Bernanke, Geithner, and others have stated the biggest mistake in this depression was the failure to rescue Lehman. I have long disagreed, instead declaring the Bankruptcy of Lehman was one of the few things the Fed got right, even if by accident.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has similar thoughts in Lehman is a footnote in the great East-West globalisation crisis.
As my colleague Jeremy Warner puts it, Lehman no more caused the economic convulsions of the last year than the assassination of an Austrian prince caused the First World War. There was the little matter of a rising Germany then, and a rising China now. Both scrambled the international system, albeit in different ways.
As of last week, the ABX index of sub-prime mortgage debt showed that AAA-rated securities from early 2007 were trading at 28 cents on the dollar – AA was at 4 cents, near all-time lows. No one can say that $2 trillion (£1.2 trillion) of sub-prime and Alt-A debt is still trading at panic levels, exaggerating losses. The dust has settled. What we can see is that creditors will never recoup their money.
Foreclosures reached 358,000 in August alone. More Americans are being evicted each month than during the entire Depression year of 1932.
We know why the bubble occurred. Call its Greenspanism. Central banks rescued assets each time there was a hiccup, but let booms run unchecked. They pulled “real” rates ever lower, creating addiction to monetary stimulus. Larger doses were required with each cycle, until we hit zero, and it is still not enough. Debt burdens rose to records across the OECD.
Couldn’t they see that this was cheating: stealing from the future? No, they were seduced by “inflation targeting” – watch goods, ignore assets – just as cheap imports from China rendered the doctrine obsolete. It always takes ideology to consummate massive error.
China is trying to plug the gap, belatedly, by ramping up credit 70pc this year, but it will take a cultural revolution to induce the Chinese to spend. The liquidity is leaking into stocks, metals, and property.
The Great Game can continue only as long as deficit countries – currently, US (-$628bn), Spain (-$109bn), Italy (-$62bn), France (-$58bn), Britain (-$53bn), Greece (-$42bn), and east Europe – are willing to bankrupt themselves buying Asian goods. Obviously, this is absurd.
Absurd is correct.
China, in spite of all those misguided souls who believe otherwise, is not close to decoupling. Proof is easy to find in China’s need to ramp up credit and force banks to lend.
In the US, Great Britain, etc, the “Great Game” depends not on US consumers who long ago threw in the towel, but on stimulus packages that shift the demand curve forward. As soon as the stimulus runs out so will purchases.
An economic relapse is coming as sure as night follows day.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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