Das Damokles­schwert der Schulden

Gerne verdrängt, verniedlicht und nicht ernst genommen: die hohe Verschuldung von Privatsektoren und Staaten in der Welt. Es egal zu sein, dass die Schulden immer schneller wachsen, während sich die Realwirtschaft auch ohne Corona immer weniger entwickelt. Für Letzteres haben wir ja eine Lösung: noch mehr Schulden …  Aber die Schulden sind schon lange nicht mehr die Lösung, sondern das Problem. Sie belasten die Realwirtschaft und bedrohen die Finanzmärkte. Die FINANCIAL TIMES (FT) bringt es erneut auf den Punkt:

  • „In the midst of a global pandemic and one of the steepest recessions ever, mainstream investment markets are very fully valued by historic standards. Since their bounce back from the coronavirus-induced plunge last March, they are so expensively priced that — in the judgment of veteran fund manager Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital: ‘The prospective returns on everything are about the lowest they’ve ever been.’ In short, investors are not being adequately compensated for risk in an uncertain world.“ – bto: Und wie immer finden sich Rationalisierungen für diese Entwicklung: die tiefen Zinsen, die Notenbanken, die alles Erdenkliche tun werden. Klar. Es stellt sich die Frage, was die Notenbanker machen und nicht wie viel die Unternehmen erwirtschaften. Dies ist auch der Hintergrund, vor dem solche spekulativen Exzesse wie die Posse um GameStop entstehen.
  • „When market valuations are elevated there is always a potential vulnerability to negative shocks. Among the obvious triggers are possible resurgences in the coronavirus, dips in economic activity and an escalation of bankruptcies in troubled sectors such as retail, hotels, transport and property. Moreover, the pandemic has taken hold at a time of rising geopolitical tension, with the US and China engaged in unprecedented strategic competition.“ – bto: Letztlich ist es müßig, den Auslöser zu erahnen, da es eben nur ein Auslöser ist, aber nicht die Ursache – egal was hinterher in den Medien erzählt wird.  
  • „Central banks act as market makers Markets are thus being driven primarily by economic policy decisions. And in a policy-driven market, the biggest single risk is policy reversal. (…) in a world of continuing deficient demand, excess capacity and high unemployment, an overhasty end to government support seems unlikely in 2021 (…) Even the IMF, traditionally a dyed-in-the-wool fiscal curmudgeon, has warned against early tightening. (…) Overall, fiscal policy in most of the developed world looks set to remain expansionary, while the central banks have demonstrated their readiness to act as market makers of last resort.“ – bto: So gesehen spricht doch alles für weiterhin gute Zeiten an den Börsen? Denn das Motto kann ja nur lauten, wir müssen weiter nach vorne marschieren, denn es gibt kein Zurück.
  • „Indeed, part of the reason for the rich valuations in today’s markets, according to Longview Economics, a research boutique, is that ever more newly-created money is chasing an ever-shrinking pool of investable assets as the central banks take assets on to their own balance sheets. These purchases increasingly extend to riskier paper such as corporate bonds, in the case of the Bank of England, or equities with the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of Japan. In effect, central banks have de-risked public markets, at least in the short term, while taking more risk on to their own balance sheets.“ – bto: Die Frage ist, ob es wirklich weniger Risiken gibt oder ob diese unter der geringen Volatilität und dem Vertrauen, immer gerettet zu werden, versteckt sind.
  • „The only limitation arises if their credibility erodes to the point where the public, plagued by rampant inflation, is no longer prepared to accept their IOUs. That credibility problem tends to make central banks uncomfortable with continuing balance sheet expansion.“ – bto: Das denke ich wiederum nicht. Solange keine Inflation spürbar ist, wird es keine Unruhe in der Bevölkerung geben. Die Notenbankbilanz ist den Bürgern herzlich egal.  
  • „With central banks systematically rigging markets, the resulting ultra-low interest rates pose risks to the structure of investors’ portfolios. The most pressing is reinvestment risk — the likelihood that investments providing a good return today cannot be replaced with equally attractive investments tomorrow, for example maturing bonds. Eric Knight of fund manager Knight Vinke sees this as potentially the single most destructive risk now facing long-term investors. He points out that a reduction in average returns from 8 per cent per annum to 6 per cent will result in the value of a pension fund’s portfolio falling by 35 per cent in 30 years and by 50 per cent in 50 years.“ – bto: Wenn es das erklärte Ziel ist, Schuldner zu entlasten, muss es zwangsläufig geringere Erträge für die Anleger bedeuten. Das hängt zusammen.
  • „Across the capital markets this has perverted the normal relationship between risk and reward: witness the narrowed gap between yields on investment grade corporate bonds and junk bonds; likewise the recent ability of Peru, a developing economy in a region notorious for sovereign defaults, to raise 100-year money at a coupon of a mere 3.23 per cent. Note, too, the risk-hungry penchant of British and other developed world investors to inflate the bitcoin bubble.“ – bto: Bitcoin ist in der Tat auch ein Beispiel für den Risikoappetit, wenngleich die Anhänger es als das Gegenteil charakterisieren würden.  
  • „In addition to the mispricing of risk, investors also face the problem that central bank liquidity creation has generated high valuations across multiple asset classes and countries. With those asset classes being more closely correlated than in the past, it becomes much harder to achieve portfolio diversification. (…) Economists Fernando Avalos and Dora Xia of the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements, the central banks’ organisation, point out that the response of 10-year US Treasury yields to sell-offs in the US’s S&P 500 equity index has become more muted since 2018, with bond prices falling (and thus bond yields rising) when equities have fallen. As a result US Treasury bonds’ status as the safest haven in a global storm has become less secure.“ – bto: Der Punkt der zunehmenden Korrelation ist besonders wichtig, weil es nichts anderes bedeutet, als dass die Märkte immer mehr auf geringe Volatilität setzen. Dies lullt die Investoren ebenfalls ein und erhöht so das Risiko von Einbrüchen.  
  • „How should investors position themselves against the risk of inflation? In the short run this is scarcely a concern. Since the great financial crisis, aggregate demand in the developed world has been anaemic and despite falls in unemployment to relatively low levels before the pandemic inflationary pressure was absent. Now, with the coronavirus, the deflationary forces in the economy have become intense. Yet there may be inflationary trouble further ahead.“ – bto: Es stimmt natürlich, dass wir es vorerst mit eher deflationären Tendenzen zu tun haben. Strukturell und auch wegen der politischen Maßnahmen mag sich das allerdings ändern.
  • Auch wegen der demografischen Änderungen. Dies hatten wir schon mehrfach an dieser Stelle und die FT greift es nochmals auf:  „In their new book, The Great Demographic Reversal, Charles Goodhart and Manoj Pradhan argue that the profound deflationary impulse of the past three decades was chiefly due to an enormous surge in the world’s labour supply resulting from favourable demographic trends and the entry of China and eastern Europe into the global trading system. (…) These trends, they say, are now about to reverse sharply thanks to the ageing of populations, while the world is in retreat from globalisation. (…) Against that background, the likelihood that quantitative easing would raise general price levels, rather than simply push up asset prices as has happened since 2008, looks real.“ – bto: Das finde ich einleuchtend und ich darf an dieser Stelle verraten, dass ich mit den Autoren gesprochen habe und das Interview in einem Podcast bringen werde.
  • „Other grounds for worrying about the risk of inflation include the extraordinary rise in global debt, which stands at levels never seen outside wartime. (…) This accumulation of debt is a direct result of ultra-low interest rates. William White, former economic adviser and head of the economic and monetary department at the Bank for International Settlements, suggests that by keeping interest rates too low in the attempt to generate economic growth central banks have induced corporations and households to take on more debt. This, says Mr White in an interview, creates a debt trap and rising instability. When a financial crisis strikes central banks have to save the system, but in doing so they create even more instabilities. ‘They keep shooting themselves in the foot,’ he adds.“ – bto: Das hat er auch im Gespräch mit mir deutlich gemacht.
  • „It is safe to assume that the great debt overhang is unsustainable and will never be paid off in full. After the first and second world wars, debt levels were brought down by a combination of robust economic growth, which helped raise tax revenues, and de facto defaults, either informally through inflation or formally by way of debt reconstruction. Unless there is a much greater improvement in developed world productivity (and thus growth) than now seems plausible, inflation will again have to do much of the debt reduction.“ – bto: Und danach sieht es auch aus.
  • „The question for investors is whether central banks can respond to rising inflationary pressure by raising rates on this huge debt pile without prompting a devastating shock to markets. In Mr White’s judgment, central banks know they cannot leave interest rates as low as they are, because they are inducing still more bad debt and bad behaviour. But they cannot raise rates because then they would trigger the very crisis they are trying to avoid.“ – bto: Das macht die kommenden Jahre auch so gefährlich.  
  • „So for retail investors the message is that government bonds, traditionally regarded as safe assets, are in the long run dangerous. Real assets, such as property — notably residential, warehouses and care homes — and a modicum of portfolio insurance by investment in gold, will offer greater safety in what is anyway likely to be a low-return world.“ – bto: Zu glauben, dass man dann sicher ist, halte ich für falsch. Dann drohen Steuern und Abgaben.  
  • „There will, in the end, be a reckoning. But the timing of any market crunch is inherently unpredictable — nor how it hits any particular country such as the UK. The American economist Herb Stein famously remarked that if something can’t go on forever, then it will stop. Less well known is the rejoinder by fellow economist Rudi Dornbusch who said: Yes, but it will go on a lot longer than you anticipate.“ – bto: Auch das macht es nicht leichter!

ft.com (Anmeldung erforderlich): “Debt dangers hang over markets”, 8. Januar 2021