Posts Tagged ‘bailouts’

Why bailouts and ‘stimulus’ crutch will screw up the US economy even more?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

August is the most volatile month in the global financial market since the GFC. We had a near default of the US government (see What will happen if Uncle Sam does not raise the debt ceiling?), followed by the downgrade of the US government debt by S&P. On top of that, there’s worries about a double dip recession in the US and fears that the Europe sovereign debt crisis can cause a financial earthquake that can rival the panic triggered by the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Regarding the raising of the US debt ceiling, we have some things to say. President Obama said that if the US government’s debt ceiling is not raised, the US government will default on its debt. Dear readers, do you see what message the US is sending with this simple statement? Basically, he is saying that if the US is not allowed to borrow more money, they are going to default on the money already owed. In other words, they need to borrow more money to repay the monies (plus interests) that they are currently owing. As China is the biggest lender to the US, this is basically telling them that if they don’t lend more money to the US, they can kiss their existing money goodbye.

If a private citizen comes to the point that he has to borrow more money to repay the ones already owed, it is no-brainer that he is on his way to bankruptcy! As we wrote back in October 2008 at? America?s balance sheet,

To make it easier for you to understand these colossal numbers, imagine owing $200,000 and earning $3640 per year on your job (that is, optimistically assuming that the economy can grow at 2% per year)! In other words, the earnings per year are only 1.82% of the total outstanding debt, which is far below the rate of price inflation. Based on market rate of interests (i.e. the long-term bond yield), the earnings will not be enough to even cover the interest payments.

So, the US government is in the same situation! Unless the US can? somehow create miraculous economic growth that will result in miraculous growth in tax receipts of the US government, the amount that the US government is going to owe will go up exponentially! And no, unlike private citizens, austerity measures will not solve the problem. Why? Thanks to the GFC, the government spent BIG on bailouts and ‘stimulus’ that does not stimulate, resulting in the government becoming a big part of the economy. So, slashing government spending will shrink the economy, which in turn will shrink tax receipts. As we wrote in August 2009 at Will governments be forced to exit from ?stimulus??,

In fact, the word ?stimulus? is the most misleading word in economics lexicon because it conveys the idea of a surgeon ?stimulating? a heart into self-sustained beating. In reality, what government interventions did was to put the economy on a crutch. The longer the economy leans on the government crutch, the more dependent it will be on the government. Eventually, the government will become the economy. For those who haven?t already, we encourage you to read Preserving jobs at all costs leads to economic stagnation and Are governments mad with ?stimulating??.

Do you see why we oppose ‘stimulus’ spending and bailouts in 2008? The government is going to have a colossal funding challenge in the first place (see Is the GFC the final crisis?). Spending big money in bailouts and ‘stimulus’ crutch is going to make the government the economy. Once the government becomes the economy, austerity measures becomes out of question. If austerity is out of question, then debt repayment becomes out of question. If debt repayment becomes out of question (i.e. default), then printing money is the only option. Yes, the US government can print money because the debt that they owe is denominated in their own currency.

Now, back to the real world. What are we hearing about the US economy today? We are hearing market chatter about a double-dip recession in the US. Bernanke had announced that he is going to keep short-term interest rates at zero for the next two years. There are talk about the coming lost-decade for the US where the economy will stagnate for the next 10 years.

Do you see the implication for this dismal forecast?

If we are right, the 2008 GFC is nothing compared to the coming US government debt crisis. That is why the message in our book, How to buy and invest in physical gold and silver bullion is so urgent and important.

What if Australia?s banking system needs a Government bailout?

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

As most of us are aware, Australia has the ?four pillars? ? four large banks that provide the majority of Australia?s local banking credit. Over the last few decades, these four banks have increased their exposure to residential mortgages, even in the face of what appears to be a large housing bubble.

Mark Joiner, NAB?s finance director is confirms in this article:

[CBA and Westpac] ?with mortgages accounting for more than 60 per cent of the Sydney banks’ balance sheets?

“Australia should have a balanced economy; not a big skew to mortgage or business lending”

Each of these four banks lends money to each other and has enough influence on the economy to be considered ?too big to fail? by most – the failure of one bank potentially triggering the collapse of another and so on.

Popular opinion suggests that if such a scenario were to occur, the Australian Government would step in to bail out the banks and prevent them from collapsing. This would require the Government to acquire money, either by borrowing it, selling bonds or ?printing? it.

If we make the assumption that the Government would be forced to act in this way, the repercussions of such action could be that borrowing or bond sales increase the Government?s financial liability. This increases the risk of lending to the Government, possibly even our AAA debt rating. Such increased risk will:

  • increase the cost of borrowing for the Government and local companies including banks
  • decrease the amount of credit easily available
  • increase the Government deficit and annual interest payable
  • increase local interest rates, making it more expensive for the public to service debt or take on new debt, possibly reducing the ability of the public to purchase property

If the Government resorted to money printing (or equivalent), it is likely that the value of the Australian dollar would depreciate, causing credit problems similar to the ones mentioned above. And if such problems persist, they would form part of a feedback loop that amplified them over time (see Serious vulnerability in the Australian banking system).

However, this does not mean that the problems would be inescapable. Strong fiscal policy, increased taxes, reduced spending ? all of these could contribute to bringing Australia back into healthy financial territory.

But what are we missing? Even now, people are crying out for spending on infrastructure in NSW, VIC and QLD by the state and federal governments. How will the Australian Government have the funding to pay for any of this if it is trying to pay down debt, or if the cost of debt is increasing? Every dollar of government spending sourced through taxes, services, bond sales or borrowing has been labelled to be spent on something. If the Government allocates money to bail out banks, it is taking it away from spending on other items. From this we get a mis-allocation of spending, which will create market distortion and potentially hamper the economy at a time when Australia can least afford it.

From this we can deduce that there must be a limit to how much money the Government would realistically allocate to a bank bailout. At some point the risk of bank failure to the economy will become less than the risk of removing Government spending from the economy. Whether from this point the banks will actually fail or not cannot be known at this point.

And a final point to consider is that after bank bailouts, will the banks be very cautious lenders who have learned valuable lessons about asset risk and reserve requirements, or will they have an increased risk appetite due to a feeling of assurance that the Government will always step in and save them from ruin?

Will governments be forced to exit from ‘stimulus?’

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Currently, there’s a belief in the financial markets that the worst of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) is over and that it’ll be blue sky from now on. Indeed, it is possible that the the US economy may see a positive GDP growth in the next few quarters to come.

But here, as contrarians, we see a different picture. As we quoted the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Bank for International Settlements (BIS) warning on stimulus spendings, the ‘green shoots’ of growth is largely contributed to government bailouts, ‘stimulus’ spendings, money printing and cheaper money (e.g. zero interest rates in US).

Make no mistake about this: Government interventions cannot be sustained forever without increasing negative consequences in the longer term. Governments cannot ‘stimulate’ the economy. In fact, the word ‘stimulus’ is the most misleading word in economics lexicon because it conveys the idea of a surgeon ‘stimulating’ a heart into self-sustained beating. In reality, what government interventions did was to put the economy on a crutch. The longer the economy leans on the government crutch, the more dependent it will be on the government. Eventually, the government will become the economy. For those who haven’t already, we encourage you to read Preserving jobs at all costs leads to economic stagnation and Are governments mad with ?stimulating??.

Letting the economy lean on crutches indefinitely will result in decreasing economic health as time goes by. Furthermore, there’s always the risk that the side-effects will pressure governments to remove the crutches. As we quoted the BIS in Bank for International Settlements (BIS) warning on stimulus spendings,

Perhaps the largest short-term risk associated with the expansionary policies is the possibility of a forced exit. Monetary and fiscal authorities of the major economies have so far been relatively unconstrained in their ability to follow expansionary policies. This need not last. An extended period of stagnating economic activity could undermine the credibility of the policies in place. Governments may find it hard to place debt if market participants expect the underlying balance to remain negative for years to come. Under such circumstances, funding costs could rise suddenly, forcing them to cut spending or raise taxes significantly.

How will a pressure for a “forced exit” from crutches (bailouts, stimulus, money printing and cheaper money) happen? We can look no further than China as an example where ‘stimulus’ is most effective. As we wrote in Will August 2009 be the top for the year in China?,

Forcing credit growth in this case does not result in economic ?stimulation.? Instead, the result was a dangerous asset price bubble. Apparently, the Chinese government flipped its position and decided to rein in the bubble before it’s too late.

China is right now in a dilemma. Turning the credit tap off will result in many projects failing, which in turn will result in bad debts. Not turning the credit tap off will result in price inflation and asset price bubbles.

The problem with economic crutches is that there will be negative side-effects. It is only a matter of time before excess liquidity leaked into asset and commodity prices. Initially, this may not be a problem. But as we saw last year (see Who is to blame for surging food and oil prices?), this will eventually result in acute problems of price inflation (unless the next deflation pressure comes, for which it will be déjà vu again). If governments decide to withdraw the economic crutches, they risk letting the already weakening economy fall into deflation. If they decide not to withdraw them, they risk letting acute price inflation run amok.

What is likely to happen is that governments will attempt to walk on the middle ground by pretending to ‘fight’ inflation (e.g. raising interest rates too slowly and talk tough on inflation) and support the economy at the same time, hoping that the economy will turn out fine. It may work initially, but it’s a matter of time before the public will see through it.

Tougher times is ahead for everyone.

Are governments mad with ‘stimulating?’

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

In the 1990s, when the Japanese bubble economy burst and fell into debt deflation, its banks were crippled with bad debts. In the ensuing decade, the Japanese government embarked on massive government stimulus programs. Roads to nowhere were built and there were even comments about resorting to military spending (which of course was dismissed later as mere rhetoric because of neighbouring countries’ sensitivities to Japan’s wartime past). When the first stimulus programs proved to have failed in its objective, a second and bigger one was announced. When that failed too, a third and bigger one was announced. Altogether, the Japanese government had embarked on 10 stimulus programs totalling 30 trillion yen. Today, the Japanese government’s debt is greater in size than the entire GDP!

Fast forward to today. The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) had prompted many countries to embark on major stimulus programs. This time round, most of the largest economies are doing the ‘stimulating’- US, UK, Japan (again) and China. The Europeans, on the other hand, are shying away from that. Here, in Australia, our government is also doing the ‘stimulating.’

One of the Einstein’s definition of madness is: continuing to do the same thing, hoping for a different outcome. So, it is pretty clear to us that madness is prevailing.

The root reason why all these stimulation will not work is that we have a structural problem in the global economy. Stimulus spending will not solve the structural problem. As long as the structural problems are not dealt with, the economic slump will not end. As we quoted Wilhelm R?pk’s 1936 economic classic at Overproduction or mis-configuration of production? in January 2008,

It is an indisputable fact that a general slump, which does not permit of the scale of production reached in the boom being maintained, sets in during the crisis, and it is equally indisputable that this general slump is the result of the total demand suddenly falling behind the total supply. But let us make sure what this means and what it does not mean. Under no circumstances can it mean that the cause of the general slump is to be sought in the fact that production has outstripped consumption and that too many of all goods at once are being produced.

Today, governments see the same thing and simplistically believe that aggregate demand is less than aggregate supply. Therefore, the solution, as they understand the crisis to be, is to ‘stimulate’ the economy in order to boost aggregate demand. But as we explained before in Overproduction or mis-configuration of production?, this idea is fallacious.

The whole point of an economic crisis is to correct the structural flaws in the global economy and clean out the wasteful mal-investments. But government bailouts and stimulus are interfering with the correction process. Therefore, this global economic malaise will be prolonged much longer than necessary. If governments go over the top with ‘stimulation’ that don’t work, the outcome will be hyper-inflation (see Supplying never-ending drugs till stagflation).

For our newer readers, we recommend that you read our guide, What causes economic booms and busts?.

Are government interventions the first steps towards corruption & inefficiencies?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

The global financial crisis (GFC) has seen governments all over the world engaging in stimulus, special plans, guarantees, rescues, bailouts, nationalisation and other forms of interventions. The Australian government is no different. The first was the guarantee of all Australian bank deposits and loans. Next was the AU$10 billion economic stimulus. Then recently, there was a plan to set up a special purpose fund to help banks refinance as much as AU$75 billion worth of loans. Other plans include help for certain industries (e.g. car, construction, child-care, property sectors) cope with the global shortage of money (credit crisis). In addition, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is busy cutting interest rates. In the US and Britain, massive banks and GSEs were gobbled up through nationalisations while their limping peers have their incompetence covered by the monetary printing press. As Australia approaches a hard landing (see Realisation of hard landing ahead for Australia), we can expect what happened overseas to happen in Australia.

Among the various forms of government interventions, we have the strongest reservations against bailouts and rescues. While they ease the pain in the short term, they are detrimental to the economy in the long term. While the sting of this GFC may be soothed by each government intervention, there will always be longer term side-effects, many of which will be unintended and initially unforeseen. All these unintended side-effects will eventually accumulate and turn the GFC into a long-term economic malaise that result in a bleak future for the next generation. In other words, anyone who is concerned for the next generation will have strong reservations for today’s bailouts and rescues.

Here are some of the issues with bailouts and rescues:


They are inherently unfair because the government will have to act as the judge and decide which businesses/industries should live and which ones should die. Unfairness, by its very nature, implies preferential treatment. What is the government’s basis for favouring one business/industry over the other? Due to the ’emergency’ nature of bailouts and rescues, transparency over such government decisions will be in short supply. This will open the door for corruption as lobby groups and vested interests jostle and fight over the government’s preferential treatment. This is not to say that the current government is corrupt. Instead, our concern is that this will open the door for future governments to be corrupt.

Moral hazards

Bailouts and rescues introduce moral hazards because by not letting the free market punish incompetent, reckless and stupid business behaviours, they are making conditions ripe for more of such nonsense to continue. After all, why bother be good when bad behaviours are not punished?

The whole point of free market capitalism is to let the incompetent businesses be eliminated so that the competent ones can take over the incompetent ones and be rewarded. This competition forces the survival of the fittest and most efficient. By bailing out and rescuing, the government is taking precious economic resources (which is scarce in such a time) from the competent (via taxes) and awarding them to the incompetent. The net result is that the economy as a whole will become more and more inefficient. This is precisely the reason why communism ultimately fails.

Now, there are talks of the need for more government regulations to curb such nonsense in order to prevent future financial crisis. The idea is to bailout and rescue first, then come up with more rules and regulations to ‘prevent’ another global financial hazard from happening again.

The problems with rules and regulations are:

  1. Administering, monitoring and enforcing them are costly. They are a drag on economic growth as they introduce more red tape for businesses to handle.
  2. Rules and regulations may be so effective that while they prevent the bad things from happening, they cab also stifle the good things from bearing fruit too. Those entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas who have to battle government red tape to get their projects moving another step forward can relate to that.
  3. As we said before in Where do we go from here? A journalist?s questions…,

    … at the root of this Global Financial Crisis (GFC) lies the moral failure of humanity. Through this moral failure, the world is allowed to get carried away and believe in what it wants to believe.

    Rules and regulations can only work up to a certain extent because beyond that, it is impossible to legislate morality.

  4. No matter how tight and comprehensive rules and regulations are, there will always be loopholes and gaps to allow circumvention. For example, as Satyajit Das revealed in his book Traders, Guns & Money, derivatives routinely make a mockery out of laws. It has come to a point that poking holes at the legal system via derivatives has become a sport!

As we quoted Jimmy Rogers in Jimmy Rogers: ?Abolish the Fed?,

More regulations? You want Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke? These are the guys who got us into this situation. They are supposed to be regulating the banking system for the past 50 years. These are the guys who let it all happen. I don?t want more regulations. Let the market regulate it. If xyz needs to go bankrupt, let them go bankrupt. I promise you, that will send a very straight signal and you will have a lot of self-regulation when these guys start to go bankrupt.

If the Federal Reserve did not bail out LTCM in 1998 and let it go bankrupt instead, it would have sent a very strong signal to the market back then.


One day, the GFC will end. But this generation will leave a legacy of corruption and inefficiency for the next if today’s governments continue to intervene in such an unprecedented scale.