The Origin of Financial Crises

The Origin of Financial Crises


作    者
Cooper, George;  
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Product Description

In a series of disarmingly simple arguments financial market analyst George Cooper challenges the core principles of today's economic orthodoxy and explains how we have created an economy that is inherently unstable and crisis prone. With great skill, he examines the very foundations of today's economic philosophy and adds a compelling analysis of the forces behind economic crisis. His goal is nothing less than preventing the seemingly endless procession of damaging boom-bust cycles, unsustainable economic bubbles, crippling credit crunches, and debilitating inflation. His direct, conscientious, and honest approach will captivate any reader and is an invaluable aid in understanding today's economy.

About the Author

Dr. George Cooper is a principal of Alignment Investors a division of BlueCrest Capital Management Ltd. He was born in Sunderland and studied at Durham University. Dr. Cooper has worked as a fund manager at Goldman Sachs and as strategist for Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan. He lives in London with his wife and two children.


“A must-read on the origins of the crisis.”
The Economist

“A well written book. . . . Cooper's most novel doctrine is that investors do not have to be irrational to generate bubbles. . . . Mr. Cooper traces present difficulties to the rapid growth of credit encouraged by the Fed's ultra-cheap money policy of a few years ago.”
Financial Times

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1.1 Lopsided Policy
The first years of this millennium were marred with a corporate credit crisis; this being the hangover of a credit binge associated with the stock market boom of the late 1990s. Just as this crisis ebbed we found ourselves engulfed in a housing boom and, sure as night follows day, this boom has now morphed into its inevitable credit crunch. The proximity of these boom-bust cycles has fuelled the popular perception that financial crises are becoming larger and more frequent. The following chapters will explain why this popular perception is correct.

Toward the end of the book I make some policy suggestions that, it is hoped, could begin to dampen the current chain of overlapping boombust cycles. The overall thrust of these suggestions is that avoiding the financial tsunamis comes at the price of permitting, even encouraging, a greater number of smaller credit cycles. And also at the price of requiring central banks to occasionally halt credit expansions. That is to say, the central banks must be required to prick asset price bubbles. Key to the success of any such policy will be a political climate that accepts the need for symmetric monetary policy; excessive credit expansion should be fought with the same vigour as is used to fight excessive credit contraction. As things stand neither politicians nor voters are ready for such tough love and central bankers have neither the stomach nor inclination to deliver it. In large part this is because economists have taught us that it is unwise and unnecessary to combat asset price bubbles and excessive credit creation. Even if we were unwise enough to wish to prick an asset price bubble, we are told it is impossible to see the bubble while it is in its inflationary phase.We are told, however, that by some unspecified means the bubble's camouflage is lifted immediately as it begins deflating, thereby providing a trigger for prompt fiscal and monetary stimulus.

In recent years this lopsided approach to monetary and fiscal policy has been further refined into what has been described as a “risk management paradigm”, whereby policy makers attempt to get their retaliation in early by easing policy in anticipation of an economic slowdown, even before firm evidence of the slowdown has been accumulated. This strategy is perhaps best described as pre-emptive asymmetric monetary policy.

To followers of orthodox economic theory, based on the presumption of efficient financial markets, this new flavour of monetary policy can be justified. Yet, current events suggest these asymmetric policies have gone badly wrong, leading not to a higher average economic growth rate, as was hoped, but instead to a an unsustainable level of borrowing ending in abrupt credit crunches.

1.2 Efficient Markets More Faith Than Fact
The bare outlines of a competitive profit-and-loss system are simple to describe. Everything has a price — each commodity and each service. Even the different kinds of human labor have prices, usually called 'wage rates.'

Everybody receives money for what he sells and uses this money to buy what he wishes. If more is wanted of any one good, say shoes, a flood of new orders will be given for it. This will cause its price to rise and more to be produced. Similarly, if more is available of a good like tea than people want, its price will be marked down as a result of competition. At the lower price people will drink more tea, and producers will no longer produce so much. Thus equilibrium of supply and demand will be restored.

What is true of the markets for consumers' goods is also true of markets for factors of production such as labor, land, and capital inputs.
Paul A Samuelson

Who could possibly argue with the above passage? It was written by one of the world's most respected economists and is no more than a statement of the common-sense principle of supply and demand. When the demand for a particular product goes up, so does its price, which is then followed by an increase in supply. According to this theory, prices jostle up and down keeping supply and demand in perfect balance.With just a little more thought we can stretch the argument further and convince ourselves not only that this process generates a stable equilibrium state, but that it also ensures the best possible arrangement of prices, leading to the optimal allocation of resources; if a better, more-economically productive, allocation of resources could be achieved, then those able to make better use of the resources would be able to pay more for them, causing prices to change accordingly. Naturally, if markets tend toward an optimal arrangement of prices, with the most productive allocation of resources, this configuration must also be a stable equilibrium situation. The upshot of all of this is what is known as the laissez-faire2 school of economic theory, which argues that market forces be given free rein to do as they choose. The logic of the laissez-faire school being that, if free markets naturally achieve an optimal equilibrium, any interference with market forces can at best achieve nothing, but more likely will push the system away from equilibrium toward a sub-optimal state. The prevailing laissez-faire school therefore requires the minimization, even elimination, of all forms of interference with the operation of market processes.

It also follows from the efficient market philosophy that only external adverse shocks are able to push markets away from their natural optimal state, as, by definition, an equilibrium-seeking system cannot internally generate destabilising forces able to push it away from equilibrium.

1.3 A Slight Of Hand
Now re-read Samuelson's passage, only this time look out for the slight of hand in the final sentence:

What is true of the markets for consumers' goods is also true of markets for factors of production such as labor, land, and capital inputs.

The passage provides a convincing explanation of how equilibrium is established in the marketplace for goods, but when it comes to the markets for labour, land and capital inputs, there is no explanation of the mechanisms through which equilibrium is established. For these markets we are offered nothing better than proof by assertion. This logical trick is pervasive in economic teaching: we are first persuaded that the markets for goods are efficient, and then beguiled into believing this to be a general principle applicable to all markets. As the failure of Northern Rock and Bear Stearns show it is unsafe to assume that all markets are inherently stable.

1.4 The Market For Bling
We can easily find a counter example to Samuelson's well-behaved supply-and-demand driven markets. In the marketplace for fine art and luxury goods, demand is frequently stimulated precisely because supply cannot be increased in the manner required for market efficiency: Who would pay $140,000,000 for a Jackson Pollock painting if supply could be increased in proportion to demand? The phrase “conspicuous consumption” was coined by the economist Thorstein Veblen to describe markets where demand rose rather than declined with price. Veblen's theory was that in these markets it was the high price, the publically high price, of the object that generated the demand for it. Veblen argued that the wealthy used the purchase of high-priced goods to signal their economic status.3 Veblen was the original economist of bling — if you've got it you want to flaunt it.

Fortunately for the high priests of market efficiency, Veblen's observations can be dismissed as minor distortions within an overall economic environment that responds in a rational manner to higher prices. That is to say, even at a price of $140,000,000, the market for Jackson Pollock paintings is irrelevant to the wider economy.

1.5 When The Absence Of Supply Drives Demand
While the markets for bling can be dismissed as economically irrelevant, there are other much more important markets which also defy the laws of supply and demand, as described by Samuelson. While Veblen identified the rare conditions in which high prices promoted high demand, we can also consider the much more common situation in which low or falling supply promotes high demand.

Today's oil markets are a case in point, where constrained supply is prompting higher speculative demand. While consumers of oil are reducing their oil purchases in response to supply constraints and higher prices, speculators (investors) in oil are moving in the opposite direction and increasing their purchases.

This simple observation of how consumers and speculators respond in different ways to supply constraints gives us the first hint that a fundamentally different market mechanism operates in the markets for assets to that which dominates the markets for goods and services. This effect is not confined just to today's unusual oil market: Who would invest in the shares of a company if that company were in the habit of issuing more stock whenever its share price rose above a certain level?

As a rule, when we invest we are looking for an asset with a degree of scarcity value, one for which supply cannot be increased to meet demand. Whenever we invest in the hope of achieving capital gains we are seeking scarcity value, in defiance of the core principle that supply can move in response to demand.

To the extent that asset price changes can be seen as a signal of an asset becoming more or less scarce, we can see how asset markets may behave in a manner similar to those of Veblen's market for conspicuous consumption goods. In Veblen's case it is simply high prices that generate high demand, but in asset markets it is the rate of change of prices that stimulates shifting demand.

Frequently in asset markets demand does not stimulate supply, rather a lack of supply stimulates demand. Equally price rises can signal a lack of supply thereby generating additional demand, or, conversely, price falls can signal a glut of supply triggering...