Category Archives: Japan

15/1/20: What Trade Deal Phase 1/N Says About the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse

Phase 1 of N of the "Greatest Trade Deal" that is "easiest to achieve' by the 'stablest Genius' is hitting the newsflows today. Which brings us to two posts worth reading on the subject:

Post 1 via Global Macro Monitor: is as always (from that source) excellent. Key takeaways are:

  • "We never believed for one moment that China would cave on any of the big issues, such as restructuring its economy and any deal would be just some token political salad dressing for the 2020 election."
  • "Moreover, much of the deal depends on whether the Chinese will abide by Soviet-style import quotas," or in more common parlance: limits on imports of goods into the country, which is is 'command and control' economics of central planning.
  • "We are thankful, however,  the economic hostilities have momentarily ratcheted down but the game is hardly over," with tariffs and trade restrictions/suppression being the "new paranormal".
  • "Seriously, after more than two years of negotiations, they couldn’t even agree on dog and cat food imports?"
  • "The [trade] environment remains very much in flux and a source of concern and challenge for investors".

My takeaways from Phase 1/N thingy: we are in a VUCA world. The current U.S. Presidential Administration is an automated plant for production of uncertainty and ambiguity, while the world economy is mired in unresolvable (see WTO's Appellate Body trials & tribulations) complexity. Beyond the White House, political cycle in the U.S. is driving even more uncertainty and more ambiguity into the system. The Four Horse(wo)men of the Apocalypse in charge today are, in order of their power to shift the geopolitical and macroeconomic risk balance, Xi, DNC leadership, Putin and Trump. None of them are, by definition, benign. 

The trade deal so far shows that Xi holds momentum over Trump. Putin's shake up of the Russian Cabinet today shows that he is positioning for some change in internal power balances into 2020, and this is likely to have some serious (unknown to-date) implications geopolitically. Putin's meeting with Angela Merkel earlier this week is a harbinger of a policy pivot to come for the EU and Russia and Lavrov's yesterday's statement about weaponization of the U.S. dollar and the need for de-dollarization of the global economy seems to be in line with the Russo-German New Alignment (both countries are interested in shifting more and more trade and investment outside the net of the U.S. sanctions raised against a number of countries, including Iran and Russia).

DNC leadership will hold the cards to 2020 Presidential Election in the U.S. My belief is that it currently has a 75:25 split on Biden vs Warren, with selection of the former yielding a 50:50 chance of a Trump 2.0 Administration, and selection of the latter yielding a 35:65 chance in favour of Warren. The electoral campaigning climate is so toxic right now, we have this take on the latest Presidential debate: Meanwhile, debate is being stifled already by the security agencies 'warnings' about Russian 'interference' via critical analysis of the candidates.

Mr. Trump has his Twitter Machine to rely upon in wrecking havoc, that, plus the pliant Pentagon Hawks, always ready to bomb something anywhere around the world. While that power is awesome in its destructiveness vis-a-vis smaller nations, it is tertiary to the political, geopolitical and economic powers of the other three Horse(wo)men, unless Mr. Trump gets VUCAed into a new war.

BoJo's UK as well as Japan, Canada, Australia et al, can just sit back and watch how the world will roll with the Four punchers. The only player that has a chance to dance closely with at least some of the geopolitical VUCA leaders is the EU (read: France and Germany, really). 

2/10/18: Government Debt per Employed Person

We often see Government debt expressed in reference to GDP or in per capita terms. However, carry capacity of sovereign debt depends not as much on the number of people in the economy, but on the basis of those paying the lion’s share of taxes, aka, working individuals. So here is the data for advanced economies Government debt expressed in U.S. dollar terms per person in employment:

Some interesting observations.

Ireland, as a younger, higher employment economy ranks fifth in the world in terms of Government debt per person employed (USD 115,765 in debt per employed). In terms of debt per capita, it is ranked in the fourth place at USD 54,126.

Plucky Iceland, the country hit as hard by the Global Financial Crisis as Ireland and often compared to the latter by a range of analysts and policymakers, ranks 22nd in terms of Government debt burden per employed person (USD 56,185) although it ranks 13th in per capita terms (USD 32,502). In simple terms, Iceland has higher employment rate than Ireland, resulting in lower burden per employed person.

When one considers the fact that non-Euro area countries have more sovereign control over their monetary policies, allowing them to carry higher levels of debt than common currency area members, Irish debt per employed person is the third highest in the world after Italy and Belgium, and higher than that of Greece.

Out of top ten debtors (in terms of Government debt per employed person), six are euro area member states (10 out top 15).

Looking solely at the euro area countries, Ireland’s position in terms of debt per capita is woeful: the country has the highest debt per capita of all euro area states at EUR43,659 per person, with Belgium coming in second place with EUR40,139. In per-employee terms, Ireland takes the third highest place in the euro area with EUR93,378 in Government debt, after Italy (EUR98,314) and Belgium (EUR94,340).

4/5/16: Canaries of Growth are Off to Disneyland of Debt

Kids and kiddies, the train has arrived. Next stop: that Disneyland of Financialized Growth Model where debt is free and debt is never too high…

Courtesy of Fitch:

Source: @soberlook

The above in the week when ECB’s balancehseet reached EUR3 trillion marker and the buying is still going on. And in the month when estimates for Japan’s debt/GDP ratio will hit 249.3% of GDP by year end

Source: IMF

And now we have big investors panicking about debt: So Stanley Druckenmiller, head of Duquesne Capital, thinks that “leverage is far too high, saying that central banks and China have allowed for these excesses to continue and it's setting us up for danger.”

What all of the above really is missing is one simple catalyst to tie it all together. That catalysts is the realisation that not only the Central Banks are to be blamed for ‘allowing the excesses of leverage’ to run amok, but that the entire economic policy space in the advanced economies - from the central banks to fiscal policy to financial regulation - has been one-track pony hell-bent on actively increasing leverage, not just allowing it.

Take Europe. In the EU, predominant source of funding for companies and entrepreneurs is debt - especially banks debt. And predominant source of funding for Government deficits is the banking and investment system. And in the EU everyone pays lip service to the need for less debt-fuelled growth. But, in the end, it is not the words, but the deeds that matter. So take EU’s Capital Markets Union - an idea that is centred on… debt. Here we have it: a policy directive that says ‘capital markets’ in the title and literally predominantly occupies itself with how the system of banks and bond markets can issue more debt and securitise more debt to issue yet more debt.

That Europe and the U.S. are not Japan is a legacy of past policies and institutions and a matter of the proverbial ‘yet’, given the path we are taking today.

So it’s Disneyland of Debt next, folks, where in a classic junkie-style we can get more loans and more assets and more loans backed by assets to buy more assets. Public, private, financial, financialised, instrumented, digitalised, intellectual, physical, dumb, smart, new economy, old economy, new normal, old normal etc etc etc. And in this world, stashing more cash into safes (as Japanese ‘investors’ are doing increasingly) or into banks vaults (as Munich Re and other insurers and pension funds have been doing increasingly) is now the latest form of insurance against the coming debt markets Disneyland-styled ‘investments’.