Sovereign debt is a different beast

So it seems the ECB is going to go out and buy government bonds.  I don’t quite agree with this description of what is happening to be honest:

“They are not cranking up the printing presses,” said James Nixon, co-chief European economist at Societe Generale SA in London. “This is a much more targeted, surgical approach. They buy the duff stuff that no one in the market will touch.”

The point is to buy stuff that would otherwise be good, but is only struggling because of the crisis – not to actually buy duff stuff.  The intervention is supposed to prevent a run on good assets – not to keep bad assets in business.  Of course, in practicality they will have to buy some duff stuff, but saying that this is the goal is an exaggeration.

Still, this isn’t my main point.  My main point is that sovereign debt is a different beast to private debt.  If the ECB starts buying up government bonds, and there is no plan to get government budgets under control in the medium term, then the result is high levels of inflation – and probably the collapse of the Euro Zone.  The second point doesn’t concern me – the first point does.

With private debt we had a response when effective interest rates exploded upwards.  Will we get the same response from domestic governments in Europe?  I don’t know.

EU preparing to protect currency, fight off “wolfpack”

The EU has decided it arbitrarily needs to protect the value of the euro.  Specifically:

We now see herd behavior in the markets that are really pack behavior, wolfpack behavior

Relevant picture:

Shirt source.

My question as a New Zealander who has experience the vicious swings in currency myself – why protect the value of the euro?  The euro is falling to help buffer the painful adjustment Europe is about to go through given their banking crisis, and they want to waste money trying to prevent this?  I don’t understand. Note: Krugman seems to feel a similar way.

A wild day on the markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell nearly 1,000 points today, the largest intra-day fall since 1987.

It’s not quite certain yet what caused it, with some blaming an “erroneous trade”, possibly via human error or a computer glitch. It seems the initial fall, whatever the cause, then triggered many more sells as paranoia over the global situation, particularly Greece, grew. Crazy!

Prior moral hazard and the credit crisis

Were inextricably linked.  A quote that illustrates this to me strongly came from a Bloomberg article today.  The ECB decided to tell the countries that have high soverign debts to go to hell, and now that they aren’t going to take on the risk themselves private investors aren’t willing to and are selling.

This makes sense, previously people purchased the junk on the basis that someone else would pay for it – high return low risk!  Now that they have to face the real risk profile they are like “f**k that”.  However, Bloomberg (or at least David Kovacs) stated:

The reason the market is horrified now is Trichet said it’s not even being discussed. Smart investors are basically selling risk(y) assets

No s**t.  An asset appeared low risk, and now it is high risk, and the expected return is (at most) unchanged – so the risk adjusted return is lower.  No wonder they want to sell.

Now we are in a crisis, and if there is a run on good quality debt because of concerns we have to do strange things – sure.  But we need to come up with a system that rips this moral hazard out of the system.  It is the moral hazard that helps to drive crisis after crisis ultimately.

Robin Hood Tax redux?

Here are two articles against a Robin Hood tax:

One from me (also here) and one from Patrick Nolan.

Feel free to comment about them here.

Means testing fines: economic efficiency, or unjust policy.

As recently reported, European nations are increasingly pegging speeding fines to income levels, in an attempt to standardise punishment for such infringements.

The intuition is simple: a $100 fine to a person of wealth in excess of a billion dollars is trivial. Clearly, there is no (or at the least little) incentive to curb one’s behaviour.

However, in examining a recent USD $290,000 (euro203,180.83) speeding ticket slapped on a millionaire Ferrari driver in Switzerland,  one cannot help but feel this is somewhat excessive.

Conversely, it would seem that such laws have the potential to induce ridiculously low penalties to those without any assets. Is New Zealand society willing to burdening the rich with the external risks created by the poor?