Even the most important (and supposedly liberal) economy in the world has its contradictions. And in this continuous deleveraging process that it’s suffering two huge pieces have fallen. Well, in fact, they have not fallen but been saved by the bell, at the last minute, by the American taxpayers. Or maybe not?
Let’s go step by step. This kind of operations are called nationalisations all over the world (and bringing them under government’s control in the US). Now the shareholders and the debtors of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have a problem. But the deleveraging process had to stopped somehow, somewhere. And that line was worth defending.
Avoiding the discussion about moral hazard, six months ago I was writing about the Financial weapons of mass destruction unleashed in the US (the party is over) and also about The new cycle of capital recovery (who’s financing your debt now?) Let’s use the same ideas now to seek coherence in the present situation.
Let’s summarise the whole reasoning and see where it leads to:
- Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae’s shareholders (and many other shareholders and creditors too) have lost a lot of money, true. We still haven’t seen that in the news, but a lot of sovereign funds must have lost fortunes. The time will come when they’ll have to account for them.
- Taxpayers will have to pay a lot of money now, true.
- The consequences could be worse if the taxpayers didn’t intervene, so it’s worth doing it, true. This line should not be crossed.
- So we do it, we nationalise Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Done. And to avoid moral hazard their shareholders must have an important loss, otherwise the system would be asymmetric. Or did any companies volunteer to share their big gains not so long ago?
- Shareholders and debt holders of those companies must be unhappy and worried about the soundness of the American economic system, reasonable. Wouldn’t you after losing that much? They’ll think twice before investing again in the US. Sensible thought, and yet that’s where our problems begin.
- Taxpayers are paying. I said that in number 2. But, can they afford the bill? The US is a country with a huge fiscal and commercial deficit, so it depends on foreign inflows of capital. Just follow the previous links to my half-year-old articles to see more.
- The taxpayers only have two ways to pay the bill: increasing taxes or further going into debt. I don’t see any of the presidential candidates advocating for higher taxes so I assume it will be the second option. The treasury will have to emit further debt, and not in small quantities. I’m approximating here but, these huge numbers are in order of the current debt volume. In other words, the US debt might be doubling because of these nationalisations.
- Doubling the debt volume means a lot about a country’s ability to repay it: it roughly halves the quality of the debt. We know that the US debt is a high quality debt, but that quality will subsequently be slashed down.
- The world has a few very important lenders, mainly Asian countries. Need I say which one? But they are not that enthusiastic with investing in the US any more. The foreign inflows into the US economy have been steadily declining in the last months.
Now for the conclusion, do we really expect the international lenders to go and help the same country that has given them important losses? Could we have an “holistic” response to keep the international lenders happy without incurring in moral hazard? Will they, after the negative experience, keep buying increasing quantities of worse quality debt?
The equation is something like this:
- ↓↓↓ availability of capital in the markets
- ↑↑↑ losses lenders and investors have suffered
- ↓↓↓ their predisposition to invest again
- ↑↑↑ increase in US debt needed
- ↓↓↓ decrease in the US debt quality
Well, there’s no easy exit to this cycle. The US will be pressured to compensate the international lenders of their loses if they want to keep capital inflows going. But isn’t that strikingly close to the definition of moral hazard? Notwithstanding, which are the other options to keep the flow going?
The deleveraging process is not quite over yet. And the US treasury is constrained between a series of conditions that cannot be all met at the same time. But worse of all, the whole country’s economy virtuous circle is broken and has turned into a vicious one. The economy is not sustainable any more. Houston we’ve got a problem.
On a positive note, there are more sides to this story. Two ideas:
- The US are the main market for those that are financing them. That means that, at least, they are financing a nation that is giving them back part of their finance and holding the activity of their industry. While this cycle exists, things won’t be so grim.
- Other economic areas don’t have this vicious circle, but are falling into stagflation instead. Even with its shortcomings, the US is still a growing economy. There are not that many around. The solvency of the US economy is still holding. And they have the resuscitated dollar.
And another Damocles sword:
- Is this the end of the intervention over Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae? Will these funds be enough? That depends on the still falling value of their assets and their growing insolvencies when people won’t be able to repay their mortgages. Who knows how much money will still have to be injected… and where else.