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Market Complexity Could Trigger the Next Crash

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How Market Complexity Could Trigger the Next Crash

How Market Complexity Could Trigger the Next Crash

Complex systems are all around us.

By one definition, a complex system is any system that features a large number of interacting components (agents, processes, etc.) whose aggregate activity is nonlinear (not derivable from the summations of the activity of individual components) and typically exhibits hierarchical self-organization under selective pressures.

In today’s infographic from Meraglim we use accumulating snow and an impending avalanche as an example of a complex system – but really, such systems can be found everywhere. Weather is another complex system, and ebb and flow of populations is another example.

Markets are Complex Systems

Just like in the avalanche example, where various factors at the top of a mountain (accumulating volumes of snow, weather, temperature, geology, gravity, etc.) make up a complex system that is difficult to predict, markets are similarly complex.

In fact, markets meet all the properties of complex systems, as outlined by scientists:

1. Diverse
System actors have different points of view. (i.e. bullish, bearish, long, short, leveraged, non-leveraged, etc.)

2. Connected
Capital markets are over-connected, and information spreads fast. (i.e. chat rooms, phone calls, emails, Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones, Bloomberg, trading systems, order entry systems, etc.)

3. Interaction
Trillions of dollars of securities are exchanged in transactions every day (i.e. stocks, bonds, currencies, derivatives, etc.)

4. Adaptive Behavior
Actors change their behavior based on the signals they are getting (i.e. making or losing money, etc.)

And like the avalanche example, where a single snowflake can trigger a much bigger event, there are increasing signs that the complexity behind the stock market has also reached a critical state.

Markets in a Critical State

Here are just some examples that show how the market has entered into an increasingly critical state:

Record-Low Volatility
The VIX, an index that aims to measure the volatility of the market, hit all-time lows this summer.

Bull Market Length
Meanwhile, the current bull market (2009-present) is the second-longest bull market in modern history at 3,109 days. The only bull market that was longer went from the 1987 crash to the Dot-com bust.

Valuations at Highs
Stock valuations, based on Robert Schiller’s CAPE ratio (which looks at cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings), are approaching all-time highs as well. Right now, it sits 83.3% higher than the historical mean of 16.8. It was only higher in 1929 and 2000, right before big crashes occurred.

Market Goes Up
Investor overconfidence leads investors to believe the market only goes up, and never goes down. Indeed, in this bull market, markets have gone up 67 of the months (an average gain of 3.3%), and have gone down only 34 months (average drop of -2.6%).

Here are some additional signs of systemic risk that make complex markets less stable:

  • A densely connected network of bank obligations and liabilities
  • Over $70 trillion in debt added since Financial Crisis
  • Over $1 quadrillion in notional value of derivatives
  • Non-bank shadow finance through hedge funds and securitization make risk impossible to measure
  • Increased leverage of banks in some markets
  • Greater concentration of financial assets in fewer companies

In other words, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about “snow” accumulation – and any such “snowflake” could trigger the avalanche.

In complex dynamic systems that reach the critical state, the most catastrophic event that can occur is an exponential function of scale. This means that if you double the system, you do not double the risk; you increase it by a factor of five or 10

– Jim Rickards, author of Road to Ruin

The Next Snowflake

What could trigger the next avalanche? It could be anything, including the failure of a major bank, a natural disaster, war, a cyber-financial attack, or any other significant event.

Such “snowflakes” come around every few years:

1987: Black Monday
The Dow fell 508 points (-22.6%) in one day.

1994-95: The Mexican peso crisis
Systemic collapse narrowly avoided when the U.S. government bailed out Mexico using the controversial $20 billion “Exchange Stabilization Fund”.

1997: Asian financial crisis
East Asian currencies fell in value by as much as -38%, and international stocks by as much as -60%.

1998: Long Term Capital Management
Hedge fund LTCM was in extreme distress, and within hours of shutting down every market in the world.

2000: The Dotcom crash
Nasdaq fell -78% in 30 months after early Dotcom companies crashed and burned.

2008: Lehman Brothers bankruptcy
Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and J.P. Morgan were days away from same fate until government stepped in.

Shelter from the Avalanche

The Fed and mainstream economists use equilibrium theory, regressions, and correlations to quantify the markets. And while they pay lip-service to black swans, they don’t have a good way of forecasting them or predicting them.

Markets are complex – and only complexity theory and predictive analytics can help to shed light on their next move.

Alternatively, investors can seek shelter from the storm by investing in assets that cannot be digitally frozen (bank accounts, brokerage accounts, etc.) or have their value inflated away (cash, fixed-income). Such assets include land, precious metals, fine art, and private equity.

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Banks

Why It’s Time for Banks to Make Bold Late-Cycle Moves

As we enter a late-cycle economy, a staggering 60% of banks are destroying value. Here’s the steps they can take in order to succeed.

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Why It’s Time for Banks to Make Bold Late-Cycle Moves

An economic downturn is approaching on the horizon. Amid low interest rates and a manufacturing slowdown, industries and investors alike are scrambling to prepare as the window of opportunity closes.

Banking is no different. After a decade of expansion, the industry is showing many signs of a late-cycle economy. On top of this, a staggering 60% of banks are destroying value. Today’s infographic from McKinsey & Company explores the steps banks can immediately take to succeed in the next economic cycle.

How is Value Created?

In the banking sector, three main factors contribute to value creation:

  • The location of the bank
  • The scale of its operations
  • The effectiveness of its business model

Given that geographic reach is mostly out of a bank’s control, and scale takes time to build, banks must focus on their business model.

There are three universal business model levers that all banks can immediately act on to change their destiny.

1. Risk Management
Banks can protect returns in an economic downturn by managing risk. For example, new machine-learning models can predict the riskiest customers with 35 percentage points more accuracy than traditional models.

2. Productivity
To radically reduce costs, banks can transfer non-differentiating activities to third-party “utilities”, through outsourcing, carve-outs, or partnerships. This has the potential to increase return on equity by as much as 100 basis points.

3. Revenue Growth
When customers are satisfied, they generate more value for banks—and vice versa. For instance, customers who report low satisfaction with their mortgage experience are almost seven times more likely to refinance with a different bank.

By materially improving decisive points in the customer experience, banks can increase revenue and reduce churn rates within 12-18 months.

The Four Banking Archetypes

Beyond these universal performance levers, a bank should prioritize late-cycle economic decisions based on the archetype it falls under.

  • Market leaders are top-performing financial institutions in attractive markets
  • Resilients are top-performing operators despite challenging market conditions
  • Followers are mid-tier organizations generating returns due to favourable market conditions
  • Challenged banks are poor performers in unattractive markets

Different archetypal levers are available depending on each bank’s unique circumstances.

  1. Ecosystem
    Banks can find new revenue streams across and beyond banking, leveraging customer relationships and white-label partnerships.
  2. Innovation
    Banks can create value by developing new methods, ideas, products and services. To implement this effectively, banks must set goals for the return on innovation as well as the timeframe.
  3. Zero-based budgeting
    By justifying expenses for each new period, banks can drastically reduce costs. This involves starting from a “zero base” rather than prior years’ numbers.

Here’s how banks across the various archetypes can take action:

 
Ecosystems
Innovation
Zero-based Budgeting
Market Leaders
-
Resilients
Followers
-
Challenged
-
-

For example, while market leaders’ large capital base is best used for ecosystem and innovation plays, challenged banks need to radically rethink their business model or merge with similar banks.

Reinvent, Scale, or Perish

As the late-cycle economy slows even further, no banks can afford complacency. In fact, history has shown that 35% of market leaders drop to the bottom half of peers in the next cycle.

Now is the time for banks to take bold action through universal and archetypal levers—or risk being left behind.

For a more detailed breakdown of the actions that banks can take in this market environment, check out the full report by McKinsey & Company.

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The World’s Most Powerful Reserve Currencies

Here are the reserve currencies that the world’s central banks hold onto for a rainy day.

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The World’s Most Powerful Reserve Currencies

When we think of network effects, we’re usually thinking of them in the context of technology and Metcalfe’s Law.

Metcalfe’s Law states that the more users that a network has, the more valuable it is to those users. It’s a powerful idea that is exploited by companies like LinkedIn, Airbnb, or Uber — all companies that provide a more beneficial service as their networks gain more nodes.

But network effects don’t apply just to technology and related fields.

In the financial sector, for example, stock exchanges grow in utility when they have more buyers, sellers, and volume. Likewise, in international finance, a currency can become increasingly entrenched when it’s accepted, used, and trusted all over the world.

What’s a Reserve Currency?

Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it breaks down foreign reserves held by countries — but what is a reserve currency, anyways?

In essence, reserve currencies (i.e. U.S. dollar, pound sterling, euro, etc.) are held on to by central banks for the following major reasons:

  • To maintain a stable exchange rate for the domestic currency
  • To ensure liquidity in the case of an economic or political crisis
  • To provide confidence to international buyers and foreign investors
  • To fulfill international obligations, such as paying down debt
  • To diversify central bank portfolios, reducing overall risk

Not surprisingly, central banks benefit the most from stockpiling widely-held reserve currencies such as the U.S. dollar or the euro.

Because these currencies are accepted almost everywhere, they provide third-parties with extra confidence and perceived liquidity. This is a network effect that snowballs from the growing use of a particular reserve currency over others.

Reserve Currencies Over Time

Here is how the usage of reserve currencies has evolved over the last 15 years:

Currency composition of official foreign exchange reserves (2004-2019)
🇺🇸 U.S. Dollar 🇪🇺 Euro🇯🇵 Japanese Yen🇬🇧 Pound Sterling 🌐 Other
200465.5%24.7%4.3%3.5%2.0%
200962.1%27.7%2.9%4.3%3.0%
201465.1%21.2%3.5%3.7%6.5%
201961.8%20.2%5.3%4.5%8.2%

Over this timeframe, there have been small ups and downs in most reserve currencies.

Today, the U.S. dollar is the world’s most powerful reserve currency, making up over 61% of foreign reserves. The dollar gets an extensive network effect from its use abroad, and this translates into several advantages for the multi-trillion dollar U.S. economy.

The euro, yen, and pound sterling are the other mainstay reserve currencies, adding up to roughly 30% of foreign reserves.

Finally, the most peculiar data series above is “Other”, which grew from 2.0% to 8.4% of worldwide foreign reserves over the last 15 years. This bucket includes the Canadian dollar, the Australian dollar, the Swiss franc, and the Chinese renminbi.

Accepted Everywhere?

There have been rumblings in the media for decades now about the rise of the Chinese renminbi as a potential new challenger on the reserve currency front.

While there are still big structural problems that will prevent this from happening as fast as some may expect, the currency is still on the rise internationally.

What will the composition of global foreign reserves look like in another 15 years?

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