Benn Steil

Geo-Graphics

A graphical take on geoeconomic issues, with links to the news and expert commentary.

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Showing posts for "Capital Flows"

China, not Piketty, Explains “Confused Signals” in U.S. Asset Prices

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
china drives down treasury yields

The FT’s Ed Luce recently took on the “confused signals” being sent by U.S. stock and bond prices moving in sync (upward).

Which is it, he asks?  Are economic prospects good, as stock prices suggest, or bleak, as bond prices suggest? Read more »

French Banks Play Russian Roulette

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
bank exposure to russia

In the fourth quarter of last year, with tensions rising between Russia and the West over Ukraine, U.S., German, UK, and Swedish banks aggressively dialed down their credit exposures in Russia.  But as the graphic above shows, French banks, which have by far the highest exposures to Russia, barely touched theirs.  At $50 billion, this exposure is not far off the $70 billion exposure they had to Greece in 2010.  At that time, they took advantage of the European Central Bank’s generous Securities Market Programme (SMP) to fob off Greek bonds, effectively mutualizing their Greek exposures across the Eurozone.  No such program will be available for Russian debt.  And much of France’s Russia exposure is illiquid, such as Société Générale’s ownership of Rosbank, Russia’s 9th largest bank by asset value ($22 billion).  With the Obama Administration and the European Union threatening to dial up sanctions on Russia, is it time for U.S. money market funds and others to start worrying about their French bank exposures? Read more »

Was Ukraine Tapered?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
ukraine

For Ukraine’s beleaguered bond market, the seminal event of 2013 was Ben Bernanke’s now-famous taper talk of May 22.  As today’s Geo-Graphic shows, it sent yields soaring to levels they never came back from.

Ukraine was uniquely susceptible to taperitis, having been sporting a current account deficit of 8% of GDP—considerably worse than other big victims such as India, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, and South Africa.  Its current political crisis clearly has deep roots, yet it is interesting to speculate as to whether Yanukovych could have held on had it not been for the country’s spiraling debt costs—sent spiraling by the Fed last May. Read more »

Beware of Greeks Bearing Primary Budget Surpluses

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
primary balance and default

Things are looking up in Greece – that’s what Greek ministers have been telling the world of late, pointing to the substantial and rapidly improving primary budget surplus the country is generating.  Yet the country’s creditors should beware of Greeks bearing surpluses. Read more »

Can China’s Bond Market Support a Global RMB?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
RMB

On April 24, the Australian central bank announced that it would raise the proportion of its reserves devoted to Chinese financial assets from 0% to 5%, likely among the highest such allocations among world central banks.  Will other major central banks follow suit? Read more »

Where Have All the Profits Gone? Karl Marx Could Have Told You

by
Labor and Dividend Income

Since 2009, labor’s share of income in the United States has plummeted while personal dividend income as a percentage of disposable income has soared. This is not surprising for the early stage of a recovery in which firms are earning more with less and the stock market has been buoyant. The divergent trends between the two over the last 30 years, however, is notable and important. The small upper-right figure shows that dividend income as a percentage of after-tax corporate profits leapt markedly and permanently in the early 1980s. This corresponds with a general upward trend in corporate profits as a percentage of gross domestic product since that time; a time in which labor’s share of income has fallen almost continuously. Dividend income, not surprisingly, accrues largely to the stock-owning wealthy, as the small bottom-right figure shows. The fuller picture is one of growing inequality; one for which the globalization of business is frequently fingered as a primary culprit. But globalization itself makes the data difficult to parse. When an American firm uses components provided by foreign firms they appear from the data to have no labor content.

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Eurozone Bank Deposits Are Fleeing for Germany

by the Center for Geoeconomic Studies

PIGS vs. German Bank Deposits

The eurozone leadership is finally coming around to accepting that a major continent-wide bank recapitalization program is necessary.  Germany wants each country to take care of its own banks.  This approach could buy time, but it won’t work for long.  National bank backstops are untenable in a common currency area, as each sovereign has its own credit risk profile.  Depositors will simply flee toward the better backstops.  This can already be seen in the correlation between bank deposits in Germany and the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain).  Before the financial crisis, those deposits were tightly correlated, as shown in the graphic above, but over the past two years the correlation has flipped – deposits are fleeing the PIGS and flying into Germany.  A stable eurozone banking system will require a unified regulatory, resolution, and rescue regime. Read more »

China’s “Helping Hand” Won’t Help Germany

by the Center for Geoeconomic Studies

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently hinted teasingly that China might buy more risky-country European debt; a “helping hand,” he called it.  Yet even if China follows through, it is unlikely to increase its intended purchases of European debt but rather just change the composition.  China’s euro purchases have increased dramatically over the past two years (we estimate these to be ¾ of reserves purchased in excess of the change in China’s U.S. asset holdings).  Most of this can be presumed to have been invested in German bunds, Europe’s closest thing to U.S. Treasurys.  Chinese euro purchases over the coming twelve months equivalent to those of the previous twelve months could cover the entire 2012 net financing needs of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain (PIIGS), as the figure above shows.  Every euro China invests in new PIIGS debt, however, can be expected to come at the expense of bunds.  Such a diversion would push up German interest rates—precisely what Germany wants to avoid by resisting eurobond issuance—without giving Germany any greater say over eurozone fiscal policies.  Chancellor Merkel therefore gains little, if anything, in making political concessions to secure Wen’s “helping hand.”

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