De-leveraging – Fairy Tale Endings
In the "Arabian Nights," the beautiful princess Scheherazade buys one day of life at a time by recounting fantastic fables that enchant the King who has condemned her to die. Investors and traders are currently telling each other fairy tales to buy one day at a time to stave off the inevitable.
The drama and tumult of recent events are not symptoms of the disease but the cure. The "disease" is the excessive debt and leverage in the financial system, especially in the US, Great Britain, Spain and Australia. In the lyrics of the Bruce Springsteen song - many have "debts that no honest man could pay".
The "cure" is the reduction of the level of debt (the great "de-leveraging"). In 1931, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon explained the process to President Herbert Hoover: "Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate. Purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. … enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people."
The initial phase of the cure is the reduction in debt within the financial system. The overall losses to the financial institutions (net of re-capitalisation via new equity issues) are $400 to $600 billion and may well go higher. This requires reduction in financial sector balance sheets (assuming bank system leverage of around 10 times) of around $4 to $6 trillion through reduction in lending and asset sales.
For example, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers resulted in $600 billion of debt being eliminated. In turn, this inflicts losses on holders of Lehman debt that in turn flows through the chain of capital. The destruction of Lehman Brothers’ capital (around $20 billion) also permanently diminishes the capacity for further credit creation in the future.
The second phase of the cure is the higher cost and lower availability of debt to the real economy. This forces corporations to reduce leverage by selling assets, reducing investment and raising equity (for example, as GE has done). This also forces consumers to reduce debt by selling assets (where available) and reducing consumption.
Feedback loops mean reduction in investment and consumption lowers economic activity placing stresses on corporations and individuals setting off defaults that trigger losses for the financial system that further reduces lending capacity. De-leveraging continues through these iterations until overall levels of debt reach a sustainable level determined by lower asset prices and cash flows available to service the debt. The process of destruction echoes W.B.Yeats’ words: "All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.">>>MORE
HT: Market Folly