Posts Tagged ‘financial crisis’

August 13th, 2009


Currency Intervention: Kiwis don’t fly (Episode 2)

2 years seems a long time but feels like yesterday. In that period the NZ$ fell from 0.82 to 0.49 and now is back trading just below 0.68. Wow…talk about currency whiplash.

So back then I suggested the RBNZ should think about selling as much NZ$ as they could. Why? Why go against prevailing market sentiment which is that intervention doesn’t really work and simply provides a target for the speculating hordes which incidentally account for 95% of the volume of daily trades.

That’s a fair sentiment when your currency is falling but when it’s rising? And when you have an eye popping foreign debt of almost 140% of GDP……that’s foreign debt not overall debt.

And yet the punters keep buying the NZ$. Perhaps they know something I don’t. Maybe 50 years worth of oil has been discovered in the Southern Basin. Who knows?

The point is that at some point that money has to be paid back and at the moment, due to the sneaky monster that is compound interest, we can’t even get close to reducing it.

But now is the time to strike.

Again I would like to suggest that the RBNZ starts selling NZ$. When you have a lot of something to sell it’s always best to do it when others are keen to buy. Now is that chance.

By selling NZ$ now and paying back, or at least holding for that same purpose, it will take the pressure off the very precarious dependency we have on overseas lenders.

This doesn’t eliminate the debt but simply transfers it to a domestic situation where it can be managed at lower rates and where there is no threat of having to suddenly repay.

How can the RBNZ do this? Again this is very simple. Print NZ$ and buy US$. There is no change to the actual money supply just how the debt is denominated.

Considering the implosion Iceland experienced and the unfolding disaster that is Ireland (surviving only due to its membership of the Euro), it makes complete sense just to get on with this now.

To allow foreign debt to be run at such a level is financial mismanagement of the highest level.

It also shows a willingness to be dictated to and dependent on overseas interests. This makes no sense at all when the country’s economy security is at stake.

August 13th, 2009

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Central Bank Chant: I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles……

Pretty bubbles in the air.
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.
Never did I believe the mighty Hammers would have understood the machinations of central banking so well. Maybe they knew?
Reading the recent Fed statement, one may feel that the lessons of the recent crisis have not been fully understood or learnt. That’s the problem with the ability to print new money to replace old. It gives a feeling of relief and so help the markets to recover, in fact recover strongly. But there is nothing here that suggests the policymakers know what they are doing.
Crisis dealt with? For now.

July 24th, 2009

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Chimerica: $ Dis-Ease rumbles on

To the joy of conspiracy theorists everywhere, the new “United Future World Currency” coin was presented at the recent G8 summit in Italy. So far though its just a piece of alloy metal but hey value is in the eye of the holder.

As usual it was the Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev, giving the $ a good roasting and moving the debate forward to the minting process. But really how far advanced is this process and how serious are they? More to the point what would a global currency unit look like?

To answer the first question is simple: I have no idea. At the political level it is mere grandstanding usually for the domestic audience. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that most politicians have little understanding of how the global financial system works (no different from anyone else!) but back in the offices of Treasuries and Central Banks it may be a different story.Though I was struck by the recent bizarre questioning of Bernanke over the issue of $ currency swaps with central banks. It’s a classic.

I do think though that the Eurasian block are serious about making this move. Each step is a step closer to creating a multipolar currency whether its based on the Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), a Commodity Backed Currency (CBC) or an Energy Backed Currency (EBCU). Even the Amero could be a consideration.

But the key outcome will be whether we move from a Fiat based system to a hard currency system. That would make a major change in the structure to the global system perhaps taking us back to Keynes’s suggestion, the Bancor. If we stay with a Fiat system then we simply exchange one piece of paper for another.A hard backed system would certainly restore some much needed reality to the meaning and value.

What’s clear is that the US has become a fiscal disaster and holders of paper issued by the US have said enough is enough: your paper is not “as good as gold“.

July 5th, 2009


NZAE ’09: Looking Forward

I’m just back from 3 lovely days in Wellington (nice weather for a change!) at the NZ Association of Economists Conference. It had a good vibe and felt like there was a wider range of interesting papers than the last one I attended. The topics of interest for me are listed below (I will post in more detail once the papers have been uploaded to the NZAE website):

- Tax Reform: The perennial favourite, Capital Gains Tax, made some waves as did some more detailed examination of a possible Land Tax. This initially popped up 18 months ago as a floated idea and more recently was discussed at length over at  The session on Tax Reform was sponsored by the Treasury so expect more debate on this in the near future.

- Aid and Development: There were a few papers on corruption and developmental outcomes which were worth following (though I haven’t seen anything to rival Paul Collier’s work). I especially enjoyed a paper on whether aid was helping to achieve the Millenium Development Goals. To me it was clear that whilst aid can make some contribution, targeted p2p actions such as microfinance and giving are more likely to have a lasting impact as they tunnel through the swathe of government and administration on both ends of the aid pipleline. Message to Government: Let people do the giving.

- Business and Innovation: It’s good to see economists looking at this topic since it’s of major importance to NZ. Again lack of capital and R+D incentives for business was a clear problem. We simply can’t compete with countries like Finland or Israel when all our capital is tied up in housing.

- Health: One good paper on “fat” taxes or food “subsidies”. It simply reinforced my position of taking a supply side approach. It’s hard to influence demand through pricing strategies when the underlying commodity (food) is experiencing huge swings in price. As with oil and carbon taxes, the prices movements in food prices will overwhelm any attempt to reduce demand by taking away GST for example (12.5%). Perhaps incentives like gift vouchers/cash in savings accounts will help focus (a bit like the idea to pay girls an annual stipend for each year they don’t get pregnant). We have to get our future health costs down somehow and creative solutions may be required. Time to call in the behavioral psychologists methinks.

- The Financial Crisis: Nice paper looking back at financial collapses over the last 200 years. Yes they happen with regularity…..whoa…yes we know that. The cycle goes back as far as records allow. Even the Bank of England was not immune from overstretching itself… a run on the Central Bank itself. Ooops. So my simple question is: When are we going to change the system?

Overall it was a good conference and a lot came out of it. For next year I can see more focus on the impact of microfinance and p2p activities, more focus on tax reform, more focus on the debt based financial system and hopefully we will have some more ideas to contribute ourselves.

Also good to see someone with a laptop on the go! Surely a first for the NZAE.

June 3rd, 2009

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$ out of favour as reality sinks in

It’s been nearly 9 months since the $ started to show signs of meltdown fever. Except the meltdown was the rush to buy $ as a hedge against collapsing markets and disappearing credit lines.

In the last few months we have seen markets bottom and even recover some poise, aided and abetted by the action of nearly last resort, quantitative easing. There was nothing left in the toolbox really.

So far so good in some respects. The S+P has rallied 37% off its lows…….mind you its lows were 57% down from the highs and the index still stands 42% off the highs of the last few years. Not that the numbers really matter. The main news is that markets are functioning…still.

And the $ balloon has finally burst with QE signaling a chance to sell the $ without worrying what the equity markets were doing. The Kiwi$ has rallied 32% from its March low even outpacing the hammered Pound, up 21% from its low of $1.35.

Markets can do very strange things. Even whilst the $ was rallying to extreme highs against all currencies, no one really wanted to own it. Now people really really don’t want to own it.

This is all very well but this type of volatility is impossible to manage. How can any investment manager talk about average returns of 10% a year when markets are moving at this rate. How can any business hedge currency risk when currencies are moving like this.

The bigger problem for the US is trying to stop the snowball effect that may happen if markets really decide to dump the $. The noises coming from China may be regarded as monetary brinksmanship but with Russia, looking very wolflike these days, nibbling in behind, it’s becoming a more serious issue.

There’s a lot of politics involved in this but the positioning is clear: the US is weak not just economically but militarily. The exhausting foray into Iraq has stretched the US war machine as well as seriously impacting on its reputation. Historically the ability to create coin or currency was usually backed up by military power. One of the first actions by invading nations was to replace the local currency with its own.

This makes currency both a political and economic issue. So whilst there is unlikely to be any immediate change in the $ role as global reserve currency, there is no doubt that the dance of change is underway.

The short term problem for China is its huge ownership of US bonds and other paper. So they wouldn’t be happy with a complete collapse right now but it seems like less money will be staying in $ and more will be finding a new home whilst they work out how a new global currency system might operate.

But with GM falling apart and US unemployment rising to severe levels, concerns over the health of the $ will only continue to mount.

May 29th, 2009

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How to Invest

People are always asking me where to put their money so I thought I would do a simple post about it. I should add this is simply my own opinion and you should really check with a financial advisor…………tongue firmly in cheek!

Let’s start with the obvious. There is no such thing as a risk free investment. Even sovereign bonds (those issued by governments) can turn into wallpaper….look at the US Treasury market now, the world’s safest place to park your cash. Ultimately it’s just an IOU, generally backed by commodities or in the case of the US by a fairly large military and lots of nuclear rockets.

Having got that out of the way the first question you need to ask yourself is why am I investing? Is it for regular income or the hope of generating a huge pile of cash for future income generation (retirement for example).

Let’s start with the income piece by looking at what is available:

- Cash deposits.

- Term deposits.

- Government bonds.

- Corporate bonds.

- Shares that pay dividends.

- Property.

Generally, as in all things, you pay for what you get. The main issue any investor should consider before making an investment is liquidity:

How quickly can I get my cash and what will I have to pay to get it?

As many investors found to their cost in recent years, liquidity is the single most important issue.

Which draws the question: is there a market for my investment?

In the case of cash that is not a problem (actually that’s not true but for the sake of this exercise we will pretend that cash is always available - see Northern Rock for further details).

Stocks can generally be sold on the spot and cash received quickly (of course stocks can be suspended at anytime which means you can’t trade it, well not on the exchange).

Bonds have a market you can trade on but liquidity can be an issue sometimes.

Property you can forget. That’s a highly illiquid asset.

Managed funds as we see all to often can be very hard to get out of and the fees can be severe. If the fund holds any kind of assets other than plain stocks then redemptions may force suspension of the fund (we’ve seen that).

Baring all that in mind cash seems like the best place to have your money if access is an issue and you are risk averse. Second up would be quoted shares with high liquidity (shares on the major index e.g. Telecom in NZ which pays a good dividend). Bonds would be next and then managed funds and property bringing up the rear.

Anything that offers these with a twist is to be avoided unless you’re a professional. Like guaranteed capital return plus 100% of the 5 year blah blah return on some index. Avoid. There are huge fees and margins built into what is a simple option structure.

I’m sorry but there’s no free lunch in the investment world. But it’s very easy to lose money or receive poor returns whilst paying out large fees and charges.

My advice is start with cash and spend some time learning about basic stocks and bonds. Believe me it is not difficult.

Armed with a little knowledge most people could construct a portfolio of cash, stocks and bonds in a few hours.

Also don’t be lulled into the idea that you are a long term investor and won’t be pulling down the cash for 20-30 years. Look at how fast the world is changing…….planning that far ahead may not actually make much sense.

As with most things in life, keeping it simple can pay off. Also spending a little time learning about investment can save you a lot of money as well as enabling yourself to take charge of your own financial destiny.


I’m a Londoner who moved to Christchurch, New Zealand in 2002. After studying economics and finance at Manchester University and a couple of years of backpacking, I ended up working in the financial markets in London. I traded the global financial markets on behalf of investment banks for 11 years. I write about the intersection of economic, social and environmental issues . My prime interest is in designing better systems to create a better world. I welcome comments and input.

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