Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Kash is En Fuego Today

Go. Read.

  1. US Bank Exposure to Greece, part 3. The FT lets someone from Nomura argue that Kash’s declaration of U.S. bank exposure to Greek default in Part 2 (referenced here, but just go to Kash’s link for the gist) was overstated.

    Nomura and The FT lose the argument, badly.

  2. Disasters for an economy — either real or financial — are not always disasters for the economy’s currency.”* Good to think of in combination with this piece from Barry Ritholtz.

*I may write up more using this when I can do some charts and graphs. It is starting to appear as if no one other than Dr. Black understands The Whole of The Euro Story.

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Greece: This Decade’s Argentina?

Crossposted at The Street Light.

There’s been a bit of discussion floating around about whether the US’s deficit and debt situation makes it appropriate to draw comparisons with Greece. Of course, such a comparison is ridiculous for a number of reasons, not least because the US has its own currency. But Greece has been on my mind lately for unrelated reasons, including the following news:

Euro economists expect Greek default, BBC survey finds
Greece is likely to default on its sovereign debt, according to the majority of respondents to a BBC World Service survey of European economists. Two-thirds of the 52 respondents forecast a default, but most said the euro would survive in its current form.

…The forecasters the BBC surveyed are experts on the euro area – they are surveyed every three months by the European Central Bank (ECB) – and as well placed as anyone to peer into a rather murky crystal ball and say how they think the crisis might play out. The survey had a total of 38 replies and two messages came across very strongly.

Not only do I agree that default by Greece on its sovereign debt is quite possible… but I think it increasingly likely that policy-makers in Greece may decide that it is the least bad option at this point, particularly in the face of an increasingly hard-line attitude from Germany regarding bailouts (which will only be reinforced by recent election results).

The problem is easy to lay out: Greece has more debt than it can realistically make payments on, and being a euro country also has a currency over which it has no control. If it had its own currency, it would be in a classic debt crisis similar to several Latin American countries in the 1980s, or possibly Mexico in 1994.

However, it effectively has a fixed exchange rate with the rest of the euro zone, and has invested enormous political and economic capital in maintaining its committment to the euro. In that sense, the best analogy might be with Argentina in 2001, which was struggling to maintain a rock-solid fixed exchange rate with the US dollar through a currency board arrangement.

Argentina in the late 1990s had a slowing economy, uncompetitive industries, large current account deficits, and a vast amount of external debt denominated in a currency that was not its own. Sound familiar? In an effort to meet its debt payments while simultaneously keeping its exchange rate pegged to the dollar, the Argentine government squeezed and squeezed the economy. Finally, however, the resulting deflation and recession grew so severe that the government collapsed, and in early 2002 a new government dropped the peg to the dollar (after fiddling with a hybrid system with multiple currencies existing simultaneously) and eventually defaulted on its debt.

And look what happened.


From 1999-2002 Argentina suffered through years of a gradually contracting economy as it tried to maintain its peg with the dollar and service its external debts. When it finally dropped the peg in January of 2002 and then defaulted on its external debts, the economy (along with the value of the peso) crashed quite spectacularly.

But after a year or two, things didn’t look so bad in Argentina. And through most of the 2000s, the economy did quite well, despite the loss of the ability to borrow internationally.

I’m not necessarily advocating that Greece follow the same path. However, I do think that the comparison with Argentina in 2001 is a very good one, and because of that, that there is indeed a very good chance that policy-makers in Greece in 2011 will reach the same conclusion that policy-makers in Argentina did in 2002.

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Currency Markets and the Disaster in Japan


I’ve been receiving questions about this week’s rather dramatic appreciation of the yen. Central banks around the world have been intervening today to prevent further volatility in exchange rates, but that still doesn’t explain exactly why currency traders have been so eager to buy yen this week.

There are rarely easy answers to questions involving exchange rate movements. However, I have shared a few thoughts on the subject over at The Street Light.

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A little perspective on the impact that a weaker USD will have on overall economic activity

The Japanese yen, the Eurozone euro, and the British pound have appreciated 16%, 14%, and 9%, against the USD, respectively, since their 2010 lows. Some say that the “US wins” since the Fed’s quantitative easing (QE2) will drive export growth via a weaker dollar. (Note that the Fed has not actually announced QE2, this is all just speculation.)

I’m not suggesting that the stated Fed policy will be to drive down the dollar. What I do know, however, is that the United States production model is not structurally positioned to enjoy the economic panacea that is a persistent debasement of the dollar, neither in the near- nor medium- term.

The bottom chart illustrates the export share in overall economic GDP, as forecasted by the European Commission (you can download this data at the Eurostat website). Notice that the US share of exports, expected to be just 12.3% in 2010, is minuscule compared to the export markets in Europe. So what I gather from a chart like this is that the weak dollar will hurt Europe much more than it will “help” the United States.

We need domestic policy to support full employment and the expansion of our export sector that will eventually arise. See Marshall Auerback’s post this week at Credit Writedowns for a discussion on austerity, currency wars, and exchange rates.

Rebecca Wilder

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China’s competitive devaluation

China took the world by surprise on Tuesday by raising bank lending and deposit rates for the first time since 2007. The story is, that restrictive monetary policy (i.e., raising rates) is needed to curb excessive lending, with an eye on mitigating inflation pressures. See this Bloomberg article to the point.

While restrictive monetary policy is needed, raising rates is not the only tool available to policy makers: China could allow their currency (CNY) to appreciate. With support from the fiscal sector, a broad CNY appreciation would improve prospects for global growth ex China via import demand. Instead, the higher domestic rates may crimp domestic demand, perhaps reducing inflation, but contemporaneously lowering import demand.

In my view, China’s move yesterday should be viewed as competitive devaluation: reducing domestic prices in order to capture a competive edge. The currency war, as so-called by Brazil’s finance minister, Guido Mantega, is afoot; and China just confirmed its participation.

Textbook economics says that a central bank cannot have it all: independent monetary policy, a fixed exchange rate, and open financial markets (the impossible trinity). China has a fixed exchange rate (currently, it’s effectively pegged to the USD, see chart below) with tightly monitored capital markets. This means that the Chinese economy effectively matches the “easy monetary conditions” of its counterpart, the US. Monetary policy in China is too loose.

Going forward, further accommodative monetary policy in the US will likewise loosen policy further in China; inflation pressures will be even more robust. But, large-scale asset purchases on the part of the Fed will likewise weaken the USD, which is positive for US exports and negative for US import demand.

All in all, policy makers in China are looking at the USD move with tunnel vision. If the CNY maintians its current trajectory (effectively flat), then any shift in relative prices based on the recent (or future) rate hikes will reduce the CNY real exchange rate (all else equal, of course) – that’s competitive domestic devaluation.

The table has already been set.

Chinese policy makers have slowed the nominal appreciation. Think about what could be if the CNY had maintained its 2005-2008 trajectory, where the CNY appreciated against the USD nearly 20%. Using the compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) over the same period, where the CNY gained 0.5% on a monthly basis against the USD, the month-end September CNY would be valued 11% higher against the USD than it is now.


They slowed real appreciation, too. The real appreciation of the CNY against its trading partners – the real exchange rate accounts for both nominal appreciation and price differentials across countries – slowed from an average 0.4% monthly gain spanning the period 2005-2008, as measured by the CAGR, to just 0.05% since then. (I use the JPMorgan real exchange rate index, but the BIS makes similar data available free of charge.)

The Chinese authorities are fully aware of the economic value of external demand (exports). The media will say that China’s trying to “cool” domestic inflation by raising domestic bank rates; but that’s not the full story. In my view, what they’re really trying to do is to “cool” domestic inflation in order to shift relative prices and depreciate the real exchange rate, all to gain a competitive advantage in global goods markets.

Rebecca Wilder

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