Wednesday, 28 April 2010

KRIS SAYCE: Why Australia isn’t so Different from Greece

_Kris_Sayce Kris Sayce from Money Morning Australia explains why NZ’s biggest trading partner, and the domicile of our Big Four banks, is not so different from Greece.
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“Oh stop grumbling and just hand over the money.” That’s in effect what the German government is being told to do with its taxpayer euros.  According to the Associated Press (AP):
    “A 45 billion euros ($A64.45 billion) bailout package from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should see Greece through its borrowing needs for this year. But the bailout is complicated by German grumbling, which continued on Monday, about the burden of the bailout on its own finances.”
Do you know what, if your editor was German we think we’d grumble a bit too. In fact if we were German we’d tell the Greeks to stick a Banane^ up their Kokospalme.*

We’ve long thought the Euro currency was doomed to failure. Whether the debts piled up by Greece and other Eurozone countries is enough to cause its collapse is another matter.

But one day – probably sooner rather than later – it will fail. Just like all fiat currencies are destined to collapse.

For an indication of how bad things have gotten in Greece you need look no further than current Greek interest rates and compare them to German interest rates.

First take a look at this chart from Bloomberg:
Hell-enic Bonds
Hell-enic Bonds
Click to enlarge

The worst thing is, that yield is only as of close of business on Friday. In overnight trade the interest rate on the 2-year bond increased to over 13%. A full three percentage point increase on Friday’s rate.

Make no mistake, that’s an absolutely massive move.

And as you can also see from the chart above, the yield has more than doubled during the past month alone.
But what this shows is that if you mess around with debt and interest rates it’ll eventually bite you on the bum.

It shows you that the attempts to manipulate interest rates by central bankers are doomed to fail. Because while the Greek government should hang its head in shame for criminally burdening its citizens with debt, the central bankers are equally culpable for drugging them up on cheap money.

Let me show you an example. Below is a chart for the same 2-year Greek bonds, except it’s showing the rolling yield going back five years:

Too low for too long
Too low for too long
Click to enlarge

And remember, this chart only goes up to last Friday. Based on the prices from overnight, the current yield would be where I’ve placed the big red blob on the chart.

Now, we won’t claim to be an expert on Greek government debt. But the reaction of the bond market tells you what the problem is.

It’s telling you that the government has over-exposed itself to debt over a long period and that investors are no longer willing to accept a yield of between 2% and 5% that they were prepared to accept for the previous four years and eight months.

Importantly, the problems in Greece aren’t something that developed overnight. The Greek government didn’t change from an Ebenezer Scrooge type miser at the beginning of this year to a Paris Hilton style spendaholic yesterday.

The markets have obviously known about the Greek debt for some time. It’s only now that the realisation has dawned on investors that there are perhaps better places to stick their money…

Hence why the Germans are “grumbling” over sending some of their hard-earned southbound to the Mediterranean.

This is the sort of event the saps in the mainstream insist could never happen in Australia or the US. They’re mistaken.

You see, as our Slipstream Trader editor Murray Dawes wrote in Money Morning yesterday:
    “I really believe that you can never succeed in the markets long term if you’re not constantly aware of the effect your psychology has on your results.”
A large part of the reason why investors are fleeing Greek bonds is psychology. Sure there are some mug punters that are prepared to buy Greek debt on a 13% yield, but that yield shows you just how risky the punters believe it is.

The main role of interest rates is to provide a visible price of money, another role is to indicate the supply and demand for money, and finally it provides an indicator on the relative risk of money and other investments.

To use an example. While the Greek 2-year bond is trading at a yield of over 13%, the German 2-year bund has a yield of just 0.88%. That’s a spread of over twelve percentage points!

The interest rate is now telling investors that German debt is low risk and Greek debt is super high risk.

Of course it’s all relative. And you shouldn’t forget that the German rate has been manipulated much lower than it otherwise would be by the European Central Bank. But you get the point.

Keeping interest rates low gives the false impression that no one needs to save. Low interest rates over the previous four years gave the market and investors the false signal that there is already enough saving and therefore there’s no need save.

The low interest rates also made the incentive to save a lot less too, even if they were inclined to.

So, what do governments and individuals do? They heed the signals from the interest rates and spend. Only it turns out that the signals were false. The signals were like faulty traffic lights stuck on green in all directions.

Investors were happy to drive through them and luckily they missed the carnage. But eventually their luck ran out and they’ve run head on into a semi-trailer.

Which is what makes headlines such as this sent in by Money Morning reader Karl all the more worrying: “Lifting rates will not stem rising market.”

The article opens with, “SOMEWHERE amid the fuzzy logic that drives the Reserve Bank’s interest rate policy is the notion we have a housing price bubble and that raising interest rates will deflate it.”

Sadly, in the short term the writer Terry Ryder is probably right. For a time investors and people will ignore higher interest rates because they assume it to be a sign of a positive economy. But taking that attitude is no different from what’s happened to the Greeks.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s a manipulation of interest rates. And despite the fact that interest rates are rising you shouldn’t forget that they are being kept much lower than the free market would otherwise have set them.

Rising interest rates should mean that it’s time to stop spending and it’s time to save. However, because of the entrenched idea that rising interest rates means a positive economy, individuals have been brainwashed by the mainstream commentators into believing that higher interest rates is also a good time to borrow and spend.

But don’t forget, despite Australian interest rates being higher than the official cash rate in other economies, they are still being kept artificially low.

And because the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is keeping rates low, it’s masking asset bubbles and convincing investors and individuals that more can be borrowed – especially as rates are below ‘normal.’

Just as the Greeks were convinced to borrow more when their interest rates were kept artificially low.
The five-year chart above provides a perfect example of how a bubble can only be suppressed for so long before it eventually bursts.

It may not look like a bubble bursting because the chart shows the yield going up. But just remember, the higher the yield the higher the risk. And also remember that bond prices react inversely to bond yields.

So if you were to see the price of bonds as opposed to the yield it would look something like what we’ve magically created using the expensive software package known as – hehem – Microsoft Paint:

Click to enlarge

You can see the bubble being artificially expanded by low interest rates, reaching a crescendo in late 2009.

But then the market reached a tipping point if you like. Investor psychology took over. It begins where one by one investors start to dislike the risk profile of a particular asset class.

Eventually one by one becomes ten by ten, then one hundred by one hundred, until the flood of investors exiting an asset is unstoppable.

You’ve seen that for yourself in the stock market.

And now you’re seeing it with Greek government bonds.

There’s no reason why this can’t and won’t happen in the UK, the US, or more troublingly in China.
And there’s absolutely no reason why it won’t happen to Australia’s asset bubbles either.


^ Banana
* Coconut tree


  1. The author looks like Richard Goode with a suit and a pair of glasses.


  2. No doubt Mr Sayse is sufficiently literate to know Australia can never be different to Greece. Different from or similar to but NEVER different to.

  3. I'm sure he is. I'm sure any grammatical error is entirely mine. Fixed now. Thanks. :-)

  4. Does he mean that the Aussie property bubble could collapse?

    Surely property always goes up? After all, every right thinking person knows that it does go up. Up and up it goes. Always has. Always do. Up. It must go up. And more up than that even. Up, up, up I tell you. Always.

    If all the upright, upward, right thinking people are wrong, then there might be some social stress in the making (but only a little of it, as right thinking people don't do all that much of an unseemly nature, except right thinking that is).

    There are a lot of right thinking people around. It would not do for them to appear to be too rapidly stressed in the financial way. Surely there'd have to be a right thinking benefit arranged to help all the right thinkers? Yes, yes, there would be. Of course, that'd mean those people would be down, wouldn't it? Down and dependent. Wrong even. Wrong and on welfare like?

    Aha! But weren't they really ALWAYS on welfare in the first place? Wasn't the bubble a welfare mechanism cunningly developed to appear to assist them to be more comfortable? So, in the end, all that'd be happening is an alteration of mode of welfare from one form to another.... all paid for with their own expropriated wealth. Hell, it's wealth recycling! Amazing stuff that recycling.

    Recycling is really clever, especially as right thinking people are not very clever at all (well, not when it comes to real wealth or politics for that matter). Being clever has little to do with right thinking, see? Lefty welfarists are far cleverer than right thinking people. So are collectivists and power mongers in general. So are tax eaters. See, those guys know what they are and what they are doing. Right thinkers don't know because they aint clever enough to know. They are not clever because they are right educated like.

    Anyway, in the end the entire recycling scheme is sustainable for a while yet to come. Reckon it's got another generation or two left in it? Ya reckon?



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