A snippet on foreign currency loans
I’m always thinking about new things to do with the blog. Some ideas, like the Monday Message Board, have been successful, others haven’t worked quite so well. What I’m doing here is posting a couple of paras I was going to put into an opinion piece, but which I’ve had to cut for space reasons. I hope the blog will provide a way of implementing an idea I’ve had for many years and never fully realised, that of a text database of thoughts on various topics, useful quotes and so on, that I can dip into as needed in my work. Of course, even though a lot of the material won’t be of general interest, I still welcome comments – in fact, comments on esoteric topics are often more useful to me than debate on current issues. I’d also welcome thoughts about the merits or otherwise of this idea and proposals for other uses of the blogging medium.
The idea of offering loans denominated in Swiss francs, pushed vigorously by the major banks received a rapturous receptionin the mid-1980s . What could be more natural as a consequence of financial deregulation than that Australian borrowers should gain the benefits of low interest rates prevailing overseas. No-one bothered to do the elementary risk analysis that would have shown this to be a fundamentally unsound idea, and even in retrospect, its failure was widely seen as the result of bad luck.
In reality, the product was equivalent to the combination of an ordinary Australian-currency loan with an unhedged bet on the foreign exchange market. The interest rate differential between franc-denominated and dollar-denominated loans reflected a market expectation that the dollar would depreciate. Borrowers were invited to bet that the market was wrong. Such a bet made no sense for the vast majority of borrowers and in fact the depreciation was even greater than the market forecast.
Despite the obvious impropriety of advising financially unsophisticated customers to take on gratuitous risks, the banks were generally successful in enforcing their contracts, except where their initial incompetence was compounded by subsequent wrongdoing, such as the suppression of evidence. Judges and the legal system more generally proved incapable of coming to grips with the basic issues.