From Financial Crisis to Stagnation: An Interview with Thomas Palley
By Philip Pilkington - Naked Capitalism
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PP: In the book you provide a very clear description of what actually occurred in the financial market in 2008. Reading it I thought that a lot of people – myself included – have never really put the pieces together in their own minds. Maybe you could summarise the key events briefly?
TP: The mechanics of the crisis within the U.S. financial system are actually quite simple and can be understood as a six step process. Step one was the build-up of toxic loans over several years. Step two was when loans eventually started turning sour with the bursting of the house price bubble in 2007, causing loan losses. Step three was the destruction of bank equity caused by mounting loan losses. This process began in the so-called “shadow banking system” and then moved into the Wall Street investment banks and the established commercial banking sector. Step four was the resulting threat of bank defaults triggered by equity destruction. Step five was the rush to cash spurred by the threat of default. That caused a liquidation trap as agents tried to sell financial assets to raise cash, which deepened the extent of asset price declines and caused further equity losses. Step six was the run in the commercial paper market immediately after the collapse of Lehman brothers (September 2008) whereby banks and financial institutions became unwilling to lend to each other. That put every bank (including Goldman Sachs) on the verge of default, prompting the Federal Reserve to step in and de facto take over the commercial paper market by acting as lender of last resort.
PP: In the book you mention the commodities bubble that blew up in the 2008 financial crisis a number of times. Many commodities – oil included – are nearly back at their 2008 levels. Do you think that this could be due to speculation? If so, why on earth are the US government allowing this?Read the rest of the interview here
TP: I firmly believe speculation is a significant part of the run up in commodity prices, particularly oil. Over the last decade there has been tremendous change in the character of commodity market participants. In the past, the market consisted of producers, end-users, and traders intermediating between these groups. Now, the market has been invaded by financial investors in the form of pension funds, endowment managers, hedge funds acting on behalf of high net worth individuals, investment bank entities trading on their own account, and exchange traded funds (ETFs) for ordinary punters who want to speculate on commodities. This transformation represents the ‘financialization’ of commodity markets and it has resulted in a tsunami of money chasing commodities as a speculative investment vehicle. After causing a bubble and a bust in 2008, it has again pushed up oil prices.
The fingerprints of speculation are all over the oil market: large one day price spikes and plunges that cannot possibly be explained by changes in economic fundamentals; high prices in the face of large and growing inventories; storage in unconventional forms like idle super-tankers; and investment banks like Goldman Sachs purchasing oil storage capacity in places like Cushing, Oklahoma.