Sunday, April 30, 2017

3 questions on IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report’s, “Where Are the U.S. Corporate Sector’s Vulnerabilities?”

That section, on page 9 states:

“The corporate sector has tended to favor debt financing, with $7.8 trillion in debt and other liabilities added since 2010. Bank lending to the corporate sector has continued to recover and could well rise further in response to more favorable market valuations. In contrast, equity finance has traditionally been outstripped by share buybacks and has recently leveled off. A drop in the cost of equity capital may stimulate equity financing, but it could coincide with higher corporate debt—particularly if additional share buybacks are financed through debt.” 

That begs three questions: 

First: How much of the recent increase in the stock markets is the result of buybacks; that which helps earnings per share to get a sort of artificial boost; that which results in less equity controlling the corporations? 

Second: Do the recent stock-market prices increases duly reflect the increase riskiness derived from much higher corporate debts? 

Third: Have Central Banks therefore, with their low interests rate policies, de facto, dangerously lowered the capital (equity) requirements of corporations? 

On the first two questions I have no answers, though just having to ask them should suffice to at least raise some eyebrows. 

On the third the IMF clearly seems to respond, “Yes!” when on that same page, under the subtitle “High Leverage Combined with Tighter Borrowing Conditions Could Affect Financial Stability” it writes: 

“As leverage has risen, so too has the proportion of income devoted to debt servicing, notwithstanding low benchmark borrowing costs. Although the absolute level of debt servicing as a proportion of income is low relative to what it was during the global financial crisis, the 4 percentage point rise has brought it to its highest level since 2010, which leaves firms vulnerable to tighter borrowing conditions. The average interest coverage ratio—a measure of the ability for current earnings to cover interest expenses— has fallen sharply over the past two years. Earnings have dropped to less than six times interest expense, close to the weakest multiple since the onset of the global financial crisis.” 

Holy Moly! And interest rates have not yet returned to something more "normal"; and the Fed's balance sheet is still so huge it leaves little space for any future QE assistance...and not to speak of the already too large public debts. 

My intuition tells me that if we do not develop something along the lines of a Universal Basic Income, fast, we will not be able to counter sufficiently upcoming recessions and huge unemployment so as to keep truly horrendous populists away.

Really, how on earth can we have left so much power in so few so intellectually incestuous hands?