Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Saturday Post: Are These The Four Horsemen Of The Financial Apocalypse?

Posted by Tom Foremski - November 15, 2008

DK Matai, chairman of the ATCA Open writes an interesting essay on how this financial crisis will play out in the following article titled: The Four Scenarios: Debt Deflation, Hyperinflation, Quadrillion Play and Muddle Through.

The "Four Scenarios" brings to mind the "Four Horsemen" as a metaphor for describing these extraordinary times.

It's an interesting essay. I love the imagery of scenario #3 and that is my pick because governments think they have control but they do not and thus will continually put markets out of balance. And the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

IMHO, the thing to do is to let it all play itself out, since no one can understand the complexity of today's global markets.

[BTW, the third horseman rides a black horse and represents famine and carries a scale. Scarcity and judgement?!]

The Four Scenarios: Debt Deflation, Hyperinflation, Quadrillion Play and Muddle Through.

By DK Matai

From the vantage point of November 15th, 2008, whilst the Washington, DC, summit is underway amongst the leaders of the G20 nations, it would appear that there are four distinct global economic scenarios that may unfold towards the tail end of this year, 2009 and 2010:

Scenario 1: Debt Deflation

Most product, service and asset prices keep falling and the vicious circle of deleveraging causes many businesses, factories and support sectors to shut down. This in turn causes rising and out of control unemployment and falling living standards quarter-in, quarter-out with a severe and ongoing headache for some governments to provide stimulus in the face of declining revenues. This is a similar scenario to the US in the 1930s post the 1929 Wall Street crash.

Scenario 2: Hyperinflation

Some governments print money to try to stave off a recession / depression and end up stoking large scale inflation in a similar way to the Weimar Republic in Germany around 1923 post the first world war's conclusion in 1919. Hyperinflation is the flip side of currency collapse, which then leads to multiple domestic and trans-national black swans.

Scenario 3: Quadrillion Play

The invisible one Quadrillion dollar derivatives equation underpinning the hundred trillion dollar plus debt pyramid manifest as "Eight Bubbles" (Ref: ATCA briefings) continues to experience trillion dollar black holes in which capital on the balance sheet vaporises without warning, month-in month-out. Governments via central banks try to hyper inflate and levitate the system by pumping trillions of dollars of liquidity into the system. The net impact is manifest via two opposite north and south directional vectors -- hyperinflation and deflation. The two vectors collide continuously to create several vortices as the markets change direction nearly every day exhibiting high volatility. The consequence of being caught up in the resultant eddy currents of those vortices is that some asset classes levitate and give the impression of rising, albeit temporarily, and other asset classes fall or simply cease to exist as their underlying asset-base vaporises within the gravitational pull of the nascent financial black holes.

Scenario 4: Muddle Through

Given that fiscal stimulus is one component of GDP over which there is direct policy control, the muddle through is another possible scenario. However, government spending is always far too slow and occurs at some point in the future so we can expect a lunge towards cutting taxes or offering tax holidays, which is the high velocity component. The massive public sector borrowing requirement may have an adverse impact by way of currency devaluation. There is some probability that the governments' massive stimulus packages and central banks' interventions, after a while of uncertainty in the minds of people, act as a partial, deferred offset to the ongoing global financial system deleverage. Then markets may revive, although some of the eight bubbles are only partially deflated. Life goes on in a new muddled way as new and larger bubbles are created. Politicians stop panicking and get re-elected and a new bigger set of bubbles prepare themselves for collapse a few years later, say, 2015 or 2020. This is similar to the scenario post the dotcom and 9/11 crashes in 2000-2001 and the muddle through which occurred until 2007 on the back of extremely low interest rates, credit card, car and housing loans and the other eight bubbles. There is, however, one caveat. Countries without reserve currencies -- of which there are really only two -- and in particular those with with large financial sectors given the base of their GDP, can practically prime the pump only in a very limited way and in doing so risk moving from a banking crisis via a currency crisis on to sovereign default. That would mean expectations from fiscal stimulus are far too high, and not all countries would be able to muddle through.

Conclusions

Whilst the fear is that we may be heading for Scenario 1 and the way to avoid it is via a benign form of Scenario 2 coupled with Scenario 4, it may be important to ask, what if, Scenario 2 has already happened and the Weimar Republic's printing of money is manifest in this broadband internet and high performance computing age, via the complex securities and instruments that private financial institutions created and sold between 1995 and 2007. This has been manifest via the invisible Quadrillion dollar derivatives equation and the associated hundred trillion dollar plus debt securitisation pyramid. Banks and brokers were, in effect, printing their own proprietary issues of "money" via complex securities and as a result their supply of money grew to exceed by at least one order of magnitude the money printed by central banks. Central banks failed to recognise this phenomenon and continued to focus on monetary growth and money velocity utilising old metrics rather than acknowledging the wider spectrum of public (central bank / government) and private money taken together. How could the central banks possibly fail to recognise this new phenomenon while securitisation and derivatives, the tools of liquidity creation, were a central obsession of the financial industry? In fact, the central banks played along, humming the mantras of privatisation and deregulation.

These quadrillion dollar worth private currencies -- paper assets -- have fuelled the globalisation process, massive and unprecedented world GDP growth, mergers and acquisitions, and large scale industrial / infrastructure projects, until natural boundary conditions kicked in, ie, the earth ran out of raw materials and natural resources in sufficient quantities. Scenario 1 started as commodity prices -- food, fuel and raw materials -- went into hyper drive to trigger the catastrophic demand collapse we are now witnessing. Now what we may be heading towards is in fact Scenarios 3 or 4, which are post the Weimar Republic's hyperinflation manifest in most assets' pricing and Scenario 1, which is yet to play its full course. In a nutshell, "1923" already happened up until "2007", "1929" happened in 2008, and the 1930s equivalent is now unfolding. Given that the Great Unwind is happening near the speed of light because of the internet, mobile and satellite communications, as well as high performance computing, it is possible to move to Scenarios 3 or 4 and out of Scenario 1, much faster than was practicable before World War II.

In parallel, the central bankers would like us to believe that they have been and are still in charge because they can print fiat currency at will and set monetary policy at near zero rates if they like. This is governance by magic. What if they can no longer exercise sufficient control and have become co-dependent on the parallel printers of money -- manifest as paper assets -- which happen to be the private financial institutions? What if the central bankers and regulatory authorities are encumbered by what the private financial institutions have done during 1995 and 2007, during which time the policing of the global financial system was inadequate and cross-border arbitrage opportunities exploded? This may mean that we are still living within a myth that central bankers can resolve the mess in the real economy and actually they can't because the paper fuelling the real economy was not issued by them and large quantities of it resides off-balance sheet in a non-transparent way. Yet, the central banks have to mop up the ongoing toxic liabilities and black holes, which may or may not be possible ad infinitum given the unprecedented scale of this challenge. The quantum of asset price deflation underway post the collapse of the Weimar Republic type Quadrillion dollar paper asset bubble is so large that all the kings horses and all the kings men may not be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again. The power of central bankers may have been permanently eroded given that the centre of gravity has now shifted. It lies with the financial markets and their participators who transact the deflating quadrillion dollar plus paper asset equation of which fiat currency is a much smaller quantum.

Which scenarios do you think we are heading towards and in what sequence?

We welcome your thoughts, observations and views. To reflect further on this, please respond within Facebook's ATCA Open discussion board.

Best wishes

DK Matai

Chairman, ATCA Open

-- ATCA, The Philanthropia, mi2g, HQR --

This is an "ATCA Open and Philanthropia Socratic Dialogue."

The "ATCA Open" network on Facebook is for professionals interested in ATCA's original global aims, working with ATCA step-by-step across the world, or developing tools supporting ATCA's objectives to build a better world.

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Please see:

Beyond The Sub-Prime Bubble: The Other Seven Deadly Bubbles . . .

The Size of Derivatives Bubble = $190K Per Person on Planet

Must Read Analysis: Why Markets Are Still Falling . . . The Shadow Financial Systems

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