Monday, June 25, 2007
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
"Virtually nobody foresaw the Great Depression of the 1930s, or the crises which affected and Southeast Asia in the early and late 1990s. In fact, each downturn was preceded by a period of non-inflationary growth exuberant enough to lead many commentators to suggest that a 'new era' had arrived", said the bank.
The BIS, the ultimate bank of central bankers, pointed to a confluence a worrying signs, citing mass issuance of new-fangled credit instruments, soaring levels of household debt, extreme appetite for risk shown by investors, and entrenched imbalances in the world currency system.
The BIS said may have repeated the disastrous errors made by in the 1980s when let rip with excess liquidity.
"The Chinese economy seems to be demonstrating very similar, disquieting symptoms," it said, citing ballooning credit, an asset boom, and "massive investments" in heavy industry.
It said China's growth was "unstable, unbalance, uncoordinated and unsustainable", borrowing a line from Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.
In a thinly-veiled rebuke to the US Federal Reserve, the BIS said central banks were starting to doubt the wisdom of letting asset bubbles build up on the assumption that they could safely be "cleaned up" afterwards - which was more or less the strategy pursued by former Fed chief after the dotcom bust.
It said this approach had failed in the US in 1930 and in in 1991 because excess debt and investment build up in the boom years had suffocating effects.
While cutting interest rates in such a crisis may help, it has the effect of transferring wealth from creditors to debtors and "sowing the seeds for more serious problems further ahead."
The bank said it was far from clear whether the US would be able to shrug off the consequences of its latest imbalances, citing a current account deficit running at 6.5pc of , a rise in US external liabilities by over $4 trillion from 2001 to 2005, and an unprecedented drop in the savings rate. "The dollar clearly remains vulnerable to a sudden loss of private sector confidence," it said.
The BIS said last year's record issuance of $470bn in collateralized debt obligations (CDO), and a further $524bn in "synthetic" CDOs had effectively opened the lending taps even further. "Mortgage credit has become more available and on easier terms to borrowers almost everywhere. Only in recent months has the downside become more apparent," it said.
CDO's are bond-like packages of mortgages and other forms of debt. The BIS said banks transfer the exposure to buyers of the securities, giving them little incentive to assess risk or carry out due diligence.
Mergers and takeovers reached $4.1 trillion worldwide last year.
Leveraged buy-outs touched $753bn, with an average debt/cash flow ratio hitting a record 5.4.
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