Cyclopedia Of Economics 1st edition



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The Investors

This is the most intriguing group. Normative, law abiding, businessmen, who stumbled across methods to secure excessive yields on their capital and are looking to borrow their way into increasing it. By cleverly participating in bond tenders, by devising ingenious option strategies, or by arbitraging - yields of up to 300% can be collected in the immature markets of transition without the normally associated risks. This sub-species can be found mainly in Russia and in the Balkans.

Its members often buy sovereign bonds and notes at discounts of up to 80% of their face value. Russian obligations could be had for less in August 1998 and Macedonian ones during the Kosovo crisis. In cahoots with the issuing country's central bank, they then convert the obligations to local currency at par (=for 100% of their face value). The difference makes, needless to add, for an immediate and hefty profit, yet it is in (often worthless and vicissitudinal) local currency. The latter is then hurriedly disposed of (at a discount) and sold to multinationals with operations in the country of issue, which are in need of local tender. This fast becomes an almost addictive avocation.

Intoxicated by this pecuniary nectar, the fortunate, those privy to the secret, try to raise more capital by hunting for financial instruments they can convert to cash in Western banks. A bank guarantee, a promissory note, a confirmed letter of credit, a note or a bond guaranteed by the Central Bank - all will do as deposited collateral against which a credit line is established and cash is drawn. The cash is then invested in a new cycle of inebriation to yield fantastic profits.

It is easy to identify these "investors". They eagerly seek financial instruments from almost any local bank, no matter how suspect. They offer to pay for these coveted documents (bank guarantees, bankers' acceptances, letters of credit) either in cash or by lending to the bank's clients and this within a month or more from the date of their issuance. They agree to "cancel" the locally issued financial instruments by offering a "counter-financial-instrument" (safe keeping receipt, contra-guarantee, counter promissory note, etc.). This "counter-instrument" is issued by the very Prime World or European Bank in which the locally issued financial instruments are deposited as collateral.

The Investors invariably confidently claim that the financial instrument issued by the local bank will never be presented or used (which is true) and that this is a risk free transaction (which is not entirely so). If they are forced to lend to the bank's clients, they often ignore the quality of the credit takers, the yields, the maturities and other considerations which normally tend to interest lenders very much.

Whether a financial instrument cancelled by another is still valid, presentable and should be honoured by its issuer is still debated. In some cases it is clearly so. If something goes horribly (and rarely, admittedly) wrong with these transactions - the local bank stands to suffer, too.

It all boils down to a terrible hunger, the kind of thirst that can be quelled only by the denominated liquidity of lucre. In the post nuclear landscape of this part of the world, a fantasy is shared by both predators and prey. Circling each other in marble temples, they switch their roles in dizzying progression. Tycoons and politicians, industrialists and bureaucrats all vie for the attention of Mammon. The shifting coalitions of well groomed man in back stabbed suits, an hallucinatory carousel of avarice and guile. But every circus folds and every luna park is destined to shut down. The dying music, the frozen accounts of the deceived, the bankrupt banks, the Jurassic Park of skeletal industrial beasts - a muted testimony to a wild age of mutual assured destruction and self deceit. The future of Eastern and South Europe. The present of Russia, Albania and Yugoslavia.






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