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What is a Minskian Ponzi deal?

What is a Minskian Ponzi deal?The Minskian Ponzi deal was a theory propounded by American economist Minsky, in 1986. Such deals are both unsustainable and hazardous. In Minsky’s view, periods of economic and financial stability lead to a lowering of investors’ risk aversion and a process of releveraging. Investors borrow excessively and push asset prices excessively high. In this process, there are three types of investors / borrowers. First, sound or hedge borrowers who can afford to pay on their own. Second, speculative borrowers who can only service interest payments out of their cash flows. Finally, there are Ponzi borrowers who can service neither interest nor principal payments, and need to keep on refinancing their debts.

Minsky’s theory [Source: Wikipedia]

Hyman Minsky has proposed a post-Keynesian explanation that is most applicable to a closed economy. He theorized that financial fragility is a typical feature of any capitalist economy. High fragility leads to a higher risk of a financial crisis. To facilitate his analysis, Minsky defines three approaches to financing firms may choose, according to their tolerance of risk. They are hedge finance, speculative finance, and Ponzi finance. Ponzi finance leads to the most fragility.

• for hedge finance, income flows are expected to meet financial obligations in every period, including both the principal and the interest on loans.

• for speculative finance, a firm must roll over debt because income flows are expected to only cover interest costs. None of the principal is paid off.

• for Ponzi finance, expected income flows will not even cover interest cost, so the firm must borrow more or sell off assets simply to service its debt. The hope is that either the market value of assets or income will rise enough to pay off interest and principal.

Financial fragility levels move together with the business cycle. After a recession, firms have lost much financing and choose only hedge, the safest. As the economy grows and expected profits rise, firms tend to believe that they can allow themselves to take on speculative financing. In this case, they know that profits will not cover all the interest all the time. Firms, however, believe that profits will rise and the loans will eventually be repaid without much trouble. More loans lead to more investment, and the economy grows further. Then lenders also start believing that they will get back all the money they lend. Therefore, they are ready to lend to firms without full guarantees of success. Lenders know that such firms will have problems repaying. Still, they believe these firms will refinance from elsewhere as their expected profits rise. This is Ponzi financing. In this way, the economy has taken on much risky credit. Now it is only a question of time before some big firm actually defaults. Lenders understand the actual risks in the economy and stop giving credit so easily. Refinancing becomes impossible for many, and more firms default. If no new money comes into the economy to allow the refinancing process, a real economic crisis begins. During the recession, firms start to hedge again, and the cycle is closed.

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