Friday, June 29, 2007

. Federal Reserve: "Factors Affecting Reserve Balances", June 27

- Fed's Treasuries holdings: $777.4bn (-$4.0bn)
- Other central banks' Treasuries holdings: $1,231.7bn (+$0.7bn) (*)
- Other central banks' agency securities: $743.6bn (+$7.5bn) (*)
- Mackinlay's Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: $2,752.6bn (+$4.2bn)

(*) Off-balance-sheet items.

All quiet on the "funding liquidity" front! Foreign central banks were active in the U.S. credit markets, buying more than $8bn in Treasury and agency securities. This was more than enough to compensate for the Federal Reserve's restrictive stance. All in all, our Global Dollar Liquidity measure gained a rather modest $4.2bn. However, the annual rate of growth, at 15.6%, is the highest since February 2005.

Not all is quiet on the "market liquidity" front, though. Credit spreads are still rising; share prices of financial "innovators" (GS, BX) are under pressure; volatility indices refuse to re-visit recent lows. This is a tale of two "liquidities": strong funding liquidity vs. weak market liquidity. What will give? With oil prices hovering around $70/barrel, the need to recycle petro-dollars will soon become pressing. In the meantime, range-bound equity markets make a lot of sense.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.5% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: -1.8%]

Risky assets rallied nicely yesterday. Thanks to a sharp fall in the VIX, our Endogenous Liquidity Index recovered strongly. But we're not out of the woods yet: that's the message conveyed by credit spreads. Even previously dormant European and Japanese CDS spreads are up!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.5% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: -5.3%]

Concerns about subprime loans have re-emerged, and Bill Gross is bearish once again. That's fine: it's a free country. Anybody has the right to change his or her mind. What got my attention was the article's high degree of emotional intensity. (See for yourself). "Currently", writes Mr. Gross, " 7% of subprime loans are in default. The percentage will grow and grow like a weed in your backyard tomato patch. Now I, the curmudgeon of credit, am as sure of this as I am that the sun will set in the west".

Point taken. I will just say this: I have yet to see a recession with the Global Dollar Liquidity measure growing at 14%-plus rates.
[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.5% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: -5.3%]

Interesting and timely piece by Charles Dumas, chief economist at Lombard Street Research. Mr. Dumas analyzes the possibility of an "implosion of liquidity". That is certainly what our Endogenous Liquidity Index is suggesting: it fell another 2.4% yesterday on the heels of the surging VIX and rising credit spreads. Here's Dumas:

Banks' capital is about to be slashed, and with it excess liquidity in the global system ... Suppose the CDOs held by banks were valued at “market” rather than “model” levels (a fancy new euphemism for illusionary historic book values). Their capital would turn out to be lower. Preservation of capital ratios against loans would require fewer loans: liquidity would have imploded ... A bunch of hedge funds may have problems, but that is the tip of the iceberg for "Titanic" Wall Street. Who holds the toxic tranches? Answer: the originating banks and syndicating investment banks for the most part ... [The] much-trumpeted shift of credit risk off balance sheets was less than met the eye.

Given what's happening with credit spreads, there's little doubt that we are witnessing, at least to some degree, the scenario described by Mr. Dumas. But then Mr. Dumas himself acknowledges that "liquidity is a complex thing". And that leads to an interesting question: why does he omit the (still booming) funding liquidity?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.5% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: -2.4%]

Bombarded from all sides, our Endogenous Liquidity Index has finally turned negative. The rising VIX, surging CDS- and credit spreads, the Goldman Sachs share price: all components register sharp falls. (A narrower, time-tested version based on Moody's spreads still shows healthy year-on-year gains). Clearly, we are witnessing a contraction in the supply of loanable resources in markets for corporate borrowers. Morgan Stanley's Richard Berner sums up the situation:

... the recent repricing of risk has tightened financial conditions, and the renewed turmoil in subprime mortgages will probably make lenders still more risk averse. Financial conditions represent the channels through which changes in interest rates, asset prices, and the availability of credit affect economic activity. ... Increased uncertainty about the economic and financial environment has increased term premiums and volatility in financial markets ...The resulting backup in risk-free yields, combined with slowing — and more uncertain — growth in corporate profits, is challenging stock prices.

Note the link between volatility, risk premia, corporate profits and stock prices. That's precisely the kind of analysis that we try to provide here. I still think that the combination of strong funding liquidity and the CDO Put has the potential to turn things around. (More on the CDO Put here; see also Bloomberg's detailed account of the ongoing Bear Stearns saga).

Monday, June 25, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.5% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +1.6%]

Interesting debate at the Wall Street Journal about the reasons behind the recent jump in bond yields. (An issue discussed repeatedly in this blog). Both James Hamilton and Mark Zendi dismiss the inflation-expectations explanation, largely because "the inflation-protected TIPS yields are up just like the nominal." All right. Prof. Hamilton then presents the bullish case: higher demand for credit from the private sector fuelled the rise in yields. There is, however, a serious problem with the way the case is presented. Mr. Hamilton says his views were confirmed by the subsequent strong performance of the equity market. In other words: his hypothesis can only be confirmed/denied after the facts.

I strongly favor the more ex-ante spreads-based approach. It's a bit more risky, but it can be useful from a trading perspective. Now, it is becoming increasingly clear that something has changed since last week. Surging CDS spreads point to a contraction in the supply of loanable resources — a much more bearish proposition in terms of risky assets (Our Endogenous Liquidity Index is almost flat!). Here's Mark Zendi:

Behind the higher rates is slowly evaporating global liquidity. This is most evident in tighter monetary policies across much of the globe. Central banks ranging from the European Central Bank to the Chinese Central Bank are in the midst of a series of tightening moves ... I also believe, however, that next year as global liquidity continues to dry up, long-term rates will resume climbing. Equilibrium 10-year Treasury yields are closer to 6%. In other words, this is the rate that should prevail in the long-run abstracting from the vagaries of the business cycle and the effects of shifting global liquidity.

So where do we go from here? To become "officially" bearish, I want to see declines in both the Global Dollar Liquidity measure and in the Endogenous Liquidity Index. This is clearly not the case with the Global Dollar Liquidity measure. But will investors in the CDO market panic, sending credit spreads even higher? Take a look at this fascinanting piece about the so-called "CDO Put":

Basically, the CDO put, as I'm using it, refers to the fact that wider credit spreads result in making CDO creation easier. Thus a minor widening event will be met with increased CDO issuance, thus creating a back-stop to spreads.

Increased CDO issuance! A back-stop to spreads! I agree with this fairly bullish view, if only because funding liquidity will need to be deployed. Credit spreads are likely to be the key "tell" going forward.

Friday, June 22, 2007

. Federal Reserve: "Factors Affecting Reserve Balances", June 20

- Fed's Treasuries holdings: $781.4bn (+$2.3bn)
- Other central banks' Treasuries holdings: $1,231.0bn (+$4.3bn) (*)
- Other central banks' agency securities: $736.1bn (+$7.4bn) (*)
- Mackinlay's Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: $2,748.4bn (+$14.0bn)

(*) Off-balance-sheet items.

Following two weeks of setbacks, our Global Dollar Liquidity measure rebounded to a new record high of $2,748bn. All the components showed gains, but foreign central banks led the charge with combined purchases of treasuries and agency securities totalling $11.7bn. The 14.5% annual growth rate means that June is the 55th month in a row with a 10% or more rate of growth. As readers of this blog know, this is ... unprecedented.

A word on our wild Endogenous Liquidity Index: the Bear Stearns CDO saga is putting upward pressure on CDS spreads, thus taming the index (now up by only 5.9%).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.4% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +5.9%]

It doesn't matter if you are bullish or bearish: either way, the market is ... incredibly honest. Price discovery has never been so cheap. Need to know about credit spreads in order to forecast corporate profits? Check out the Markit site. Looking for a market-based proxy to the "Great Moderation" of the business cycle? Take a look at the VIX, the V-DAX and other similar indices. I am convinced that success in this market is largely a matter of learning the language of market-based indicators.

Yesterday, just as I was "declaring victory" about my bullish interpretation of the recent bond market rout, surging CDS spreads suddenly sent a clear message: "Not so fast!"

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.4% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +10.6%]

- A brief review (*). This is a stimulating essay, especially because the authors admit that their previous views on global liquidity covered just one aspect of the phenomenon, namely the "monetary policy cycle". I went through exactly the same process until I decided to tackle things like financial innovation, the Great Moderation, the carry trade, etc. It's nice to see serious people making a serious effort at integrating the various parts of the global liquidity puzzle. I especially enjoyed the part on the Great Moderation of the business cycle, with lots of interesting charts and a specific mention to real-time inventory management, one of the key elements of the Great Moderation. There is no mention of the great factor behind the surge in Asian purchases of U.S. fixed-income assets: the New Bretton Woods proposition.

IMHO, understanding BWII is the key to the global liquidity boom. China and other emerging economies are systematically accumulating Treasuries as part of a development strategy based on the recognition that their own financial systems (and property rights in general) are too weak. Thus, they need to act as an exporting periphery. According to Dooley, Folkerts-Landau and Garber, we are still relatively early in the process, as more countries and regions are likely to join in (Iran? Africa?) The part about financial innovation is too short. Furthermore, there is no link to the ... Great Moderation. If the key impact of CDS and credit transfer markets is the dispersion of credit risk, then the relationship becomes apparent: the credit cycle becomes smoother, leading to less volatile GDP growth and inflation rates.

(*) Stephen Gallagher & Aneta Markowska: "Global liquidity cycle ebbing", Eco Insight, June 6.

- Steen Jakobsen on spreads. Saxo Bank's Steen Jakobsen notes that "something is wrong in high credit land". He mentions the ABX index and the latest Bear Stearns hedge fund troubles. As I look at the spreads component in my Endogenous Liquidity Index, I note the jump in CDS- and high-yield spreads. But this bearish piece of news is almost exactly offset by the ... collapsing VIX!

- The Martin Wolf article. "Unfettered finance is fast reshaping the global economy", yesterday's Financial Times article by Martin Wolf, has created a bit of a sensation. Rich Karlgaard, who writes one my favorite blogs, is one of the enthusiasts: "Terrific piece. Read it. Save it. Read it again every now and then". I'm a bit underwhelmed, although I admit that it provides a good summary of many current developments. Here's Mr. Wolf on global liquidity:

Yet there is also a shorter-term explanation for the explosive recent growth in finance: today’s global savings and liquidity gluts. Low interest rates and the accumulation of liquid assets, not least by central banks around the world, has fuelled financial engineering and leverage. How much of the recent growth of the financial system is due to these relatively short-term developments and how much to longer-term structural features will be known only when the easy conditions end, as they will.

- Bank Credit Analyst on the bond market. "The recent bond market rout has not caused a sharp correction in risky assets, a sign this bond collapse is not restrictive but reflective of vigorous global growth". So says Bank Credit Analyst. Bingo! This is the idea we favored all along: the recent rise in bond yields reflects increased demand for credit, not a sudden fall in the supply of loanable resources. [Nonetheless, I will keep an eye on those pesky spreads].

- "Accrued Interest": a blog on the bond market. Take a look at this interesting blog [HT: Brad Setser]. The author imagines a LTCM-like episode in the context of today's markets. Not a pretty picture:

1) A large number of investors in higher quality CDO tranches (A and AA) are burned by sub-prime defaults.2) This causes a re-pricing of CDO spreads, and causes a drastic slow-down in deal flow.3) In turn, this eliminates the "CDO Put" in the credit market. This is where any widening of credit spreads made forming new CDO's that much more attractive, thus creating a back-stop for spreads generally. If the CDO market disappears, even temporarily, this "put" is gone.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.4% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +10.4%]

In this very interesting speech, Malcom Knight, General Manager of the BIS, analyzes the situation of "ample growth in global liquidity and generalised compression of risk spreads". He reviews two hypotesis about the "recent benign conditions in financial markets": (a) monetary policy; (b) the global saving-investment imbalance and the related increase in foreign exchange reserves. The end-game is different in each case. If you believe that G7 monetary policy has been the driving force behind the global liquidity boom, then the end is nigh:

... if monetary policy has played a dominant role, the rise in inflation that has been observed recently in many countries and the likelihood of a further tightening of global monetary conditions suggest that the current episode of low interest rates and tight spreads could end quickly. This could have an adverse impact on interest rate sensitive sectors of the economy and lead to a withdrawal of liquidity from precisely those markets that have benefited the most from low interest rates.

By contrast, "saving-investment imbalances evolve slowly over time". In othe words: expect the observed changes in yields and spreads to be reversed only gradually. And this is precisely where things get interesting:

... a further prolonged period of low interest rates and tight spreads of the sort that is implied by the saving-investment hypothesis risks encouraging even more leveraging in the short to medium term. The further build-up of global foreign exchange reserves could have similar implications. This suggests that the current episode of ample liquidity may be longer, involve a continued build-up of positions, and have an even more uncertain resolution than one might at first have expected.

Monday, June 18, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.4% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +9.4%]

Mid-way through the recent bond market sell-off, I discussed the meaning of rising yields with Macro Man. He elegantly summed up my position with the sentence: "Not all rate rises are created equal". My point was that interest rates can change for a variety of reasons. As the great Horace W. Brock taught us almost 20 years ago, long-term interest rates change whenever new information alters the behavior of those who demand and/or supply loanable resources in the credit market (*). When discussing the valuation of risky assets, this simple insight can be very useful.

If interest rates increase because participants get new —and very bullish— information about the state of the global economy, the impact on risky assets is not necessarily negative. Demand for credit increases at every level of the interest rate as firms rush to borrow funds to take advantage of the expected increase in profitability. Now, interest rates can go up for seemingly "bad" reasons as well: reduced foreign capital inflows, rising inflation expectations and budget deficits, etc. (a bearish proposition in terms of risky assets).

In my discussion with Macro Man, I argued that spreads can go a long way in telling us why interest rates change. Narrowing CDS and high-yield bond spreads, plus decreasing inflation expectations usually tell a bullish story. In the event, this is largely what happened: the stock market took off despite higher interest rates. Poring over my spreadsheets again this morning, my impressions are more mixed. Year-on-year, spreads still tell a distinctly bullish story. In the short term, however, it would be nice if inflation expectations spreads would again decline towards the 2.30%/2.35% range.

(*) Horace W. Brock. "Determinants of interest rates", Euromoney, 1988. The Financial Times's Tony Jackson, for expample, seems to take it for granted that bond yields went up because of reduced foreign capital flows. There is an element of truth in that: our Global Dollar Liquidity measure shows declines for two weeks in a row. But spreads were painting a rosier picture.

Friday, June 15, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.4% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +9.7%]

When Mohamed El-Erian mentioned the notion of "endogenous liquidity, the liquidity that the market itself creates", it dawned on me that one could design an index to try and capture changes in the supply of loanable resources derived from financial innovation and from the "Great Moderation" of the business cycle (the two are related, by the way). The result has been our Endogenous Liquidity Index. The ELI includes a number of CDS and high-yield spreads, the VIX, a measure of the carry trade (through short-rate spreads), and ... the Goldman Sachs share price.

While more work needs to be done in terms of CDS spreads and volatility indicators, I am quite confident that such indices will become more and more popular. There is a reason why: as Manuel Johnson and Robert Keleher taught us over ten years ago, globalization and innovation will only increase the value of market-based indicators (*). It was thus with pleasure that I read about Saxo Bank's Steen Jakobsen, "hard at work at designing [a] new monetary index, which includes today's new 'liquidity' generators, credit derivatives and similar structures". Good!

(*) Manuel Johnson & Robert Keleher. Monetary Policy. A Market Price Approach. Westport, Connecticut: Quorum Books, 1996.
. Federal Reserve: "Factors Affecting Reserve Balances", June 13

- Fed's Treasuries holdings: $779.1bn (-$6.5bn)
- Other central banks' Treasuries holdings: $1,226.7bn (-$3.2bn) (*)
- Other central banks' agency securities: $728.7bn (+$3.1bn) (*)
- Mackinlay's Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: $2,734.4bn (-$6.7bn)

(*) Off-balance-sheet items.

For the second week in a row, our Global Dollar Liquidity Measure shows a contraction. Most of the damage was caused by repo operations totalling $8bn. Custodial data show that central banks were mostly quiet during the week, swapping some holdings of treasuries for agency securities. Officially, the liquidity boom is intact: the annual rate of growth of our liquidity measure is still solidly above 10%.

The collapse of the VIX over the last couple of sessions has greatly benefited the Endogenous Liquidity Index, which shows a healty 9.7% rate of growth. However, it is worth noting that the recovery in risky assets is not accompanied by falling spreads: CDS and high-yield bond spreads are mostly unchanged, while inflation expectations spreads continue to slowly grind higher.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.5% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +6.1%]

It pays to read Jim Griffin (here) and Bank Credit Analyst (here and here). The message, in a nutshell: the yield curve is normalizing. Big deal. (OK: it happened a bit faster than usual). Meanwhile, the VIX is taking a toll on our Endogenous Liquidity Index. Spreads are rising a bit, but they remain very tight. The platinum/gold ratio trades at 2 again (strong global economy). What, me worry?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.5% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +8.4%]

The yield curve is finally normalizing. When it became deeply inverted in August 2006, I briefly went bearish on risky assets. A sudden collapse in the demand for bank reserves, I reasoned, would force the Fed to sell treasuries — thus putting and end to the liquidity boom. But foreign CBs kept on buying U.S. bonds. Far from retreating, global dollarized liquidity gained more and more ground. In the new global context, the yield curve suddenly mattered less. Score one for the "It's Different This Time" (IDTT) crowd.

Monday, June 11, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.5% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +7.7%]

Brad Setser, the doyen of reserve analysis, has repeatildy highlighted the numerous drawbacks of the New York Fed custodial data. They tend to underestimate the true size of central banks' dollar holdings. But I remain a fan nonetheless: they have served me well over the years. Apparently, the IMF likes them too:

In recent years, the investment of a large share of these reserves into U.S. treasuries and agencies has contributed to the low yields in fixed-income markets. To measure this, we look at the growth of official international reserves held at the U.S. Federal Reserve system.

See figure 1.32 on page 40.
[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.5% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +7.7%]

- Morgan Stanley's Richard Berner assesses financial conditions following the recent market correction. This piece is particularly interesting, because Mr. Berner reviews one by one the elements of the global liquidity boom: the mix of global savings, credit spreads and —last but not least— the impact of financial innovation on the "Great Moderation".

- From Bloomberg: China's trade surplus soars 73% in May from a year earlier to $22.45 billion, state-run news agency Xinhua reports, citing data from the customs bureau. See also Brad Setser's take on the surprising April U.S. trade data.

- The Federal Reserve
releases its weekly balance sheet, with its important annexes. Our Global Dollar Liquidity measure contracts slightly.

- PIMCO's Bill Gross shakes up the bond market. In an
interview published in the firm's website, the investor detects a change at the margin in the behaviour of "reserve nations": the China-Blackstone deal means that central banks are likely to do less recycling. "To the extent that that stops at the margin—an example being China now investing $3 billion in Blackstone, a private equity firm—we have to factor that into our equation in terms of the attractiveness of bonds".

- An article on Lloyd C. Blankflein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs (Jenny Anderson: "
Goldman Runs Risks, Reaps Rewards", The New York Times). Mr. Blankflein describes himself as "cautiously optimistic about the current market". And he adds: "... to be successful in this business, you have to have a degree of risk tolerance".

- The Reserve Bank of New Zealand raises its
target for the the Official Cash Rate from 7.75% to 8.00%. Says Governor Alan Bollard: "Had we not increased the OCR this year, it is likely that the inflation outlook would now be looking uncomfortably high".

- The European Central Bank raises its short-term rate target from 3.75% to 4.00%. As usual, Mr. Trichet
mentions the L-Word: "... liquidity in the euro area [is] ample".

- Interesting speech by Federal Reserve Board Governor Kevin Warsh on "Financial Intermediation and Complete Markets". Lots of references to liquidity issues: Mr. Warsh is a keen global liquidity watcher.

- Sebastian Becker, of Deutsche Bank Research, publishes an essay on "
Global liquidity 'glut' and asset price inflation. Fact or fiction?" I'll review it during the week.

Friday, June 8, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.5% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +3.6%]

Three short posts by Bill Luby on the VIX will provide more information than an entire day with RealMoney: [1],[2] and [3].

Thursday, June 7, 2007

. Federal Reserve: "Factors Affecting Reserve Balances", June 6

- Fed's Treasuries holdings: $785.6bn (+2.3bn)
- Other central banks' Treasuries holdings: $1,229.9bn (-$1.5bn) (*)
- Other central banks' agency securities: $725.5bn (-$2.4bn) (*)
- Mackinlay's Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: $2,741.1bn (-$1.6bn)

(*) Off-balance-sheet items.

Testing times for liquidity bulls! The latest Fed balance sheet contains lots of (potentially) useful information. First things first: there is a weekly contraction in our Global Dollar Liquidity measure. OK, it's only a tiny one (-$1.6bn), but as Bill Gross said in a interview that set the tone for Thursday's bond market rout, what counts is what happens ... at the margin! Foreign central banks sold about $4bn in treasuries and agencies. "We're not talking about a major overnight shift but at the margin", said Gross. We'll see.

Note the positive contribution of "domestic" liquidity. This may reflect the changing shape of the yield curve, which is getting steeper day by day. (Bank reserves at the Fed are at a five-month high). Last but not least, our Endogenous Liquidity Index has fallen sharply, losing 8% in just two days, courtesy of the surging VIX and of rising CDS spreads. There you have it. The only thing that can be said in favor of liquidity bulls is that the Global Dollar Liquidity measure is growing at a (preliminary) 14.5% annual rate, the fastest pace since February 2005. Will it be enough to keep the equity bull market running? As Ronald Reagan famously said: "Trust, but verify".
[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.16% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +8.6%]

I just came across this charming piece by the FT's Tony Jackson (I wish I could write with such wit). Mr. Jackson blasts the "it's different this time" crowd, whose members he duly labels IDTTs. According to Mr. Jackson, IDTTs are active in at least four fronts: corporate profits, global liquidity, commodity prices, and the UK housing market. The article provides an excellent opportunity to briefly assess some aspects of the current liquidity cycle.

When it comes to "Chinese savings, the yen carry trade, the surge in petrodollars and so on", Mr. Jackson tells readers that "most of those seem cyclical to me, or at least finite". Absolutely right! As a matter of fact, we are about to "celebrate" the tenth anniversary of the onset of the Asian currency crisis, when our Dollar Global Liquidity measure all but collapsed. In September 1998, at the end of the crisis, the stock of dollar-denominated bonds held by foreign central banks was declining by a staggering 12.6%!

In one respect, though, I have to disagree with Mr. Jackson when it comes to "Chinese savings". There is an element of IDTT in the current flow of global capital to the U.S.: the Dollar Global Liquidity measure is about to enter the 55th month in a row with a growth rate of 10% or more. This had never happened before. I wish I could say otherwise —I don't consider myself a member of the IDTT crowd— but that's what the numbers tell.

And then there's the issue of derivatives. Mr. Jackson takes a narrow one-to-one view. Yes, derivatives are a zero-sum game: you lose money/I make money. But consider the macro-economic impact of CDS. G7 central bankers, and even the IMF, agree on this point: credit risk is diversified as never before. Thanks at least in part to risk transfer markets, business cycles have become smoother. As the (very cautious) Bank of England recently put it, "less volatile collateral values promote steady credit, investment and growth rates". And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the very definition of ... liquidity!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.4% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +13.0%]

Don't miss Governor Kevin Warsh's latest speech on liquidity and financial innovation. Back in March, his speech on liquidity was a hit with liquidity watchers (or al least with me!). Key themes: [1] liquidity-fueled financial innovation has made markets substantially more "complete": more risks are more readily priced and traded without significant diminution in value than in prior periods; [2] because of more complete markets, shocks to liquidity are less likely to become self-fulfilling and less likely to impose lasting damage.

Governor Warsh thus considers himself a "watchful optimist"; he pays tribute to the army of financial engineers who have "forever changed" the nature of financial intermediation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.4% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +13.1%]

In a Q&A session with Financial Times readers, the Citigroup U.S. equity strategist dismisses the idea of "excess liquidity" as a "poorly described term", adding that "Alan Greenspan once defined liquidity as being a function of confidence" (for a similar view, see Fed Governor Kevin Warsh's March speech). Tobias is bullish on U.S. stocks, but he's no raging bull. His S&P and Dow Jones targets are, respectively: 1,600 and 14,400 by year-end 2007, and 1,725 and 15,500 by mid-2008. Beyond that, he has "some profound concerns about margins for second half 2008, so we are being vigilant on the earnings front". (The U.S. presidential election is also a source of concern).

Meanwhile, Mohamed El-Erian, the president and chief executive of Harvard Management Company, dwells on the Second Best theory in the context of the New Bretton Woods model (see our recent post on that very issue here). Finally, Bill Luby warns: be careful out there!

Monday, June 4, 2007

[Latest Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: +14.4% annual growth rate; latest Endogenous Liquidity Index: +14.6%]

In the context of an exchange of ideas with Macro Man about the meaning of higher interest rates, I ventured that spreads matter as much as levels when it comes to the valuation of risky assets. Now, every time I check the numbers, I am struck by the sheer collapse of spreads (between high-yield bonds and treasuries) over the last couple of years. Absolutely amazing! Spreads are the best forecasters of corporate profits. But why are they so low?

Let me briefly discuss one of the least understood aspects of the current liquidity boom: collateralized debt obligations or CDOs. This technology —it is not a "product"— provides "a way of creating high quality debt from average quality (or even low quality) debt" (*). Financial innovation is creating a huge demand for average and low quality debt; in other words: the supply of loanable resources continues to increase.

In 2006 alone, $450bn of CDOs have been issued, and as much as $460bn in synthetic CDOs (portfolios of CDS packaged as CDOs). How does that relate to the valuation of risky assets, beyond the immediate impact of lower financial costs? I don't really pretend to know, but I just don't feel like betting against the market.

(*) John Hull. Options, Futures and Other Derivatives (Sixth Edition). Prentice Hill, 2006, p. 517.

Friday, June 1, 2007

. Federal Reserve: "Factors Affecting Reserve Balances", May 31

- Fed's Treasuries holdings: $783.3bn (+3.3bn)
- Other central banks' Treasuries holdings: $1,231.4bn (+$9.8bn) (*)
- Other central banks' agency securities: $727.9bn (+$4.9bn) (*)
- Mackinlay's Global Dollar Liquidity Measure: $2,742.6bn (+$17.9bn)

(*) Off-balance-sheet items.

It's official: liquiditywise, May was the strongest month of the year. Our Global Dollar Liquidity Measure now tops $2,742 billion, a monthly increase of $48.9bn. The annual rate of growth (14.4%) is the highest since February 2005. Our Endogenous Liquidity Index, which combines measures of CDS spreads, volatility and the carry trade, continues to surge forward. Meanwhile, the "Goldilocks/Stagflation" indicator appears to stagnate somewhat, a slightly less bullish development.