January 21, 2015

Today’s “risk-free-rates”, are not real risk free rates but subsidized risk free rates!

Sir, I refer to Amin Rajan’s “Portfolio theory has hypnotised asset managers” January 19.

Rajan, referring to Pascal Blanqué’s book “Essays in Positive Investment Management” writes:

“In practice, from 1999 to 2009, US 10-year Treasury bonds not only outperformed risky assets such as equities, their actual returns were also well above the expected ones. In fact, government bonds have violated every tenet of conventional investment wisdom over the past 30 years…

So what is the solution? The author is at pains to point out that there is no silver bullet. Our current knowledge of how markets operate is very limited. There is a crying need for more research and debate.”

Sir, when markets finally get to understand that the interest rates sovereigns are paying, is not just a consequence of their perceived “infallibility”, but also a result of them having awarded themselves regulatory subsidies… it might be too late… and all hell might break loose.

Here is the story. In the early 90s with Basel I, and then with Basel II, and currently with Basel III, banks need to hold very little or no equity at all when lending to the sovereigns, especially when compared to what they are required to hold when lending to “risky” citizens.

And that means: the more problem loans eats up bank equity; and the more regulators require banks to hold more equity; and even the more bank are fined (which eats into their equity)… the more will the banks de facto be forced to hold sovereigns.

Current US Treasury bond rates, those usually used as “risk-free-rates”, are not real risk free rates but subsidized free rates!