Currency and Financial Crises of the 1990s and 2000s Assaf Razin Steven Rosefielde



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Gosudarstvennoye Kratsrochoye Obyazatel'stvo; government short term obligations) designed to entice foreign hot money by paying 150 percent interest, at a time when it could not cover its budgetary expenses with tax revenues hopelessly in arrears. Yeltsin insiders knew that the obligations couldn't be met, but also saw opportunities for self-enrichment and played the situation that way. They secured a 22.6 billion IMF rescue package on July 13, swapping GKOs for long-term Eurobonds to string the process out, before finally repudiating their GKO and Euro-denominated obligations, and abruptly devaluing on August 17, 1998. In the Asian case, foreign capital fled because private sector risks had increased. By contrast, in the Russian case it fled because carry traders realized that the Russian government was intent on ripping them off. The only question was when, not if, the Kremlin would strike. See Goldman (2003), Aslund (1995), Rosefielde and Hedlund (2009).







21 The rebirth of financial globalization, and the possibility of serial crises of increasing intensity, evoke memories of Rudolf Hilferding's Marxist classic Das Finanzkapital, 1910, but the fit is inexact because Hilferding stressed the international capitalist concentration of financial power, rather than the competitive variety evident today.







22 The term refers to situations where stabilizing inflation is the same as stabilizing output.







23 See De Grauwe (2010).







24 Ben Bernanke, Carol Bertaut, Laurie Pounder DeMarco, and Steven Kamin have provided convincing evidence that foreign investors during the 2000s preferred what they perceived to be safe American financial assets, particularly US treasuries and Agency-sponsored collateralized debt obligations. Although, European foreign trade surpluses were smaller than China's, they leveraged their balance sheets, issuing large volumes of external dollar liabilities to finance purchases of US mortgage based securities, stoking the American housing bubble. See Bernanke, et al. (2011).







25 The G-20 is trying to pressure China into curtailing its dollar surpluses without conspicuous success. The parties are still quibbling over technical measurement indicators. Rosefielde (2011), "China's Perplexing Foreign Trade Policy: "Causes, Consequences, and a Tit for Tat Solution," American Foreign Policy Interests", Steinhauser and Keller, "Fuzzy Compromise Threatens Relevance of G-20," Yahoo!News, February 19, 2011.







26 Subprime mortgages involved loans to people likely to encounter difficulty maintaining their repayment schedules. ARMS allowed homeowners to borrow inexpensively, but obligated them to pay more if interest rates rose. Additionally, during the new millennium it was common for banks to waive down payments, enabling "owners" to walk away from their properties when housing prices (and values) fell, leaving banks with an huge inventory of bankruptcy repossessions and distressed sales. The Clinton Administration pushed subprime lending. The value of U.S. subprime mortgages in 2007 was 1.3 trillion dollars. In an inflationary environment, driven in part by people borrowing from their home's inflationary premium, home buying was transformed into a speculative game. The ratio of global liquidity to global GDP quadrupled 1980-2007; doubling 2000-2007. Cross border capital flows decupled 1990-2007 from 1.1 to 11.2 trillion dollars. Derivatives rose from virtually zero in 1990 to 684 trillion dollars in 2007. American nonfinancial debt outpaced GDP growth since 2007 by 8 trillion dollars. See Mills (2009), p.51.







27 Berle and Means (1932), The Modern Corporations and Private Property.







28 The dot.com bubble began shortly after Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan's "irrational exuberance" speech on December 5, 1996. For proof that dot.com stocks were grossly overvalued see Delong and Magin (2006). The Nasdaq composite index peaked at 5,132.52 on March 10, 2000 and bottomed at 1,108.49 on October 10, 2002. The Enron accounting scam, tied to energy deregulation and lax accounting by Arthur Anderson also contributed to the slaughter.







29 Nobel Prize laureate Myron Scholes and Robert Merton famous for devising a new method for valuing derivatives were members of LTCMs board of directors.







30 Richard Bowen, III testified to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that mortgage underwriting standards collapsed in the final years of the US housing bubble (2006-2007). Sixty percent of mortgages purchased by Citicorp from some 1,600 mortgage companies were defective. Clayton Holdings reported in parallel testimony that only 54 percent of mortgage loans met their originators' underwriting standards.







31 Jack Boogle, Founder of Vanguard Group privately estimated that 40 trillion of the 41 trillion traded on world stock exchanges in 2009 year is speculative. The institutional share of American stock market investment has risen in the last two decades from 8 percent to 70 percent.







32 American housing prices peaked in early 2005 and the Case-Shiller home price index began falling in 2006. Prices plunged 34 percent thereafter, bottoming in 2009, and are expected to continue declining in 2011 despite more than a trillion dollars of government support. On December 24, 2009 the Treasury Department pledged unlimited support for the next three years to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, despite 400 billion dollars in losses. The bubble was predicted by Robert Shiller in 2000. See Shiller (2000), Irrational Exuberance and Shiller (2008), The Subprime Solution: How Today's the Global Financial Crisis Happened, and What to Do About It. As early as 1997, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan fought to keep derivates unregulated, a goal codified in the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. Derivative like credit default swaps (CDS) were used to hedge or speculate against particular credit risks. Their volume increased 100-fold 1998-2008, with estimates of the debt ranging as high as 47 trillion dollars. Total over-the-counter derivative notional value rose to 683 trillion dollars by June 2008. Warren Buffet described the phenomenon as "financial weapons of mass destruction." The Economist, September 18, 2008.







33 Debt obligations issued by nation states are called sovereign debt. Superficially, it might be supposed that sovereign bonds are more secure than their corporate equivalents, but the reverse often is the case because under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, countries cannot be forced to honor their obligations. Creditors only recourse is to passively accept rescheduling, interest reductions or even repudiation. See Eaton and Fernandez (1995) "Sovereign Debt," in Grossman and Rogoff, eds., Handbook of International Economics, Vol. III.. Sovereign debt initially played a subsidiary role in the 2008 financial crisis. The collapse of Iceland's main banks, and 77 percent stock plunge in September 2008, prompted rating agencies to drastically cut Iceland's sovereign debt rating from A+ to BBB-. The IMF arranged a rescue package November 19, 2008, but the cat was out of the bag. Suddenly, investors became aware that the global financial crisis's scope might be much wider than earlier supposed, raising the specter of a worldwide financial collapse that wasn't reversed until March 2009. Nonetheless, sovereign debt fears reemerged in 2010 due to credit rating reductions for Greek, Irish, Portuguese, and Spanish sovereign debt that forced an EU to intervene in defense of these members. The rescue involved loans for conditionality, where credit impaired sovereigns were compelled to pledge the adoption of austerity measures reducing their "structural deficits." The problem which could easily expand to include Italy, and others, doesn't appear to jeopardize the international financial system immediately, but is a bad omen for the future. Additionally, many worry that if rating cuts contingent on budgetary debt reductions don't cease, it could force the European Union to abandon the Euro as a common currency, and even result in the EU's dissolution. The root cause of the EU's problem isn't excessive debt per se, but the ability of less productive members to run EU threatening deficits in a common currency regime, without the option of individual country currency devaluation. See Dallago and Guglielmetti (2011) "The EZ in the Prospects of Global Imbalances: Two Europes?" in Rosefielde, Kuboniwa and Mizobata, eds., Two Asias: The Emerging Postcrisis Divide,. As we know from the theory of optimum currency areas, there are benefits and costs to currency integration. Benefits are the reduced costs of doing business. If they are large, forming currency areas lead to large increases in trade. This is not what happened in the Euro-zone after the monetary union was established. The key problem is building a consensus on how best to restore price equilibrium after asymmetric shocks, booms and slumps that disparately affect individual member states. Labor mobility (Robert Mundell), fiscal integration (Peter Kenen), a strong central bank serving as lender of last recourse, and a fiscal unit to bail out sovereign debts lubricate equilibration, but don't automatically resolve conflicting member interests. The EU sovereign debt issue is tutoring members about the trade-offs that must be made, if the monetary union is to survive.







34 FDIC chairman William Issac places much of the blame for the subprime mortgage crisis on the SEC for its fair-value accounting rules, misapplied in times of crisis. The Emergency Stabilization Act of 2008, signed October 7, suspended mark to market asset pricing during crises. The new regulation is FAS 157-d.







35 Morici (2010) “Down Grade US Treasury’s to Junk”. Peter Morici contends that Congress and the White House made no comprise whatsoever in extending and expanding the Bush tax cuts, including a temporary 33 percent cut in poor and middle class social security taxes, ballooning the federal deficit to 1.5 trillion dollars in 2011; to say nothing of off budget deficits ten times as large.







36 Bear Stearns, founded in 1923 had survived the 1929 Wall Street crash, and achieved celebrity status in the new millennium because of Lewis Ranieri's pioneering innovation of the mortgage backed securitization business. Its problems became public in June 2007 when the company pledged a 3.2 billion dollar collateralized loan (collateralized debt obligation: CDO) to rescue one of its hedge funds. The CDOs were thinly trade, and when Bear Stern encountered liquidity problems, Merrill Lynch seized 850 million dollars worth, but only realized 100 million in forced liquidation. During the week of July 16, 2007 Bear Stearns acknowledged that its two CDO supported hedge funds had lost nearly all their value amid a rapid decline in the subprime mortgages market. On March 14, 2008, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York agreed to grant Bear Stearns a 25 billion dollar loan collateralized by free and clear assets from Bear Stearn in order to provide liquidity for 28 days. The deal however was changed two days later into a forced bailout when the Federal Reserve decided that the loan would be given to Bear Stearn's shotgun bride, JP Morgan, enticed into the marriage by a 35 billion non-recourse Federal Reserve loan. The action approved by Ben Bernanke, putting public money at risk, was justified by the necessity of preventing systemic failure, and forestalling the need for further intervention.







37 The Dow Jones Industrial Average peaked October 9, 2007 at 14,164, and bottomed March 9 at 6,470. In early September 2008, it traded around 11,500, just where it stood at the end of 2010.







38 Lending institutions were abruptly required to write their illiquid mortgage assets down to rapidly falling current values, forcing them to sell securities to raise capital, and generating a vicious downward credit spiral.







39 Both firms were subsequently delisted from the New York stock exchange, June 2010 because their share prices fell below one dollar.







40 Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi,(July 17, 2010) “How the Great Recession Was Brought to an End,” the breakdown of the American 1 trillion dollar counter crisis fiscal stimulus package is divisible into two baskets: spending increases ($682 billion) and tax cuts ($383 billion). The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 spent $170 billion. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 disbursed another $582 billion dollars on infrastructure($147 billion; including $109 billion dollars of "nontraditional" infrastructure); transfers to state and local governments($174 billion dollars: Medicaid $87 billion dollars, education $87 billion dollars), transfers to persons($271 billion dollars: social security $13 billion dollars, unemployment assistance $224 billion dollars, food stamps $10 billion dollars and Cobra payments $24 billion dollars). Tax cuts under the 2009 act totaled $190 billion dollars, allocated to businesses ($40 billion dollars), making work pay ($64 billion dollars), first time homebuyer tax credit ($14 billion dollars) and individuals ($72 billion dollars). Subsequently, the government also provided $55 billion dollars of extended unemployment insurance benefits. See Table 10, p.15. More than 90 percent of the stimulus was targeted at bolstering aggregate effective demand through transfers and tax rebates in the post 1960s Heller fashion, rather than in direct investment assistance(traditional infrastructure, business tax credits and first time home buyer credits) as Keynes himself recommended.







41 Bernard Madoff, non-executive chairman of NASDAQ and founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC was sentenced to 150 years imprisonment and forfeiture of 17 billion dollars for a Ponzi scheme fraud costing investors 10-20 billion dollars, exposed by the 2008 financial crisis. Robert Stanford, Chairman of the Stanford Financial Group was charged with a similar fraud. His trial is scheduled for 2011.







42 The Dodd-Frank Act contains 16 titles, strewn with prohibitions, rules and rate fixing. It is difficult to render a summary judgment, but has been criticized for not addressing the too big to fail issue, and indulging political at the expense of regulatory goals.







43 Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have discovered startling qualitative and quantitative parallels across a number of standard financial crisis indicators in 18 postwar banking crises. They found that banking crises were protracted(output declining on average for two years); asset prices fell steeply, with housing plunging 35 percent on average, and equity prices declining by 55 percent over 3.5 years. Unemployment rises by 7 percentage points over four years, while output falls by 9 percent. Two important common denominators were reduced consumption caused by diminished wealth effects, and impaired balance sheets resistant to monetary expansion (liquidity trap). These regularities indicate that forecasts of a swift V shaped recovery after the 2008 financial crisis were never justified based on historical precedent, although, it appears that this time a double dip recession, and a Black Swan catastrophe have been averted. See Reinhart and Rogoff (2009).







44 The figure includes unfunded social security obligations.







45 "The Perfect Bailout: Fannie and Freddie Now Directly to Wall Street," Yahoo! Finance, February 2, 2011. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is providing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with as much credit as they need to purchase toxic mortgages held by banks at prices that won't produce book losses. This amounts to a stealthy taxpayer payer funded bailout, giving a green light to all parties to repeat the reckless lending that caused the 2008 financial crisis confident that they will reap the gains, and taxpayer will eat the losses.







46 Wallison and Pinto (December 27, 2010), "How the Government is Creating another Bubble," AEI Articles and Commentary. Wallison and Pinto contend that the Dodd-Frank Act allows the administration to substitute the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as the principal and essentially unlimited provider of subprime mortgage, at taxpayers’ expense. Since the 2008 government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored enterprises' regulator has restricted them to purchasing high quality mortgages, with affordable housing requirements mandated in 1992 relaxed. This reduces the future risk, but the good is entirely negated by shunting the old destructive practices to the FHA on the pretext of supporting the soundness of the entire mortgage industry. The gambit in the usual way, allows the administration to present a prudent face with regard to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while diverting attention from the 400 billion dollar loss previously racked up by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and recklessly reprising the Housing and Urban Development Administration’s (HUD) prior destructive policies. Wallison, Pollock and Pinto (January 20, 2011) "Taking the Government Out of Housing Finance: Principles for Reforming the Housing Finance Market, AEI Online. Peter Wallison, Alex Pollock and Edward Pinto report that the US government sponsored 27 million subprime and Alt-policies. To correct the situation they recommend that the government get out of the housing finance business. Government regulation should be restricted to ensuring mortgage credit quality. Assistance to low-income families should be on-budget. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be privatized.







47 The root cause of the EU's problem isn't excessive debt per se, but the ability of
less productive members to run EU threatening deficits in a common currency regime,
without the option of individual country currency devaluations. See Bruno Dallago and
Chiara Guglielmetti, "The EZ in the Prospect of Global Imbalances: Two Europes?" in
Steven Rosefielde, Masaaki Kuboniwa and Satoshi Mizobata, eds., Two Asias: The Emerging Postcrisis Divide, Singapore: World Scientific, 2011. As we know from the theory of optimum currency areas, there are benefits and costs to currency integration. Benefits are the reduced costs of doing business. If they are large, forming currency areas leads to large increases in trade. This is not what happened in the Euro-zone after the monetary union was established. The key problem is buiding a consensus on how best to restore price equilibrium after asymmetric shocks, booms and slumps that disparately affect individual member states. Labor mobility (Robert Mundell), fiscal integration (Peter Kenen), a strong central bank serving as lender of last recourse, and a fiscal unit to bail out sovereign debts lubricate equilibration, but don't automatically resolve conflicting member interests. The EU sovereign debt issue is tutoring members about the trade-offs that must be made, if the monetary union is to survive.

48

 “Why Bank of America Must be Thrilled to Pay a 3 Billion Dollar Penalty," The Atlantic, January 4, 2011. The U.S. government provided the Bank of America with a 30 billion dollar "back door" bailout by relieving it of all but 3 billion dollars of its liability for Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's likely cumulative bad mortgage losses. "The government's restrictions on pay at bailed-out banks had little lasting impact because officials soft-pedaled some issues and did much of their work out of the public's view, a congressional (Oversight) panel says." Obama administration pay czar Kenneth Feinberg used "black-box" processes that provided few lessons for the private sector...The report faults Feinberg for deciding not to seek the return of $1.7 billion in banker pay that he deemed 'ill-advised.'" See Daniel Wagner, “Watchdog: Gov't pay rules had few lasting effects”, Associated Press Online, February 10, 2011.

49

 Stiglitz (2011) "Contagion, Liberalization and the Optimal Structure of Globalization". Students of political economy also may wish to observe that victimization does not adhere to a simple class, or imperial pattern. The Japanese strove to mitigate the pain for the entire nation. Losses were widely dispersed in Asia across domestic and foreign entities. Russian government insiders victimized compatriots and gullible foreigners with malice of forethought. America and Europe have tried to shunt off losses on the unemployed and powerless middle class.

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