Risk is always lurking around the corner, and in these troubled times, Dean Curnutt, CEO of Macro Risk Advisors, takes a look at the new face of global risk in a new piece sent to the research and trading firm’s clients this morning.
He takes issue with Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) CEO James Gorman’s recent comment in the context of a repeat of the 2008 financial meltdown: “The probability of it happening again in our lifetime is as close to zero as I could imagine.”
Sure, banks are in much better shape, regulators are more on the ball and the liquidity is good, as Gorman said, but that could be a somewhat funneled view. According to Curnutt, risk has assumed an entirely different scale, even different forms, and our markets could still shudder from “the next substantial market volatility event” due to these systemic and newly-mutated “sources of instability.”
What are these new fears?
Sovereign/bank contagion, such as in Europe, is the risk from weak sovereign balance sheets after vast sums were spent to prop up tottering banks after the financial fiasco. And the end is not in sight – even though the ECB has not yet taken recourse to its OMT weapon, the economies of Southern Europe remain weak, and the banks undercapitalized. Curnutt: “The combination of highly leveraged banks and sovereigns can lead to financial instability.”
Cyber attacks, in an increasingly connected and digital world, could be another source of chaos. Hackers have successfully laid low the systems of some of the biggest US corporations in the recent past. These include American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG), Goldman Sachs Group Inc (NYSE:GS), Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), JPMorgan Chase & Co (NYSE:JPM) and Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C). Akin to “global pandemics,” Surnutt says the risk from cyber attacks is known, but their scope is neither quantified, nor priced into the markets.
Market failures such as the May 2010 flash crash, the 2012 BATS IPO debacle and the April 2013 glitch in the CBOE’s Futures Exchange are showing that technology and market structure of our markets are becoming increasingly vulnerable, and this is showing up in a greater frequency of market shutdowns or interruptions. Curnutt says it is quite possible that financial institutions could be taken down by infiltration from a malicious group that could implement a rogue algorithm which could ultimately cause a massive loss to the firm.
Policy Dysfunction or the “weakened ability of lawmakers to forge consensus,” for example in the context of negotiations on the debt ceiling, or on Syria, make markets volatile due to the prevailing uncertainty, and this is a new risk avatar.
The continuing instability in the Middle East could reach a flashpoint and cause military intervention of the U.S. or other powers, leading to market turmoil. The melting pot of Egypt, Syria and a nuclear Iran is therefore a potent source of global risk.
Complacent outlook is itself a source of risk: Curnutt
The last major risk cited by Curnutt is, you guessed it, financial. It relates to the rollback of the massive Central Bank Stimulus that the U.S. is currently planning. Mention of ‘tapering’ unleashed global market turmoil, particularly in emerging markets. With an accumulated $3.4 trillion of securities on the Fed’s balance sheet, the tapering could cause significant ripple effects in markets outside the U.S.
These are sobering thoughts, and Curnutt rightly warns that a complacent outlook is itself a source of risk.