The Euro Crisis & The Previous Debt


IBEUUS-Y TEK TO 2020 1-22-2016

QUESTION: Hello Martin, I understand and agree to what you are saying in your post however I cannot understand what you mean when you say that: “Secondly, leaving all individual member states with past debt yet converted that to euro, then resulted in their debts doubling in international value as the euro doubled going into 2008.” Here, I cannot follow how it is possible that Greece’s PAST debt could double due to the euro doubling in value since the PAST debt has already been converted to euro. If the PAST debt had been in any other currency and then when the euro would double then I could understand that the debt also could double. Am I missing out something here?

Regards,

MG

Drachma 1994-1999-M

ANSWER: All members past debts were in their home currency, including Germany. Upon joining the Euro, the  past debts were converted to the Euro also, because their old currencies were abandoned. What I mean by international value is if you look at the debts of all member states, when the euro doubled in value from 80 cents to the US dollar to $1.60, from a US investor, he doubled his money holding Greek debt or any member’s debt. We can see that the dollar rose sharply against the drachma between 1995 going into 1999 demonstrating that the drachma declined 47% going into the formation of the euro. The cost of servicing the past debt rises in real terms and when they had to pay off the debt and roll into new debt, they were paying in international value more than it was worth upon joining the euro.

1000 drachma

Back during the Reagan Administration, I met with the U.S. Treasury and warned that Volcker raising rates to 14% meant he was suppressing inflation immediately, but causing it to exponentially rise by the end of the decade. Why? Because central banks cannot stimulate or suppress and economy with interest rates when the government is the biggest borrower. Whatever they think they are doing by raising rates to stop people from borrowing has no impact upon government for they will always spend other people’s money freely. In that meeting, I was flatly told it was OK because the government would be paying back with cheaper dollars. In this case, the rise in the euro to $1.60 meant the opposite – member states would be contracting and had to pay out huge sums beyond what they originally owed. This was no different from people who took out Swiss loans and then the Swiss franc/euro peg broke. Suddenly the borrowers owed q lot more in their home currency when the Swiss rallied.

Consequently, the past debt of Greece was in drachma and the decline in the currency meant that its debt in terms of dollars (international value terms) fell almost by 50%. Upon joining the euro, the past debt was then converted to euro – not before. Therefore, in international terms of value, the debts effectively doubled in real terms. This would NOT have been a problem had all the debt of member states been consolidated into a federal debt for Europe. Thereafter, any new borrowing would have been purely state debt NOT acceptable for reserves in the banking system.

Euro-US$In this manner, the past debt, which does not stimulate the immediate economic position, doubled in real terms and increased the cost of servicing the past debt. This is how the economy was strip-mined. Had the debt been consolidated into one federal debt, that burden would have been relieved upon by member states. This would have allowed the euro to then actually compete against the dollar. It is likewise a total joke that people think China and Russia can sell US bonds and somehow that will dethrone the dollar. Pension funds and institutions in Europe and the US  will not suddenly sell all dollars and buy rubles and yuan denominated debt. There is such a thing as credit ratings.

As long as federal debt exists and pension funds are compelled by law to own government debt, you will not dethrone the dollar simply by trade or any combination of China and Russia. That is just absurd. The big money simply cannot move to rubles and yuan. A lot more has to change.

“They ‘Buy The Dip’ Yet Again”: Global Stocks, US Futures Rebound; Dollar Rises Off 4 Month Lows


Tyler Durden's picture

European, Asian stocks have rebounded as investor anxiety over Trump economic policy and US tax reform eased following yesterday’s remarkable comeback in the US market. S&P futures point to a slightly higher open, with oil higher and the dollar rebounding off fout month lows. It is a relatively quiet day in the US with the economic calendar focusing on wholesale inventories, consumer confidence and the Case-Shiller index.

European and Asian equities rose and S&P 500 futures edged higher as investor bullishness returned after the failure of U.S. President Donald Trump’s health-care bill.  Hopes that the Trump administration will now prioritize tax reforms coupled with still-robust economic data and corporate earnings forecasts spurred some investors to look past creeping doubts about Trump’s ability to deliver on campaign promises.

According to Bloomberg, the resumption of demand for risk assets signals investors are still pinning hopes on Trump’s ability to push through tax cuts and regulatory changes, pledges that helped trigger a reflationary upswing in global markets after his election. “Bond and FX market participants’ reaction to the failure of the health-care bill has been to re-price Treasuries and the dollar under the assumption that President Trump has lost a little of his shine,” Kit Juckes, a London-based global strategist at Societe Generale SA, wrote in a note.

Equity market participants have taken a look at the lower yields and weaker dollar and decided that since absurdly low rates are the elixir that the equity bull market lives on, they might as ‘buy the dip’ yet again.”

Europe’s Stoxx 600 rose 0.4% helped by financials and pharmaceutical stocks. Futures on the S&P 500 rose 0.1 percent. The underlying gauge dropped 0.1 percent Monday, paring a loss of as much as 0.9 percent.

In FX, the dollar index against a basket of major currencies edged up 0.1 percent to 99.252, after plumbing a trough of 98.858 overnight, its lowest level since Nov. 11. “Risky asset markets have rebounded from yesterday’s opening low, supporting our view of the current market setback as a risk pause and not a turning point towards generally lower risk valuations,” analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a note to clients. Morgan Stanley said that given some of the savings that were to come from replacing Obamacare would be lost, the upcoming tax reform may turn out to be a smaller package or result in a higher fiscal deficit.

The dollar steadied after its worst week since Trump’s election after talk of more rises in Federal Reserve interest rates this year. “Clearly we shouldn’t forget we are going to see at least two more hikes by the Fed this year and that there is still the potential for the next one to be pulled forward to June,” said CIBC strategist Jeremy Stretch. Sterling edged up a notch, trading within a narrow range as Britain prepared to start formal divorce proceedings with the European Union on Wednesday.

Recent weakness in the dollar underpinned crude oil prices though persistent worries about oversupply kept gains in check. Prices for front-month Brent crude futures were up 0.6 percent. In the United States, WTI crude futures rose 0.7% .

Yields on 10-year TSYs were unchanged at 2.38% after falling three basis points on Monday. European bonds mostly rose, with 10-year German yields falling one basis point to 0.39 percent.

On today’s calenar, Fed Chair Yellen will make a speech on workforce development in low-income communities. Although it does not seem like she will address monetary policy, we will watch her speech for any clues about the Fed’s thinking. Otherwise, Tuesday looks set to be a very quiet day. In the US, the Conference Board Consumer Confidence index for March will probably rise further.

Bulletin Headline Summary from RanSquawk

  • A brighter spark for European equities today with much of the upside attributed to an unwind of yesterday’s flight to quality price action
  • The USD recovery has been a modest one this morning, with limited upside traction seen in USD/JPY as focus falls on EM amid ZAR softness
  • Looking ahead, highlights include potential comments from Fed’s Yellen, George, Kaplan & Powell and ECB’s Coeure

US Markets

  • S&P 500 futures up 0.1% to 2,340.50
  • STOXX Europe 600 up 0.3% to 376.11
  • MXAP up 0.8% to 148.71
  • MXAPJ up 0.6% to 480.79
  • Nikkei up 1.1% to 19,202.87
  • Topix up 1.3% to 1,544.83
  • Hang Seng Index up 0.6% to 24,345.87
  • Shanghai Composite down 0.4% to 3,252.95
  • Sensex up 0.6% to 29,399.95
  • Australia S&P/ASX 200 up 1.3% to 5,821.23
  • Kospi up 0.4% to 2,163.31
  • Brent Futures up 0.7% to $51.11/bbl
  • German 10Y yield fell 1.2 bps to 0.39%
  • Euro down 0.1% to 1.0850 per US$
  • Brent Futures up 0.7% to $51.11/bbl
  • Italian 10Y yield fell 2.7 bps to 2.197%
  • Spanish 10Y yield fell 0.5 bps to 1.683%
  • Gold spot down 0.1% to $1,253.74
  • U.S. Dollar Index up 0.1% to 99.29

Top Overnight News

  • Amazon Wins Battle to Buy Middle East E-Commerce Firm Souq.com
  • Trump to Kill Suite of Obama-era Climate Change Policies
  • Akzo Pledges Plan for Profitable Split to Repel PPG Takeover
  • Credit Suisse Progress Buys Swiss Bank Room on Capital
  • Ericsson Sees Up to $1.7 Billion in Costs as Revamp Begins
  • Engie Aims to Fill U.S. Power and Gas Trading Gap Left by Banks
  • American Air to Invest $200 Million in China Southern Deal
  • Manhattan Landlords Turn to Retailer Giveaways as Stores Go Dark
  • Brookfield Finds Solar ‘Entry Point’ After SunEdison’s Collapse
  • Dakota Access Oil Line Outlasts Protests, Readies for Service
  • Huntsman Sees Venator Spinoff on Time Despite Damaged Ti02 Plant

Asian market sentiment improved as the region’s major indices shrugged-off the subdued Wall Street lead and traded mostly positive. ASX 200 (+1.1%) outperformed with the index led by financial and energy sectors, while Nikkei 225 (+1.1%) was underpinned as exporters found early respite from the recent JPY advances and with participants noted be on the bid ahead of ex-dividend dates. China traded mixed as the Hang Seng (+0.5%) conformed to the upbeat tone seen in its major regional counterparts, while Shanghai Comp. (-0.4%) lagged after the PBoC refrained from open market operations for the 3rd consecutive session, which resulted in a daily net liquidity drain of CNY 70bIn. 10yr JGBs traded slightly lower with demand dampened amid an improvement in risk sentiment and also following the enhanced liquidity JGB auction which saw weaker demand than the prior. PBoC refrained from open markets operations for a 3rd consecutive session, for a daily net drain of CNY 70bIn.

Top Asian News

  • Didi Said to Be Weighing $6 Billion SoftBank-Backed Funding
  • Malaysia Central Bank Sees March Inflation Exceeding 8-Year High
  • Unreachable Huishan Executive Exposes China Debt Woes, Bank Risk
  • Philippine Central Bank Chief Says Successor Must Be Named Soon

Europe likewise has seen a brighter spark for equities with much of the upside attributed to an unwind of yesterday’s flight to quality price action. The reprieve in commodity prices has seen energy and material names among the best performers. However, market moves have been somewhat contained ahead of the invoking of A.50 tomorrow. Of note, Members of the Scottish Parliament are to vote on giving First Minister Sturgeon authority to call a second independent referendum. In credit markets, French opinion polls keep OATs afloat with polls showing Macron would ease to victory ahead of Le Pen. In turn, this has alleviated concerns of the French political risk, subsequently narrowing the GE-FR spread (currently 57.5bps).This has also accounted for 2yr German Schatz yields rising, although the upside will likely be capped given the ongoing collateral squeeze as we approach month-end and financial year-end, the Schatz also saw a particularly soft auction today, which was technically uncovered (1.1) and saw a retention of 27.75%.

Top European News

  • Tesco to Pay $269 Million Over U.K. Accounting Scandal
  • U.K. Businesses Prepare Brexit Wish Lists as EU Talks Commence
  • Le Pen 25%, Macron 24%, Fillon 18% in 1st Round: Ipsos Poll
  • Dufry Rallies After Report China’s HNA May Buy Stake in Retailer

In currencies, the rand slid 1.9 percent to 12.98 against the dollar at 10:38 a.m. in London following Monday’s 2.5 percent decline. Prior to this drop, the currency had gained 9.5 percent year-to-date, making it a top emerging-market performer. The British pound climbed 0.2 percent to 1.2581. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index rose 0.1 percent after dropping 0.4 percent Monday. The USD recovery has been a modest one this morning, with limited upside traction seen in USD/JPY. Gains have extended to a little over 110.80, but with the market waiting for the next move from the Trump administration,
Treasuries find some near term support. The key 10yr rate is holding off 2.40%, and is only 3-4 bps higher from EUR/USD has pulled back off the 1.0900 level, and the market may sense the response to the policy shift at the ECB is now adjusted for. This is not to preclude a move on 1.0950 or 1.1000, but with French election fever hotting up from next week, gains may prove tough. Similar price action seen in GBP today as we saw Monday, though Cable gains towards 1.2600 are struggling amid modest USD buying. EUR/GBP continues to press for 0.8600-10 on the downside, the support here is likely to be aided by the familiar month end flow from Europe. Article 50 set to be triggered tomorrow, and even though this looks priced in, we cannot account for the subsequent rhetoric from Europe which may or may note add some colour to the negotiations which lie ahead.

In commodities, gold fell 0.1 percent at $1,253.50 an ounce after rising 0.9 percent Monday. West Texas Intermediate crude rose 0.8 percent at $48.11 per barrel following a 0.5 percent drop the previous day. As the USD recovers on the modest drop off in Treasuries, precious metals have come back off better levels, but not to any notable degree. The tenuous recovery in risk assets is largely behind this, as the market awaits the next move from the Trump administration — on tax reform. Gold still above USD1250.00, silver USD18.00. In contrast, base metals have recovered, though perhaps unconvincingly as yet — for the same reasons as above. Iron ore prices have come under pressure from Chinese stockpiles also, and this naturally impacts across the board. Copper is tentatively back above USD2.60. Oil prices also stabilise, with further comments — from Iran — that an extension to the production cuts agreed to late last year is on the table. Inventory levels and prospective shale production continues to counterbalance any relief rally. Iranian oil minister says that extending the OPEC and non-OPEC deal is likely but time is required in order to evaluate the decision.

Looking at the day ahead, the early data is the advance goods trade balance reading for February and the preliminary wholesale inventories data for February. Following that we’ll get the S&P/Case- Shiller house price index print in January before we then get the March consumer confidence print (expected to nudge down to 114.0 from 114.8) and Richmond Fed manufacturing survey. Away from the data it is a busy day for  Fedspeak. The Fed’s George speaks this afternoon at 12.45pm before Fed Chair Yellen speaks shortly after at 12.50pm. The Chair is however scheduled to speak on workforce development challenges so there is little suggestion that she will touch on monetary policy. Also due up today is Kaplan at 1pm and Powell at 4.30pm. The other potentially interesting event today is the  Scottish Parliament debate on a independence referendum.

US Event Calendar

  • 8:30am: Advance Goods Trade Balance, est. $66.4b deficit, prior $69.2b deficit, revised $68.8b deficit
  • 8:30am: Wholesale Inventories MoM, est. 0.2%, prior -0.2%; Retail Inventories MoM, prior 0.8%
  • 9am: S&P CoreLogic CS 20-City YoY NSA, est. 5.6%, prior 5.58%
  • 10am: Conf. Board Consumer Confidence, est. 114, prior 114.8; Present Situation, prior 133.4; Expectations, prior 102.4
  • 10am: Richmond Fed Manufact. Index, est. 15, prior 17

Central Banks

  • 12:45pm: Fed’s George Speaks in Midwest City, OK
  • 12:50pm: Fed Chair Janet Yellen Speaks
  • 1pm: Fed’s Kaplan Speaks in Dallas
  • 4:30pm: Fed Governor Jerome Powell Speaks

* * *

DB’s Jim Reid concludes the overnight wrap

After a bad start to the US session it felt like the market had its own sugar hit as the day wore on yesterday. Indeed whether you’re shocked at the fact that the S&P 500 only fell -0.10% yesterday (after being as low as -0.94% intra-day) perhaps depends on how much you think Trump’s most radical policies were priced into markets. There is an argument for saying that such trades weren’t actually priced in much anyway. The examples discussed yesterday within DB were that the 1) Fed funds market pricing are well below the FOMC dots; 2) the Dollar index is now back to where it was at the end of October; 3) the S&P 500 has been performing similarly to how it normally does after a close election even if there was a small pop up in February; and 4) that global PMIs are all consistent with where equities should be given the recent strength – a point we’ve made in previous EMRs. What we don’t know though is if some of the strong survey data contains some element of animal spirits only there because of Trump optimism. The fact that global numbers have been strong perhaps indicates that a lot of the optimism is in fact a global story and not a Trump one. So unless the global story turns then the healthcare debacle shouldn’t be too big a hit. Having said that, failure in the tax reform agenda will surely have more impact on animal spirits given its economic importance. So all to play for even if on some measures little obvious indication of success is priced in.

In markets the leader of the big selloff at the US open yesterday were Banks which tumbled over -2.50% within the first 10 minutes or so of trading. In doing so that meant US Banks briefly entered correction territory after plummeting -10.70% from the early month highs. After that, like the broader index, the sector bounced back impressively into the close and although finished a shade in the red by the end of play at -0.37% still recouped over 2% of the early losses. That move also came in the face of another day of tumbling Treasury yields with the 10y finishing the day 3.4bps lower at 2.379%. That is the lowest closing yield now since February 27th although yields did briefly dip below 2.350% at one stage yesterday. It’s worth noting that Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said yesterday that he sees the possibility of the Fed only hiking one more time this year should uncertainty continue to linger around the outlook for inflation and government spending.

The excitement for volatility also peaked fairly early in the day yesterday after the VIX touched an intraday high of 15.11 and the highest since November, before then settling back to finish at 12.50 and down over 3% on the day. Meanwhile Gold (+0.91%) found a bid amongst the risk-off moves and in doing so has now rebounded nearly 5% from the early month lows. Elsewhere metals had a day to forget with Copper (-0.76%), Aluminium (-0.46%) and Iron Ore (-4.10%) all down, while in FX the Greenback retreated -0.46% although as we noted above is back to pretty much where it was in October last year. It’s worth noting that the biggest mover in currencies yesterday was the South African Rand which tumbled -2.57% following the news that President Zuma ordered Finance Minister Gordhan to return home early from investor meetings in the UK and US. While there was no reason provided much of the chatter was that Zuma is preparing for an imminent cabinet reshuffle, raising uncertainty further around what is already a fragile situation.

As we refresh our screens this morning it appears that the positive momentum which saw Wall Street pare early losses has continued into Asia. The Nikkei (+1.07%), Hang Seng (+0.52%), Kospi (+0.28%) and ASX (+1.12%) are amongst the bourses higher while markets in China are largely flat. US equity index futures are also up about +0.20% while Gold has eased back a touch and rates markets are generally holding in around yesterday’s levels.

Moving on. Yesterday we saw the latest ECB CSPP numbers where the average daily rate of purchases of €308mn last week was the lowest outside of the summer and Xmas lull (average since start of €365mn). One week’s numbers do not make a trend but with the ECB tapering as of next week there will be some speculation that they are preparing to lower purchases. We’ll know in two weeks when the first week of April numbers are in. These will be important in working out the direction of spreads as this will give us an idea of whether they are planning tapering credit purchases as well as Governments. At the moment I would say the consensus is that they taper credit less.

The rest of the data yesterday was a little less exciting. In Germany the IFO survey surprised to the upside after the headline business climate reading rose 1.2pts in March to 112.3. Expectations had been for no change. The details also revealed a relatively equal contribution from both the expectations (+1.5pts to 105.7) and current assessment (+0.9pts to 119.3) components. Our economists in Germany made the point that the survey corroborates the strength of the PMI’s heading into Q2 and that both indices point to about 0.7% qoq GDP growth in Q1. The hard data continues to tell a different story though and the February hard data points will be important to gauge when and how this divergence will be resolved. Meanwhile the other data out in Europe yesterday was the ECB’s money and credit aggregates for February. M3 money supply growth was reported as slowing slightly to +4.7% yoy from +4.8% and as a result roughly staying in the range of the last couple of years. The credit side of the numbers also saw some retreat following strong January data. Banks lending to households slowed while lending to corporates saw its slowest pace in 5 months with the annual growth of corporate lending retreating to +2.0% yoy from +2.3%. Markets in Europe largely ignored the data yesterday and instead followed much of the lead from across the pond with the Stoxx 600 closing -0.40% but paring early heavier losses. In the US yesterday the sole release was the Dallas Fed’s manufacturing survey which was reported as falling 7.6pts in March to 16.9 (vs. 22.0 expected).

Looking at the day ahead, this morning in Europe it’s a particularly quiet start with no notable data due out, although we will hear from a couple of ECB speakers in Coeure and Makuch. Over in the US this afternoon the early data is the advance goods trade balance reading for February and the preliminary wholesale inventories data for February. Following that we’ll get the S&P/Case- Shiller house price index print in January before we then get the March consumer confidence print (expected to nudge down to 114.0 from 114.8) and Richmond Fed manufacturing survey. Away from the data it is a busy day for  Fedspeak. The Fed’s George speaks this afternoon at 4.45pm GMT before Fed Chair Yellen speaks shortly after at 4.50pm GMT. The Chair is however scheduled to speak on workforce development challenges so there is little suggestion that she will touch on monetary policy. Also due up today is Kaplan at 5pm GMT and Powell at 8.30pm GMT. The other potentially interesting event today is the  Scottish Parliament debate on a independence referendum.

ECB under Pressure to Reverse Direction


yellen-draghi

The European Central Bank (ECB) is coming under fresh pressure to increase interest rates, not merely from the standpoint that the Federal Reserve has been doing since the turn in our Economic Confidence Model 2015.75, when the first rate hike took place in December 2015. While there was little immediate reaction to the Fed’s decision to raise rates once again, Mario Draghi is struggling to explain his failed policy of negative rates that have utterly failed to reverse the downward pressure in the economy of Europe since 2008.

russia-capital-flows-10-13-2016

 

Euro outflows 2016

The latest data coming from the ECB and Eurostat is causing Draghi sleepless nights and cold sweats. Non-euro area investors have been net sellers of Eurozone debt securities in 2016 for the first time since the introduction of the euro. The total net outflows of investment capital from the Eurozone debt securities amounted to €192 billion in 2016, up from €30 billion in purchases during 2015. Once the ECM turned October 1st, 2015 (2015.75), indeed everything in global capital flows shifted right on time.

ECM-1970-2084

The bulk of the net sales have been government debt securities totaling €116 billion. Our model, on the other hand, has been forecasting the shift away from government debt to private sector assets. The latest data from Eurostat confirms that that forecast was also correct. The non-euro area investors remained net purchasers of only Eurozone equities, but that did decline by about 50% to from €268 billion in 2015 to €126 billion in 2016.

The Plight of Mall REITs Linked to Poor Retail Market


From Crush the Street, by Joshua Enomoto

It’s one of the great contradictions of the real economy. Despite soaring job growth and surprisingly robust sentiment, the retail market continues to underperform. Even more bizarre, U.S. consumer sentiment hit multi-year record highs recently. In fact, this confidence barometer has been on the rise since 2008. If so many people are that enthused about the economy, why don’t retailers and the retail market have anything to show for it?First off, a large spike occurred in the inflation expectation index between December of last year through the end of February. That would suggest that consumers are buying products “in bulk” to avoid what they anticipate is a rise in prices. It’s not such a far-fetched idea. Ever since the Great Recession when so many families’ savings were gutted, a cynical and survivalist mentality may have proliferated. The retail market would receive a temporary boost, but over the long-term, the trend would not last.In fact, that’s exactly what we’re seeing. The last three months registered strong nominal sales for several retailers. The problem is that the total revenue is being split and allocated towards different sectors like e-commerce — these are competitive channels that simply didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Major retailers now have to compete on two fronts — the online world, and the traditional brick-and-mortars. The former is growing by leaps and bounds at the expense of the latter. Because of this dramatic shift in consumer shopping behavior, multiple companies are forced to close their doors. Why have them open and incur steep overhead costs when you can make better sales online?

retail market, mall REITs

From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense. But as more companies wake up to this trend, the retail market risks fracturing. That’s because when the big shops close for good, they eliminate the foot traffic that was once there. This siphoning inevitably spells trouble for already embattled retail real estate investment trusts, or REITs.

Mall REITs control the vast properties occupied by major shopping centers and strip malls. For decades, business was good. Anybody that wanted anything in the pre-internet era had to go to a retail establishment, and retailers were willing to pay top dollar for prime real estate. Mall REITs were making money hand over fist.

But all that changed with e-commerce. Physical location no longer carried the magnitude of advantage it once did. As consumers began buying discretionary items through their computers, the brick-and-mortars fell below their break-even point. When they closed, they took the cash flow of mall REITs with them.

The initial closures were the mom-and-pops. But when the majors started collapsing, mall REITs suddenly found themselves in a sea of red ink. And that’s exactly why so many publicly-traded variants have fallen underwater. There’s no one to pick up the slack. Worse yet, in the retail market, nobody wants to.

Shell’s New Permian Play Profitable At $20 A Barrel


Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Rakesh Upadhyay via OilPrice.com,

OPEC’s worries about the booming U.S. oil production have increased significantly with the big three oil companies’ interest in shale. Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc, and Chevron Corp., are planning $10 billion of investments in shale in 2017, a quantum jump compared to previous years. All the naysayers who doubted the longevity of the shale oil industry may have to modify their forecasts.

OPEC lost when they pumped at will as lower oil prices destroyed their finances, and now they are losing their hard-earned market share as a result of cutting production. Shell’s declaration that they can “make money in the Permian with oil at $40 a barrel, with new wells profitable at about $20 a barrel” is an indication that Shell is here to stay, whatever the price of oil.

The arrival of the big three oil companies with their loaded balance sheets is good news for the longevity of the shale industry.

The oil crash, which started in 2014, pushed more than 100 shale oil companies into bankruptcy, causing default on at least $70 billion of debt, according to The Economist. Even the ones that survived haven’t been very profitable, according to Bloomberg, which said that the top 60 listed E&P firms have “burned up cash for 34 of the last 40 quarters”.

Therefore, during the downturn, the smaller players had to slow down their operations, but this will not be the case with the big three.

“Big Oil is cash-flow positive, so they can take a longer-term view,’’ said Bryan Sheffield, the billionaire third-generation oilman who heads Parsley Energy Inc. “You’re going to see them investing more in shale,” reports Bloomberg.

The majors are attempting to further improve the economics of operation. Shell said that its cost per well has been reduced to $5.5 million, a 60 percent drop from 2013. Instead of drilling a single well per pad, which was the norm, Shell is now drilling five wells per pad, 20 feet apart, which saves money previously spent on moving rigs from site to site.

Shell is not the only one—Chevron expects its shale production to increase 30% every year for the next decade. Similarly, Exxon plans to allocate one-third of its drilling budget this year to shale, and it expects to quadruple its shale output by 2025.  

“The arrival of Big Oil is very significant for shale,” said Deborah Byers, U.S. energy leader at consultant Ernst & Young in Houston. “It marries a great geological resource with a very strong balance sheet.”

$30 billion has been spent on land acquisitions in the Permian basin since mid-2016, which is a favorite among oil companies.

Considering the new projects and the resurgent shale boom, Goldman Sachs expects oil output to increase by 1 million barrels a day year-on-year. The outcome is an oversupply in the next couple of years.

“2017-19 is likely to see the largest increase in mega projects’ production in history, as the record 2011-13 capex commitment yields fruit,” the U.S. investment bank said in a research note on Tuesday, reports Reuters.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects the U.S. oil production to top 10 million barrels by December 2018, a level only surpassed in October and November 1970.

OPEC is running out of options.

Modern Day Snake Oil – Is 2% Growth As Good As It Gets?


Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Mike Shedlock via MishTalk.com,

There have been 11 recessions and 11 recoveries since 1949.

The current recovery is the slowest recovery since 1949 and closing in on the becoming longest.

Growth since the 2nd quarter of 2009 is a mere 2.1%. The Wall Street Journal asks Is Two Percent as Good as It Gets?

“The growth seen during the recovery might, for a while, be as good as it gets,” the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s John Fernald, Stanford University’s Robert Hall, Harvard University’s James Stock, and Princeton University’s Mark Watson said in a study to be presented among Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

Inquiring minds may wish to download the Brookings’ report entitled Disappointing Recovery of Output After 2009 but I found it a waste of time.

Okun’s Law 

The report was mostly mathematical gibberish based on Okun’s Law.

Okun’s law (named after Arthur Melvin Okun, who proposed the relationship in 1962) is an empirically observed relationship between unemployment and losses in a country’s production. The “gap version” states that for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate, a country’s GDP will be roughly an additional 2% lower than its potential GDP. The “difference version” describes the relationship between quarterly changes in unemployment and quarterly changes in real GDP. The stability and usefulness of the law has been disputed.

Clearly, Okun’s Law is at least as useless as any widely believed economic law, which is to say totally useless.

The supporting paper consists of 90 pages of largely unintelligible garbage such as the following.

Commendable Effort

The Wall Street Journal managed to condense 90 pages of nonsense down to 2 pages of nonsense. That’s a highly commendable effort, and the best one could reasonably expect.

Here’s the conclusion: “The causes aren’t entirely clear.”

I searched the 90-page report for the worddebt“. Care to guess the number of hits? I bet you can: zero.

Modern Day Snake Oil

I was discussing economic indicators with Pater Tenebrarum at the Acting Man Blog a couple of days ago. He pinged me with the correct takeaway.

Economic forecasting is not a science, and it is actually not the task of economic science to make forecasts (contrary to what is commonly asserted). Forecasting is akin to the task of the historian. Mises called speculators “historians of the future”.

Economic laws only play a role insofar as they can be used as constraints for a forecast. The problem is that all these models simply look at the data of economic history, at statistical series that always turn tail “unexpectedly”, driven by human action.

All these mathematical models are complete humbug. It is modern-day snake oil.

Still, it’s pretty clear that the market cares nothing for top-down or bottom-up forecasts of economic activity…

Dollar Collapse Continues – Over 80% Of Post-Trump Gains Gone


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When the dollar was soaring, it was ‘unequivocally’ a reflection of the strength (or potential strength) of the US economy and its safe-haven, cleanest-dirty-short status. Since The Fed hiked rates for the 3rd time in 11 years, however, the dollar has done nothing but decline

Erasing over 80% of post-Trump gains…

The Dollar Index has also plunged back to a 98 handle…

Stocks, Dollar Tumble As Gold Tops $1250; Dead Bill Bounce Dies


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It appears the false narrative of the failed healthcare reform bill being somehow great news for stocks has been eviscerated in early Asia trading. The dollar has tumbled to its lowest since Nov 10th, Gold has ripped back above $1250, and S&P futures have plunged to 6 week lows.

 

The Bloomberg Dollar Index has almost erased the entire post-Trump-election gains…

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US equity futures are tumbling – Dow is down over 700 points from its highs…

 

And gold is back above $1250…

 

It appears faith is fading fast in Trump trades.

On The Edge Of An “Uncontrollable Liquidity Event”: The Definitive Guide To China’s Financial System


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While most traders over the past month have been obsessing over developments in Washington, the real action – most of it under the radar – has played out in China, where as discussed over the past few weeks, domestic liquidity has tightened notably, culminating with an unexpected bailout by the PBOC of various smaller banks who defaulted on their interbank loans as interested rates particularly on Certificates of Deposit (CD) – which have become a preferred funding conduit for many Chinese banks – soared. Ironically, these mini PBOC bailouts took place only after the PBOC itself decided to tighten conditions sufficient to choke off much of the shadow debt funding China’s traditional banks.

As a result, the interbank CD rate rallied strongly, leaving a narrower or negative spread for some smaller banks, whose legacy carry trades (see below for details) suddenly became unprofitable. Also, as reported last Tuesday, several small banks failed to meet overnight repo obligations. This liquidity tightness has been mainly due to escalating financial deleveraging, as the PBOC has lifted market rates and rolled out stricter macroprudential policy rules.

But all those events in isolation seem as merely noise against what otherwise appears to be a relatively benign, even boring, backdrop: after all, neither China’s stock, nor bond markets, has seen even remote volatility in recent months, and certainly nothing compared to what was experienced one year ago, when the Chinese turmoil nearly led to a bear market across developed markets. Then again, maybe the markets are simply once again behind the curve due to all the inherent complexity of China’s unprecedented, financialized and extremely complex pre-Minsky moment ponzi scheme.

Last last week, Deutsche Bank analysts led by Hans Fan released what is the definitive research report summarizing all the latest troubling trends facing China, which judging by capital markets, nobody is paying any attention to. They should, because as Deutsche Bank puts it, if taken too far, they threaten an “uncontrollable liquidity event“, i.e., the financial cataclysm that Kyle Bass and other perma-china-bears have been waiting for.

And, as usual, it all started with rising interest rates, which in turn is leading to increasing funding pressure, which if left unchecked, could lead to dire consequences for China’s underfunded banking system.

Here is a fantastic explanation of everything that has happened in China in recent weeks, and more importantly, what may happen next, courtesy of Deutsche Bank. We urge readers to familiarize themselves with the content as we will refer back to this article in future posts.

* * *

Only in early stage of financial deleveraging

China’s monetary policy has been shifting gradually towards a tightening stance since 2H16. Targeting the liabilities side of the banking sector, the PBOC hiked rates of monetary tools, such as MLF, SLF and OMO (Figure 1), and withdrew liquidity on a net basis after the Chinese New Year (Figure 2). At the same time, it targeted the asset side of the banking sector when it rolled out stricter MPA rules by including off-BS WMP credit in broader credit assessment and imposing stricter-than-expected penalties on banks that fail to comply.

As a result, the key indicators in the money market, including repo and CD rates, all suggest stretched domestic liquidity. For example, the 7-day repo rate, which is the most representative liquidity indicator, has exceeded the interest rate corridor ceiling of 3.45% several times this year (Figure 3). Moreover, the interbank CD rate spiked to 4.6% on 20 Mar 2017, up c.180bps from last year’s low (Figure 4).

We summarize in the below diagram recent financial deleveraging efforts by regulators.

 

Why push forward financial deleveraging?

We believe the PBOC aims mainly to contain the fast-growing leverage in China’s financial sector. In our view, the country’s financial leverage basically relates to speculators borrowing excessive wholesale funding to grow assets and chase yield, rather than relying on vanilla deposits. To measure this, we believe one of the good indicators of financial leverage is the credit-to-deposit ratio, calculated as total banking credit as a percentage of total deposits. The higher the ratio, the more fragile the financial sector, and the more likely the banking system will run into difficulties to finance unexpected funding requirements. Traditionally the loan-to-deposit ratio was widely used to measure system liquidity risk, but has become increasingly irrelevant in China, as banks are growing their bond investments and shadow banking books to extend credit.

As shown in Figure 6, the credit-to-deposit ratio in China’s banking system has risen sharply by 27ppts since 2011 to reach 116% as of February 2017. We see the rising credit-to-deposit ratio basically is a function of increasing reliance on wholesale funding to support strong credit growth. As of end 2016, borrowing from banks and NBFIs accounted for 17% of total liabilities, against 8% 10 years ago (Figure 7).

Which banks are more leveraged? Joint-stock banks and city/rural banks

As we have long argued, the risks are not evenly distributed in China’s banking system; there are notable differences in the balance sheet structures of different types of banks. As shown in Figure 8, medium-sized banks, which mainly include joint-stock banks, recorded the highest credit-to-deposit ratios and hence are most reliant on wholesale funding. At the same time, small banks, which mainly include city/rural commercial banks, also delivered notable increases in credit-to-deposit ratios, despite a lower absolute level. The credit-to-deposit ratio for small banks has increased by 30ppts since 2010, vs. 14ppts for the big-four banks in the same period.

On the liabilities side, medium-sized and small banks mainly rely on wholesale funding, i.e. borrowing from banks and NBFIs. As of 1H16, wholesale funding made up 31% and 23% for medium-sized and small banks, respectively, against only 13% for big-four banks, as shown in Figure 9.

A closer look into interbank CDs – funding pressure ahead

Wholesale funding for smaller banks has been obtained mainly by issuing CDs in the interbank market. Interbank CDs have supported 20% of smaller banks’ assets expansion over the past 12 months. Since the introduction of interbank CDs in 2014, CD issuance recorded strong growth and the balance jumped 89% yoy to Rmb7.3tr in Feb 2017 (Figure 10), or 3.4% of total banking liabilities.

Joint-stock and city/rural banks account for 99% of issuance (Figure 12). In the coming months these banks have ambitious CD pipelines. More than 400 banks announced plans to issue CDs worth Rmb14.6tr in 2017. This represents 60% yoy growth from the issuance plan in 2016. Investor-wise, WMPs, various asset management plans and commercial banks themselves are the major buyers, which combined make up 79% of the total balance (Figure 13).

However, we view banks that are more reliant on CDs as more vulnerable to rising rates and tighter regulations.

Reflecting tighter liquidity, the interbank CD rate has rallied strongly, with the 6-month CD pricing at 4.6% on average. Some CDs issued by smaller rural commercial banks have been priced close to 5% recently. This would have pushed up the funding cost and notably for smaller banks. If banks invest in low-risk assets such as mortgages, discounted bills and treasury bonds, this would lead to a negative spread. Alternatively, banks can lengthen asset duration, increase the risk appetite, add leverage or slow down asset growth. Among these alternatives, we believe a slowdown in asset growth is the most likely.

Caixin previously reported CDs are likely to be reclassified as interbank liabilities, capped at 33% of total liabilities. This potential regulation could add funding pressure for banks with a heavy reliance on interbank liabilities. With Rmb4tr interbank CDs to mature during Mar- Jun 2017 (Figure 16) and interbank liabilities exposure approaching the limit (Figure 17), joint-stock and city/rural banks are subject to notable funding pressure.

We show the listed banks’ issuances in the chart below. INDB, SPDB and PAB are among the most exposed to interbank CDs.

* * *

What are the implications?

Are we close to a “tipping point”?

For now, probably not, especially in a year of leadership transition. In our view, the risk of an uncontrollable liquidity event is low, as the PBOC will do whatever it takes to inject liquidity if needed. In the domestic liquidity market, the PBOC exerts strong influence in both the volume and pricing of liquidity. With 90%+ of financial institutions directly or indirectly controlled by the government, PBOC will likely continue to give liquidity support. In 2H15, the central bank established an interest rate corridor to contain interbank rates within a narrow range and pledged to inject unlimited liquidity to support banks with funding needs.

However, continuing liquidity injections do not come without a cost. A bigger asset bubble, persistent capital outflow pressure and a lower yield curve over the longer term are side effects that China will have to bear. At the same time, the execution risk of PBOC itself is rising.

Implications on system credit growth

We expect system credit growth to moderate from 16.4% yoy in 2016 (16.1% in Feb’17) to approximately 14-15% yoy in 2017 (Figure 23). As a result, the credit impulse is likely to trend lower from the current high level (Figure 24). The slower credit growth is mainly attributable to several factors: 1) a tighter liquidity stance to push up the funding cost of smaller banks and to force them to slow down asset growth; 2) further curbs on shadow banking; 3) a higher  bond yield to defer bond issuance; and 4) slower mortgage loan growth.

 

Appendix A – Liquidity flows in China’s interbank market

New deposits supported 55% of asset growth in China’s banking system in 2016. The remaining 45% of new assets were mainly funded by borrowing from PBOC (19%) and borrowing from each other (19%, including bond issuance). While borrowing from NBFIs remained flat for the entire system, it was the main funding source for medium-sized and small banks. We summarize the liquidity flows in China’s interbank market in Appendix A.

Liquidity injection from PBOC. Over the past 12 months, to offset the liquidity drain from falling FX reserves, the PBOC has injected a huge amount of liquidity worth Rmb5.8tr into the banking system, which is equivalent to 400bps of RRR cuts (Figure 29). Of this injection, 30% and 24% have been made to support joint-stock banks and policy banks, respectively (Figure 30). For details, please see our report, PBOC liquidity facilities: Doing whatever it takes, 23 January 2017.

Borrowing from interbank market. Policy banks and big-four banks are net interbank lenders, while joint-stock and city/rural commercial banks are net borrowers. Joint-stock and city/rural banks not only borrow from policy/big banks, but also from each other. This could potentially lead to stronger contagion effects if some of them run into liquidity stress.

Lending/borrowing between banks and NBFIs. There has been a sharp rise in net claims to NBFIs from banks (Figure 33). We believe this is due to rising shadow banking transactions and also arbitrage activities with funds self-circulating within the financial sector. Clearly as shown in Figure 34, small banks are key lenders to NBFIs

Appendix B – What is driving the financial leverage?

From the accounting perspective, we believe the rising credit-to-deposit ratio is mainly due to bank credit circulating back into the banking system as non-deposit liabilities. In normal cases, when a bank makes a $100 corporate loan or purchases a $100 corporate bond, the bank books the credit to a corporate on the asset side while it also books a deposit on the liability side. We show a normal case in Figure 35. However, if a bank’s money circulates back into the banking system, just like in the two cases we illustrate in the diagram below, the $100 deposit is removed but interbank borrowing or borrowing from NBFIs would increase by $100. While there are likely to be many variants of bank credit circulation, we elaborate on two cases in detail.

Case #1: Bank credit circling via NBFIs

It is well known that NBFIs have been serving as SPVs to channel shadow banking credit from banks to corporates in past years. What is  insufficiently addressed though is that NBFIs also have been acting as channels for bank credit circling. Let us show a simple example below:

  • First, Bank A invests in an asset management plan packaged by an NBFI. This is booked as a receivable investment on Bank A’s balance sheet.
  • Second, the NBFI invests further in a CD issued by Bank B. Bank B books the CD under interbank borrowing. The money circulates back into the banking system and no deposit is generated.
  • In some cases, if the yield of the CD does not cover the cost of issuing the asset management plan, the NBFI will leverage up in the bond market by pledging the CD through repo transactions. The leverage could be built up by two transactions: 1) entrusted bond investment (“Daichi” in Chinese); or 2) entrusted investment (“Weiwai” in Chinese), which we discuss in detail in our 2017 outlook report.
  • In this case we use the investment in a bank’s CD as an example. In reality it applies to investment in interbank CDs, interbank negotiated deposits and financial bonds issued by banks, which are all circulating money back into the banking system.

The bank credit circling through NBFIs is growing rapidly. This is evidenced by strong growth in banks’ receivable investments, which reached Rmb21tr as of end-2016 to account for 10% of commercial banking assets, as shown in Figure 36. This represents 80% CAGR in balance since 2013. The majority of these investments was made by medium-sized and small banks. Note that not all receivable investments are credit circling, but we believe it should make up a notable portion. We summarize the structure of banks’ receivable investments in Figure 38.

The NBFI here could be any trust company, broker, fund subsidiary or insurance company. We believe brokers and fund subsidiaries should be the key players, as their bond trading leverage in the interbank bond market is much higher than other participants (Figure 37).

 

Case #2: Bank credit circling via corporates

Corporate loans may circle back into the banking system as well. This is because many corporates use borrowed but idle cash to buy bank WMPs. Below is a simple example:

  • Firstly, Bank A makes a loan to a corporate.
  • Secondly, the corporate uses the loan proceeds to buy a wealth management product issued by Bank A.
  • Thirdly, Bank A invests the WMP fund in a financial bond issued by Bank B. This corporate deposit would circle back to the banking system as a non-core liability.
  • To make this process economic, in many cases it would require leverage. The corporate borrowing cost may be at 4%, but the financial bond issued by Bank B may only yield 3.5%. To compensate the yield shortage, Bank A has to entrust the WMP fund to a third party and to leverage up by pledging the bonds through repo transactions. This process is called entrusted investment (“Weiwai” in Chinese, or entrusting to an external party).

This type of transaction is not an individual case. As shown in Figure 39, corporates purchased Rmb7.7tr WMPs in 1H16. This accounted for 7% of total corporate debt in China, or 29% of total WMP AUM in the system. SOEs, large private corporate and listed companies enjoy ample bank lending resources with low interest cost. However, the lack of attractive investment projects in their own business prompts them to invest in the financial market (i.e. bank WMPs).

Is Bankruptcy For Illinois The Answer?


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Authored by Mark Glennon via WirePoints.com,

Could a formal bankruptcy proceeding for the State of Illinois be the answer to it’s fiscal crisis? If you think that’s out of the question, as many do, you’re wrong. On the contrary, though Congress isn’t working on it now, the option is quite viable, though subject to obstacles and open issues. The question is certain to gain growing national attention as a number of states sink further into insolvency, so it’s time to get up to speed. I have yet to see a single Illinois politician or reporter raise the question, but plenty of others outside the state are talking about it for Illinois. More on that later.

This article summarizes the basic issues.

First, why? Why would Illinois or any other state consider bankruptcy? Just as for insolvent corporations and municipalities that reorganize, a successful state bankruptcy would provide a fresh start by putting a state on a sustainable path that frees up funding for needed services — funding that’s getting crowded out by legacy debts. It would do that in three primary ways:

  • Debt that cannot be repaid gets cancelled. In the case of governments, that includes unfunded pension liabilities insofar as there’s no realistic hope of paying them. For Illinois, that means part of its $130 billion pension debt could be erased notwithstanding the state constitutional pension protection clause. Unsecured bonds and other debts could also be cut. Illinois will never have a truly balanced budget or be restored to competitiveness unless those cuts are made, as we’ve written so often before.
  • Unfavorable contracts and leases can be cancelled in bankruptcy, which include employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements.
  • Bankruptcy provides an orderly, rational process to sort out who gets what. Without it, a free-for-all eventually sets in for any entity that can’t meet its obligations. Creditors start suing and racing to courts to get the first judgement liens. Bankruptcy halts that tsunami of litigation and foreclosures.

There are constitutional objections to expanding bankruptcy to states. Bankruptcy for governments is a matter of Federal legislation — Chapter 9 the United States Bankruptcy Code. Today, it covers only cities, towns and other municipalities, but not states.

Expert legal opinions differ on whether Chapter 9 could simply be expanded by Congress to states, but my sense is that the weight of opinion is that Congress could, and eventually will, do so.

Congress unquestionably has the power to make bankruptcy laws — it’s expressly granted in the Constitution. Further, its power to apply bankruptcy to municipalities was upheld by courts over seventy years ago. Skeptics think putting state finances under control of a Federal bankruptcy court would upset the notion that states, unlike municipalities, are “sovereigns.”  They cite the 10th Amendment, which reserves to states powers not granted to the Federal government, and the 11th Amendment, which prohibits lawsuits in Federal courts against a state by citizens of another state. For those interested in the details, see the article linked here by Michael McConnell, a Stanford Law School professor.

A leading expert on the other side is David Skeel, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He wrote outright that, “The constitutionality of bankruptcy-for-states is beyond serious dispute.” The key, as he sees it, is that bankruptcy would be entirely voluntary, which should eliminate any concerns about Federal intrusion on state sovereignty.

A professorial legal analysis, however, probably wouldn’t matter in the end. Courts often bend the rules or make new ones when major emergencies or humanitarian issues arise. Even Professor McConnell, who doesn’t like the idea of state bankruptcy, agrees with that:

If we were facing a genuine fiscal meltdown, which could be solved only through bankruptcy or some equivalent process, and if the use of that process enjoyed the support of Congress, the President, and the affected states, it is not hard to imagine the Court swallowing its theoretical objections.

Beyond the legal issues, some fear that merely authorizing the option of bankruptcy would drive up state borrowing cost because potential bond buyers would face the added risk of having debt cancelled. That’s probably true for states in or near insolvency, but wouldn’t it also instill the needed borrowing discipline never to get to that point?  Bankruptcy would only be available upon insolvency — that’s already required under the Code — which means inability to pay what’s owed. If you can’t pay you won’t pay, bankruptcy or no bankruptcy, so it might not make a difference in the long run. In any event, higher borrowing costs would only result during the period from when it was authorized to when a state filed.

Remember that most objections to bankruptcy come from the municipal bond industry, so take them with a huge grain of salt. That industry primarily just wants to protect against losses on bonds already issued. The state shouldn’t be concerned about those; only future borrowing costs should matter. Future borrowing costs are lowered, not raised, if a successful bankruptcy reduces legacy debt.

And remember that the muni bond industry is already well aware that Congress could extend bankruptcy to the states. Rest assured they know all that’s being written here, and much more. They are way ahead of the curve. To some extent, they’ve already built bankruptcy risk into what they will pay for state bonds. And their efforts to shore up their position to assure they come ahead of taxpayers and other creditor are underway, discussed in our earlier article.

Public employee unions and their supporters also don’t like bankruptcy because of the threat it poses to pension obligations. That’s perhaps rational, if you assume states will in fact eventually find some way to pay scheduled obligations. Not Illinois, in my opinion. All sides need to get on the same page about the plain math. And a bankruptcy court should not be expected to cut pensions if it’s indeed feasible to pay them in full. Unions would be wise to recognize that bankruptcy courts so far have typically favored public pensioners over unsecured bondholders. However, time is not on the pensioners’ side: The muni bond industry is hard at work doing all it can to get first liens and other mechanisms to attain priority over pensions.

Unions also worry that collective bargaining agreements could be cancelled. Well, maybe. This highlights the most important general question about how state bankruptcy would work. And the issue applies to municipal bankruptcies as well: Who controls the bankruptcy proceeding?

The key here is that, on the face of Chapter 9, the bankrupt government — basically, the incumbent politicians — have exclusive power to submit the plan of reorganization. But it’s essential, if a bankruptcy is to be successful, that the same politicians and special interests responsible for bankrupting a government not control the bankruptcy, too. Otherwise, that government is doomed forever and a day.

That problem can be overcome in a number of ways that could be written spacifically into legislation expanding Chapter 9 to states. That is, Chapter 9 would not be extended ‘as is’ to states; appropriate changes for states certainly would be made.

Puerto Rico offers a particularly interesting way to address the problem. For Puerto Rico, Congress last year passed legislation similar to bankruptcy, known as PROMESA, that included appointment of a qualified ,seven-member oversight board. That board effectively has control over most major financial issues and will have to sign off on any reorganization plan that cuts debts. Opponents of bankruptcy for states are terrified that PROMESA may have set some sort of precedent. A national television ad campaign opposed PROMESA while Congress was considering it for just that reason. We’ll be writing separately about PROMESA and whether parts of it could work for Illinois.

The problem of who controls the bankruptcy can also be overcome at the state level. Detroit handled the problem in its bankruptcy by having the state appoint an emergency manager empowered to negotiate its reorganization plan. The same concept could work for appointment of a financially competent control board similar to New York City’s during its crisis in the 1970s.

Various “bankruptcy-light” proposals have also been floated. They would have Congress use its bankruptcy power to allow states cut pension debt through a proceeding short of a full bankruptcy. One, proposed by the Manhattan Institute, was the subject of a Chicago Tribune guest article last year.

But that’s about all you’ll find from the Illinois press about bankruptcy for states. Outside, however, the discussion has proceeded for some time. In 2011 the New York Times reported that policymakers were working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy. They did their work “on tiptoe,” according to the Times, to avoid alarming the municipal bond community. Supporters included Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich.

Legislation never materialized but the discussion continues. Bloomberg-Business Week wrote last year under the headline, “The Case for Allowing U.S. States to Declare Bankruptcy.” Significantly, William Isaac also wrote last year that both Illinois and Chicago should already be in bankruptcy. He’s the former Chairman of the FDIC and a nationally recognized insolvency expert.

I’m not quite to the point of saying bankruptcy for Illinois is unavoidable, but it’s getting mighty close.

*  *  *

For those who dismiss the possible need for bankruptcy, I’ll let two points suffice here:

  • The only legal ways to cut the state’s $130 billion unfunded pension debt, thanks to the Illinois Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Illinois Constitution, are 1) amendment of the state’s constitution, or 2) bankruptcy. However, the constitutional amendment might not work because serious objections would remain under the United States Constitution. Further, amending the state constitution then cutting pensions would would raise the question, “Why only pensions?” Shouldn’t other debts, especially unsecured bonds, be cut equally?  That would be an entirely fair objection, and the only way to fairly cut those other debts along with pensions is bankruptcy. Nobody has ever proposed a solution for Illinois that truly balances the budget and pays its debt. Pensions already consume about 25% of the state’s budget even though they remain badly underfunded, which keeps the pension debt growing rapidly.
  • The reason why Illinois can’t get a budget solution in place is there’s not any real one to be had. The true budget deficit is two to three times the official one that lawmakers can’t balance. See the numbers linked here. Spending has already been slashed, and tax increases attempting to stabilize the state would be suicide — they would backfire by accelerating the flight of our tax base, ultimately lowering revenue. Illinois will continue to sink rapidly into further debt unless existing obligations, especially pension debt, get cut.