sabato 31 luglio 2010

Un viaggio in Oriente

Con l'introduzione di un salario minimo Hong Kong diventa il paradiso perduto di Milton (Friedman): vi raccomando questo articolo dell'Economist per capirne meglio la storia e per un'analisi delle prospettive future. La tendenza per una maggiore regolamentazione dell'attività economica è chiarissima:
The minimum-wage law follows other employment legislation, as well as government forays into business, expanded public services and industrial policy. Such things have long been normal in other countries, but were novelties in Hong Kong. (...)
Because changes have come incrementally, direct taxation remains low and Hong Kong has been spared the costs of armed forces, the shift is easy to overlook. But their collective impact reflects a dramatic turn in what Milton Friedman once described as the world’s greatest experiment in laissez-faire capitalism.
Impure freedom
Of course, Hong Kong was never entirely free of state interference. (...) Another exception to the free-market rule is the currency’s peg at around $7.80 to the American dollar. And the state has also had a habit of granting or tolerating monopolies, for example in gambling. Hong Kong’s way has by no means been synonymous with perfect competition.
Yet as state intervention grew elsewhere, especially after the second world war, Hong Kong remained free of controls on prices, wages and imports, of regulation of business and employment and, in Friedman’s words, of officials’ instinct “to spend other people’s money and meddle in other people’s affairs”. As The Economist put it in 1977: “A businessman setting up shop in Hong Kong finds low taxes, no foolish government interferences…a government leaning over to encourage him to make as much money as he can. He finds, blessed discovery, no politics.”
Often, this was the result of resistance to the British government. No fewer than three times, starting in 1947, instructions came from London to raise tax rates “as high as possible” to lay the foundation of a modern welfare state, says Michael Littlewood of the University of Auckland. But each time the peculiar men sent to govern Hong Kong balked, with the support of locals, notably Chinese businessmen who perhaps learned too much about socialism from the devastation unfolding on the mainland to encourage importing it.
Free-market faith reached its apogee in 1961-71, when Sir John Cowperthwaite was the colony’s financial secretary. Defending his first budget, Cowperthwaite rejected subsidies for start-ups (“an infant industry, if coddled, tends to remain an infant industry”); cheap land for strategic businesses (anything but an auction “leads to an inefficient use of our resources”) and most of all, industrial policy (“better…to rely on the…hidden hand than trust the clumsy bureaucratic fingers”).
His belief in Adam Smith withstood tests that would have shrivelled fainter souls. Two banks went bust in 1965, leading to calls for depositors to be made good by the government (which would then recover what it could from the liquidation of bank assets), for the introduction of deposit insurance and the creation of a government-backed industrial bank. Cowperthwaite dismissed all out of hand, saying the core of the financial system was sound. Depositors’ losses served as a lesson in moral hazard.

Da Hong Kong alla Cina il passo è davvero molto breve: la preoccupazione di molti analisti è che l'esplosione della bolla immobiliare cinese possa produrre danni confrontabili a quelli della bolla immobiliare U.S.A.. Secondo Jim Jubak ci sono ragioni per un moderato ottimismo:
Although a real-estate bust in China would knock the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock markets for a loop -- because both exchanges have heavy exposure to property development companies -- I don't see it creating the kind of multiyear, lingering economic downturn that the real-estate bust has created in the United States. The leverage of the financial system and consumers to the boom and bust isn't as great as it was in the United States, the bust won't send the entire construction sector into a near depression, and the government has unique tools that allow it to bury bad debt in the financial sector very efficiently.
A real-estate bust in China would be very bad news for China's stock markets, but the damage to China's economy -- and global economy -- would be far more limited than the effects of the U.S. housing bust have been.
Lo stesso analista ha scritto più volte sulla Cina nelle ultime settimane, per esempio qui analizza l'impatto della politica economica centralizzata del governo cinese giungendo alla conclusione che the Chinese economic system is generally bad at short-term economic decisions, because the Chinese economy doesn't provide either fast or accurate signals on pricing, supply or demand.

And it's often spectacularly bad at long-term economic decisions because, with no effective brake on government decisions and truly distorted feedback on the results of those decisions from the economy and the lower levels of government bureaucracy, wrongheaded policies can run for years and years, as initial evidence of disastrous long-term consequences simply never filters up to top-tier decision makers. But in a big swath of the middle term, China's economic system does a spectacular job at making sure that nothing goes terribly wrong. Over one, two or three years, China's unique combination of market and centralized command-style economics has the ability to make decisions far more quickly than most other economic/political systems. It also has the brute power to mobilize a high percentage of the country's resources behind the decisions. And that's exactly the time frame that includes current worries about China's economic growth.Right now, I've got big doubts about, say, short-term (a quarter or so) profits in China's auto industry. In the long term, I've got big doubts about China's ability to solve its terrible demographic problem over the next 20 years.

Le prospettive di crescita nel breve-medio periodo dell'economia cinese sono analizzate dall'Economist in questo articolo.

Per finire qui potete ascoltare l'opinione di Kenneth Rogoff sulle prospettive dell'economia cinese
mentre in questo video potete ascoltare sugli stessi temi Stephen Roach, chairman di Morgan Stanley

venerdì 30 luglio 2010

Addio al Belgio, l'Italia e le riforme, la lumachina di Basilea 3, i mercati emergenti del 2050, le guerre del 2050, il fallimento dei baby boomers

Avete più tempo per leggere durante le vacanze? Eccovi serviti, almeno per la giornata:
  • Fantapolitica, fantafinanza oppure un'opportunità da tenere presente? Lo smembramento del Belgio in 3 stati indipendenti?
  • Questa invece è sicuramente sia fantapolitica che fantafinanza: basta leggere il titolo. Dal WSJ: How to Fix Italy's Stagnant Economy. Eccone un assaggio:  Italy's public enemy No. 1 was never the global recession: It is Italy itself, or at least the structural problems from which the country was suffering well before the crisis. Such problems include, but are not limited to, an unsustainable fiscal burden; unrestrained tax evasion; a large, inefficient public sector that crowds out private investments; and a legal and regulatory environment that is hostile to business and encourages corruption. As a result, Italy has consistently been one of the slowest growing countries in the EU.
  • Un problema di logica: ma se le banche europee scoppiano di salute e anche negli scenari peggiori avrebbero necessità di iniezioni di liquidità omeopatiche, allora perchè tutto questo affannarsi per rinviare, addolcire, edulcolorare Basilea 3? Non vi sembrano un po' troppi sette anni per implementare Basilea 3?
  • So che tra i lettori di Alfaobeta si celano investitori amanti del rischio e dell'esotico...ecco un articolo del New York Times sui mercati di frontiera: “I get people asking, ‘Who’s the next Brazil?’ ” said Adam J. Kutas, manager of the Fidelity Emerging Europe, Middle East and Africa fund. “I answer without hesitation that it’s Nigeria,” because it also has a large population and a huge base of natural resources. 
  • Questo l'ho trovato davvero ben fatto (e sufficientemente adattabile da poter essere utile anche per altri mercati, non solo quello U.S.A.): un calcolatore online per decidere se è più conveniente comprare o affittare casa
  • Per alimentare i vostri peggiori incubi, dal blog del New York Times dedicato all'economia: Armageddon Wars: Overpopulation Vs. Global Warming 
  • E se la crisi economica fosse soprattutto dovuta al fallimento etico e culturale della generazione zero, ovvero dei baby boomers? Un indizio: nei paesi in cui il potere è ancora saldamente nelle mani degli over 70 (come l'Italia e il Giappone) la crisi si è fatta sentire in modo meno violento (ma la crescita economica si è fermata da due decenni).

giovedì 29 luglio 2010

Miti, verità e il piacere del conformismo

Letture consigliate dal Wall Street Journal, brevi ma interessanti/divertenti/stimolanti ecc. ecc.:
    •  Ten Stock-Market Myths That Just Won't Die . Un assaggio? Il numero 5:
      "If you want to earn higher returns, you have to take more risk."This must come as a surprise to Mr. Buffett, who prefers investing in boring companies and boring industries. Over the last quarter century, the FactSet Research utilities index has even outperformed the exciting, "risky" Nasdaq Composite index. The only way to earn higher returns is to buy stocks cheap in relation to their future cash flows. As for "risk," your broker probably thinks that's "volatility," which typically just means price ups and downs. But you and your Aunt Sally know that risk is really the possibility of losing principal.

    • ancora dal WSJ di qualche tempo fa: A Hedge-Fund King Philosophizes on Truth and Weasels.
    • Il sig. Dalio,seduto su un capitale di 75 miliardi di dollari da gestire, prevedibilmente sfoggia una filosofia...iperrealista.... Mr. Dalio's basic philosophy is what he calls "hyper-realism," a notion that brutal honesty, no matter how uncomfortable, yields the best results. Principle No. 8: "There is nothing to fear from truth....Being truthful is essential to being an independent thinker and obtaining greater understanding of what is right." At Bridgewater, being truthful also requires being a bit ruthless. Employees aren't allowed to talk critically about someone unless the person is present. Principal No. 11: "Never say anything about a person you wouldn't say to him directly. If you do, you are a slimy weasel." If an employee breaks the rule three times, they can be fired. "Most people actually love this rule,'' says Mr. Dalio. 
    • So That's Why Investors Can't Think for Themselves si pone alcune buone domande. Ad esempio: Why do investors so often seem to resemble a school of fish, all changing direction together?Sometimes the most interesting answers to financial questions come from scientific labs. A study published last week in the journal Current Biology found that the value you place on something is likely to go up when other people tell you it is worth more than you thought, and down when others say it is worth less. More strikingly, if your evaluation agrees with what others tell you, then a part of your brain that specializes in processing rewards kicks into high gear.
      In other words, investors often go along with the crowd because—at the most basic biological level—conformity feels good. Moving in herds doesn't just give investors a sense of "safety in numbers." It also gives them pleasure. Secondo Zweig l'unica cosa da fare è essere risolutamente contrarian, seguendo le lezioni dei classici:
      Benjamin Graham, the founder of value investing, wrote that "the market is not a weighing machine, on which the value of each issue is recorded by an exact and impersonal mechanism, in accordance with its specific qualities." Rather, he added, "the market is a voting machine, whereon countless individuals register choices which are the product partly of reason and partly of emotion." Herding, Graham understood, is part of the human condition.
      Thus, if you buy individual stocks, you should note which way the herd is moving—and go the other way. You should get interested in a stock when its price gets trampled flat by investors stampeding out of it. The list of new 52-week lows is a rough guide to what the voting machine has been trashing lately. Then run your own weighing machine, studying the company's financial statements, products and competitors to determine the value of its business—while ignoring the current price of its stock. And make a permanent record that thoroughly details your rationale for making the investment. That way, you set in stone exactly where you stood before the herd began trying to sweep you away.

      Meglio di una vincita al superenalotto

      mercoledì 28 luglio 2010

      Stress tests: piccola rassegna stampa.

      Ecco una piccola rassegna di articoli sugli stress test:
      • Qui e qui trovate i due commenti "a caldo" usciti sul sito dell'Economist poche ore dopo la diffusione dei risultati degli stress tests. Il numero che uscirà domani (giovedì) sera conterrà sicuramente un'analisi più ponderata e approfondita. Ecco nel frattempo un commento sulla durezza dei test:
        How stressful were the tests?
        Turmoil in recent months in interbank lending markets and, especially, European government bond markets were the ostensible reasons to conduct the stress test and make the results public. Markets were especially keen on detailed information on banks' sovereign debt holdings, as well as the assumptions for losses on this debt due to a "sovereign risk shock", in the words of CEBS in the weeks leading up to the test's results.
        An initial examination of the results suggests that analysts will have much of the fodder they had urged authorities to disclose. Details on bank-by-bank holdings of sovereign debt were not disclosed, but estimates of the size of a loss in the value of their holdings under stress were. Taking the test's assumptions for sovereign debt stress and performing some reverse financial engineering, it may be possible to derive reasonable estimates for sovereign debt exposure at certain banks.
        The "sovereign shock" scenario employed by the test assumed an average fall of 8.5% in the value of EU debt from the end of 2009 to the end of 2011. The highest individual loss estimates included 23.1% for Greek debt, 14.1% for Portuguese debt and 12.8% for Irish debt.
        Some critics maintain that a truly stressful test would feature a scenario in which a sovereign borrower defaults instead of a "postulated aggravation of the sovereign debt crisis", as CEBS explains it. For its part, the Economist Intelligence Unit expects Greece to restructure its debt in 2012, with the government and creditors agreeing to a 30% haircut on bond holdings. This would dent the value of assets held in both trading and bank books, a much more severe scenario than even the test's worst-case state of affairs. The drop in the value of sovereign debt envisioned by the stress test only impacts lenders' trading books, where a minority share of banks' government debt holdings are placed.  
        At first glance, the testers should be applauded for the level of detail provided in their disclosures, especially in relation to what was expected from the exercise only a few weeks ago. The number of banks that failed the test, and the aggregate shortfall in capital, is lower than expected, and this could be perceived initially as an overly rosy assessment of the health of Europe's banking sector.
        With more time to pore over the detailed disclosures and, especially, the methodology and assumptions underlying the test, a clearer picture of the industry's prospects will emerge. Of course, financial markets will provide their own snap judgement of the test, as US exchanges are open for four-and-a-half hours following the release of the test results.      
      • Qui  invece potete leggere il commento apparso sul WSJ, dal quale ho tratto la figura che riproduco qui accanto. La tesi è che i test siano stati all'acqua di rose. Per esempio le ipotesi sul mercato immobiliare sembrano particolarmente gentili: When it comes to property values, estimates for each country were devised by that country's bank regulator. In Austria, the tests assume that in a recession, property prices will rise 2% this year and 2.7% next year—exactly the same outcome as under the benchmark scenario. Poland's stress tests assumed real-estate prices would remain flat.Other countries baked in relatively modest real-estate declines. Italy tested for a 1.6% drop in property prices this year and a 2% drop in 2011, while Greece's worst-case scenario was a 5% fall this year followed by a 2% drop the next year.
        It's unclear to what degree the seemingly optimistic test assumptions affected various banks' performances in the stress tests. In Italy and Greece, a number of banks passed the tests by very narrow margins, meaning even a slight shift in the economic assumptions could have changed the outcomes.
        Sempre il Wall Street Journal in questo commento rincara la dose sulla gentilezza del test, senza trascurare di segnalare la debolezza delle banche italiane e le responsabilità esplicite e implicite della Germania: The fact that only seven banks failed to pass is less relevant than the fact that the five Italian banks tested only squeaked by, as did Postbank, one of Germany's largest, and that Germany's eight landesbanken received a passing grade only because they "have yet to record a substantial part of total estimated write-downs," according to the International Monetary Fund. That relieves the pressure on a sector that German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble says needs "an urgent reform." These regional banks are an important source of funding for Germany's small businesses. If they fail, the locomotive of the European economy might have a lot less fuel.(...)
        And by the way, no need to worry about a double dip recession. The so-called "adverse case" defines a "double dip" as no growth in 2010 and a 0.4% decline in GDP next year in the 27-nation European Union. Not very "adverse" by historical standards, given the fact that GDP in the EU declined by 4.2% in 2009.
        There's more, but you get the idea. Markets "don't think the scenarios were stressful enough," Brian Dolan, chief strategist at told Bloomberg News. How they will react in the long run will depend on two things.
        The first is Europe's ability to sustain the recent uptick in its economic growth. The CEBS "benchmark", or most likely case, assumes euro area growth of 0.7% this year, and 1.5% in 2011. Not likely to produce many jobs, or tax revenues to help bring down fiscal deficits.
        The second is Germany's continued willingness to be paymaster of last resort. Europe's banks passed the tests because those who devised them assume that Germany will continue to bankroll the various institutions set up to pump capital into the banks, and to provide an implicit guarantee against default by Club Med countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's plummeting popularity, in part a result of her reluctant agreement to have German taxpayers foot the bill for the excesses of its euro-zone partners, suggests limits to Germans' eagerness to work harder so that banks holding Spanish, Greek and other sovereign debt will face a mere trim around the edges rather than a crew cut.
        The tests might be over, but stress is not. Don't discard the Valium just yet.
      • Il blog Econotwist di Hespen Haug e Magne Lero è una delle letture più stimolanti e originali che ho trovato sul web. Vi raccomando dunque il post dedicato agli stress test e tratto dall'articolo di Wolfgang Münchau sull'edizione tedesca del Financial Times. Come assaggio vi propongo l'incipit: If you tried to test the safety of cars or children’s toys using the same method the European Union applied in its stress tests on banks, you would end up in jail, columnist Wolfgang Münchau at Financial Times Deutschland writes. “The purpose of the exercise was to ensure that the only banks that failed it were those that would have to be restructured anyway.” Sullo stesso blog trovate una sintesi di una analisi di Fitch. L'agenzia di rating ha condotto una survey tra investitori in obbligazioni che si è conclusa nei giorni immediatamente precedenti la pubblicazione dell'esito degli stress test venerdì scorso. “More than one third of investors ranked investment grade financials as facing the greatest refinancing challenge over the next 12 months,” says Monica Insoll, Managing Director in Fitch’s Credit Market Research group.
        The proportion of respondents expecting banks to face the greatest refinancing challenge rose to 36% from 8% recorded in Fitch’s Q210 survey conducted in April.
        Banks ranked second behind developed market (DM) sovereigns in terms of investor refinancing concerns.
        “The publication of the results of the EU bank stress tests on 23 July was potentially a critical event in terms of trying to restore investor confidence in many European banks,” says James Longsdon, Managing Director in Fitch’s Financial Institutions team.
        “The major European banks that ‘passed’ the tests with ease should now be better placed to continue with their re-financing programmes following the dramatic contraction in public debt issuance in May,” Longsdon says.
        Click to enlarge

        More Capital Needed

        “Fitch’s concern remains the impaired access to the debt markets of various banks located in countries where the market’s sovereign concerns have been most acute. It seems likely that such banks might need to raise more than the EUR3.5bn capital shortfall identified in the tests in order to regain debt market confidence,” Longsdon adds.

      Populist day: le retribuzioni dei CEO a confronto con i guadagni ottenuti dagli investitori. E gli americani si impoveriscono sempre di più

      Dal Wall Street Journal del 27 luglio: la classifica dei CEO più pagati degli ultimi 10 anni. Alcune sono storie di straordinario successo (Apple, NVR, XTO Energy, Chesapeake Energy...) altre assai meno: infatti in un terzo dei casi gli azionisti hanno avuto un rendimento negativo dall'investimento nello stesso qualche caso spettacolarmente Sig. Fuld è all'undicesimo posto. 

      The Decade's 25 Top Earners

      Many shareholders also saw big gains, but stockholders of seven of the 25 companies lost money. 

      Lawrence J. Ellison
      Interactive Corp/Expedia.Com
      Barry Diller
      Occidental Petroleum
      Ray R. Irani
      Steve Jobs
      Capital One Financial
      Richard D. Fairbank
      Countrywide Financial
      Angelo R. Mozilo
      Nabors Industries
      Eugene M. Isenberg
      Terry S. Semel
      Henry R. Silverman
      Unitedhealth Group
      William W. McGuire
      Lehman Brothers Holdings
      Richard S. Fuld, Jr.
      Michael S. Dell
      Dwight C. Schar
      United Technologies
      George David
      Irwin Mark Jacobs
      Fidelity National Financial
      William P. Foley, II
      Cisco Systems
      John T. Chambers
      Forest Laboratories
      Howard Solomon
      Sanford I. Weill
      Howard D. Schultz
      Reuben Mark
      XTO Energy
      Bob R. Simpson
      Robert J. Ulrich
      Freeport-Mcmoran Cop&Gold
      James R. Moffett
      Chesapeake Energy
      Aubrey K. McClendon

      Sources: Kevin Murphy, University of Southern California; Execucomp; WSJ research
      *Restricted stock reflects value at vesting and gains on options reflects value at exercise
      **Value of $100 investment in company stock from the start to the end of the decade, or over the CEO's tenure during the decade
      Write to the Online Journal's editors at
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      Dedico quindi al sig. Fuld l'indimenticabile perorazione di Michael Douglas a favore della cupidigia:

      Nel frattempo il New York Times invece si occupa delle famiglie americane che hanno subito una diminuzione di almeno il 25% del reddito nell'ultimo anno. Purtroppo sono numerose, nono solo tra quelle povere. Sicuramente tra queste c'è famiglia del Sig. Fuld. Secondo una ricerca della Yale University
      Economic insecurity has been increasing for at least a generation and perhaps longer, with very dangerous levels being reached in this latest recession. Professor Hacker discussed the ominous trend lines in an interview.
      In 1985, at a time when the unemployment rate was 7.2 percent, the portion of American families that would be counted as economically insecure by the terms of this new index was 12 percent. Professor Hacker explained that the percentage would naturally tend to rise or fall with improvements or a deterioration in the economy.
      But what has happened over the past few decades is that the percentage of insecure Americans relative to any given level of the economy has tended to steadily rise. So in 2002, coming out of a mild recession, there was a 5.8 percent unemployment rate, but the percentage of economically insecure families had jumped to 17 percent.
      All of the data for 2009 are not yet in, but the research team projects, conservatively, that more than 20 percent of Americans experienced a 25 percent or greater loss of household income (without a financial cushion) over the prior year — the highest in at least a quarter of a century.
      A decrease of this magnitude in available income is a heavy blow. As the study points out, “The typical individual who experiences a decline of at least 25 percent in household income requires between six and eight years for income to return to its previous level.”
      “What we’re seeing, basically, is what we’re calling ‘the new normal,’ ” said Mr. Hacker. “We’re slowly ratcheting up this level of economic insecurity.”
      Put another way, the bottom is falling out for increasing numbers of Americans, and with the national employment situation stuck in an extended horror zone there is little to stop the free fall. In addition to tracking the percentage of Americans suffering household income losses of 25 percent or more, the index also shows that families are suffering steeper income declines than in previous decades.
      According to the study, “Between 1985 and 1995, the typical (median) drop among those experiencing a 25 percent or greater available income loss was about 38.2 percent; between 1997 and 2007, it was 41.4 percent.”
      Only the very well-to-do are out of the range of this buzz saw. “The fact that Americans are facing a very real and growing risk of large-scale economic loss is true across the spectrum,” said Mr. Hacker. “It’s true of blacks more than whites, but it’s true of whites, as well. It’s true of less affluent people more than more affluent people, but it’s true of the more affluent as well.
      “If anything, we’re understating how bad things are out there right now.”

      Dedico quindi agli americani impoveriti, compreso il Sig. Fuld, una vecchia canzone italiana:

      martedì 27 luglio 2010

      Più tasse o più inflazione? Meglio più inflazione!

      L'ultima lettera settimanale di John Mauldin si conclude con un accorato appello per rinviare il ripristino delle tasse tagliate da G.W. Bush previsto nel 2011, con lo scopo di evitare che l'aumento della pressione fiscale accentui inesorabilmente il clima deflazionario negli U.S.A. rendendo possibile una nuova recessione il prossimo anno. Il grafico qui accanto è abbastanza impressionante. Scrive Mauldin:
      When the money supply is falling in tandem with a slowing velocity of money, that brings up serious deflationary issues. I have dealt with that in recent months, so I won't bring it up again, but it is a significant element of deflation. And it is not just the US. Global real broad money growth is close to zero. Deflationary pressures are the norm in the developed world (except for Britain, where inflation is the issue).
      Falling home prices and a weak housing market are one more element of deflation. This is happening not just in the US, but also much of Europe is suffering a real estate crisis. Japan has seen its real estate market fall almost 90% in some cities, and that is part of the reason they have had 20 years with no job growth, and that the nominal GDP is where it was 17 years ago.
      In the short run, reducing government spending (in the US at local, state, and federal levels) is deflationary in the short run. Martin Wolfe, in the Financial Times, wrote the following last week (arguing that that the move to "fiscal austerity" is ill-advised):
      "We can see two huge threats in front of us. The first is the failure to recognize the strength of the deflationary pressures ... The danger that premature fiscal and monetary tightening will end up tipping the world economy back into recession is not small, even if the largest emerging countries should be well able to protect themselves. The second threat is failure to secure the medium-term structural shifts in fiscal positions, in management of the financial sector and in export-dependency, that are needed if a sustained and healthy global recovery is to occur."
      Finally, high and chronic unemployment is deflationary. It reduces final demand as people simply don't have the money to buy things.
      Deflation that comes from increased productivity is desirable. In the late 1800's the US went through an almost 30-year period of deflation that saw massive improvements in agriculture (the McCormick reaper, etc.) and the ability of producers to get their products to markets through railroads. In fact, too many railroads were built and a number of the companies that built them collapsed. Just as we experienced with the fiber-optic cable build-out, there was soon too much railroad capacity, and freight prices fell. That was bad for the shareholders but good for consumers. It was a time of great economic growth.
      But deflation that comes from a lack of pricing power and lower final demand is not good. It hurts the incomes of both employer and employee, and discourages entrepreneurs from increasing their production capacity, and thus employment. (...)
      I think we can take it as a given that there is another recession in front of the US. That is the natural order of things. But it would be better to have that inevitable recession as far into the future as possible, and preferably with a little inflationary cushion and some room for active policy responses. A recession next year would be problematic, if not catastrophic. Rates are as low as they can go. Higher deficits are not in the cards. Yet unemployment would shoot up and tax collections go down at all levels of government.
      That is why I worry so much about taking the Bush tax cuts away when the economy is weak. Now, maybe those who argue that tax increases don't matter are right. They have their academic studies. But the preponderance of work suggests their studies are flawed and at worst are guilty of data mining (looking for data that supports your already-developed conclusions.)
      Professor Michael Boskin wrote today in the Wall Street Journal:
      "The president does not say that economists agree that the high future taxes to finance the stimulus will hurt the economy. (The University of Chicago's Harald Uhlig estimates $3.40 of lost output for every dollar of government spending.) Either the president is not being told of serious alternative viewpoints, or serious viewpoints are defined as only those that support his position. In either case, he is being ill-served by his staff."
      As noted at the beginning of this letter, I find it very encouraging that there is a movement among Democrats to think about at least postponing the demise of the Bush tax cuts until the economy is in better shape. Those who advocate letting them lapse are in effect operating on our economic body without benefit of anesthesia. If they are wrong, the consequences will be most severe.
      We need to think any tax increase through very thoroughly.

      Per una sintesi delle posizioni in campo potete leggere il New York Times, dal quale ho tratto la tabella riepilogative che riproduco qui accanto.

      Al rischio di deflazione è dedicato anche questo articolo sul Wall Street Journal, che esordisce ammettendo candidamente come la lezione impartita negli ultimi 20 anni dal Giappone non abbia portato i frutti sperati, e la teoria economica non sia ancora in grado di dare una spiegazione soddisfacente di quanto è accaduto:

      But Japan's experience has looked nothing like this. Rather than being deep, destructive and concentrated in a few years, deflation has been a surprisingly mild, drawn-out affair. Consumer prices have been falling in Japan for 15 years, but never by more than 2% in any single year. Japan's deflation has been a morass, but not the destructive downward spiral many economists predicted. Why? And what does it portend for the rest of the world today?
      Economists don't have good answers. "We don't know how deflation works," says Adam Posen, a member of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee who has been studying Japan since 1997. "We don't have a way of rationalizing steady, several-year flat deflation," he says.
      This is a pressing issue for the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks. Ireland is already experiencing deflation. Spain has flirted with it. The Fed's preferred inflation gauge was up 1.3% in June from a year earlier, below its informal target of 1.5% to 2%. Some officials worry prices could go negative if the recovery falters.
      On paper, Japan looked like a candidate for a deflationary spiral. The economy consistently grew slower than estimates of its capacity to grow. Unemployment rose from 2.1% in the early 1990s to more than 5% a decade later. That growing economic slack should have driven prices down and down. Large burdens of delinquent loans at banks should have exacerbated the debt burden on society.
      But that didn't happen. Old textbook tradeoffs between unemployment and inflation might not be working the way they used to. The standard Phillips Curve theory, named after Alban William Phillips who helped explain it, is that when unemployment rises, inflation falls.
      Fed officials saw evidence in the U.S. before the crisis that this dynamic might have gotten less powerful over time, meaning a big rise in unemployment might not create the kind of deflationary shock it would have in the past.
      Japan's experience reinforces that view.(...)
      Another explanation turns on the psychology of households and businesses, which modern economists believe plays a big role in driving inflation. If people believe inflation is going to rise a lot, they will demand higher wages and push up prices. If people believe prices won't move or they expect them to fall, they will act accordingly and create the environment they expect.(...)
      Government plays a role, too. Japanese officials responded to their crisis, but many U.S. economists complained officials failed to cut interest rates quickly enough early in the crisis, pulled back fiscal stimulus too soon and were too slow to clean up banks and restructure inefficient industries.(...)
      There are other explanations. Japan's aging consumers, for instance, might have been more inclined to save for retirement and more reluctant to spend, undermining consumer demand and weighing on prices.
      For the U.S., there are good and bad implications in this. "This is the most significant economic issue there is out there," Mr. Gertler says.
      The good news is that the Fed might not need to fear a Depression-style deflationary spiral. The bad news is that if the U.S. does fall into deflation, it could be stuck there for many years like Japan, and suffer the subpar growth that has gone with it. And because deflation is so poorly understood, policy makers could discover they have no good solutions.

      lunedì 26 luglio 2010

      Krugman e il clima. Il FMI batte cassa

      Krugman se la prende con il Senato U.S.A. che non ha approvato la legge sulla regolamentazione ambientale... l'argomentazione è più da buon polemista che da scienziato:

      So why didn’t climate-change legislation get through the Senate? Let’s talk first about what didn’t cause the failure, because there have been many attempts to blame the wrong people.
      First of all, we didn’t fail to act because of legitimate doubts about the science. Every piece of valid evidence — long-term temperature averages that smooth out year-to-year fluctuations, Arctic sea ice volume, melting of glaciers, the ratio of record highs to record lows — points to a continuing, and quite possibly accelerating, rise in global temperatures.(...)
      Did reasonable concerns about the economic impact of climate legislation block action? No.(...)
      So it wasn’t the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change. What was it?
      The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.
      If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.(...) By itself, however, greed wouldn’t have triumphed. It needed the aid of cowardice — above all, the cowardice of politicians who know how big a threat global warming poses, who supported action in the past, but who deserted their posts at the crucial moment.

      Ancora dal New York Times, un editoriale sostiene la richeista del presidente del F.M.I. Dominique Strauss-Kahn per un finanziamento straordinario di 250 miliardi di dollari:

      This is a lot of money. Given its stake in the fund, Washington’s share could be about $42 billion. The fund should still get it. No one should forget that just a few weeks ago the I.M.F. had to commit nearly $40 billion to help stop Greece from imploding, and days later, it promised $320 billion to try to stop the euro from crashing.
      At a time when an economic crisis can spread in seconds, the fund also needs to become more agile. It comes to the rescue usually only after a country is deeply in crisis, offering loans in exchange for painstakingly negotiated policy reforms. It has rightly begun to look at ways it can help head off crises before they start.
      Last year, it started new “flexible credit lines” — preapproved unconditional loans for countries that meet tough macroeconomic policy criteria but could still get sideswiped as a crisis ripples around the world. The I.M.F. hopes that with this kind of guarantee the pre- approved borrowers may never need to draw on the loans. Now it is looking at “precautionary credit lines,” with conditions, for countries with weaker finances.
      So far only Mexico, Poland and South Korea have lined up for the blue-ribbon “flexible credit lines.” Others have feared that doing so would signal weakness to financial markets. The “precautionary credit lines” may be even less popular. Still, the I.M.F. is right to be thinking this way.
      Credibility is also essential for the fund to do its work. Right now it has far too little in the developing world, where it is seen as unfairly favoring wealthy countries. Developing countries noted that its loan to Greece amounted to 22 times Athens’s share of the fund’s capital. And many Asian nations — critical of the drastic budget cuts the I.M.F. demanded of them during the 1990s Asian financial crisis — are resentful of the relative lenience the fund has shown toward Europe.
      The fund’s thinking has evolved in recent years. It must, of course, require borrowers to commit to sound fiscal policies. But it increasingly accepts the notion that countries need to maintain viable social safety nets to protect the most vulnerable. And it has dropped its emphasis on “structural” performance criteria — privatization, banking regulation, trade policy — that were seen as doctrinaire and unrelated to the problem at hand.

      Aggiornamento al 23 luglio 2010

      domenica 25 luglio 2010

      L'effetto placebo degli stress tests. Il cambio yen-dollaro australiano.

      A leggere i commenti sugli stress tests viene un po' da sorridere:
      sul Sole 24 Ore di ieri Walter Riolfi, nel suo articolo settimanale sull'andamento dei mercati, scrive:  Se proprio qualcosa di buono si vuol trovare in questa settimana è ancora sul fronte dei risultati societari che sono apparsi in gran parte migliori del previsto: a ben vedere, più per gli utili che per i ricavi. In ogni caso s'è avuta conferma che l'America delle aziende, quelle grandi e quotate a Wall Street, è decisamente in miglior forma dell'economia americana. Gli utili del secondo trimestre sono adesso attesi in crescita di oltre il 30%: 3 punti in più delle stime d'inizio mese. Qualcuno ha pure voluto leggere del buono negli stress test europei. Ma in questa grande trovata pubblicitaria, orchestrata dalla Bce e dalle autorità bancarie europee, solo 7 tra le piccole e più scalcinate banche del Vecchio continente non hanno superato la prova: a dimostrazione che è meno facile passare l'esame per la patente che questo test.
      Sul Sole 24 Ore di oggi vi segnalo il commento a pagina 7 di Donato Masciandaro che giustamente considera gli stress tests un placebo (che si spera calmare i mercati per un po') e invita a percorrere con decisione la via delle riforme correggendo le distorsioni dello shadow banking system ed eliminando alla radice i presupposti per una nuova (e probabilmente peggiore) crisi finanziaria.

      Un affezionato lettore di Alfaobeta (il Sig. Gambino) mi ha poi segnalato come anche Plus abbia ieri dedicato un po' di attenzione all'indice Baltic Dry (a pagina 10): l'autore Luca Davi pare condividere l'opinione dell'Economist  che attribuisce il suo collasso dell'ultimo paio di mesi all'eccesso di domanda. Per anticipare l'andamento dei  i mercati Davi suggerisce come alternativa  l'impiego dell'indice della borsa di Shangai e il  cambio yen/dollaro australiano (JPY/AUD)  (mah! è ben vero che negli ultimi mesi il rapporto JPY/AUD sembra l'immagine speculare dell'indice S&P500, ma questo purtroppo non permette di fare nessuna previsione neppure a breve scadenza! Semmai lo si può utilizzare come hedge andando simultaneamente lunghi sullo SP500 e corti sul cambio JPY/AUD) .

      Un fatto abbastanza inedito che preoccupa molti investitori è come la correlazione tra i rendimenti delle singole azioni e quelli dell'indice S&P500 sia aumentata considerevolmente negli ultimi mesi, avvicinandosi a 1 e giungendo a valori medi più alti persino di quelli registrati durante la crisi scatenata dal fallimento di Lehman Brothers. Un altro fatto preoccupante si osserva nella struttura dei futures sull'indice di volatilità VIX  che è in contango da qualche settimana, ovvero le attese degli investitori sono per un aumento considerevole della volatilità in autunno. Visto che non stiamo attraversando acque tranquille neppure ora è bene essere preparati al peggio, con il salvagente indossato e qualche pillola contro il mal di mare a portata di mano...