Roubini blog

Roubini totally doesn’t get it.

The point of CB intervention is to keep interest rates at their target rates, not to provide funds for lending, as described in previous posts.

This plan will succeed at doing that, best I can tell.

It’s all about price, not quantity.

That’s all a CB can do.

Also, insolvency matters to the real economy only as it reduces aggregate demand.

The largest current risk to aggregate demand in my estimation is the media frightening businesses and consumers from spending.

That’s always a risk to a monetary economy where the government isn’t standing by to net spend when demand sags. When government does that there is little or no risk of negative growth or unemployment as we currently define it.

Nouriel Roubini | Dec 12, 2007

Given the worsening of the global liquidity and credit crunch – with a variety of short term interbank Libor spreads relative to policy rates and relative to government bonds of same maturity being even higher recently than at the peak of the crisis in August – it is no surprise that central banks were really desperate to do something.

The announcement today of coordinated liquidity injections by FED, ECB, BoE, BoC, SNB is however too little too late and it will fail to resolve the liquidity and credit crunch for the same reasons why hundreds of billions of dollars of liquidity injections by these central banks – and some easing of policy rates by Fed, BoC and BoE – has totally and miserably failed to resolve this crunch in the last five months. What was announced today are band-aid palliative that will not address the core causes of this most severe liquidity and credit crunch.

There has some heated debate in recent weeks on whether the liquidity crunch is due to:

  1. short-term year end liquidity needs (the “Turn”);
  1. a more persistent liquidity risk premium;
  1. a rise on counterparty risk and broader perceived credit problems of counterparties; i.e. serious problems of insolvency rather than illiquidity alone.
  1. a more general increase in risk aversion due to severe credit problems and information asymmetries (risk aversion due to uncertainty about the size of the financial losses and uncertainty on who is holding the toxic waste of RMBS, CDOs and other ABS products);
  1. the failure of the monetary transmission mechanism in a financial system where most financial institutions are now non-bank and thus do not have direct access to the central banks’ liquidity or lender of last resort support.

The severe financial crunch is likely due to all of the factors above; but the measures announced today can only partly deal with the first of the two explanations above of the crunch and will do nothing to address the other causes of the crunch. These measures will not be successful for a variety of reasons.

First, you cannot use monetary policy to resolve credit and insolvency problems in the economy; and most of the crunch is due not just to illiquidity but rather to serious credit and solvency problems of many economic agents (households, mortgage borrowers, subprime, near prime and prime mortgage lenders, homebuilders, highly leveraged and distressed financial institutions, weak corporate sector firms).

Second, monetary injections cannot resolve the information asymmetries and generalized uncertainty of a financial system where financial globalization and securitization have led to lack of transparency and greater opacity of financial markets; these asymmetric information problems that generate lack of trust and confidence and significant counterparty risk cannot be resolved with monetary policy.

Third, the US is at this point headed towards a recession regardless of what the Fed does as the build-up of real and financial problems (worst housing recession ever, oil at $90, a severe credit crunch, falling capex spending by the corporate sector, a saving-less and debt burdened consumer buffeted by ten separate negative shocks) in the economy make a recession unavoidable at this point; similarly other economies are also now headed towards a hard landing as the US real and financial mess lead to significant contagion and recoupling.

Thus, to mitigate the effects of an unavoidable US recession and global economic slump the Fed and other central banks should be cutting rates much more aggressively. The 25bps cut by the Fed yesterday is puny relative to what is needed; 25bps by BoE and BoC does not even start to deal with the increase in nominal and real borrowing rates that the sharp spike in Libor rates (the true cost of short term capital for the private sector) has induced.

And the ECB decision not to cut policy rates – and deluding itself that it may be able to raise them once the alleged “temporary” credit crunch is gone – is dangerous and ensures a sharp slowdown in a Eurozone where deflating housing bubbles, oil at $90 and a strong Euro are already sharply slowing down growth. Central banks should have announced today a coordinated 50bps reduction in their policy rates as a way to signal that they are serious about avoiding a global hard landing. Instead the Fed yesterday gave a paltry 25bps with a neutral bias rather than the necessary easing bias.

Fourth, the actions by the Fed today provide more liquidity to a greater variety of institutions but, as the Fed announced, these institutions are only “depository” institutions, i.e. only banks. The severe liquidity and credit problems affect today a financial market dominated by non-bank that do not have direct access to the liquidity support of the Fed; these include: broker dealers and investment banks that do not have a commercial bank arm; money market funds; hedge funds; mortgage lenders that do not take deposit; SIVs, conduits and other off-balance sheet special purpose vehicles; states and local governments funds (Florida, Orange County, etc.).

All these non-bank institutions do not have direct access to the Fed and other central banks liquidity support and they are now at risk of a liquidity run as their liabilities are short term while many of their assets are longer term and illiquid; so the risk of something equivalent to a bank run for non-bank financial institutions is now rising. And there is no chance that depository institutions will re-lend to these to these non-banks the funds borrowed by central banks as these banks have severe liquidity problems themselves and they do not trust their non-bank counterparties. So now monetary policy is totally impotent with dealing with the liquidity problems and the risks of runs on liquid liabilities of a large fraction of the financial system (in a world where these non-bank financial institutions play a larger role in financial markets than non-banks).

And let us be clear: the Federal Reserve Act striclty forbids the Fed from lending to non-depository institutions apart from very emergency situations that would require a complex and cumbersome approval process and the provision of high quality collateral. And the Fed has never – in its history – used this procedure and lent money to non-depository institutions.

Fifth, as discussed before on this blog, this is the first real crisis of financial globalization and securitization; it will take years of major policy, regulatory and supervisors reform to clean up this disaster and create a sounder global financial system; monetary policy cannot resolve years of reckless behavior by regulators and supervisors that were asleep at the wheel while the credit excesses of the last few years were taking place. Now the US hard landing and global sharp slowdown is unavoidable and monetary policy – if aggressive enough with much greater and rapid reduction in policy rates – may only be able to affect how long and protracted this hard landing will be.