Nouriel Roubini’s Latest – Must Read

(NOTE: There are many more NR articles on this blog, going back to 2006, just use the search box at the top of the right-hand sidebar (or click here).  Here’s one from January.  I have been writing about the coming crisis myself since 2004, when I sold my co-op in DC and started renting, and also started liquidating my other real estate investments.  The asset and credit bubbles were obvious to all who had their eyes open and thought for themselves.  Sadly, most people do not think for themselves, maybe that’s why we have the term sheeple.)

The US and global financial crisis is becoming much more severe in spite of the Treasury rescue plan. The risk of a total systemic meltdown is now as high as ever

The next step of this panic could become the mother of all bank runs…

By Nouriel Roubini
2008-9-29

It is obvious that the current financial crisis is becoming more severe in spite of the Treasury rescue plan (or maybe because of it as this plan it totally flawed). The severe strains in financial markets (money markets, credit markets, stock markets, CDS and derivative markets) are becoming more severe rather than less severe in spite of the nuclear option (after the Fannie and Freddie $200 billion bazooka bailout failed to restore confidence) of a $700 billion package: interbank spreads are widening (TED spread, swap spreads, Libo-OIS spread) and are at level never seen before; credit spreads (such as junk bond yield spreads relative to Treasuries are widening to new peaks; short-term Treasury yields are going back to near zero levels as there is flight to safety; CDS spread for financial institutions are rising to extreme levels (Morgan Stanley ones at 1200 last week) as the ban on shorting of financial stock has moved the pressures on financial firms to the CDS market; and stock markets around the world have reacted very negatively to this rescue package (US market are down about 3% this morning at their opening).

Let me explain now in more detail why we are now back to the risk of a total systemic financial meltdown…

It is no surprise as financial institutions in the US and around advanced economies are going bust: in the US the latest victims were WaMu (the largest US S&L) and today Wachovia (the sixth largest US bank); in the UK after Northern Rock and the acquisition of HBOS by Lloyds TSB you now have the bust and rescue of B&B; in Belgium you had Fortis going bust and being rescued over the weekend; in German HRE, a major financial institution is also near bust and in need of a government rescue. So this is not just a US financial crisis; it is a global financial crisis hitting institutions in the US, UK, Eurozone and other advanced economies (Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc.).

And the strains in financial markets – especially short term interbank markets – are becoming more severe in spite of the Fed and other central banks having literally injected about $300 billion of liquidity in the financial system last week alone including massive liquidity lending to Morgan and Goldman. In a solvency crisis and credit crisis that goes well beyond illiquidity no one is lending to counterparties as no one trusts any counterparty (even the safest ones) and everyone is hoarding the liquidity that is injected by central banks. And since this liquidity goes only to banks and major broker dealers the rest of the shadow banking system has not access to this liquidity as the credit transmission mechanisms is blocked.

After the bust of Bear and Lehman and the merger of Merrill with BofA I suggested that Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs should also merge with a large financial institution that has a large base of insured deposits so as to avoid a run on their overnite liabilities. Instead Morgan and Goldman went for the cosmetic approach of converting into bank holding companies as a way to get further liquidity support – and regulation as banks – of the Fed and as a way to acquire safe deposits. But neither institution can create in a short time a franchise of branches and neither one has the time and resources to acquire smaller banks. And the injection of $8 b of Japanese capital into Morgan and $5 b of capital from Buffett into Goldman is a drop in the ocean as both institutions need much more capital. Thus, the gambit of converting into bank while not being banks yet has not worked and the run against them has accelerated in the last week: Morgan’s CDS spread went through the roof on Friday to over 1200 and the firm has already lost over a third of its hedge funds clients together with their highly profitable prime brokering business (this is really a kiss of death for Morgan); and the coming roll-off of the interbank lines to Morgan would seal its collapse. Even Goldman Sachs is under severe stress losing business, losing money, experiencing a severe widening of its CDS spreads and at risk of losing most of its values most of its lines of business (including trading) are now losing money.

Both institutions are highly recommended to stop dithering and playing for time as delay will be destructive: they should merge now with a large foreign financial institution as no US institution is sound enough and large enough to be a sound merger partner. If Mack and Blankfein don’t want to end up like Fuld they should do today a Thain and merge as fast as they can with another large commercial banks. Maybe Mitsubishi and a bunch of Japanese life insurers can take over Morgan; in Europe Barclays has its share of capital trouble and has just swallowed part of Lehman; while most other UK banks are too weak to take over Goldman. The only institution sound enough to swallow Goldman may be HSBC. Or maybe Nomura in Japan should make a bid for Goldman. Either way Mack and Blankfein should sell at a major discount of current price their firm before they end up like Bear and be offered in a few weeks a couple of bucks a share for their faltering operation. And the Fed and Treasury should tell them to hurry up as they are both much bigger than Bear or Lehman and their collapse would have severe systemic effects.

When investors don’t trust any more even venerable institutions such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs you know that the financial crisis is as severe as ever and the fear of collapse of counterparties does not spare anyone. When a nuclear option of a monster $700 billion rescue plan is not even able to rally stock markets (as they are all in free fall today) you know this is a global crisis of confidence in the financial system. We were literally close to a total meltdown of the system on Wednesday (and Thursday morning) two weeks ago when the $85 b bailout of AIG led to a 5% fall in US stock markets (instead of a rally). Then the US authorities went for the nuclear option of the $700 billion plan as a way to avoid the meltdown together with bans on short sales, a guarantee of money market funds and an injection of over $300 billion in the financial system. Now the prospect of this plan passing (but there is some lingering deal risk the votes in the House are not certain) -as well as the other massive policy actions taken to stop short selling “speculation” and support interbank markets and money market funds – is not sufficient to make the markets rally as there is a generalized loss of confidence in financial markets and in financial institutions that no policy action seem to be able to control.

The next step of this panic could become the mother of all bank runs, i.e. a run on the trillion dollar plus of the cross border short-term interbank liabilities of the US banking and financial system as foreign banks as starting to worry about the safety of their liquid exposures to US financial institutions; such a silent cross border bank run has already started as foreign banks are worried about the solvency of US banks and are starting to reduce their exposure. And if this run accelerates – as it may now – a total meltdown of the US financial system could occur. We are thus now in a generalized panic mode and back to the risk of a systemic meltdown of the entire financial system. And US and foreign policy authorities seem to be clueless about what needs to be done next. Maybe they should today start with a coordinated 100 bps reduction in policy rates in all the major economies in the world to show that they are starting to seriously recognize and address this rapidly worsening financial crisis.

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