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Global financial risk: 1x JPEG = 1k wordcount

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Paul Mason | 12:08 UK time, Tuesday, 25 May 2010


The VIX Index is the nearest thing we have to a global Geiger-counter of financial risk. This is how it's trending since the Eurozone crisis kicked off. I'll be blogging more on this and covering the slide on the financial markets later. For now I leave you with the following thought: the VIX is nowhere near the highs it reached after the TARP failed and global contagion took off. But it is higher than it was on the day Lehman collapsed. Discuss.


  • Comment number 1.

    What is there to discuss other than there may be trouble ahead and many of us amateurs have been blogging against a safe recovery not just in UK. Is this phase two and this time no more Mr. Niceguy! Time will shortly tell.

  • Comment number 2.

    I could only guess as to what this means. What effect will this have on banks, other than the obvious?

  • Comment number 3.

    The VIX index, I had to look it up.

    Also known as the 'fear' index.

    or technically

    ''The VIX is the square root of the par variance swap rate for a 30 day term initiated today'' ref WIki

    Thanks for that wiki! (not).

    Anyway, taking it at face value as a trend graph with the salient crisis points noted by paul it looks like this to me:

    It gets to a point where overleveraged institutions become too exposed to survive the volatility on agiven day / week / financial position.

    As we can see lehman collapsed, which caused more volatility, followed by a sytemic correction and a more settled period.

    As paul notes, the level of volatility which caused lehman to collapsed (assuming a direct link) is already passed. Presumably nothing else has collapsed in the banking sector because they are supported by liquidity provided by the likes of the BOE QE programme and the emerging ECB equivalent. They still have a lot of cash ...well theoretical bits of paper expressed as a series of zeros and ones on a computer hard drive anyway, which they dont want to lend (thank you very much).

    I suppose to extend that logic you would say the next collapse would be of a sovereign nation defaulting, and , as expected, the tolerance to VIX would be much higher than for a mere bank by virtue of the status government bonds have in the perception of investors.

    So if the graph does not start to level off a country will 'go bust' fairly soon and we will all have a 'haircut' (which seems like a strange outcome from all of this but there you go....) :)

    Well I plan to avoid all of that by going for a haircut right now before some banker tells me to have one(it does not look so grey if kept short my wife tells me).

    All fascinating stuff this watching and commenting on the various plasma patterns dancing around as the house burns down but at some point we will realise ****!! 'our house has burnt down' how do we build another one!

    Anyway I'm off for a haircut.

  • Comment number 4.

    ..the VIX is nowhere near the highs it reached after the TARP failed and global contagion took off...

    A panic, in contrast to a crash, is strictly a short range affair...

    in the crash there was massive enforced liquidation as everyday at 3pm or 8pm [for usa] the margin clerks dumped huge positions from clients who couldn't meet margin requirements [no one was lending anyone money] while others were dumping positions to pay back clients or cover other bets.

    a panic is not the same as a crash. the crash has happened and so most the bubble money is out of the market or sitting in positions with huge losses they hope will come back in a few years [e.g banking shares]. it took untill the 1950s till $1000 in the market in 1929 regained its value. ie over 20 years.

    we have had an 'automatic bounce' from the 09 march lows. as happened in 29. which is why the recent sp chart looked similar. exits from automatic bounces can be violent.

    Also the next shoe to drop [how many feet does the crisis have?] will be USA States [which are as big as some countries] defaulting?

  • Comment number 5.

    As opposed to a liquidity crisis, isnt this more a slower burn worry over solvency and deflation. If a sytemically important institution goes down ( Lehman), the knock-on is immediate.

  • Comment number 6.

    I understand this is a measure of systemic financial risk. Shorthand for the risk of the financial system collapsing. The markets are pushing for credible plans for the deleveraging of public debt/deficits to avoid sovereign defaults so that the banks (esp Germany and France) do not again come under solvency threat. The problem is the markets are beginning to realise that there has to be serious questions about whether Greece or anyone else can deliver. If fiscal stimulus is withdrawn and the private sector fails to compensate, a deflationary spiral sets in where growth is stifled and the debts become proportionately larger and harder to finance. As South America demonstarted some form of restructring was necessary to allow time for strong growth to develop. Are French and German banks able to withstand such restructuring? Surely that is where the systemic risk lies.

  • Comment number 7.

    This looks more like an exercise in scaring oneself.

    It shouldn't really surprise anyone that the Euro got hit given that it was becoming the international trading currency of choice after the US dollar lost value. It was only a matter of time.

    Until it becomes the currency of a unified European state the Euro will remain open to volatile reactions in the so-called markets. Swiss francs anyone?

  • Comment number 8.

    Legalise pot...that's what I say...then nobody will give two figs about the economy!

    Hey! could even be taxed.

  • Comment number 9.

    when did TARP fail? Isn't it still being used to buy toxic assets in US?

  • Comment number 10.


    Funny you should say that, the stock human response to take the peoples mind off the economy and enforced austerity seems to break down to.

    1) Take drugs
    2) Invent a religion
    3) Have a really big war

    1) does seem the least worse option actually in line with your suggestion but it does seem to induce hallucinations which lead to the creation of 2 which then leads onto no.3 so its a no win situation for humanity.

    Anyway, I am sick of this economy so I intend to do all three tonight and see how I get on i.e.

    1) Get drunk
    2) scribble a couple of lines down about aliens and volcanos or something.
    3) bang on my neighbours door late at night until he comes to the door so that I can share my new wisdom with him whether he likes it or not.

    There you go. The history of humanity in 3 easy paragraphs and played out in a microcosm in the suburbs of Leeds on a May summer evening.

    See it works!! I have forgotten about

    ''VIX is the square root of the par variance swap rate for a 30 day term initiated today'' already.

  • Comment number 11.

    Correlation does not prove Causation.

    Please discuss, Paul

  • Comment number 12.

    feel like Senator Chapman before Pearl Harbour...we are in for a very torrid time and as always only the rich will survive...

  • Comment number 13.

    The VIX soaring!
    Levels not seen since March 2009.
    Stock volume huge - 2 billion shares trading on the NYSE (average has been @ 1.3 billion).
    Pundets call it “market correction.”
    I call it FEAR!
    Some people like to point the finger at the EU: The EU’s bailout, the Euro. I call this distraction.
    Some people like to point at the Chinese: the Chinese property bubble about to burst. I call this too distraction.
    My blame goes to the Goldman Sachs and its ilk - incestuous banking/investment banks swimming in filthy lucre and laying black swans.
    Black swans are hatching, just as Lehman hatched. I blame the incestuous investment/regular banks with their bundled derivatives, Credit Default Swaps (especially against sovereign debt), CDOs, and all the other convoluted, marginally legal exotic trading instruments that have come to roost such that banks are now paralyzed to lending; credit is frozen, and no bank really knows its true level of capitalization.
    The VIX soaring means the bullish euphoria of April is gone. When vending machines dispense gold bars as ETF’s, a metaphor for a profound global distrust of all paper money, something is very wrong. The rise in three month LIBOR and the Treasury-Eurodollar spread is looking ominous because it strongly suggests that systemic risk is back in the international money markets.

  • Comment number 14.


    Hey bluesberry...chill out man.

    Want to hear my new theory about how the universe began? Its really cool.

    Goldmans...VIX indexes..get real,those guys are really trippin and they aint even enjoyin it so whats the point man.

    Watch the sunset, go hug your kids or something.

  • Comment number 15.

    The graph indicates a very small number of people on the planet are worrying about their worth.

    Has anyone seriously studied this behaviour - you know the mass hysteria that sometimes happens among pubescent girls, for example ?

    Unfortunately the effects of this hysteria may well lead to profound consequences for millions of people, unlike the schoolkids in Tanzania, who could simply sit the exams when they felt better on another day.

  • Comment number 16.


    If you believe in reincarnation, everybody can re-sit the exam on another day (see post 10 above for further illumination), dont worry.

    The answer must therefore be to make it compulsory for all those in financial services to believe in reincarnation.

    VIX would disappear overnight.

    ''VIX is the square root of the par variance swap rate for a 30 day term initiated today''

    The definition of VIX is poetic in its obscurity, I love it! I dont even want to know what it means anymore. I get far more out of it by marvelling at the creative construction man has come up with to support a definition of such exquisite irrelevence.


  • Comment number 17.

    The VIX is a measure of volatility calculated from futures contracts on the S&P500.

    High uncertainty
    -> Lots of people buying futures on a wide range of prices over the next 30 days
    -> high VIX.

    This is not surprising to anyone following the underlying economics, the bailouts simply transfered the risk of default from banks to governments. People are now starting to realize that the governments either can't pay at all, or will only pay with terrible austerity. The austerity will bring economic contraction, terrible news for markets.

  • Comment number 18.

    Day one: Market fear demands deficit reduction to ensure freedom from bond default.
    Day two: Markets fear lower growth, deflation and therefore higher deficits.
    Day three: See day one.
    ... ad infinitum.

    And if it were not Greece/Euro, then it would be something else - the markets will always move on to the next fear target. Once the bears start to get their teeth in properly, then it's a long journey to recovery. That will only occur when governments reassert their authority over finance. Merkel and Obama are starting to do that, but it's not happening quickly enough.

  • Comment number 19.

    So what is going on then? The American government sees what their banking industry is doing and thinks its a good thing? They could stop it right? But they don't want to because they see strategic advantage resulting from this car crash? I don't get it.

    What is going to be the affect of this on China's growth paterns in the next decade if the west stops buying it's crap. Also, how is a massive depression/recession likely to imact on the American debt; will it increase/decrease, become zombified like Japan?

    Does anyone have an opinion on what England as a country is supposed to do in the next 10, 15, 20 years to secure our place in the world; or even weather their is enough of a desire to secure our place in the world in with our current system running along as if nothing happened?

    Can anyone envisage an England not invading other countries at will; not having a massive navy and militery industry? Not making 'captains of industry' Knights and Lords of the realm? Is this our future ad-in-fin-itum

    Also, any opinions on how affective scarmogering will be at inducing a a state of inovation amongst the proles that propels us out the S**t?

  • Comment number 20.

    Oh I do love a juicy graph of volatility. Especially an Index of Volatility that is itself inherently volatile:

    Today's Range: 24.10 - 32.54
    52wk Range: 15.23 - 48.20

    In other words even the measure of fear, as you call it, can go up by 50% in a single day (24>32). And over a year it can wax and wane by a factor greater than 3 times.

    So every few hours the market is saying: "hey, life's good", "whooa, wait a mo", "oh, yikes a minute", "screaming hellfire!", "oh, no, maybe we're cooking on gas again", "but then again......"

    As you stated Paul, we are creeping up to levels (and indeed spreads of levels - volatility of the volatility index) last seen in early-mid September 2008.

    Ever want to know what the volatility / fear sounds like from the pits, then listen to this audio from the 6th May Flash Crash. Absolute carnage on the trading floors. Not for the faint-hearted:

  • Comment number 21.

    It would be good to see a longer slot on newsnight or another program were this graph could be played out with suporting views / evidence. The Euro is clearly having a though time and with the differing members the pain is clear to see. If the Euro does start to break down, will we see a two tier Euro or as stated some, members being ejected from the club in a few years to preserve what the Germans state as "to preserve at all costs" . With the Spanish banks now under close scruitiny will we see a reply of the UK banking crisis and then it start all over again. What would be interested is how this may play out -- best and worst....

  • Comment number 22.

    #19 Henry

    A bit depressing for a wet Thursday morning, but this short video by Michel Chossudovsky sums things up quite concisely:

    The strategy (economic, political, financial and militarily) of the US (and the UK as lap dog) was set many years ago. It's always been part of the game plan (since about 1970) for the West to massively ramp up our debts. The trick is to keep on pushing and testing peoples patience until the limits break. When the debts are clearly becoming unsustainable, then you keep all options on the table:

    1) Austerity measures for the average man in the street
    2) Default on internal debts (i.e. refuse to properly honour pensions)
    3) Inflate away debt by devaluing the currency (therefore de facto defaulting internally, as in point 2, and also to your international creditors)
    4) War - continue with the resource plundering in the Middle East etc.

    In a warped kind of way I admire their audacity. The sheer genius of the plan in the first place, and the way it has been cunningly kept from us all these years. Only those truly "in on it" need feel guilty about our "place in the world", as you put it.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think the key difference with the pre-Lehman's crisis is the transmission belt for the melt down. Through the summer of 2008 the US financial authorities were fire fighting, ad hoc nationalisations, Bear Stearns, Fannie and Freddie and so on. But Paulson shuddered at the thought of a systematic solution. So he baulked at the bail out of Lehman's and the rest is history.
    On this occasion the systemic risk lies with sovereign debt. But the EMF has already ensured that the PIGS can meet their funding requirements from its $1 trillion bail out. The states do not have to borrow from the financial markets, so high as the lending rates rise, and they have not risen that high, then it cannot produce systemic collapse.
    Even, as is likely, when the Greeks default on their loans as they are already guaranteed this will take the form of a restructuring of their debt re-payment schedule, not an unstructured collapse and forced hair cut.
    Finally there's where we are in the business cycle. The credit crunch exacerbated a slow down. Now are are in the upswing. This financial crisis may slow it down...or it may not. A fall in the Euro stimulates exports and is just what the doctor ordered.
    Can China save the world economy? So far it seems so. Japanese exports rose by 40% year on year up to April 2010.

  • Comment number 24.

  • Comment number 25.

    Why was the unusually valuable discussion on the world economy cut short to make time for something trivial? What does "comprehensive" then mean in the advertised description of Newsnight??? The truth appears to be that producers are so anxious for numbers they ignore the serious demands of content. It did not reassure that Gavin E seemed more than happy to turn his attention from the grave to the slight.

  • Comment number 26.

    I'm no expert but let me have a stab at it.

    Firstly, lets assume that markets are both informationally efficient AND inherent with subjective bias. Many economists won't accept both in theory but reality is clearly considerably more complex.

    With this in mind the financial crisis of 2007/08 posed an almost Armageddon like collapse of the global system of finance; the banks were in deep mud and clearly could not sustain themselves. Without global government intervention the banking sector would have largely crumbled and creating knock on effects leading to depression mark 2.

    The losses and debt of the banks has shifted from private to public along with huge stimulus packages around the world. The difference is that whilst the banking sector could not sustain itself governments, albeit with austerity (tight arse) measures of varying degrees, can. Thus, investors are worried, and rightly so, about either the value of the currency or of the economic output of the Euro.

    Why the Euro in particular? Many reasons. I suspect that the much touted cause of our social system is a minor player. The majority of this consists of pension payments and was always a problem. Greece is the main issue. It, with the help of Goldman, has fiddled its accounts and has been rife with corruption. It got itself into serious trouble and investors, understandably but perhaps not wholly justifiably, are incredibly jittery with the euro zone.

    However, all this talk about a collapse of the Euro seems churlish and is indicative of media commentators. Professional commentators, overall, don't seem to be taking such a fundamental line aka, krugman etc

  • Comment number 27.


    I guess by cause of the absolutely massive bailout package things have superficially stabilised again and kept the pain on a slow burning fuse again.

    The construction industry is a great early warning system in this country, interesting to note (I fear) that we were as an industry quite busy running up to the election, but those projects are now being cancelled (building schools for the future for example)or will run their course in the next 6 to 12 months, those at the forefront of the construction industry delivery process have recently seen a big drop off in queries.

    The private sector is still v flat, the government sector is about to have the tap turned off, leaving well....not very much.

    The smart players in the industry are starting to amalgemate now buying up the whole supply chain while it is cheap and they have liquidity to do so, giving them maximum flexibility and influence in what will be an extremely tough market.

    In terms of the broader economy, traditionally what happens to us in construction first as the biggest ticket items gets fed through, i dont see that dynamic changing this time. If I were to hazard a guess i would say it will tip the nation into negative growth by the end of the summer and keep it there for some time and generate a spike in unemployment too (will possibly be offset by christmas but will happen at about the same time).

    Things in Ireland are absolutely terrible by the way, interestingly a great many people are looking for refuge there in the black economy outside the chancellors reach, topping up benefits with casual work on a nod a wink and cash in hand, it is avery similar story in Spain I understand.

    You could view that as people having lost faith in the system, the modern equivalent of a quiet revolution? Such behaviour does not do the governments ability to pay its debts any good, but I bet you would struggle to find a government who would have the desire to 'crack down' on it. In effect the people are already voting with their feet and, i am not going to struggle to pay my governments debts just to keep germany happy.

    Is the massive growth in the Black economy the new slow burn revolution ?

    Any views on that?

  • Comment number 28.

    #27 Jericoa
    Insightful comments as usual.I'm involved on the private client-side of your business.A brief summary of my observations : we scaled back as early as Autumn 2007 after LIBOR dislocated from base rate; early 2008 we did not believe it would get as bad as it did but everyone expected a correction of inflated asset prices - I remember contractors feeling quite good in 08,busily fulfilling orders committed in 07;we battened down in 08 to ride out a corrective year/plus say, 6 months;banks were drawing in credit lines and driving hard bargains on new working capital; Autumn 08 - unbelievable!; immediate collapse of confidence and flight to prime: secondary commercial collapsed messing up everyone's balance sheets-banks sorting out wheat from chaff but keeping alive projects that could at least service interest payments;now, the art was how not to do something for at least 12 months; 2009: artificially volatile housing market shored up on lack of supply in the upper price bracket and some low interest rates for certain groups;banks didnt want to know anything with risk;flight to quality,foreign investors and high net-worth individuals hoovering up prime stock and making absolute killings; big boys able to refinance thanks to QE ( discounters active),everyone else looked after themselves or went to wall;contractors rising hopes on stimulus spending soon to be dashed;09-election:phoney market spooked by evident prospect of long term credit drought,impending/developing waning of consumer confidence and a world of higher taxes and lower government spending; post election: emergency budget and autumn spending round awaited; banks now putting in receivers, not able to constantly roll-over facilities; vulture opportunities for bottom-feeders; the intelligent realising banks need to refinance £1trn of wholesale liabilities over next five years,face capital and liquidity tightening,levies and possible break-up; ours is a business turned on its head; non-bank capital somehow to be found for anything with risk,smaller guys needing collateral when there aint any. The new world looks more monopolistic favouring the corporates with access to capital markets in a new nimby-led planning world......
    but, I like a challenge!

  • Comment number 29.


    Makes sense, I had to read it several times though, I appreciate the undeniable intelligence that underpins the stream of economic consciousness in your posts..but the odd paragraph would assist mere mortals like myself :)

    What are we saying here?

    Increasing disconnect, massive corporations (with access to liquidity) swallowing up the smaller busineses (who dont) then turning on each other, all the while with a seperate and ever larger parallel economy developing outside of the tax and regulatory system by those disenfranchised from it.

    Interesting and challenging indeed!

  • Comment number 30.

    Yeah, sorry it was a bit of a rant :)- just saying its a polarised world emerging and a less competitive one where established interests are gaining the upper hand and have been helped there by policy-makers. And yet, SMEs are the engine for recovery.They are being left to sink/swim.Supply-chain finance and equity finance are often controlled by the established interests who've just had the leg-up. I try to nail the unfairness where I see it. Your observation ties in with mine where you talk of Joe Bloggs moonlighting to make ends meet, and why not. He wasnt given cheap central bank money reserves to use for short term investments with guaranteed profits ( and then feted as a genius for making a mint). He wasnt provided with liquidity at the right time to invest in prime London property to make a killing. No government helped for him to cheaply refinance his credit card loan. He'll just be picking up the bail-out bill by a tax hike here,there and everywhere and the tax-man watching him very closely!

  • Comment number 31.

    Ruth Sunderland's piece in The Observer today about how the FTSE 100 is increasingly disconnected with the UK economy is very instructive and airs worries I have had with this benchmark indicator. Think also of recent UK government policy measures which may have benefitted these ( often alien) behemoths. UK pension investment draining into these companies. Anyone worried by this?

  • Comment number 32.

    UK to start asset sales with Chunnel link - report

    Statist warned of the sales of UK assets to the ‘free-market anarchy’ corporate fascists...aided by their ‘in-their-pocket’ libertarian politicians.

    The ponzi scheme continues...for the meanwhile that is!

  • Comment number 33.


    There does seem to be an air of unreality surrounding the FTSE 100, I have not read the article but presume the profitability v market capilalisation ratio is at an all time low, yet more evidence of the 'value disconnect' underpinning the unfolding dynamic.

    Hard to see that changing anytime soon either.

    No co-incidence we have record gold prices, just lots of paper flying around in a desperate attempt to find somewhere where it can make more paper until collectively reality forces the system to realise is just no longer represents value.

    The incumbents have been quite adept at patching the system up and buying more time but at the 'unseen' price of increasing disconnect in economics and society.

    A jobs black market is one thing in response to the cost of living and tax hikes, but when VAT goes up watch out for the re-emergence of organised smuggling.

    There will be diminishing returns for governments, the level of austerity demanded will be extrmely difficult to deliver,especially in the absence of abroader vision to make the suffering appear to have some purpose. People are prepared to suffer for a noble common cause, they will not be prepared to suffer to support a system which is on its last legs.

    Speaking of which I should mention the alternative to austerity...growth.

    Which is of course just about impossible now for developed nations with the level of efficiency and mechanisation we enjoy, we just can not consume fast enough or invent new stuff we dont need to keep up with the efficiency.

    Forget peak oil, we have already past the peak of validity of a consumer driven advanced technological society model in 'the west' we have nowhere else to go.It still works for the developing world but not for us. We have to move to something else. We will move to something else whether vwe like it or not, that process is already happening.

    I dont mind the ECB measures (and the like) to buy time but it has to be done on that basis, to try to tell up they aredoing this to 'restore economic growth and prospertity' is simply laughable now. I cringe everytime I hear a politicain or economist say 'our priority must be to restore economic growth'.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 35.

    32. At 10:43pm on 06 Jun 2010, DebtJuggler

    Don't forget the companies that will move into or be created to run schools!
    Watch out for an expansion of private services supplying the NHS and perhpas University courses too.

  • Comment number 36.

    33. At 11:13pm on 06 Jun 2010, Jericoa

    It seems we have too many people looking for too many jobs that don't really exist (such as moving the civil service to the North East to help out with unemployment there over the past couple of decades, and now about to be cut).

    If we've a growing wave of unemployment I reckon there will be a growth in the demand for tents for the growing band of homeless that we may see in the UK! Take a look at the homeless living in tents in the US to see what the neoliberals have created on youtube.

    As for low tax receipts, there was a book about 10 years ago describing the tax dodges in the US - whatever goes on there, we can expect similar here.

    Over the last three decades elected US officials have turned a reasonably fair tax code into one crafted for the benefit of those who give the largest campaign contributions, enjoy the most access, hire the most influential lobbyists, or otherwise exercise power beyond that of average citizens.
    Congress and the White House have auctioned off the tax code to the highest bidders at the expense of ordinary individuals and families.
    As a result, tax cheating has become so widespread throughout all levels of society that the United States couldn’t build enough prisons to hold everyone who’s doing it.
    But the federal government applies a double standard when it comes to enforcing the nation’s tax laws–one for the rich and well connected, and one for everyone else.

    Quoted from which is worth listening to even if 10 years old.
    They are interviewing the authors (Donald Bartlett and James B. Steele, authors) of a book, The Great American Tax Dodge–How Spiraling Fraud and Avoidance are Killing Fairness, Destroying the Income Tax and Costing You

    I love the examples of how they describe how they let off those at the top but go after those at the bottom! It's like the warnings to the unemployed about working for a few hours for a few quid on the bus stops but never any warnings around Canary Wharf!

  • Comment number 37.

    #33 Jericoa

    Yes, I too cringe at the sound "growth". We are pinning all our economic recovery prospects on an assumption of growth. Growth may or may not occur, however much of the fundamentals of the west, as you state, are seriously flawed.

    However, many in a position of power and influence have probably cottoned on to this. Their best strategy is to keep peddaling the myth whilst syphoning off profits and assets etc (as in #32).

    What you and Shireblogger are describing is further evidence of the "silent war" taking place:

    The country's economic fundamentals are not in good shape, yet how can large banks such as JP Morgan keep on making consistently high profits? It seems that no-one is putting two and two together regarding last week's JPM fine:

    It seems that my more direct accusation at #10 hit a nerve!


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