Nouriel Roubini is one of my favorite financial reads. Yesterday he laid out the similarities between the US and countries hit by recent financial "panics" including currency and debt markets of Turkey, Hungary, Australia, New Zealand, evidently all stemming from financial woes in Iceland.
What do all these countries have in common with the US? Roubini explains:
First, a large (relative to GDP) current account deficit, a large (relative to exports) external debt and a significantly overvalued exchange rate.The US is not yet "hit," but warns Roubini:
Second, an asset bubble in the housing sector.
Third, a fall in the private savings rate and an increase in the consumption to GDP rate, as well as a boom in real estate investment that are all driven by the housing bubble; these, in turn, lead to a worsening of the current account.
Fourth, a credit boom that has fed this asset bubble and that can make their banking system vulnerable to a housing bust.
Fifth, a partial cross border financing of the current account deficit via the short-term cross border flows to the banking system that currently is mostly in domestic currency (but that in some cases used to be in foreign currency).
Sixth, a relatively low stock of liquid foreign exchange reserves relative to the cross border foreign currency liabilities of the country (the U.S. and advanced economies being an exception as they have little forex reserves but also little foreign currency debt).
On top of all these vulnerabilities, some but not all of these countries - the U.S. in particular - have also a large fiscal deficit. ...
...Suddenly, in all these countries [excepting the US] investors are realizing that the force of gravity of a large current account deficit eventually dominates the carrry trade of interest rate differentials. It is true that the large current account deficits of these countries and their housing bubbles have been known for a while. But markets and investors have a strange way of sometimes waking up - as they did in Thailand in 1997 - and realize that the problems in one country - Iceland today (Thailand in 1997) - are very similar to those in other countries (East Asia in 1997 and the "usual suspects" above today).
...[Y]ou can play your luck only for so long, especially when - unlike all these other economies - you also have a large and growing fiscal deficit and you are increasingly financing it with new short term debt that is 100% purchased - on net - by non-residents that are now subject to a serious currency risk. It used to be argued that short term foreign currency debt is dangerous when you have little foreign currency reserves as liquidity runs can occur; while domestic currency debt is less risky as you do not have the same rollover/liqudity risk; it was also argued that, as the currency risk is held by the non-residents holding your local currency debt, no nasty balance sheet effects of a devaluation can occur.Meanwhile, The US and China are "playing with fire," says Roubini in a March 22 post, on a collision course perhaps as early as this year:
But these arguments are probably flawed: if most of your domestic debt is in local currency and is held by non-residents, these investors face a large currency risk. Thus, once they start to expect a large depreciation of your currency, their incentive to hedge their currency risk and dump your assets and your currency becomes very large. Then, both a currency crisis and a run on your assets - be it liquid bank deposits or short term government debt -may occur - with nasty effects on your financial system and the ability of your government to finance itself. So, the fact that U.S., Spain, Australia, New Zealand and now even emerging markets such as Turkey and Hungary are financing themselves in local currency may be of little comfort. Runs on currency and liquid local assets may still occur with severe and disruptive effects on currency values, bond markets, equity markets and the housing market. …
…The developing events in Iceland and, possibly, in other emerging market economies, suggest that it was wishful thinking to believe that currency crisies, contagion, financial crises and runs were a thing of the past.
In the meanwhile U.S. policymakers - both at Treasury and even some, but not all, at the Fed - live in this LaLa Land dream that the U.S. current account deficits and fiscal deficits do not matter and that the U.S. external deficit is all caused by a global savings glut or is actually a "capital account surplus" as it allegedly represents the foreigners' desire to hold U.S. assets. They - and financial markets and investors - may soon wake up from this unreal dream and face a nightmare where the U.S. looks like Iceland more than they have ever fathomed.