Tag Archives: Zombie companies

The Japanification of the World, by Charles Hugh Smith

As it grows faster than the underlying economy, debt becomes quicksand from which the economy cannot extricate itself. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

Zombification / Japanification is not success; it is only the last desperate defense of a failing, brittle status quo by doing more of what’s failed.

A recent theme in the financial media is the Japanification of Europe.Japanification refers to a set of economic and financial conditions that have come to characterize Japan’s economy over the past 28 years: persistent stagnation and deflation, a low-growth and low-inflation economy, very loose monetary policy, a central bank that is actively monetizing debt, i.e. creating currency out of thin air to buy government debt and a government which funds “bridges to nowhere” and other stimulus spending to keep the economy from crashing into outright contraction.

The parallels with Europe are obvious, but they don’t stop there: the entire world is veering into a zombified financial, economic, social and political status quo that is the core of Japanification.

While most commentators focus on the economic characteristics of Japanification, social and political stagnation are equally consequential. If we only measure economic/financial stagnation, it appears as if Japan and Europe are holding their own, i.e.maintaining the status quo via near-zero growth and near-zero interest rates.

But if we measure social and political decay, the erosion is undeniable. Here’s one example. Few Americans have access to or watch Japanese TV, so they are unaware of the emergence of the homeless as a permanent feature of urban Japan. The central state propaganda media is focused on encouraging tourism, a rare bright spot in Japan’s moribund economy, and so you won’t find much media coverage of homelessness or other systemic signs of social breakdown.

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EU monetary and economic failures, by Alasdair Macleod

Alasdair Macleod documents the reasons behind the EU’s impending failure. From Macleod at goldmoney.com:

Introduction and summary

The monetary, financial and political weaknesses of the EU are about to be exposed by the forthcoming global credit crisis.

This article assumes the combination of end of credit cycle dynamics and the rise in trade protectionism in 1929 is a valid precedent for gauging the scale of a developing global credit crisis today, as described in my earlier article published here. Then, it was heavier tariffs coinciding with a less destabilising inflation cycle than we face today, a combination that saw stock markets collapse. Today, we have the additional factors of far greater monetary inflation, far higher levels of government debt, low savings coupled with record consumer borrowing, and unbacked fiat currencies likely to lose purchasing power instead of gold-backed currencies which increased their purchasing power.

Declining international trade has already become evident in only a few months, and prescient observers detect early signs of a rapidly developing global recession. In response, the ECB has announced it will target lending to non-financial businesses with its TLTRO-III programme from September onwards.

The larger problem is the crony capitalists in the EU have captured the EU institutions, including the ECB, and will demand ever-accelerating monetary inflation. I have chosen to examine the consequences for the Eurozone, which is one of the more vulnerable economic and political constructs likely to be exposed in the severe economic downturn the world faces today.

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The dangerous zombie infestation (of the world economy), by Tuomas Malinen

Ultra-low interest rates keep alive walking dead companies and create a walking dead economy. From Tuomas Malinen at gnseconomics.com:

It is estimated that over 14% of companies in the S&P 1500 are zombies. In China, roughly 20 percent of A-share listed companies on Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges are zombies. In the developed economies, approximately 12 percent of all non-financial companies are ‘zombies’. Only 30 years ago, this share was just 2 percent.

These are stunning figures.  How did we get there? What is behind the worrying phenomenon of zombification?

The risks of this zombie infestation to the economy and markets are also widely misunderstood and mostly ignored at the moment. They should not be. The large share of zombie companies creates the possibility of the spontaneous collapse of both global asset markets and economy.

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”

Zombies were introduced in the economic jargon by Caballero, Hoshi and Kashyap (2008) when they described the unproductive and indebted—yet still operating—firms in Japan as ”zombie companies”. They found that, after the economic crash of the early 1990’s, instead of calling-in or refusing to refinance existing debts, large Japanese banks kept lending flowing to otherwise insolvent borrowers (aka zombies).

Zombies companies restrict the entry of new, more productive companies, diminish job creation in the economy and lock capital into unproductive uses. In a word, they are a menace to the economy and society.

According to current academic research, the biggest factor in the creation of zombie companies is the health of banks. When they are fragile and unable to cope with loan losses, banks start to evergreen debtor companies. That is, weak banks support ailing companies, which support each other. This is why low interest rates foster zombie creation. Low (or negative) interest rates make banks weaker, by restricting their profits, and they provide cheap loans to zombie companies to avert losses.

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Economic Brake Lights, by John Mauldin

The economy is flashing multiple warning signs. From John Mauldin at mauldineconomics.com:

But, like Cinderella at the ball, you must heed one warning or everything will turn into pumpkins and mice: Mr. Market is there to serve you, not to guide you. It is his pocketbook, not his wisdom, that you will find useful. If he shows up some day in a particularly foolish mood, you are free to either ignore him or to take advantage of him, but it will be disastrous if you fall under his influence. Indeed, if you aren’t certain that you understand and can value your business far better than Mr. Market, you don’t belong in the game. As they say in poker, “If you’ve been in the game 30 minutes and you don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.”

Warren Buffett (b. 1930), 1987 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Report

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.

—George Santayana (1863–1952), Spanish-American philosopher

Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.

—Tom Toro (b. 1982), American cartoonist for The New Yorker

All good things come to an end, even economic growth cycles. The present one is getting long in the tooth. While it doesn’t have to end now, it will end eventually. Signs increasingly suggest we are approaching that point.

Whenever it happens, the next downturn will hit millions who still haven’t recovered from the last recession, millions more who did recover but forgot how bad it was, and millions more who reached adulthood during the boom. They saw it as children or teens but didn’t feel the full impact. Now, with their own jobs and families, they will.

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The Global Distortions of Doom Part 1: Hyper-Indebted Zombie Corporations, by Charles Hugh Smith

Cheap credit keeps alive a lot of corporations who should be dead. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

The defaults and currency crises in the periphery will then move into the core.
It’s funny how unintended consequences so rarely turn out to be good. The intended consequences of central banks’ unprecedented tsunami of stimulus (quantitative easing, super-low interest rates and easy credit / abundant liquidity) over the past decade were:
1. Save the banks by giving them credit-money at near-zero interest that they could loan out at higher rates. Savers were thrown under the bus by super-low rates (hope you like your $1 in interest on $1,000…) but hey, bankers contribute millions to politicos and savers don’t matter.
2. Bring demand forward by encouraging consumers to buy on credit now. Nothing like 0% financing to incentivize consumers to buy now rather than later. Since a mass-consumption economy depends on “growth,” consumers must be “nudged” to buy more now and do so with credit, since that sluices money to the banks.

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How Corporate Zombies Are Threatening The Eurozone Economy, by Tyler Durden

Part of capitlism’s survival of the fittest is allowing the unfit to die. Precisely what Europe has not done since the last financial crisis. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:

The recovery in Eurozone growth has become part of the synchronised global growth narrative that most investors are relying on to deliver further gains in equities as we head into 2018. However, the “Zombification” of a chunk of the Eurozone’s corporate sector is not only a major unaddressed structural problem, but it’s getting worse, especially in…you guessed it…Italy and Spain. According to the WSJ.

 The Bank for International Settlements, the Basel-based central bank for central banks, defines a zombie as any firm which is at least 10 years old, publicly traded and has interest expenses that exceed the company’s earnings before interest and taxes. Other organizations use different criteria. About 10% of the companies in six eurozone countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain are zombies, according to the central bank’s latest data. The percentage is up sharply from 5.5% in 2007. In Italy and Spain, the percentage of zombie companies has tripled since 2007, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated in January. Italy’s zombies employed about 10% of all workers and gobbled up nearly 20% of all the capital invested in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available.

The WSJ explains how the ECB’s negative interest rate policy and corporate bond buying are  keeping a chunk of the corporate sector, especially in southern Europe on life support. In some cases, even the life support of low rates and debt restructuring is not preventing further deterioration in their metrics. These are the true “Zombie” companies who will probably never come back from being “undead”, i.e. technically dead but still animate. Belatedly, there is some realisation of the risks.

Economists and central bankers say zombies undercut prices charged by healthier competitors, create artificial barriers to entry and prevent the flushing out of weak companies and bad loans that typically happens after downturns. Now that the European economy is in growth mode, those zombies and their related debt problems could become a drag on the entire continent.

“The zombification of the corporate sector and banks (is) a risk for future living standards,” Klaas Knot, a European Central Bank governor and the head of the Dutch central bank, said in an interview.

In some ways, zombie firms are an unintended side effect of years of easy money from the ECB, which rolled out aggressive stimulus policies, including negative interest rates, to support lending and growth. Those policies have been sharply criticized in some richer eurozone countries for making it easier for banks to keep struggling corporate borrowers alive.

To continue reading: How Corporate Zombies Are Threatening The Eurozone Economy