Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rising cost of borrowing

The FT looks at the way that the disruption to bank funding costs is increasing the cost of borrowing for large firms.

“The lenders invoked the market disruption clause,” said Edmund Ding, Hon Hai spokesman. “This happened because global interbank lending rates spiked following Lehman’s breakdown just as our loans were being rolled over.” Mr Ding said the uncertainties were likely to force companies to adjust the way they borrow.

Most loan financings carry a “market disruption clause”, which allows lenders to switch the rate at which they lend to a company from a Libor-based price to a level that represents their true cost of funds. Depending on the deal, it requires the approval of at least a third of the syndicate and also requires banks to disclose what they believe their own cost of funding to be – something they have hitherto been reluctant to do.

A potential headache for banks is that many such facilities will have been agreed before the recent worsening in credit conditions at a fixed rate over Libor – a rate that may now be lower than a bank’s all-in cost of funding that facility. Before triggering such clauses banks have to weigh the risk of upsetting clients that may take business elsewhere.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Buffett on leverage

William Buffett on de-deverage (ht Paul Kedrosky).

What you have, Joe {Kernen], you have all the major institutions in the world trying to deleverage. And we want them to deleverage, but they're trying to deleverage at the same time. Well, if huge institutions are trying to deleverage, you need someone in the world that's willing to leverage up. And there's no one that can leverage up except the United States government. And what they're talking about is leveraging up to the tune of 700 billion, to in effect, offset the deleveraging that's going on through all the financial institutions. And I might add, if they do it right, and I think they will do it reasonably right, they won't do it perfectly right, I think they'll make a lot of money.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


The availability heuristic, giving undue weight to evidence that is easily available, makes it more likely that people focus on what has happened recently. This can be added to the technical things like 'noise trader risk' to explain some of the short term bubble creation.

Peter McCluskey

People who carefully looked for and evaluated as much relevant evidence as they could saw some chance of the current panic happening, regardless of whether they used intuition or fancy statistical models. Some of them warned of the risk. But it was hard for most people to worry about warnings that had been consistently wrong under all the conditions that were fresh in their minds.

Resisting peer pressure isn't pleasant. The banker who insisted on a 20% down payment for all mortgages got less business during the bubble and was seen by his colleagues as a burden on the bank and an obstacle to helping customers. The regulator who insisted on a 20% down payment for all mortgages was seen as denying the poor the good investments that were available to the rest of the country, and as an obstacle to home ownership (sometimes better described as home borrowing)(governments think home ownership ought to be encouraged, in spite of (or because of?) its tendency to increase unemployment).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Credit crunch

John Jansen highlights the increase in the cost of borrowing for Caterpillar.

In early August Caterpillar brought a 5 year bond to market, the 4.90 of August 2013. That bond priced 175 basis points cheap to the benchmark 5 year Treasury note. With the turmoil in the credit markets the last several weeks, the issue has widened on spread and this morning it was quoted 225/ 210.

The talk on the new issue is T + 325 basis points. That is fully 100 basis points cheap to the outstanding issue and 150 basis points above where the same maturity was priced six weeks ago.

This is very disturbing because Caterpillar is an industrial company, unsullied by association with the credit crunch. If it takes that much concession to sell a solid stable industrial, what might the outcome be when a large financial seeks to tap the market.

This does suggest some ugly contraction to come.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Risk-adjusted returns

The FT
The message delivered to shocked Lehman Brothers staff on Monday was simple and direct. “It’s over,” announced Christian Meissner to a morning staff gathering just a week after being appointed to run Lehman’s Europe business. He told the staff to look for new work and “move on”. In Lehman’s offices around the globe, staff had little choice but to follow suit as they came to terms with the collapse of the 158-year-old institution, leaving workplaces with belongings hastily collected and their savings depleted. The mantra of Lehman Brothers was to pay its staff in stock – some 30% of the bank’s equity was held by employees and many bonuses were paid in shares. Now those holdings are all but worthless. Some staff were also told not to expect this month’s paycheck and that they might even be liable for expenses on their corporate credit cards. Others said they had been banned from sending emails and that BlackBerrys and mobile phones no longer worked. Some of Lehman’s senior bankers are expected to set up independent advisory boutiques in the near future.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Willem Buiter looks at the endgame in the banking system.
[i] The OIS rate is the fixed leg of a swap whose variable counterpart is the daily compounded return of some safe or secured benchmark rate on overnight transactions. Typically, the overnight benchmark is the weighted average of the central bank rate. In the US this would be the Federal Funds Effective rate. In the UK it is SONIA, in the euro area EONIA. Libor is the benchmark rate supposed to representative of the interest rates at which banks offer to lend unsecured funds to each other in the London wholesale money market (or interbank market).

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Income elasticity of demand

The slowdown is having some impact on the demand for organic produce. The FT notes that households are trading down.
According to TNS sales data, sales of organic fruit and vegetables increased just 2 per cent in the year to August - a dramatic slowdown from the double-digit increases previously enjoyed. Sales of organic eggs have declined every month this year and now account for 4.7 per cent of the market, against 7.4 per cent at its peak.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Exchange rate forecasing

Jian Wang at Voxeu looks at the asset-price approach to exchange rate forecasting. This essentially says that exchange rates are based on forecasts of future fundamentals. Present fundamentals have a minor role. Future fundamentals are unknown. Therefore, they may not be any use in forecasting, but they would allow for some relationship between fundamentals and exchange rates.

This can also be related to the idea that portfolio flows respond to future fundamentals.

Engel and West (2005) argue that the exchange rate disconnect is consistent with exchange rates being determined by fundamental variables. They show that existing exchange rate models can be written in a present-value asset-pricing format. In these models, exchange rates are determined not only by current fundamentals but also by expectations of what the fundamentals will be in the future. Current fundamentals receive very little weight in determining the exchange rate. Not surprisingly, they aren’t useful in forecasting.

Under the Engel-West explanation, judging exchange rate models by their ability to forecast is too harsh a standard: If exchange rates are determined by fundamentals in the same way as other asset prices, current fundamentals can’t forecast exchange rates better than a random walk, even if the asset-pricing model correctly captures the relation between economic fundamentals and exchange rates. In this case, fundamental-based models are still appropriate for economic analysis, such as exchange rate and trade policy analysis – they are just useless in forecasting.

How do we know the asset-pricing model is applicable? Are there other ways to test fundamental-based exchange rate models if beating the random walk in forecasting exchange rates is too harsh? While the asset-pricing approach doesn’t allow us to predict short-term exchange rates, it does lead to an interesting implication. If the exchange rate is determined by expected future fundamentals, today’s currency values should contain information about tomorrow’s fundamentals.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fund strategy

One of ideas of corporate strategy is to position the firm and make sure all the components of the business are pushing in the same direction. A simplified version of this says that the firm should seek high price and high value or low price and relatively low value.

The FT look at research from Morgan Stanley that suggests that the asset management business is becoming increasingly polarised into tracker funds and hedge funds.

So it’s “cheap or spicy” - and the main driver continues to be performance versus cost.

Huw van Steenis and his team at Morgan Stanley this week published an 80 page update on the European asset management industry, noting the continuing deterioration in the outlook for traditional managers and at the same time an accelerating rationalisation of alternative managers as winners and losers in the hedge space diverge.

The top 100 hedge funds now represent 69 per cent of total hedge fund assets, up from 56 per cent in 2006, according to Mr van Steenis. The analyst sees “massive” rotation between winners and losers in the sector after the years of plenty.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The evolution of European exchanges

The FT has an excellent overview of the competition for market share in the European equity arena. New regulations and a shift in the business plan are creating opportunities.

Estelle Cantillon and Pai-Ling Yin look at the migration of the bund future from LIFFE to the DTB and assess the risk of new financial tipping points.