Worldwide credit excess ‘worse’ than pre-GFC: expert

The Swiss-based ‘bank of central banks’ says a hunt for yield is luring investors en masse into high-risk instruments, “a phenomenon reminiscent of exuberance prior to the global financial crisis”.

This is happening just as the US Federal Reserve prepares to wind down stimulus and starts to drain dollar liquidity from global markets, an inflexion point that is fraught with danger and could go badly wrong.

“This looks like to me like 2007 all over again, but even worse,” said William White, the Bank for International Settlement’s former chief economist, famous for flagging the wild behaviour in the debt markets before the global storm hit in 2008.

All the previous imbalances are still there. Total public and private debt levels are 30 per cent higher as a share of GDP in the advanced economies than they were then, and we have added a whole new problem with bubbles in emerging markets that are ending in a boom-bust cycle,” said Mr White, now chairman of the OECD’s Economic Development and Review Committee.

The BIS said investors are snapping up “covenant-lite” loans that offer little protection to creditors, as well as a form of hybrid capital for banks known as CoCos (contingent convertible capital instruments) that switch debt into equity if bank capital ratios fall too low. While CoCos help shield taxpayers from losses in a banking crisis by leaving private creditors with more of the risk, the recent appetite for such an instrument is also a warning sign.

The BIS said interbank credit to emerging markets has reached the “highest level on record” while the value of bonds issued in off-shore centres by private companies from China, Brazil and other developing nations exceeds total issuance by firms from rich economies for the first time, underscoring the sheer size of the debt build-up in Asia, Latin Africa, and the Mid-East.

Claudio Borio, the BIS research chief, said the ructions in emerging markets since the Fed turned hawkish in May is a warning to investors that they must tread with care. “Global financial markets have reacted very strongly. If there were any doubts about the strength of international policy spillovers, they have now been put to rest,” he said.

Mr Borio said nobody knows how far global borrowing costs will rise as the Fed tightens or “how disorderly the process might be”.

“The challenge is to be prepared. This means being prudent, limiting leverage, and avoiding the temptation of believing that the market will remain liquid under stress, the illusion of liquidity,” he said.

Full article: Worldwide credit excess ‘worse’ than pre-GFC: expert (The Sydney Morning Herald)

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