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Defcon 1 Financial Contagion Fire-drill

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Rumours are swirling about financial contagion, and certain institutions being up against it.

I don’t have any insider information. All I can tell you is that I was on a prep call for an LBMA panel I am on later this month with Peter Zoellner, Head of the Banking Department at the Bank for International Settlements, on Friday afternoon. He seemed in good humour and, well, whilst his institution isn’t necessarily the sort to be involved on a real-time basis in such scenarios, I would have thought he might have had better things to do than panel prep calls if things were seriously stressed.

But who knows?

Dominic Cummings put this Tweet out later in the early hours of Sunday. Personally, I think saying things so explicitly may be a little rash. Remember that one time Robert Peston was accused of making the Northern Rock banking run worse by reporting on it? Cummings might not be wrong, but at this point he’s just going to end up being part of the story.

I was and remain firmly of the view that the UK debacle was merely a canary in a coal mine affair. Hence my #standwithGBP campaign. This isn’t about Britain. It’s about the system.

Independent economist/pundit Philip Pilkington makes a similar point and I think his assessment is pretty much on the money. Getting all the bad news out upfront, meanwhile, is a classic PR tactic – and it just might keep Britain intact through any coming financial storm (though I wouldn’t want to make any predictions about British banks directly).

Regardless, I get the impression it’s going to be another roller coaster ride this coming week. Specifically for Eurozone and Swiss markets.

Be Prepared

When information flow gets crazy defaulting to muscle memory processes and routines really helps. Consider the Blind Spot a potential command and control type organisation for the decentralised financial blogosphere in such unstable circumstances.

Banks and central banks can be sneaky about how and when they disseminate information to the public. So we need to prepare to cover all bases (especially in the age of directly self-published to social media comments and press releases).

Back in 2008, I recall there were a couple of embargoed central bank announcements. Even though they were thinly distributed to trusted sources, there’s a good chance that they leaked. I don’t think they would go down that road again. But getting a feel for which reporters have the backchannels in place is not a bad idea.

Coordinated action is always the thing to watch for. As is the absence of people. Was Truss really hiding? Or is it more likely she was on an endless array of G7 leadership emergency zoom calls? (What would that WhatsApp chat look like?!)

So just in case things get hairy and we need to hit the trenches, here’s a loose battle plan I’ve devised for the Blind Spot community based on my experiences of 2008 to get us through the worst of it.

Refreshments 

Yes really. ? Nobody can get through a market crisis without good sustenance and some sort of sentry shift rota.

Do your online shopping orders today. Get the coffee sorted. Clear your diary as soon as it becomes clear it’s going to be a tough week. Being sleep-deprived never helps.

Daily Meet-up

If things get crazy we’ll move Spot Markets Live to a daily drill at 11 am on the Coodash platform to help take stock of affairs. I’ll keep subscribers posted on sessions. As it stands we’ve got Anjuli Davies on Monday, a pseudonymous but highly informed veteran expert who hails from the interest rate markets on Tuesday and Ben Harrington from Betaville on Wednesday. If more sessions are required from then on, we’ll sort them.

To sign up for the live sessions see here.

The purpose of a daily chat is to provide an informed overview and rundown of everything that’s happening. We’ll assess, aggregate and sprinkle in insight wherever possible while responding diligently to feedback. Our independence means we don’t have to worry about the sort of civilities less autonomous bodies have to. And with nearly a 100 years worth of experience covering markets between us, we’re schooled enough on libel and regulatory matters to be sure we can get as much info through as possible.

Consider these sessions a clearing house for everything that’s going on, and a pathway to helping you prioritise the news flow.

FYI – It’s worth keeping in mind that ambiguity (and a paywall) are sometimes the best protection for authors operating on a shoestring budget and without insurance.

Division of Labour on Discord

Many of us within the Blind Spot Discord community hail from extremely diverse and specialist financial areas. Not all of us have the luxury of operating in teams. Gathering together in a single (trusted and well-managed) space to share and prioritise public domain info can in such circumstances really help. I’d urge you not to be shy about getting involved. This is a high-quality professional forum, not the usual Reddit stuff. If we manage this right we could create the premier financial hive mind on the market, with all of us as beneficiaries.

We might even be able to capture a better overview of what’s really happening than most financial media.

I know how the financial media works. The pre-existing division of labour in the system will be very good at scanning and absorbing what’s happening on a micro level. But it won’t be that good at making sense of the big picture for a while or getting over its priors.

The problem will come in the editorial filters. They’re great in peacetime conditions, but during market meltdowns they can go a bit deer in the headlights “Look at the numbers! Look at the numbers!”.

At the FT, Alphaville will be quickest to move because it doesn’t have the filters other desks have. And with people like Alex Scaggs on the team (excellent) it will remain a great source for bond and interest rate reactions. But even FTAV will be focused on “look, look!” stories. Or explainers about weird esoteric corners of the market (like LDI) that people won’t have heard of. Highly useful but not necessarily time sensitive or pre-emptive. (And, dare I say it, increasingly where the groupthink is.)

[In February this year Robin Wigglesworth, current editor of FT Alphaville, was still arguing that the inflation brigade had called it wrong and their assessments were premature. Just saying.]

If you think you can volunteer with respect to sending signal over noise do come and join the Blind Spot Discord. Remember to DM me if you want to play a more active volunteer role helping to filter and prioritise info based on your particular expertise or interest. We will always guarantee the anonymity of our sources and volunteers.

Informants

We’ve positioned some specialist sources on the ground in places of interest, among them at Tory Party conference. This will give us colour on what’s going on. They might have some useful dispatches for us, or they might not. What matters most is that they’re on the ground.

Voice Notes

If things get really hairy, I might start publishing voice notes more extensively. I’ve already innovated with the service since my last dispatch about it. These will now be presented as a hybrid of audio and algorithmic transcription. I might be posting these most actively on the Discord server too. I’ll see how it goes.

What to Look Out For?

If there is any major systemic breakdown this month what will matter most is not necessarily what collapses but how and in what order. How quickly the broader market tunes into a potential paradigm shift will also be key.

I’ve said this before, and I will say this again. I think the biggest issue for markets will be a repricing of German bunds and possibly other safe haven European sovereigns. Unlike gilts (where the bad news has been priced in for a long time) a sudden loss of confidence in Germany is liable to take Europe into a Stranger Things upside-down world. The stability of everything from Eurozone payments to pension fund assets is currently linked to the assumed strength of these assets. If this is reappraised it could be chaos.

If we’re really facing the financial “big one”, I’m confident that governments will step in and nationalise all the vulnerable assets they think could get systemic. But post 2008-regulation and bank resolution means broad brush bankruptcy might not mean what it meant during the global financial crisis.

If my wartime economy hypothesis is correct, we may find ourselves slowly transitioning into a new caretaker hybrid private-public system focused on defending Western standards of living in an increasingly multipolar order.

Signals   

I know there are many people on the Blind Spot Discord who present themselves as knowing a lot about everything – from bond pricing and commodities financing to military tactics and the engineering peculiarities of underwater cables.

And I know that sort of bravado can intimidate others who potentially have superior specialist knowledge (but can’t publicly reveal who they are) from commenting on the basis they might be shouted down or told to get in their box.

I love my active know-it-all members. They’re the lifeblood of the Discord server. They all mean well and come at everything from the perspective of critical-minded generalists. But it’s important to be able to flag specialist knowledge within pseudonymous networks subtly. A signals system for doing so is thus needed. Something as easy as saying: Topic Commando: Ranking (between 1-5).

I myself have massive knowledge gaps that need complementing, especially within insurance, pensions and private equity.

Who’s who?

The brain has a cap on how many people it can identify as close relations. It also has a cap on knowing who is who in any given industry. I myself still haven’t got to grips with the Liz Truss cabinet. It might be useful to start thinking about the people in key positions we need to know better as of this week and profiling them and their backgrounds.

Blind Spots

Things I have been meaning to look at more closely but haven’t yet but think should be on the radar: 1) Japan 2) Mali and French-speaking Africa 3) The consequences of no more Libor 4) Countertrade 5) Blackrock 6) Repo. What do you think is missing? Do let me know.

Moderators

We might need more moderators if things get very active. If you’re interested in becoming a Blind Spot moderator, again, do let me know.

Finally, do share this article with those you think might be interested in getting involved and who might bring value to the community.

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