Saturday, March 7, 2009

Gaussian Copula: The Formula That Wrecked the World Economy


Not unlike Albert Einstein whose equation E=MC2 made possible the creation of physical weapons of mass destruction, Chinese mathematician David X. Li could go down in history as the man who enabled the development of financial weapons of mass destruction on Wall Street. Li's Gaussian copula models for the pricing of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)are being blamed for the catastrophic losses leading to the global financial collapse.

In addition to underlying bonds, bond investors also invest in pools of hundreds or even thousands of mortgages. The sums involved are mind boggling: Americans now owe more than $11 trillion on their homes, according to Wired Magazine. But mortgage pools are not as simple as most bonds. There's no guaranteed interest rate, since the amount of money homeowners collectively pay back every month is a function of how many have refinanced and how many have defaulted. There's certainly no fixed maturity date: Money shows up in irregular chunks as people pay down their mortgages at unpredictable times—for instance, when they decide to sell their house. And most problematic, there's no easy way to assign a single probability to the chance of default. Al of this makes it much more difficult to calculate risk on mortgage pools and CDOs than on conventional bonds or old-fashioned home loans.

Wall Street "solved" many of these problems through a process called tranching, which divides a pool and allows for the creation of safe bonds with a risk-free triple-A credit rating. Investors in the first tranche, or slice, are first in line to be paid off. Those next in line might get only a double-A credit rating on their tranche of bonds but will be able to charge a higher interest rate for bearing the slightly higher chance of default. And so on.

David Li simplified the risk models further by using market data of credit default swaps on underlying debt, including pools of disparate mortgages, as convenient proxy for the probability of default on various tranches the CDOs. Almost all of CDS market data, however, was accumulated during a period of rising real estate values and fairly robust job markets, when defaults were rare.

What are credit default swaps? Credit-default swaps are an indicator of the cost of bond "insurance" that varies with the risk of bond default. Credit default swaps are privately traded derivative contracts traditionally bought by bond holders from CDS issuers like AIG, Ambac, FGIC, and MBIA and other entities. Like other derivatives, CDSs are not regulated by government agencies. Any investor can sell CDSs. The CDS sellers are expected (not guaranteed or back-stopped by governments) to reimburse bondholders or buyers in case the bond issuing companies or governments default.

As an investor, you have a choice: You can either lend directly to borrowers or sell investors credit default swaps, insurance against those same borrowers defaulting. In either case, you get a regular income stream—interest payments or insurance premiums —and either way, if the borrower defaults, you lose a lot of money. The returns on both strategies are nearly identical, but because an unlimited number of credit default swaps can be sold against each borrower, the supply of swaps isn't limited the way the supply of bonds is, so the CDS market managed to grow very raidly. Though credit default swaps were relatively new when Li proposed his idea, they soon became a bigger and more liquid market than the underlying bonds on which they were based.

The growth of the CDO market was exponential. Using Li's formula, Wall Street's quants saw a new range of possibilities. And the first thing they did was start creating a huge number of brand-new triple-A securities. Using Li's copula approach meant that ratings agencies like Moody's—or anybody wanting to model the risk of a tranche—no longer needed to puzzle over the quality of mortgages of various kinds that also proliferated. All they needed was that correlation number based on CDS data, and out would come a rating telling them how safe or risky the tranche was.

The CDS and CDO markets grew along similar trajectories, drawing strength from each other. At the end of 2001, there was $920 billion in credit default swaps outstanding. By the end of 2007, that number had skyrocketed to more than $62 trillion. The CDO market, which stood at $275 billion in 2000, grew to $4.7 trillion by 2006.

It all worked well until the housing market and job markets began to weaken, causing a wave of defaults, beginning with the less creditworthy borrowers. The CDS markets started to behave erratically out of fear. And the CDS data accumulated during the good times no longer served as a useful proxy for the actual risk of various trances of mortgage pools. Even the AAA rated tranches were hit by defaults, because some them contained subprime mortgages.

There were several people, including experts such as Darrell Duffie, Paul Wilmott and Janet Tavakoli, who warned about the dangers of blindly using Li's copula function as a basis for assessing risk of default for CDOs. But the greedy Wall Street executives and money managers, who were making enormous profits from such derivatives, ignored such warnings. And the politicians didn't care because they were receiving their share of the profits as Wall Street contributed large amounts of money to their campaign coffers.

The CDOs, based on Li's Copula function and created and traded on Wall street, now account for most of the toxic assets that have turned shares of major banks like Citicorp into penny stocks. The insolvent troubled banks are now receiving hundreds of billions of dollars from taxpayer funded bailouts orchestrated by the US treasury. The ongoing credit crunch and the wave of home foreclosures show no signs of abating. The negative effects of the US woes are being felt around the world. With globalization of the financial markets and trade, the rest of of the world is not immune from America's economic crisis.

Here's a video titled "The Formula That Wrecked the Economy":



Related Links:

Recipe for Disaster

Will American Capitalism Survive?

K Street Booms as Main Street Suffers

9 comments:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a very interesting "Recession for Dummies" narrative:

Pajja is the proprietor of a Siri-Paya and Nehari Shop in Lahore. Sales are low and, in order to increase them, he comes up with a plan to allow his customers to eat now and pay later. He keeps track of the meals consumed on a ledger.


Word gets around and as a result increasing numbers of customers flock to Pajja’s shop. Pajja’s suppliers are delighted and are very willing to sell more and more raw materials for the meals he prepares. Pajja shows them his ledger of receivables and they extend him credit.

A young and dynamic customer service consultant at the local bank recognizes these customer debts as valuable future assets and gives Pajja a credit line and then increases Pajja’s borrowing limit.

Taking advantage of his customers’ freedom from immediate payment constraints, Pajja jacks up the prices of his Nehari and Siri-Paye. Customers dont mind as they are not required to pay on the spot. Sales volume increases massively; Banks and suppliers lend more; Pajja opens more outlets. He sees no reason for undue concern since he has the debts of the customers as collateral.

At the bank’s corporate headquarters, expert bankers recognize Pajja’s customer loans as assets and transform these customer assets into BONDS. These negotiable instruments are given exotic names such as SIRIBOND, PAYABOND, MAGHAZBOND AND BONGBOND. These securities are then listed on the Stock Exchange and traded on markets worldwide. No one really understands what the names mean and how the securities are guaranteed but, nevertheless, as their prices continuously climb, the securities become top-selling items....


If you replace Pajja's receivables with sub-prime mortgages, I think this description captures the essence of the current crisis. Of course, it leaves out the part about how sophisticated mathematical functions such as mathematician David Li's Gaussian Copula Function were used to persuade investors to buy Pajja's debt as CDOs. To learn more about it, please read here.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a story in the Guardian about growing wealth gap between whites and blacks in America:

"A huge wealth gap has opened up between black and white people in the US over the past quarter of a century – a difference sufficient to put two children through university – because of racial discrimination and economic policies that favour the affluent.

A typical white family is now five times richer than its African-American counterpart of the same class, according to a report released today by Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

White families typically have assets worth $100,000 (£69,000), up from $22,000 in the mid-1980s. African-American families' assets stand at just $5,000, up from around $2,000.

A quarter of black families have no assets at all. The study monitored more than 2,000 families since 1984.

"We walk that through essentially a generation and what we see is that the racial wealth gap has galloped, it's escalated to $95,000," said Tom Shapiro, one of the authors of the report by the university's Institute on Assets and Social Policy.

"That's primarily because the whites in the sample were able to accumulate financial assets from their $22,000 all the way to $100,000 and the African-Americans' wealth essentially flatlined."

The survey does not include housing equity, because it is not readily accessible and is rarely realised as cash. But if property were included it would further widen the wealth divide.

Shapiro says the gap remains wide even between blacks and whites of similar classes and with similar jobs and incomes.

"How do we explain the wealth gap among equally-achieving African-American and white families? The same ratio holds up even among low income groups. Finding ways to accumulate financial resources for all low and moderate income families in the United States has been a huge challenge and that challenge keeps getting steeper and steeper.

"But there are greater opportunities and less challenges for low and moderate income families if they're white in comparison to if they're African-American or Hispanic," he said.

America has long lived with vast inequality, although 40 years ago the disparity was lower than in Britain.

Today, the richest 1% of the US population owns close to 40% of its wealth. The top 25% of US households own 87%.

The rest is divided up among middle and low income Americans. In that competition white people come out far ahead.

Only one in 10 African-Americans owns any shares. A third do not have a pension plan, and among those who do the value is on average a fifth of plans held by whites.

The report shows that a typical white middle income family, earning
about $30,000 a year, has accumulated $74,000 in assets, five times that of a black family in the same class which has only about $14,000
in wealth.

The gap is even wider when it comes to families with an income above $50,000 a year."

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a NY Times Op Ed by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman on questions about rule of law in US foreclosures crisis:

The accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom dispelled the myth of effective corporate governance. These days, the idea that our banks were well capitalized and supervised sounds like a sick joke. And now the mortgage mess is making nonsense of claims that we have effective contract enforcement — in fact, the question is whether our economy is governed by any kind of rule of law.

The story so far: An epic housing bust and sustained high unemployment have led to an epidemic of default, with millions of homeowners falling behind on mortgage payments. So servicers — the companies that collect payments on behalf of mortgage owners — have been foreclosing on many mortgages, seizing many homes.

But do they actually have the right to seize these homes? Horror stories have been proliferating, like the case of the Florida man whose home was taken even though he had no mortgage. More significantly, certain players have been ignoring the law. Courts have been approving foreclosures without requiring that mortgage servicers produce appropriate documentation; instead, they have relied on affidavits asserting that the papers are in order. And these affidavits were often produced by “robo-signers,” or low-level employees who had no idea whether their assertions were true.

Now an awful truth is becoming apparent: In many cases, the documentation doesn’t exist. In the frenzy of the bubble, much home lending was undertaken by fly-by-night companies trying to generate as much volume as possible. These loans were sold off to mortgage “trusts,” which, in turn, sliced and diced them into mortgage-backed securities. The trusts were legally required to obtain and hold the mortgage notes that specified the borrowers’ obligations. But it’s now apparent that such niceties were frequently neglected. And this means that many of the foreclosures now taking place are, in fact, illegal.

This is very, very bad. For one thing, it’s a near certainty that significant numbers of borrowers are being defrauded — charged fees they don’t actually owe, declared in default when, by the terms of their loan agreements, they aren’t.

Beyond that, if trusts can’t produce proof that they actually own the mortgages against which they have been selling claims, the sponsors of these trusts will face lawsuits from investors who bought these claims — claims that are now, in many cases, worth only a small fraction of their face value.

And who are these sponsors? Major financial institutions — the same institutions supposedly rescued by government programs last year. So the mortgage mess threatens to produce another financial crisis.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from Michael Lewis's The Big Short on how Dr. Michael Burry made a fortune by buying credit default swaps (CDS) to bet against the sub-prime mortgages:

“You just have to watch for the level at which even nearly unlimited or unprecedented credit can no longer drive the [housing] market higher,” he wrote. “I am extremely bearish, and feel the consequences could very easily be a 50% drop in residential real estate in the U.S.…A large portion of current [housing] demand at current prices would disappear if only people became convinced that prices weren’t rising. The collateral damage is likely to be orders of magnitude worse than anyone now considers.”

On May 19, 2005, Mike Burry did his first subprime-mortgage deals. He bought $60 million of credit-default swaps from Deutsche Bank—$10 million each on six different bonds. “The reference securities,” these were called. You didn’t buy insurance on the entire subprime-mortgage-bond market but on a particular bond, and Burry had devoted himself to finding exactly the right ones to bet against. He likely became the only investor to do the sort of old-fashioned bank credit analysis on the home loans that should have been done before they were made. He was the opposite of an old-fashioned banker, however. He was looking not for the best loans to make but the worst loans—so that he could bet against them. He analyzed the relative importance of the loan-to-value ratios of the home loans, of second liens on the homes, of the location of the homes, of the absence of loan documentation and proof of income of the borrower, and a dozen or so other factors to determine the likelihood that a home loan made in America circa 2005 would go bad. Then he went looking for the bonds backed by the worst of the loans.

It surprised him that Deutsche Bank didn’t seem to care which bonds he picked to bet against. From their point of view, so far as he could tell, all subprime-mortgage bonds were the same. The price of insurance was driven not by any independent analysis but by the ratings placed on the bond by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. If he wanted to buy insurance on the supposedly riskless triple-A-rated tranche, he might pay 20 basis points (0.20 percent); on the riskier, A-rated tranches, he might pay 50 basis points (0.50 percent); and on the even less safe, triple-B-rated tranches, 200 basis points—that is, 2 percent. (A basis point is one-hundredth of one percentage point.) The triple-B-rated tranches—the ones that would be worth zero if the underlying mortgage pool experienced a loss of just 7 percent—were what he was after. He felt this to be a very conservative bet, which he was able, through analysis, to turn into even more of a sure thing. Anyone who even glanced at the prospectuses could see that there were many critical differences between one triple-B bond and the next—the percentage of interest-only loans contained in their underlying pool of mortgages, for example. He set out to cherry-pick the absolute worst ones and was a bit worried that the investment banks would catch on to just how much he knew about specific mortgage bonds, and adjust their prices.

Once again they shocked and delighted him: Goldman Sachs e-mailed him a great long list of crappy mortgage bonds to choose from. “This was shocking to me, actually,” he says. “They were all priced according to the lowest rating from one of the big-three ratings agencies.” He could pick from the list without alerting them to the depth of his knowledge. It was as if you could buy flood insurance on the house in the valley for the same price as flood insurance on the house on the mountaintop.

The market made no sense, but that didn’t stop other Wall Street firms from jumping into it, in part because Mike Burry was pestering them.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from Michael Lewis's The Big Short on how Dr. Michael Burry made a fortune by buying credit default swaps (CDS) to bet against the sub-prime mortgages:

“You just have to watch for the level at which even nearly unlimited or unprecedented credit can no longer drive the [housing] market higher,” he wrote. “I am extremely bearish, and feel the consequences could very easily be a 50% drop in residential real estate in the U.S.…A large portion of current [housing] demand at current prices would disappear if only people became convinced that prices weren’t rising. The collateral damage is likely to be orders of magnitude worse than anyone now considers.”

On May 19, 2005, Mike Burry did his first subprime-mortgage deals. He bought $60 million of credit-default swaps from Deutsche Bank—$10 million each on six different bonds. “The reference securities,” these were called. You didn’t buy insurance on the entire subprime-mortgage-bond market but on a particular bond, and Burry had devoted himself to finding exactly the right ones to bet against. He likely became the only investor to do the sort of old-fashioned bank credit analysis on the home loans that should have been done before they were made. He was the opposite of an old-fashioned banker, however. He was looking not for the best loans to make but the worst loans—so that he could bet against them. He analyzed the relative importance of the loan-to-value ratios of the home loans, of second liens on the homes, of the location of the homes, of the absence of loan documentation and proof of income of the borrower, and a dozen or so other factors to determine the likelihood that a home loan made in America circa 2005 would go bad. Then he went looking for the bonds backed by the worst of the loans.

It surprised him that Deutsche Bank didn’t seem to care which bonds he picked to bet against. From their point of view, so far as he could tell, all subprime-mortgage bonds were the same. The price of insurance was driven not by any independent analysis but by the ratings placed on the bond by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. If he wanted to buy insurance on the supposedly riskless triple-A-rated tranche, he might pay 20 basis points (0.20 percent); on the riskier, A-rated tranches, he might pay 50 basis points (0.50 percent); and on the even less safe, triple-B-rated tranches, 200 basis points—that is, 2 percent. (A basis point is one-hundredth of one percentage point.) The triple-B-rated tranches—the ones that would be worth zero if the underlying mortgage pool experienced a loss of just 7 percent—were what he was after. He felt this to be a very conservative bet, which he was able, through analysis, to turn into even more of a sure thing. Anyone who even glanced at the prospectuses could see that there were many critical differences between one triple-B bond and the next—the percentage of interest-only loans contained in their underlying pool of mortgages, for example. He set out to cherry-pick the absolute worst ones and was a bit worried that the investment banks would catch on to just how much he knew about specific mortgage bonds, and adjust their prices.

Once again they shocked and delighted him: Goldman Sachs e-mailed him a great long list of crappy mortgage bonds to choose from. “This was shocking to me, actually,” he says. “They were all priced according to the lowest rating from one of the big-three ratings agencies.” He could pick from the list without alerting them to the depth of his knowledge. It was as if you could buy flood insurance on the house in the valley for the same price as flood insurance on the house on the mountaintop.

The market made no sense, but that didn’t stop other Wall Street firms from jumping into it, in part because Mike Burry was pestering them.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Time magazine piece on how big Wall Street investment banks are claiming the lion's share of mathematicians and scientists to create exotic financial products:

Ever wonder how investment bankers, a breed known in the past more for its social skills and golf handicaps than for its mathematical prowess, ever invented products like those crazily sophisticated, synthetic collateralized debt obligations that brought down the financial system? Well, they didn't. They hired rocket scientists to do that--a whole lot of them. In fact, Wall Street hires more math, engineering and science graduates than the semiconductor industry, Big Pharma or the telecommunications business. As one mathematician-turned-trader friend recently put it to me, why should he work on new high-tech products at Bell Labs when he could make five times as much crafting 12-dimensional models of the stock-buying and -selling behaviors of average Joes for a major global-investment house, which could then turn around and make massive profits by betting against those very patterns?

It's a question that's right at the center of the debate over the U.S.'s economic future. After the financial crisis, the banking industry secured massive bailouts by convincing us all that Wall Street was the grease on the wheels of the real economy. Banks provided the capital to create new businesses, after all, and if they weren't healthy, nobody else could be either. Of course, that position has become harder to defend as lending rates to new businesses have contracted post--financial crisis and economic growth has remained sluggish even as bailout money has ensured that Wall Street would mushroom in size. Amazingly, three years after the crisis, the percentage of the U.S. economy represented by the financial sector remains at historic highs of over 8%.

Now there's even more compelling historical evidence that Wall Street's favorite argument doesn't hold water. A new study from the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City, Mo.--based nonprofit that researches and funds entrepreneurship, has found that over the past several decades, the growth in size and importance of the financial sector has run in tandem with lower--not higher--rates of new-business formation. In the 1980s, when Wall Street really took off, the number of new firms created fell, and in the 1990s, it plateaued and has been stagnant ever since. Basically, the facts show the opposite of what Wall Street would have us believe. A number of factors explain that, but one of the most important, argue the study's authors, is that the financial sector is sucking talent and entrepreneurial energy from more socially beneficial sectors of the economy.


Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2061220,00.html#ixzz1Hr1jAxuk

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a Vanity Fair article by Nobel Laureate Economist Joe Stiglitz about growing concentration of wealth and power in America. It's titled "Of the 1%, For the 1%, By the 1%":

Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from a recent speech by veteran journalist Bill Moyers given in memory of historian Howard Zinn:

In polite circles, among our political and financial classes, this is known as "the free market at work." No, it's "wage repression," and it's been happening in our country since around 1980. I must invoke some statistics here, knowing that statistics can glaze the eyes; but if indeed it's the mark of a truly educated person to be deeply moved by statistics, as I once read, surely this truly educated audience will be moved by the recent analysis of tax data by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. They found that from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation's economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of 10 Americans was growing, too - from $17,719 to $30,941. That's a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefited. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

That's wage repression.

Another story in the Times caught my eye a few weeks after the one about Connie Brasel and Natalie Ford. The headline read: "Industries Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts." Nelson Schwartz reported that despite falling motorcycle sales, Harley-Davidson profits are soaring - with a second quarter profit of $71 million, more than triple what it earned the previous year. Yet Harley-Davidson has announced plans to cut fourteen hundred to sixteen hundred more jobs by the end of next year; this on top of the 2000 jobs cut last year.

The story note: "This seeming contradiction - falling sales and rising profits - is one reason the mood on Wall Street is so much more buoyant than in households, where pessimism runs deep and unemployment shows few signs of easing." There you see the two Americas. A buoyant Wall Street; a doleful Main Street. The Connie Brasels and Natalie Fords - left to sink or swim on their own. There were no bailouts for them.

Meanwhile, Matt Krantz reports in USA TODAY that "Cash is gushing into company's coffers as they report what's shaping up to be a third-consecutive quarter of sharp earning increases. But instead of spending on the typical things, such as expanding and hiring people, companies are mostly pocketing the money or stuffing it under their mattresses." And what are their plans for this money? Again, the Washington Post:

... Sitting on these unprecedented levels of cash, U.S. companies are buying back their own stock in droves. So far this year, firms have announced they will purchase $273 billion of their own shares, more than five times as much compared with this time last year... But the rise in buybacks signals that many companies are still hesitant to spend their cash on the job-generating activities that could produce economic growth.

That's how financial capitalism works today: Conserving cash rather than bolstering hiring and production; investing in their own shares to prop up their share prices and make their stock more attractive to Wall Street. To hell with everyone else.

Riaz Haq said...

Someone has to stop the Federal Reserve before it crushes what remains of America’s Main Street economy, argues former budget director David Stockman in a piece for Marketwatch.com:

n the last few weeks alone, it launched two more financial sector pumping operations which will harm the real economy, even as these actions juice Wall Street’s speculative humors.

First, joining the central banking cartels’ market rigging operation in support of the yen, the Fed helped bail-out carry traders from a savage short-covering squeeze. Then, green lighting the big banks for another go-round of the dividend and share-buyback scam, it handsomely rewarded options traders who had been front-running this announcement for weeks.

Indeed, this sort of action is so blatant that the Fed might as well just look for a financial vein in the vicinity of 200 West St., and proceed straight-away to mainline the trading desks located there.

In any event, the yen intervention certainly had nothing to do with the evident distress of the Japanese people. What happened is that one of the potent engines of the global carry-trade — the massive use of the yen as a zero cost funding currency — backfired violently in response to the unexpected disasters in Japan.

Accordingly, this should have been a moment of condign punishment — wiping out years of speculative gains in heavily leveraged commodity and emerging market currency and equity wagers, and putting two-way risk back into the markets for so-called risk assets.

Instead, once again, speculators were reassured that in the global financial casino operated by the world’s central bankers, the house is always there for them—this time with an exchange rate cap on what would otherwise have been a catastrophic surge in their yen funding costs.

Is it any wonder, then, that the global economy is being pummeled by one speculative tsunami after the next? Ever since the latest surge was trigged last summer by the Jackson Hole smoke signals about QE2, the violence of the price action in the risk asset flavor of late — cotton, met coal, sugar, oil, coffee, copper, rice, corn, heating oil and the rest — has been stunning, with moves of 10% a week or more.

In the face of these ripping commodity index gains, the Fed’s argument that surging food costs are due to emerging market demand growth is just plain lame. Was there a worldwide fasting ritual going on during the months just before the August QE2 signals when food prices were much lower? And haven’t the EM economies been growing at their present pace for about the last 15 years now, not just the last seven months?

Similarly, the supply side has had its floods and droughts — like always. But these don’t explain the price action, either. Take Dr. Cooper’s own price chart during the past 12 months: last March the price was $3.60 per pound — after which it plummeted to $2.80 by July, rose to $4.60 by February and revisited $4.10 per pound.

That violent round trip does not chart Mr. Market’s considered assessment of long-term trends in mining capacity or end-use industrial consumption. Instead, it reflects central bank triggered speculative tides which begin on the futures exchanges and ripple out through inventory stocking and de-stocking actions all around the world — even reaching the speculative copper hoards maintained by Chinese pig farmers and the vandals who strip-mine copper from the abandoned tract homes in Phoenix.

The short-covering panic in the yen forex markets following Japan’s intervention, and the subsequent panicked response by the central banks, wasn’t just a low frequency outlier — the equivalent of an 8.9 event on the financial Richter scale. Rather, it is the predictable result of the lunatic ZIRP monetary policy which has been pursued by the Bank of Japan for more than a decade now--and with the Fed, BOE and ECB not far behind.