Sunday, 26 October 2008

A Market “Walking, Loitering, Hurried”

What kind of a card game is being played if the lower card trumps the higher card?

Low poker, of course. That is an easy one.

What kind of a credit game is being played if subordinated debt trumps senior debt?
The auction that settled figures for the senior and subordinated bonds of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the US government mortgage agencies, has led to widespread confusion and some participants losing out. In both cases the recovery rate for the senior debt – which in real-world defaults get first claim on all assets – came in lower than for the subordinated debt.
Now you are totally confounded and dumbfounded by this because you know that:
  1. With the US government guarantee, there is not supposed to be a “recovery rate” – how much a bond pays on a dollar. That should be par, or 100 cents on a dollar.

  2. The recovery rate for senior debt cannot be lower than the subordinated debt because by definition, senior debt gets paid ahead of subordinated debt.
Yet, there it is, the Financial Times article in black and pink reporting the results of the auction. The paper did not mention it but we will see later that (2) above is the consequence of (1).

In his book “T. S. Eliot”, Craig Raine quotes a line from Eliot – “I met one walking, loitering, hurried” – and explains that Eliot is telling us “gently that things aren’t exactly normal.” Eliot often creates paradoxes in the narrative to “dislocate the language into the meaning” – “savagely still”, for example, in reference to souls who are corroded by inaction.

Markets, too, create “paradoxes” that tell us things aren’t exactly normal. The Dialectical Reason recognizes such paradoxes as the “logical” result of what is taking place in the real world because it can see the complex interplay of the part and the whole. That is what Hegel meant when he said that what is real is logical.

Analytical Reason, by contrast, sees a paradox – characterized by incomprehensibility – precisely because it cannot see the course of the development of the phenomenon it is observing. Analytical Reason is static. Its frame of reference is an inventory, rather than an organization, of knowledge, because it cannot collect the experience of individual events into a synthetic whole. In consequence, when compelled to take action in the position of authority, its actions seems lacking in the “systemic” depth. They seem “disjointed”, “Whack-A-Mole approach”, “moving goals”, and always “one step behind”. The Analytical Reason itself finally throw up its hand in despair.

The events we are witnessing in the financial markets are driven by speculative capital – capital engaged in arbitrage. I discussed the characteristics of this force and the laws of its motion in the preceding volumes of Speculative Capital. In the next several entries, in response to a friend who wants to know the “real reasons of the turmoil”, I will look at the events in the financial markets in light of the Theory of Speculative Capital. You will then see that paradoxes will disappear. The fog will clear. That has been the intent of this blog all along; recall the 10-part Credit Woes series. But that format was too restrictive, too scholastic. I need “space” to develop!

In Masnavi, Rumi begins a story and in the midst of it branches into another story and then yet another story within the second and so on; you would not know digression until you have read Masnavi! Finally he “catches” himself, saying that it is time to return to the original story. He then corrects himself, saying that when did he ever leave the original story? That is Rumi’s way of saying – showing, rather – that everything in the universe is connected, coming together towards the “Totalized Spirit” – the Absolute Spirit in Hegel.

So, if the subsequent entries in the blog do not appear sequential, bear with me. There is a method in the disorder. In them, you will also see a glimpse of what is to come in Vols. 4 and 5 of Speculative Capital.