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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

 

the end of bretton woods 2


brad setser via yves smith:

In retrospect, Bretton Woods 2 depended on two things: ongoing flows from the emerging world’s governments to the US Treasury and Agency market, and the ongoing ability of the US financial system (broadly defined to include the dollar-based “shadow” financial system operating in London and other offshore centers) to transform these flows into loans to ever-more indebted US households. US investors** effectively sold their holdings of Treasuries and Agencies to the world’s central banks, and then redeployed their funds into private-label mortgage-backed securities. Between the end of 2003 and q2 2007 (three and a half years), the stock of mortgages held by private issuers of asset-backed securities rose from about $1 trillion to around $3 trillion. That demand meant that credit was available to any household that wanted it – even those without much ability to pay if the housing market ever turned.

Or, to put it more succinctly, Bretton Woods 2, as it evolved, hinged both on the willingness of foreign central banks to take the currency risk associated with lending to the US at low rates in dollars despite the United States large current account deficit AND the willingness of private financial intermediaries to take the credit risk associated with lending at low rates to highly-indebted US households.

The second leg of the chain collapsed before the first. And it collapse looks set to deliver a nasty shock to everyone – including the countries that supply the US with vendor financing. ...

I hope that the process of adjustment now underway isn’t as sharp as I fear. ... But right now it looks like there is a real risk that the adjustment won’t be gradual. And it certainly looks like the flow of Chinese (and Gulf) savings to US households over the past few years has produced one of the largest misallocations of global capital in recent history.

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