November 01, 2017

Just wait until the music stops playing the low interest rate tango building up corporate balance sheet leverage

Sir, John Plender, when discussing IMF’s latest Global Financial Stability Report writes: “Low yields, compressed spreads, abundant financing and the relatively high cost of equity capital, it observes, have encouraged a build-up of financial balance sheet leverage as corporations have bought back equity and raised debt levels…Rising debt has been accompanied by worsening credit quality and elevated default risk.” “Beware the curse of buybacks that destroy shareholder value” October 31

Clearly this is another music that keeps bankers dancing, even when they know they shouldn’t, not for their own or for the economy’s sake.

In July 2014, commenting on an article by Camilla Hall on this subject I wrote: “Ask any old retired banker what was his first question to a prospective borrower and you would most probably hear him say: “What do you intend to do with the money if I lend it to you?” The banker would not have liked to hear “To pay a dividend or buy back some shares”.

Not any longer. Now his first priority is to think about how he can construe the operation in such a way as to minimize the capital needed, so that he could max out leverage too… and pay dividends and buy-back shares too.

But why should we assume only bankers are to behave responsibly? It takes two to tango. The regulators, with their risk weighted capital requirements clearly indicate they do not care one iota about the purpose of banks, and the central bankers, they just keep on kicking the crisis can down the road with QEs and low interest rates.