Global share traders are excited and are pushing American and international shares higher. The traders sense that they will be able to divert big chunks of the next US stimulation into more fuel for speculation, just as they have in the past. Around the world, a growing number of people are warning that the cocktail that mixes investment and commercial banking and enables the stimulatory funds to be diverted into speculation is potentially lethal to the world economy. In Australia, one of those soothsayers is former NAB boss and BHP chairman Don Argus.

There is not much about global banking that Argus does not understand and he points out in The Australian that it is almost impossible for a commercial bank board to understand investment banking risks.

For Argus to call for a separation of commercial banking and investment banking means that we are in danger of something much bigger than a UBS trader dropping a couple of billion.

In the UK, the Vickers report also advocated a similar separation to the Argus proposal but then said the separation should take place over eight years, which made the recommendations irrelevant for the problems ahead. Effectively, Sir John Vickers was nobbled by the investment banks.

Today’s Liddington-Cox graph shows the sharp gyrations in the Dow index of US shares in September and then the strong buying that has emerged in the past few days.

That recent rise shown in the graph has triggered “bull rally” alerts from several charting groups. The latest proposed US stimulation is called “the twist” and should be announced later this week. It involves the Federal Reserve selling short-term treasuries and buying long-term bonds. The idea is to push the long-term yields lower, which in turn lowers the US mortgage rate. The hope is that this will lift housing prices and stimulate more loans. The best thing about it is that it is directed at the core of the US problem — the housing market, in which  some 30% of Americans have negative equity in their homes and where there is a huge backlog of foreclosures in the system.

The twist may lower mortgage interest rates but housing interest rates are not the problem — it’s the availability of funds. Why would any banking board lend to the housing morass when they can make billions funding traders or trading themselves? In Europe, they made huge profits for years using low-priced depositors’ funds to support higher-priced loans to Greece and other high-risk countries. Executive bonuses were bountiful. Of course, as Argus points out, the banks are not correctly pricing the risk of trading and massive country plays as against the risk of home and other forms of commercial bank lending.

And that is the nub of the world’s problem.

*This first appeared on Business Spectator

Peter Fray

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