Back to school

Alasdair Macleod – 8 September

The school holidays are over, and parents are returning to work – if they have any. In the finance industry, this means taking life seriously again, and giving proper consideration to the issues of the day. For those fortunate enough to have been able to switch off totally, there is little that is new but much has been put on hold. Here is a short list of topics to consider:

  1. In Euroland, the Greeks have still not come up with details of how much government debt as been concealed through swap deals, having lied about them to Eurostat (the EU’s statistics agency). The spread over German bunds for Greek government debt is back at record levels. Time is catching up with debt roll-overs for all the PIIGS, with record government debt issuance due in September. This raises the possibility of bond market dislocation unless there is a helping hand from the ECB. Ireland is being stretched by continuing bail-out demands from its banks, notably Anglo-Irish Bank which is asking for a further €25bn injection.
  2. Leading indicators for the US economy are deteriorating again, with the Weekly Leading Index negative for the last three months and beginning to deteriorate further. Problems in the housing market are increasing, with $750bn HELOCs (Home Equity Lines of Credit) more or less worthless. Expect revised estimates for budget deficits in the coming weeks as America approaches the end of its fiscal year. They will be grim, with some economists revising their expectations to over $2 trillion. We will see if this pops the Treasury bubble.
  3. In the UK the coalition is still trying to work out where and what government expenditure to cut. Vince Cable floated the idea of cutting funding for non-essential scientific research, and as a born-again capitalist was not convincing. If this is all they can do, the cuts are unlikely to be as meaningful as touted, and will be swamped by the economic downturn. The gilt market is wildly over-valued and is an accident waiting to happen.
  4. Gold and silver are chipping away at new highs – hardly an endorsement of official confidence. The number of US financial stocks hitting new lows is at a 52 week record, and the number of gold stocks hitting new highs is at 52 week highs.
  5. An increasing number of commentators are becoming aware of difficulties ahead, including economists of all stripes. The balance of opinion is that deflation is a greater risk than it was three months ago, and that the central banks must print money to stop it.
  6. BASEL III, which will lay down revised rules for banks’ balance sheets, is due to report on or about 12 September. These will further encourage banks to lend to governments at the expense of the private sector. This is because no haircut will be required on valuations of government debt, and the haircut for government sponsored entities will be a preferred rate of 15%. As well as discriminating against the private sector, this amounts to a huge subsidy for Fannie and Freddie, encouraging banks to take on more of this toxic debt and ensuring that the government guarantees for them cannot be removed without precipitating a banking crisis.

It looks like we have a rough autumn ahead.

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Alasdair started his career as a stockbroker in 1970 on the London Stock Exchange. In those days, trainees learned everything: from making the tea, to corporate finance, to evaluating and dealing in equities and bonds. They learned rapidly through experience about things as diverse as mining shares and general economics. It was excellent training, and within nine years Alasdair had risen to become senior partner of his firm. Subsequently, Alasdair held positions at director level in investment management, and worked as a mutual fund manager. He also worked at a bank in Guernsey as an executive director. For most of his 40 years in the finance industry, Alasdair has been de-mystifying macro-economic events for his investing clients. The accumulation of this experience has convinced him that unsound monetary policies are the most destructive weapon governments use against the common man. Accordingly, his mission is to educate and inform the public in layman’s terms what governments do with money and how to protect themselves from the consequences.

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