Too Much Debt, Part II

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Includes: CHN, CN, CXSE, FCA, FXI, FXP, GCH, GXC, JFC, MCHI, PGJ, TDF, XPP, YANG, YAO, YINN, YXI
by: John Cochrane

"China to flood economy with cash" read Monday's WSJ headline. When you read the article, however, you find it's not quite true. China to flood economy with debt is more accurate.

The expected move to free up more funds for lending-by reducing the deposits banks must hold in reserve-is directly aimed at countering the effects of a weaker currency,

The People's Bank of China's latest planned move, which could come before the end of this month or early next month, would involve a half-percentage-point reduction in banks' reserve-requirement ratio, potentially releasing 678 billion yuan ($106.2 billion) in funds for banks to make loans.

I had hoped the world learned this lesson in the financial crisis. Equity is great. When things go bad, shareholders lose value by prices falling, but they cannot run and the firm cannot fail if it does not pay equity holders.

Financial crises are always and everywhere about debt, especially short term debt. Lending more, encouraging more bank leverage, reducing reserves and margin requirements, means that when the downturn comes a needless wave of runs and defaults follows.

Inevitably, it seems, another downturn will come, another set of books will have been found to have been cooked, and then we will find out who lent too much money to whom. US investment banks, 2008, strike one. Greece, 2010, strike 2. China, 2015, strike 3? Do we no longer bother closing the barn doors even after the horse leaves?

This story should also give one pause about the wisdom of "macro-prudential" policy, by which wise central bankers are supposed to presciently open and close the spigots of leverage to manage asset prices.