A few years ago, senior officials at the Bank for International Settlements started ringing alarm bells about the scale of leverage that was quietly building up in the financial system. Back then, though, it was fantastically hard to get American policymakers – let alone bankers – to listen.
In the go-go days of the credit bubble, Washington policymakers blithely assumed that the Western financial system had plenty of capital to cope with any potential risks. Consequently, as one former BIS official admits: “Worrying about leverage wasn’t fashionable at all – no one wanted to hear.”
Fast-forward a couple of years and, my, how those Western financiers are having to eat humble pie (even to the point of accepting a helping hand from the once-ailing Japanese). After all, the events of the past year have now made it patently – horrifically – obvious that the Western banking system has become dangerously undercapitalised in recent years, to the point where even the Federal Reserve is having to shore up its defences.
Moreover, it is now also clear that Western policymakers are belatedly trying to correct this state of affairs. The days when high leverage, mega bonuses and wacky instruments were equated with financial virility have gone; instead a more humble, back-to-basics and slim-line approach is what investors are demanding. Thus, deleveraging is now all the rage – in whatever form it might take.
One of life’s rules is that there’s bad in good and good in bad. The total collapse of the U.S. financial system is no exception. Even in the midst of the current financial despair we can look around and identify many collateral benefits.
A lot of attractive office space seems to be opening up in midtown Manhattan, for instance, and the U.S. government is now getting paid to borrow money. (And with T-bills yielding 0 percent, they really ought to borrow a lot more of it, and quickly.)
And so as Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer John Mack blasts short sellers for his problems, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein swans around pretending to be above this little panic, we ought to step back and enjoy the positives.
Far Eastern Economic Review:
he discovery that red wine is good for you has helped the tipple become more popular around Asia. And that has led to some interesting new brand extensions. Contributor Nicholas Frisch discovered Pejoy, a Japanese confection mixing wine and chocolate, in a Taiwanese Seven-Eleven.
Thanks to Pete for emailing Vincent LaForet’s very nice scene, not that I’m a Yankee fan.