Of all the fears sweeping the markets right now, perhaps the most worrying is the fear of a debt crisis in the corporate sector.
Warnings about corporate debt rising to unsustainable levels are intensifying, at a time when interest rates are at record lows and even Greece joined the club of negative-yield sovereign debt issuers.
It must be a strange experience, being a central banker these days. Ever since the financial crisis of more than a decade ago, central banks have had to reconcile two opposing goals — both of them self-imposed.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for central banks to surprise the markets with good news. No matter how dovish they are, investors expect them to be even more dovish still. This financial repression has facilitated the rise of populist politicians, who threaten to bring the end of central banks’ independence.
January was an extraordinarily positive month in the markets for virtually all assets, after a horrible 2018 — and it’s all due to the Fed. The US central bank executed a massive U-turn in its monetary policy and, while many observers like to point to low inflation as the reason for the Fed’s aborted effort to normalise monetary policy, something more sinister is behind it.
Corporate bondholders, beware. The wave of enthusiasm for this asset class, which has helped it to reach new heights, is now ebbing. A research paper recently published by the IMF illustrates the reasons behind this – although it must be said the paper does not represent the official position of the IMF.
The list of reasons to worry in the market is growing longer by the day, and investors keep taking money out of risky assets – among them, European ones.
The phenomenon has been dubbed an “exodus from Europe” by analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who say there is “no surprise that the outflow from European high grade and high yield funds has been much more sizable than outflows from emerging markets debt funds.”
With summer over, Italy is back at the forefront of the news – this time not as a holiday destination but in its other capacity, as chief source of market worries. The way things are going, the worries are only just beginning.
While all eyes are still on Turkey, another emerging market is about to show the ugly side of quantitative tightening, and this time things could get really serious.
The world’s second largest economy has been a “success story” for so long that people have forgotten about China’s many vulnerabilities. Or rather, the Chinese communist party has been so good at keeping things under wraps, that few of the country’s weaknesses are known to the outside world.
The headline may be a bad pun, but the warning is serious. Many people believe that the trouble with Turkey’s currency is confined to that country, but that is far from the case. Turkey is just the first country that implemented populist policies when the going was good to now pay for these policies. The markets are about to teach populists a lesson, and Turkey is the first instalment.