bn deal to fund its acquisition of Phelps Dodge, a deal that will create the world’s largest publicly traded copper company. "

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

on the inevitable slowdown in the Residential Mortgage Backed Securities market. Of interest is the estimate of the effect on investment bank revenues. It does not actually seem that much.

"Brad Hintz, analyst at Sanford Bernstein, estimates that as investor appetite for CDOs grew, the RMBS business of major Wall Street firms ballooned to 15 per cent of total fixed income revenues. Subprime and Alt-A mortgages accounted for 25 per cent of RMBS total, he said."

Credit Derivatives and Bank Credit Supply--Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Credit Derivatives and Bank Credit Supply--Federal Reserve Bank of New York:
"We find evidence suggesting that greater use of credit derivatives is associated with greater supply of bank credit for large term loans—that is, newly negotiated loan extensions to large corporate borrowers—though not for (previously negotiated) commitment lending."

Credit Derivatives and Bank Credit Supply--Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Credit Derivatives and Bank Credit Supply--Federal Reserve Bank of New York:
"We find evidence suggesting that greater use of credit derivatives is associated with greater supply of bank credit for large term loans—that is, newly negotiated loan extensions to large corporate borrowers—though not for (previously negotiated) commitment lending."

Friday, March 02, 2007

The euro area repo market

The growth in the euro area repo market. Rising interest rates and the new BIS rules have allowed the market to develop. :
"Repo traders also say that the rising interest rates in Europe over the past year have created more business because there is increasing scope to make money on the interest rate spread between European overnight banking rates and the repo rates set on the various securities used as collateral."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Who pays?
looks at Citigroup data that suggests that hedge funds were selling higher yielding assets while pension funds were moving into this asset.

"Instead, the list of those nursing bruises may well turn out to include bank prop desks and pension funds. Not to mention those real money clients of Citigroup who had the bad judgment (or luck) to raise their positions in European credit last month."

Trough of creativity

As a counterwight to the stories about peak oil or peak energy, we get some insight into the potental innvoations that arise if energy become scarce and more expensive.

Thanks again to Paul Kedrosky with this story about the increased attempt to capture wasted energy.

Chinese Reserve Policy

From Simon Derrick, overview of the changes that may take place in China. There is continued pressure for diversification. However, if we move beyond asset classes, it remaisn difficult to remove questions of currency diversification from those of exchange rate peg.

The Bank of New York - Global Markets Website:
"The latest leaks out of Beijing suggest that the next step towards the formation of a new agency to manage the “surplus” portion of China is likely to be taken in the next few weeks. Market News International reported just over a week ago that next months meeting of the National People’s Congress (the nation’s top legislative body), is likely to approve plans to establish a new agency to help manage the reserves. This agency, under the control of the Ministry of Finance (and, reportedly, to be headed by Vice Minister Lou Jiwei), would be in be in charge of purchasing high-yield assets both at home and abroad including resources for China's economic growth and would report directly to the cabinet. A report in the Southern Weekly newspaper indicated that this “State Foreign Exchange Investment Corp” would manage in excess of USD 200 Bn and that the money could be spent on a wide array of domestic and international assets, from oil and gas to financial assets and entire companies. Another USD 100 Bn from the reserves would, reportedly, be allocated to Central Huijin (a division of SAFE).

The report today from Reuters (citing “sources close to the State Council”) that Vice Finance Minister Lou Jiwei is likely to replace Hu Xiaolian as chairman of Central SAFE Investment Ltd., suggests that this plan is well under way. With the report indicating that the cabinet has agreed in principal to the appointment of Lou as head of the new agency it seems the stage is set for announcement after the end of the congress. It also strongly suggests that the bureaucratic wrangling that reportedly had been taking place between the MOF and "


The FT:
gives an overview of the BIDS system that will facilitate off exchange transactions. The technical problems that affected the NYSE on Tuesday can only add to the pressure to find alternatives.

"Earlier this week, the New York Stock Exchange introduced curbs on trading designed to ensure that the trading of large blocks of shares by specialist traders did not exacerbate market falls.
The BIDS system will offer users an efficient electronic trading platform to anonymously execute block trades and is expected to launch in spring.
“This level of industry support prior to our launch validates our model and helps build tremendous momentum in advance of the launch of the system,” said Mr Mahoney.
The system will be accessible to both buy-side and sell-side users that want to trade large blocks through continuous order matching and trade negotiation.
The company said the use of the BIDS system as a block trading service will not be exclusive or subject to volume commitment and each participant could continue to use any other automated trading system, electronic communication network or exchange service that supports the trading needs of its customer base."

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


An overview of the pressure in the MTS market. This highlights the way that the European bond market is much more fragmented that the US version. This makes it less liquid. A Finnish government bond is not the same as a German government bond. However, MTS forces investment banks to treat them in a way that is more similar than would be the case if market forces prevailed.
Hedge funds seek access to eurozone bonds:
"Supporters of MTS say that these practices are needed to ensure there is plenty of liquidity in the eurozone’s fragmented government bond market. The rules are popular among smaller eurozone members.

However, critics say the rules have created a quasi-cartel, which has raised the cost of bond dealing and looks increasingly anachronistic given the growing use of electronic trading. "

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Diversified genes

Marginal Revolution: Beautiful People are Mean
Nothing to do with finance, but astonishing. This suggests that we appreciate that which is an amalgamation from many. We want diversified genes!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Instrumental variables

Social Science Statistics Blog: The "Imperial Grip" of Instrumental Variables: "Consider the two papers desribed in the Economist article. The first attempts to estimate the effect of colonialism on current economic outcomes. The authors propose wind speed and direction as an instrument for colonization, arguing (plausibly) that Europeans were more likely to colonize an island if they were more likely to encounter it while sailing. So far so good. Then they argue that, while colonization in the past has an effect on economic outcomes in the present, being situated in a location favorable for sailing in the past (i.e., before steam-powered ships) does not. Is this really plausible? The authors think so, I don't, and it isn't obvious that there is a way to resolve the matter."

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Excellent from Chris Dillow on the hierarchy in firms.

Here's some great empirical evidence for all this. Bart Hobijn and Boyan Jovanovic estimate (pdf) that the stock market value of US firms that existed in 1972 fell relative to GDP in the three subsequent decades. And yet the value of the overall market more than doubled relative to GDP. This means that more than all the rise in the value of shares relative to GDP came from new firms. Growth - as perceived by investors - therefore comes from new firms much more than incumbent ones.
This suggests that old hierarchic firms don't grow quickly. Rather than being a source of innovation, big hierarchical firms exist to exploit innovations that have occurred outside the firm, as this paper (pdf) shows.
Now, I'm not saying here that co-operatives would be a better source of innovations; as workers want to cling onto their jobs, labour-saving innovation would be less. All I'm saying is that whatever the benefits of hierarchies are, they don't include an ability to innovate. It's markets that give us innovations, not hierarchies.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mifid and Dark Pools
"This trend toward dark pools and crossing networks is providing a lucrative source of revenues for investment banks and it is likely to accelerate, particulaly as the introduction of the Market in Financial Instruments Directive this year in Europe is likely to expand the use of private networks there."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Repo market for beginners

The FT on Barclays and the 2015 Bund.

The price of the 2015 Bund has moved sharply in the past week, suggesting that the bank could stand to make large profits in the repurchase or repo market, where securities such as bonds are lent in exchange for cash.

A lower interest rate on the cash side of the transaction indicates greater repo demand to borrow a bond. The 2015 Bund has been attracting a cash interest rate of about 1 per cent in the overnight repo market this week, down from about 3.5 per cent last week and well below the 3.5 per cent average overnight repo rate in Europe, set in line with the European Central Bank’s main interest rate.

Such a low repo rate for a Bund is rare. A bank able to lend the bond receives cash at below-market interest rates, which can then be deployed at a profit.

Trading volumes for last Friday and Monday rose to €3.4bn on BrokerTec, the electronic platform on which repo trading is conducted, suggesting that millions of euros could be made this way.

There is more detailed look at the repo market here.

Do Analysts Herd?

Do Analysts Herd? :

One to read.

"This paper develops and implements a new test to investigate whether sell-side analysts herd around the consensus when they make stock recommendations. Our empirical results support the herding hypothesis. Stock price reactions following recommendation revisions are stronger when the new recommendation is away from the consensus than when it is closer to it, indicating that the market recognizes analysts' tendency to herd. We find that analysts from larger brokerages and analysts following stocks with smaller dispersion across recommendations are more likely to herd."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Backwardation for beginners.

"Such was the scale of investment flows that the structure of the commodity markets changed. Traditionally, futures prices were lower than spot, or current, prices; a state known as “backwardation”. This allowed investors to buy the future and wait for its price to rise to the spot level. This gain, known as the “roll yield”, was an important part of commodity returns."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

EMH and noise

Tim Harford uses the queue analogy again to good effect to look at the EMH and noise trading.

In fact real people make systematic mistakes, not just random ones. That might ruin things in the supermarket, but not in the stock market. In the supermarket a group of elite queue “arbitrageurs”, trying to exploit different queue lengths, could not equalise queues when faced with hordes of ignorant shoppers who irrationally favoured aisles three and four.

In the stock market, when smart investors can take advantage of other people’s stupidity (for instance by buying cheap shares in December and offloading them in January) then these smart investors get richer and more influential. The irrational investors may be numerous but they will also be impoverished and inconsequential.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Currency dilemma

Lex - Managing Asian currencies on the dilemma that is facing many of the Asian exporting countries and their commodity cousins. With free capital flow, it is hard to manage exchange rates and domestic liquidity.

"More likely, countries such as Thailand and South Korea are more worried about excessive domestic liquidity, leading to credit growth, inflation and rising asset prices. Economists judge that it is impossible to manage both domestic liquidity and exchange rates, while having an open capital account – one of the three has to give. Thailand’s capital controls, therefore, might offer a workable solution to managing the currency. This makes Tuesday’s rate cut surprising, as it will certainly spur domestic demand"

Friday, January 12, 2007

How Does Management Affect Capabilities? « Organizations and Markets

Professor Postrel

How Does Management Affect Capabilities? « Organizations and Markets: "Our first insight was that it would be almost impossible to track which specific pieces of knowledge were used to accomplish which task. Think of the endless set of commonsense facts we take for granted (e.g. “users prefer fewer keystrokes” or “big pills are harder to swallow”) that bear on successful product development. Think of all the technical principles and intuitions, and the meta-principles and pattern recognition that tell us when to apply each one. If we could codify all that, we would also be able to solve the artificial intelligence problem, which seemed a bit ambitious.
Our second insight was that we could circumvent this difficulty by looking at what happens when trans-specialist understanding is missing. It turns out that the main reason why upstream specialist A needs to know something about downstream specialty B is to avoid taking actions in the A domain that screw up B’s problem solving. Classic examples are a designer releasing a design that can’t be manufactured at a profit, a marketer issuing product requirements that can’t be met, or a programmer releasing software that doesn’t work in the user’s actual environment. When one of these incidents occurs (we called them “glitches” in our 1999 Strategic Management Journal paper), the missing knowledge is a finite and specifiable thing which can often be pinpointed by parties on both sides of the interaction. Glitches are discrete events which are usually memorable and consequential; they can potentially be observed with careful interviewing and/or archival research."

US and Japanese savings

"But retail investors such as the baby-boomers are a largely untapped source of funds for the Tokyo market, mainly because they have been happy to keep so much of their savings in the bank. In this respect, they are practically the mirror image of Americans: while the Japanese kept 51 per cent of household financial assets in bank accounts last year, compared with 17 per cent in stocks and other investments, US investors held 52 per cent in stocks and left just 13 per cent in the bank."

Could this be part of the explanation for the low level of US savings?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The long tail in film

From The New Yorker:

Amidst a wonderful look at the film industry and the future of film, there is another glance at the way that business can profit from those towards the end of the tail.

"Ads produce a general awareness of a film, but they don’t necessarily persuade people to go see it. “You don’t need eighty per cent of the entire public to know about your movie,” Rice said. “You need one hundred per cent of those whom the movie is for. If we can reach that audience, we can do this kind of filmmaking profitably.”"

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Dismal Science

Just to keep a record.
The Economist:

"ECONOMICS is “not a ‘gay science’,” wrote Thomas Carlyle in 1849. No, it is “a dreary, desolate, and indeed quite abject and distressing one; what we might call, by way of eminence, the dismal science.”"

Carlyle was arguing against the liberal idea that slaves should be free to sell their labour in the market like everyone else.

Friday, January 05, 2007


The Economist looks at the general myopia that runs through fund mangement, through public and private companies.
"This is good news for stockmarkets in the short term, in that profits may remain high—or at least will not be undermined by the folly of executives. But the bad news is that underinvestment will weaken companies' long-term health. The conglomerates behind the takeover booms of the 1970s and the 1980s resembled today's private-equity groups. They aimed to use their financial expertise to improve returns across a range of industries. But they tended to run subsidiaries to maximise cashflow, and the businesses slowly deteriorated, like a poorly maintained house. Today's skinflints may do the same."