Thursday, October 6, 2022

"The Moral Hazard Society"

"The Moral Hazard Society"
by The ZMan

"For the last couple of weeks, there have been whispers that some large banks may be in trouble due to the rising dollar. The strength of the dollar is due, in part, to the Federal Reserve’s effort to fight inflation. It is also due to the decline in both the Euro and the British pound. Economic conditions in Europe are deteriorating quickly because of poor management at every level. The relative strength of a currency is the relative strength of the managerial elite that issues it.

Recently, the gossip has turned to Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank, both of which have seen their share prices collapse. The former has lost about 60% since the start of the year and the latter is down around 50% off its recent high. Credit Suisse could be at risk of imminent collapse, due to its deteriorating credit condition. Banks need credit to function and right now, no one is excited about extending credit to a bank whose CEO is telling employees that the bank is not about to fail.

Some are calling the Credit Suisse crisis the Lehman moment. This refers to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, which triggered the financial crisis. Banks are dependent upon one another, so if one fails, it can set off a chain reaction where the next weak bank fails, then the next weakest bank. Get enough banks unable to make payments to other banks and the whole system crashes. This is why everyone is worried about the banks all of a sudden.

It is also why the market boomed on Monday. The stock market is wholly dependent on central bank policy now. Loose policy means lots of money creation in the banking system, which means lots of money flowing into markets. Tight central bank policy means the money gets fussy about where it flows. It can even sit on the sidelines and wait until things appear more stable. The robots are betting that Jerome Powell blinks and ends his tightening to save the banks.

This is similar to what recently happened with the Bank of England. All of a sudden, there was no market for the long dated British bonds. This is why the British pound declined in value. This in turn created a crisis for British pension funds, as their collateral started to evaporate. The BoE had to step in and buy long dated bonds to guarantee their price and save the pension funds. As a result, the gilt and pound have stabilized over the last few days.

The weirdness of this age is right there in that action by the BoE. On the one hand, they are trying to fight inflation by reducing the money supply. They do this by raising interest rates, which reduces bank activity. This slows the creation of money, thus reducing the supply of money relative to demand. As relative demand increases, the relative value increases, which is what brings down inflation. In reality, it means a recession, which does the hard work of cratering demand.

Where we are now with the BoE, and probably the Federal Reserve, is that the bank is trying to reduce the amount of money in the system relative to demand. At the same time, they are trying to increase the money in the banking system in order to prevent the banks from running out of cash. Put another way, we may be in a situation where central banks are injecting and withdrawing money at the same time, which is one of those things that is supposed to be impossible.

The current crisis is due to the choices facing central banks. They can provide liquidity to the system or they can fight inflation. If they raise rates to fight inflation, major players who got sloppy with interest rate swaps, for example, are suddenly facing an extinction event, which threatens the whole system. On the other hand, if they protect the system by leaving rates alone, they face the political fury of governments contending with double digit inflation and energy shortages.

There is a bigger issue. The energy problems, the supply chain disruptions, inflation and the fragile credit markets are due to political incompetnace. Over the last three years, Western governments, led by Washington, have found every bad decision possible and then made it with furious enthusiasm. People cannot be blamed for thinking it is deliberate, because that is the best answer. The odds of rulers being this dumb this often strikes most people as impossible.

This is a time when Occam’s razor does not apply. They are this dumb. Liz Truss came to power promising to give rich people free money to boost the economy. This was a moronic plan that nearly blew up the economy in her first weeks. Truss is a simpleton who has no business in politics, so she thought it was a grand idea. She is in office because her predecessor was a bloated party boy who saw Churchill whenever he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

Go back through British PM’s and it is one buffoon after another. This mirrors what has been happening in America. Joe Biden is in the late stages of dementia and he will be on the ticket for 2024. His predecessor was a carny act. The guy before that was a formless nobody who was willing to act the role created for him. The guy before that was a simpleton controlled by his father’s friends. You can do this in every Western country going back decades. They are as dumb as they act.

The crisis of competence in the managerial elite is not the root cause. The real first mover is the moral hazard economy. Going back to the 1970’s, the Western political system has come to rely on a handful of clever bankers to save the political class from their own idiocy. Starting with Paul Volcker, central banks have been the mother hen of political economy, always right there to kiss the boo-boo of the politicians or the pirates in the financial system when they stepped on a rake.

This safety net under the political economy of the West has warped the selection pressure on the people in the system. In a world of no real risk, feckless airheads like Liz Truss can rise to the top on promises to the powerful. After all, if she breaks something, nothing really bad can happen. The result of this risk-free political environment is that it rewards reckless behavior. The bigger the claim, the bigger the media splash, which means bigger political clout.

The same selection pressure can be seen in banking. In a world where bankers go to jail and lose all of their money if they screw up, there is a low tolerance for people who are reckless and foolish. In a world where the Fed steps in to not only save your bank but save your golden parachute and those of your colleagues, why would you not take the most dangerous risks? For over thirty years central banks have created a moral hazard, which in turn created a culture of reckless disregard.

It is this sense that no harm can ever come from error that is leading the West into a crisis from which it may not survive. It is this mentality that is leading to the game of chicken with nuclear weapons. The West is now led by a collection of mentally unfit bullies who think they own the school yard. At some point, like all bullies, they will get punched in the nose and see their own blood. In this case, it is reality that will do the punching and the bankers will not be their to kiss the boo-boo.

This raises the serious question. Bullies learn their lesson in the schoolyard because that lesson is not lethal. In the present age, how can the ruling class suddenly feel the pain of their own stupidity, without blowing up the world? How can real risk be reintroduced to change the selection pressure without risking collapse? The moral hazard society may have reached a point where there is no solution. The phrase that may be needed here is creative destruction.

No comments:

Post a Comment