Showing posts with label banks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label banks. Show all posts

May 16, 2009

Actuary Thyl Ulenspiegel?

Anyone with a little mother wit knows one plus one equals exactly two, not more, not less.

Smart people, like the historic Thyl Ulenspiegel, made a profession out of counting. Every time bystanders gave Thyl the choice between a rix-dollar (a 'two and a half dollar' coin) or 2 dollars coins, he opted for the 2 dollars.

"Two is more than one", Thyl - clearly not an actuary - used to say. People felt pity for 'poor Thyl Ulenspiegel'. That someone like him could be that stupid!

Modern Counting
Today (2009) little has changed. Modern gurus made us believe that, through M&A's, synergy, cooperation, in or outsourcing, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. One plus one could easily equal three or even more.

However, research has shown that the majority of mergers and acquisitions fail. Hindsight shows that one plus one doesn't add up to three, but only to one point five, or in some cases even to zero. Cause? Synergy benefits and future market are extremely overestimated and cultural differences, despite continued 'slippery warnings', remain underestimated.

Shareholders and management of an acquired company cash their future notional profit surplus, that -at first - appears in the balance sheet as 'goodwill' and than subsequently, over the years, becomes visible as a loss in the P&L.

However there are other modern counters - not actuaries - that can even do better, as will be illustrated next.

Some youth memories never fade..
As a young boy I discovered an unstamped stamp in the attic of our house.

The stamp was worth 50 billion Deutsche Mark, dated 1923.

Completely overwhelmed I tumbled down the stairs to report my parents we'd become billionaires.

A few minutes later, completely disillusioned, I'd learned a new word: Hyperinflation.

The hyperinflation back in the twenties of the the last century is only a trifle of the current (hyper) credit inflation:

U.S. $

A trillion dollars, the Fed 'invests' in buying up debt. By coincidence this equals the amount of money that Europe, the G20, will be pumping in the economy.

For all of 2009, the U.S. administration probably needs to borrow about $2 trillion. That money doesn't really exist, but that's no point of concern! The debt crisis is simply solved with more debt. What was not legitimate for the banks, is now legitimate for the 'bankruptcy proof government'. Frankly, my intuition really starts to falter now ...

Russian Credit Roulette
Modern Ulenspiegels, playing a variant of 'Russian Credit Roulette', have now left the roulette tables. With borrowed money, doubling their bet for five consecutive times in a row, they bet and lost on 'credit red'.

Instead of taking their loss, the government has taken their place at the table and decided to double the bet on red for the sixth time in a row, now playing for a trillion dollars.

All of this under enhanced risk management, governance and supervision of course.

To get a really confident feeling: the probability of consecutive six times black seems both rational and intuitive almost impossible, but is in any case less than the "safe" smaller 2.5% ruin probability (2.5% probability of insolvency) of a pension fund. Some people state there's light at the end of the 'financial crisis' tunnel.

Now let's hope this light is no oncoming train and roulette tables turn out to have a memory after all.

Maybe it's time actuaries get involved in government finance....