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ECONOMICS AND ESOTERICA FOR A NEW PARADIGM

Posts Tagged ‘Germany

All the world’s a stage

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by Peter Tchir
of TF Market Advisors
Posted December 5, 2011

I CAN’T HELP BUT FEEL THAT WE ARE WATCHING A PERFORMANCE THIS WEEK. It feels like the actions, the meetings, and the statements are all very scripted. It seems reasonably clear which ending they are going for, but many of their actions also fit the “alternative” ending so it remains imperative to be cautious.

Roles for “bit” players have been cut

Last week, for the first time, the EU seemed to be able to muzzle the minor players and even limit the lines of the big players. The Finance minister summit was a failure. Nothing useful came out of it. EFSF was a total flop. The bank backstop plans are at a national level and revolve around the idea of getting banks to borrow even more in the short term and not extend their maturities.

In spite of the obvious failure, there were relatively few comments. Rather than getting headlines of disputes, or even headlines of bigger and better ways to leverage, they seemed to let it die a relatively calm death and move on. This was a chance for every finance minister to get their quotations in the news, but they seemed reasonably constrained. There were far fewer comments about the ECB or even from ECB members. To me, it seems that the big players (Merkozy and Draghi) have taken control of the play and are trying to get it to the ending they want.

The “Script”

Germany took great pains last week to distance themselves from ECB decisions. The speeches made it clear that the ECB should be “independent”.  This has been taken as a sign that Germany is relenting on letting the ECB print. By affirming the ECB’s independence, Germany can, in theory, explain that it wasn’t responsible for the printing. There is also a chance that this is a way to take the blame off of Germany if the ECB decides not to print.  That seems less likely, but not everyone, especially at the ECB, believes printing is a solution, so this could be a way for them to take the focus off of Germany’s “nein”.

According to the script, Merkel and Sarkozy will become the Merkozy again tonight so that they can ride into this week’s summit with a “renewed joint focus”, blah, blah, blah. There is no way that they don’t act as though they have some agreement (even if they don’t). We won’t know what is discussed, we won’t know how much time is spent working out plans for a summit failure, all we will get is another handholding moment meant to encourage the market. I suspect that more time “off screen” will be spent discussing preparations for a failed summit, but all we will see is smiling confident faces.

At this point, I will give the politicians some credit. For the first time in months they seem to be writing the script. They aren’t just taking whatever script Wall Street hands them, and trying to act that out. The Wall Street scripts haven’t worked and have been unbelievable. The  politicians are finally taking control and trying to develop their own plan, and selling Wall Street on how viable it is. Since they are politicians, they are actually trained at figuring out what can get done and selling it to the people.  It probably won’t work, but at least they are doing what they are good at, and it would be hard to do worse than listening to another round of self-serving Wall Street advice.  On a refreshing note, at least we have agreement on something, Wall Street and politicians now both think the other group doesn’t understand anything and has no sense of timing.

The “puppets” are pushing through austerity in Italy and Greece. They can be held up as shining examples to other countries of what needs to be done. They aren’t the heroes of the story, but are there so that the Merkozy can point them out and show that i) it can be done, and ii) when it is done, the EU and IMF will come through with additional funds.  The “it” they got done won’t be well defined (but this is a movie, not the real world anyways) but the reward those good countries receive will be highlighted.

So the meeting will have Merkozy telling the smaller and problematic countries what a great future lies ahead for the eurozone. They will talk about the sacrifices they are making to ensure the viability of the future. There will be no criticism of the plan as only “friends and family” reports will get the inside scoop, and the “trailer” will be played over and over as part of the advertising campaign. We, the audience, will suspect that all the best parts of the play are in the “trailer” but we won’t be able to dig deep enough to argue against it.

The puppets will tell the other countries how happy they are that they have finally adopted austerity with growth to move forward and that they are excited about this opportunity to be part of the renewed commitment to the eurozone. Anyone who tries to figure out how austerity and growth work together, or where the money is coming, or any other details, will be escorted from room, and will be Clockwork Oranged into reading “fringe blogging websites” until they accept that details are bad, and only vague notions and slogans can “solve” anything.

At the end of the day, any holdouts will get invited to special meetings with the Merkozy. This is where they will be asked what they want to get in order to support the agreement, and reminded, that it is only an agreement in principle so they might as well say yes now, and they can always reject it later. These dark little meetings where the bribes are given and the futility of the agreement are discussed will only be available on the director’s cut, but will make people cringe when they realize what went on.

So in the end, according to script, everyone will get a chance for a joint communiqué and photo up where they talk about their commitment to implement these progressive changes. Every person who truly thinks about it for more than a minute, will know that it is a sham. They will see what has gone on, but it won’t matter. The “critics” will fall all over themselves to proclaim the success of the summit and that we are witnessing the birth of a new and better Euro. For a few days at least, the airwaves will be filled with the excitement that the “great leadership” exhibited by the Merkozy, and the diligence of the puppets, has led to such a monumental agreement. The future will be so bright, some might even “wear shades” when they discuss what has been accomplished.  Tears wouldn’t even shock me.

Then before anyone can complain that the positive reviews were bought, or that the script is flimsy, we will see the next wave of activity. This will be like a giant publicity machine, trying to turn a horrible movie into an Oscar winner through the sheer strength of publicity and graft.

The ECB will cut rates by 50 bps. The ECB will announce further participation in the secondary markets and hint at the ability and willingness to print money. The IMF will announce some new programs. The EFSF will start participating in the primary market. Even the Fed might hint at future QE (if not actually doing anything).

Then the leaders can sit back and hope their magic works.  Hope that their story has been bought and that the markets can take off and that they won’t actually have to implement much.  Yes, I think this is the key here.  They know that the treaty agreement changes are unlikely to be implemented.  They know the ECB has limits, that the IMF is going to struggle to do what people seem to believe they can do, they just hope that this is enough to give the markets so much confidence that they don’t have to do anything.  A market that can swing 6% on a 50 bp rate cut, might be manipulated into going so high that confidence is regained, long enough to buy time.

The “alternative ending”

So far, the directors have rejected the alternative ending. They don’t think that America in particular is ready for a non Hollywood ending, but they are filming some scenes just in case.  Fortunately many of the scenes are exactly the same as in the preferred ending. In the alternative ending, Merkozy and the puppets can’t convince everyone to go along with the communiqué. They can’t convince them that it is really meaningless so there is no point to disagree. Somehow the summit ends without the decision to move forward.

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It’s your choice, Europe: rebel against the banks or accept debt-serfdom

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by Charles Hugh Smith
from Of Two Minds
Posted December 4, 2011

THE EUROPEAN DEBT BUBBLE HAS BURST, AND THE REPRICING OF RISK AND DEBT CANNOT BE PUT BACK INTO THE BOTTLE. It’s really this simple, Europe: either rebel against the banks or accept decades of debt-serfdom. All the millions of words published about the European debt crisis can be distilled down a handful of simple dynamics. Once we understand those, then the choice between resistance and debt-serfdom is revealed as the only choice: the rest of the “options” are illusory.

The euro enabled a short-lived but extremely attractive fantasy: the more productive northern EU economies could mint profits in two ways: A) sell their goods and services to their less productive southern neighbors in quantity because these neighbors were now able to borrow vast sums of money at low (i.e. near-”German”) rates of interest, and B) loan these consumer nations these vast sums of money with stupendous leverage, i.e. 1 euro in capital supports 26 euros of lending/debt.

The less productive nations also had a very attractive fantasy: that their present level of productivity (that is, the output of goods and services created by their economies) could be leveraged up via low-interest debt to support a much higher level of consumption and malinvestment in things like villas and luxury autos.

According to Europe’s Currency Road to Nowhere (WSJ.com):

Northern Europe has fueled its growth through exports. It has run huge trade imbalances, the most extreme of which with these same Southern European countries now in peril. Productivity rose dramatically compared to the South, but the currency did not.

This explains at least part of the German export and manufacturing miracle of the last 12 years. In 1999, exports were 29% of German gross domestic product. By 2008, they were 47%—an increase vastly larger than in Italy, Spain and Greece, where the ratios increased modestly or even fell. Germany’s net export contribution to GDP (exports minus imports as a share of the economy) rose by nearly a factor of eight. Unlike almost every other high-income country, where manufacturing’s share of the economy fell significantly, in Germany it actually rose as the price of German goods grew more and more attractive compared to those of other countries. In a key sense, Germany’s currency has been to Southern Europe what China’s has been to the U.S.

Flush with profits from exports and loans, Germany and its mercantilist (exporting nations) also ramped up their own borrowing – why not, when growth was so strong?

But the whole set-up was a doomed financial fantasy. The euro seemed to be magic: it enabled importing nations to buy more and borrow more, while also enabling exporting nations to reap immense profits from rising exports and lending.

Put another way: risk and debt were both massively mispriced by the illusion that the endless growth of debt-based consumption could continue forever. The euro was in a sense a scam that served the interests of everyone involved: with risk considered near-zero, interest rates were near-zero, too, and more debt could be leveraged from a small base of productivity and capital.

But now reality has repriced risk and debt, and the clueless leadership of the EU is attempting to put the genie back in the bottle. Alas, the debt loads are too crushing, and the productivity too weak, to support the fantasy of zero risk and low rates of return.

The Credit Bubble Bulletin’s Doug Nolan summarized the reality succinctly: “The European debt Bubble has burst.” Nolan explains the basic mechanisms thusly: The Mythical “Great Moderation”:

For years, European debt was being mispriced in the (over-liquefied, over-leveraged and over-speculated global) marketplace. Countries such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy benefitted immeasurably from the market perception that European monetary integration ensured debt, economic and policymaking stability.

Similar to the U.S. mortgage/Wall Street finance Bubble, the marketplace was for years content to ignore Credit excesses and festering system fragilities, choosing instead to price debt obligations based on the expectation for zero defaults, abundant liquidity, readily available hedging instruments, and a policymaking regime that would ensure market stability.

Importantly, this backdrop created the perfect market environment for financial leveraging and rampant speculation in a global financial backdrop unsurpassed for its capacity for excess. The arbitrage of European bond yields was likely one of history’s most lucrative speculative endeavors. (link via U. Doran)

In simple terms, this is the stark reality: now that debt and risk have been repriced, Europe’s debts are completely, totally unpayable. There is no way to keep adding to the Matterhorn of debt at the old cheap rate of interest, and there is no way to roll over the trillions of euros in debt that are coming due at the old near-zero rates.

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The world is drowning in debt, and Europe laces on concrete boots

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by Charles Hugh Smith
from Of Two Minds
Posted November 14, 2011 

Three metaphors describe Europe: drowning in debt, circular firing squad and trying to fool the money gods with an inept game of 3-card monte.

The world’s major economies are drowning in debt – Europe, the U.S., Japan, China. We all know the U.S. has tried to save its drowning economy by bailing out the parasite which is dragging it to Davy Jones Locker–the banking/financial sector– and by borrowing and squandering $6 trillion in new Federal debt and buying toxic debt with $2 trillion whisked into existence on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet.

It has failed, of course, and the economy is once again slipping beneath the waves while Ben Bernanke and the politico lackeys join in a Keynesian-monetary cargo-cult chant: Humba-humba, bunga-bunga. Their hubris doesn’t allow them to confess their magic has failed, and rather than let their power be wrenched away, they will let the flailing U.S. economy drown.

Europe has managed to top this hubris-drenched cargo-cult policy – no mean feat. First, it has indebted itself to a breathtaking degree, on every level: sovereign, corporate and private:

Germany, the mighty engine which is supposed to pull the $16 trillion drowning European economy out of the water, is as indebted as the flailing U.S. Second, the euro’s handlers have already sunk staggering sums into hopelessly insolvent debtor nations, for example, Greece, which has 355 billion euros of outstanding sovereign debt and an economy with a GDP around 200 billion euros (though it’s contracting so rapidly nobody can even guess the actual size). According to BusinessWeek, the E.U. (European Union), the ECB (European Central Bank) and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) own about $127 billion of this debt.

Since the ECB is not allowed to “print money,” the amount of cash available to buy depreciating bonds is limited. The handlers now own over 35% of the official debt (recall that doesn’t include corporate or private debt), which they grandly refuse to accept is now worth less than the purchase price. (The market price of Greek bonds has cratered by 42% just since July. Isn’t hubris a wonderful foundation for policy?)

In other words, they have not just put on concrete boots, they’ve laced them up and tied a big knot. We cannot possibly drown, they proclaim; we are too big, too heavy, too powerful. We refuse to accept that all these trillions of euros in debt are now worth a pittance of their face value.

When you’re drowning in debt, the only solution is to write off the debt and drain the pool. The problem is, of course, that all this impaired debt is somebody else’s asset, and that somebody is either rich and powerful or politically powerful, for example, a union pension fund.

Third, the euro’s handlers have set up a circular firing squad. Since the entire banking sector is insolvent, the handlers are demanding that banks raise capital. Since only the ECB is insane enough to put good money after bad, the banks cannot raise capital on the private market, so their only way to raise cash is to sell assets–such as rapidly depreciating sovereign-debt bonds.

This pushes the price of those bonds even lower, as supply (sellers) completely overwhelm demand from buyers (the unflinching ECB and its proxies).

This decline in bond prices further lowers the value of the banks’ assets, which means they need to raise more capital, which means they have to sell even more bonds.

Voila, a circular firing squad, where the “bulletproof” ECB is left as the only buyer who will hold depreciating bonds longer than a few hours, and all the participants gain by selling bonds before they fall any further. This is the classic positive feedback loop, where selling lowers the value of remaining assets and that drives further selling.

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Our fragile “hothouse” economy

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by Charles Hugh Smith
from Of Two Minds
Posted November 03, 2011

Financialization has led to a “hothouse” global economy where the slightest disruption in central bank/Central State intervention will cause the sickly flowers to wilt and expire.

Of the three great financial truths that have been left unspoken for the past four years out of sheer dread, lest their mere mention collapse our economy, let’s start with the most obvious:

The first great financial truth: If the Federal Reserve and Federal government ever crimped the dripline of “easing” and bailouts, America’s financial sector would promptly roll over and expire.

Does this strike you as a robust, flexible, transparent system? Of course not. Rather, it is a “hothouse” financial sector, one that needs constant injections and a carefully controlled environment just to keep it alive.

And since the U.S. economy has been fully financialized, it is now dependent on financial machinations and skimming for its “growth,” profits and the debt expansion that fuels everything else, including the metastasizing Savior State, a gargantuan aggregation of an unaccountable National Security State with crony-capitalist cartels and a dependency-inducing Welfare State.

Without the debt conjured into existence by the Fed, Treasury and the financial sector, even the mighty multi-tenacled Savior State would quickly starve.

As a result of our dependence on financialization and exponential debt, our entire economy has become a weak, sickly “hothouse” economy which can only survive in a narrow band of temperature, debt injections and opaque manipulations of data and what’s left of the nation’s shriveled markets.

Once exposed to Nature, i.e. “wild” transparent markets that are allowed to discover the price of all assets naturally, then both the nation’s financial sector and its economy would implode.

The second great financial truth is that the financial sector has long been detached from the real economy. The real economy is for chumps; the “no-risk” skimming of monetary legerdemaine is the raison d’etre of the entire financial sector, a point brilliantly made in this “must read” essay posted on Zero Hedge: MF Global Shines A Light On Monetarism’s Incapacity To Enhance The Real Economy. Granted, some of the financialization schemes described are not that easy to grasp, but here’s the primary point:

That is why this system has to change at some point. It is exactly designed to be misleading, and the reason is so very simple. In any fractional system there will be a desire to amplify that fraction to the maximum degree. But in doing so, participants recognize that the process of maximization entails creating negative human emotions and perceptions since history is not really that kind to this manner of fractionalization. So the system has institutionalized, abetted by the very regulators that are supposed to cap fractions and leverage, these methodologies of hiding just how much financial entities have engaged in maximizing themselves under the cover of mathematical precision.

The Panic of 2008 was supposed to correct these excesses and remedy the fact that risks have not been accurately priced for decades. Yet the system has resisted every effort, simply settling for redefining the appearance of safety yet again. Somewhere in that mathematical pursuit of maximum fractions, the very goal of finance changed, as if traditional banking was no longer sufficient to support the pursuit’s ever-growing ambitions. So the financial economy has broken away from the real economy, using the ironic cover story of enhancing price discovery to the process of intermediation.

The fact that money is disconnected from the real economy never enters the consciousness of monetarists since money is always the answer. But make no mistake, the primary reasons for this global malaise are that money has lost its productive capacity and its proper place as a tool within the system.

The third great unspoken truth is that the conventional Status Quo – the financial punditry, the Cargo Cult of Keynesianism, the incestuous academic community, the PhDs in the Fed and Treasury, the politico lackeys, the self-serving think-tanks of both empty ideologies (“which is better, Bud or Bud Light?”), not to mention the lobbyists, revolving door toadies and all the other hangers-on in New York and Washington – have no Plan B and certainly no Plan C. In other words, they are utterly clueless about what to do when their abject and total failure becomes unavoidably obvious.

It is of course a crisis of self-service; nobody dares put their own status, wealth, power and perks at risk by thinking independently, much less speaking All That Cannot Be Spoken Lest This Sucker Implode.

But it is also a monumental lack of imagination; the lackeys and toadies cannot imagine any other Beast other than the one whose teat they have sucked all their lives. They live in mortal fear not of being ignorant or lacking in imagination – those deficiencies are too obvious to contest – but of the truth of the system’s increasing weakness and vulnerability being openly revealed.

America’s (and the world’s) financial sector is a fragile, sickly hybrid which will shrivel and expire the moment it is placed in the real, dynamic world. And because the global economy has become dependent on the slouching beast of financialization, it too is fragile and sickly, sensitive to the slightest perturbations and exquisitely vulnerable to any disruption of the constant life support offered by central banks and Central States.

It is neither capitalism nor socialism, but a twisted hybrid of the worst traits of each.

I happened to catch a brief interview on DW TV (German TV, with English announcers and subtitles) of one of the few ECB (European Central Bank) officials with the integrity to resign in protest at the ECB’s blatant interventions in the bond market (buying Italian bonds to prop up a market that would implode the second ECB support vanished) and the central bank’s slippage toward money-printing as the answer to every problem.

This gentleman said that the ECB had to monitor the global economy 24 hours a day lest some tiny policy mistake bring the entire shaky edifice down.

Does that strike you as a description of a robust, adaptable, capitalist system based on transparancy and price discovery of assets? Of course not; it describes a hothouse economy, always on the ragged edge of collapse if its central bank and Central State minders make the tiniest error in its care.

For four precious years we have been force-fed nothing but lies, obfuscation, misdirection, fear-mongering, spin, sins of omission, misinformation, propaganda, false rumors and false hopes. The hothouse is slowly falling apart, and the sickly global financial sector is wilting. The financial media is heralding every “save” and every “rescue” with ever-shriller enthusiasm, lest a contagion of truth spread through the hothouse like a chill wind.

But we can be sure of one thing: those who know better have already sold, and it is now the job of the politico lackeys and the toadies of the Mainstream Media to convince the bagholders to hold on and not sell, because “everything’s been rescued.” Distilled to its essence, that is their one and only job: to convince you not to sell. That keeps the bid up for their Masters to sell into.

If history is any guide, the final collapse will be triggered by an apparently “controllable” event, something like the bankruptcy of MF Global. All eyes are on Greece’s referendum, apparently scheduled for December 4 or 5; but regardless of the vote, does a “yes” or “no” change that nation’s fundamental insolvency? No, it doesn’t.

Does the passage of some toothless law in Italy magically render that nation solvent? No, no, a thousand times no; none of these public-relations tricks can change the fact that all these nations are insolvent, the banks are insolvent, and even France and Germany are staggering under unprecedented burdens of debt.

The smart money sold in May, 2010, and the disbelievers among the Power Elite sold in May 2011, or perhaps August. Now those below the smart money (but still above the dumb money) are sniffing the fetid hothouse air, where the rank, sweaty desperation of the minders is now ever-present.

So the apparatchiks and foot soldiers have been ordered to keep the dumb money from selling, until their “betters” can sell into a rumor-juiced bid. This explains the sudden jump in the S&P 500 on every rumor of rescue, as if an over-indebted and leveraged-26-to-1 financial system can be rescued with “belt-tightening” and ECB intervention with taxpayer money.

The entire euro “project” was a scam that enabled a vast new scale of financialization. Now that the “project” is falling apart, the bagholders who bought into the shuck-and-jive are nervous and fearful; has it all really been “saved”?

No, it hasn’t; it cannot be saved. The only “solution” available is to sell: sell now, while there is still a bid. Sell fast, sell hard, sell everything denominated in euros. That is precisely what the Status Quo fears the most: an awakening continent of bagholders and debt-serfs.

Anyone thinking the euro (and eurozone) can’t possibly go down until after the Greek referendum may well find their confidence in the Status Quo’s “rescue” has been sorely misplaced.

500 Million Debt-Serfs: The European Union Is a Neo-Feudal Kleptocracy (July 22, 2011)
The Dynamics of Doom: Why the Eurozone Fix Will Fail (July 25, 2011)
The European Model Is Also Doomed (February 7, 2009)
When Debt-Junkies Go Broke, So Do Mercantilist Pushers (March 1, 2010)
Why the Euro Might Devolve into Euro1 and Euro2 (March 2, 2010)
Why the Eurozone Is Doomed (May 10, 2010)
Ireland, Please Do the World a Favor and Default (November 29, 2010)
Why The European Union Is Doomed (March 28, 2011)
Greece, Please Do The Right Thing: Default Now (June 1, 2011)
Why the Eurozone and the Euro Are Both Doomed (June 23, 2011)
Greece Is a Kleptocracy (June 28, 2011)

EU leaders throw Europe a plutonium life preserver

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by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds
Posted October 27, 2011

The euro system was doomed from inception for fundamental reasons; trying to conjure up “something for nothing” solutions will fail catastrophically, and soon.

As Europe flails helplessly in the waves of insolvency, its leadership has tossed it a life preserver. Too bad it’s plutonium, and will take Europe straight to the bottom. Plutonium is of course one of the most toxic materials on the planet, and the “rescue” cooked up by the EU leadership is the financial equivalent of plutonium.

Stripped of propaganda and disinformation, the “rescue” boils down to this: something for nothing. Sound familiar? Isn’t “something for nothing” what inflated the bubbles which have popped so violently? The EU “rescue” conjures something for nothing in two ways:

1. The financial alchemist’s favorite magic: leverage. Take a couple hundred billion euros in cash, leverage it up with various magic (unlimited power is now at your fingertips!) and voila, you can suddenly backstop 1 trillion euros of banking-sector losses, all with illusory money. Something for nothing.

2. “Guarantees” to cover the first 20% of loan losses. This is being presented as the equivalent of 100% guarantees, because it is inconceivable that losses could exceed 20%. In other words, the credulous buyer of at-risk Euroland bonds is supposed to be reassured enough to load the wagon because 20% of the bond is backstopped.

This is something for nothing because the EU leadership is explicitly claiming the at-risk portion–80% of every bond–is somehow “safer” because the first 20% will be paid by EU taxpayers.

In essence, the EU is claiming that its illusory “something for nothing” magic will turn lead into gold. Abracadabra….oh well, close; it’s heavy, it’s metallic – oops, it’s plutonium.

The leadership is resorting to Cargo Cult incantations and legerdemain because the alternative is to raise the 1 trillion euros in cold hard cash needed to bail out the first wave of failed banks and underwater bondholders by raising taxes and cutting budgets, i.e. austerity. (Recall that the total bill will be at least 3 trillion euros, so 1 trillion is just a down payment.)

Raising cash the hard way is politically unacceptable in both France and Germany, not to mention every other nation in the EU, so the political lackeys of the banking sector and bondholders are cravenly substituting a “something for nothing” magic show which they hope will fool the global bond market.

Note to EU lackeys: there is no free lunch. Leverage is plutonium, not gold, and guaranteeing the first 20% of bonds that are doomed to lose 40%-75% is not terribly appealing to anyone not influenced by the ECB’s mind tricks. (“These are not the euros you’re looking for; move along.”)

No wonder France was so anxious for the ECB to crank up the euro printing press: they wanted– just like everyone else involved–something for nothing.

The best way to understand the EU’s current situation is to imagine an astoundingly dysfunctional family of deep-in-denial-addicts, screaming co-dependent parents, and grown-up grifters acting like spoiled brats, all trapped in a rat-infested, flooded flat that’s had the gas turned off for lack of payment – and there’s a plutonium life preserver glowing in the knee-high water. Admittedly, this analogy is imperfect, but it does capture the essential psychology of the end-game being played out.

A slightly more formal model for understanding the increasingly unstable dynamics of the EU is the post-colonial “plantation” model I’ve described before. The key characteristics of the Colonial Model of Capitalism are:

1. Low cost labor and low-value materials flow from the periphery (colonies) to the Empire (center), which then ships high-value, high-profit finished goods back to the colonies.

2. The colonies must buy the high-value finished goods on credit that is issued and controlled by the Imperial center.

Hmm – doesn’t this sound like the relationship of Germany to the European periphery? The euro cemented this co-dependency: Germany had the most efficient production, and once the euro raised the cost of production in the periphery nations, then of course nobody could beat Germany’s cost advantages. The euro actually lowered Germany’s cost of production in terms of foreign exchange rates while raising the costs in periphery nations that were previously able to lower their cost of production via currency devaluations.

Having surrendered that mechanism to access the deep credit markets of the center, then they had no choice but to buy the high-margin finished goods from Germany, as nobody else could make the same goods for the low German price.

These booming high-profit German exports of finished goods to the European periphery generated vast surpluses of capital that were then loaned to the periphery to enable their further purchases of German goods. Why risk the heavy investment costs of production in the periphery when Germany had the lowest costs of production and was willing to loan the buyers the cash needed to keep buying?

It’s the classic mercantilist-consumer co-dependency on a gigantic scale, with low-cost credit fueling both increased consumption and production. As long as the credit flowed in vast torrents of low-cost, easy to borrow money, the co-dependency looked like a “virtuous cycle.” Debt junkies eventually have to start servicing their debts, of course, and that’s when the ugly realities of colonial dominance become visible.

Germany casts itself in this melodrama as the wronged party, the industrious craftsfolk churning out high-quality goods who have somehow been lured into pouring hard-earned cash down various ratholes to save nefarious EU banks – including their own.

But setting aside the melodrama for a moment, let’s ask: how many German goods would have been imported by the EU periphery if those nations had been forced to pay cash for everything from the start? Precious little is the answer; the cash – in the form of actual surpluses available to spend on imports – would have run out immediately after the euro was launched.

In other words, the debt orgy enabled not just carefree consumption, it also enabled vast German exports to the Eurozone. Now we start seeing how the once-mutually beneficial co-dependency has become toxic: now that the periphery’s debtors have become debt-serfs, German exports to the periphery are contracting.

This helps explain why even the supposedly prudent Germans are seeking something for nothing as the painless answer to an intrinsically unstable and self-destructive system. When it all implodes, German exports to the periphery will be a shadow of their past glory, and the surpluses which enabled the leveraged orgy of credit will dwindle. (Germany’s other big export markets, China and the U.S., are also contracting.)

Sovereign currencies are the only mechanism for discounting differences in credit worthiness and production costs. The euro was established as the currency equivalent of gold, holding the same value in every member country. But the mercantilist/quasi-colonial model requires credit to flow from the center to the periphery, and that is precisely what has happened in the EU.

In the colonial model, the colonists are indebted and poor. The net value of their labor flows to the Imperial center as interest payments, and the banks at the center set the cost of money and the terms – naturally.

This co-dependency based on credit flowing from the mercantilist center to the periphery is both exploitative and systemically unstable. Now that the ontological instability of the euro is being revealed, the dysfunctional family members are blaming each other and desperately trying to conjure up something for nothing to bail themselves out of a system which was doomed to implode from its very inception.

All the complexity and confusion distills down to this: the EU leadership needs something for nothing to save the EU, but there is no free lunch. There is only one solution to the exploitation, the illusory leverage, the crushing debts: massive write-offs of all the bad debt everywhere in the EU. And since debt is someone else’s asset, then that means writing down the assets, too. The only way to clear the insolvency is to write off 3 trillion euros of debt-based assets and re-enable sovereign currencies. Anything else is simply more tiresome melodrama.

The real contagion risk

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 by Chris Martenson
Posted October 24, 2011 

 

AROUND HERE, WE LIKE TO TRACK THINGS from the outside in, as the initial movements at the periphery tend to give us an early warning of when things might go wrong at the center. It is always the marginal country, weakest stock in a sector, or fringe population that gives us the early warning that trouble is afoot. For example, rising food stamp utilization and poverty levels in the US indicate that economic hardship is progressing from the lower socioeconomic levels up towards the center –that is, from the outside in.

That exact pattern is now playing out in Europe, although arguably the earliest trouble was detected with the severe weakness seen in the eastern European countries nearly two years ago.

Because of this tendency for trouble to begin at the periphery before spreading to the center, here at ChrisMartenson.com headquarters we spend a disproportionate amount of our time watching junk bonds instead of Treasurys, looking at weak sectors instead of strong ones, and generally spending our time at the edges trying to scout out where there are early signs of trouble that can give us a sense of what’s coming next. In this report, we explore the idea that Europe is the canary in the coal mine that tells us it is time to begin preparing for how the world might change if the contagion spreads all the way to US Treasurys (which is mathematically inevitable, in our view).

Why the US should care about Europe

At the very core of the global nuclear money reactor are US Treasurys and the dollar. If the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency wanes or even collapses, then the scope and pace of the likely disruptions will be enormous. Of course, we’ll be glad to have as much forewarning as possible.

Accordingly, it is my belief that if the contagion spreads from Greece to Portugal (or Italy or Spain), and then to the big banks of France and Germany in such a way that they fail, then rather than strengthening the dollar’s role (as nearly everyone expects), we should reserve some concern for the idea that the contagion will instead jump the pond and chew its way through the US financial superstructure.

While I am expecting an initial strengthening of the dollar in response to a euro decline, I believe this will only be a temporary condition.

The predicament is that the fiscal condition of the US is just as bad as anywhere, and we’d do well to ignore the idea, widely promulgated in the popular press, that the US is in relatively better shape than some other countries. ‘Relatively’ is a funny word. In this case, it’s kind of meaningless, as all the contestants in this horse race are likely destined for the glue factory, no matter how well they place.

While there are certain to be a lot of false starts and unpredictable twists and turns along the way, eventually the precarious fiscal situation of the US will reach a critical mass of recognition. Before that date, the US will be perceived as a bastion of financial safety, and afterwards everyone will wonder how anyone could have really held that view.

A good recent example of how swiftly sovereign fortunes can change: One day, everything was fine in Greece, which enjoyed paying interest rates on its national debt that were a few skinny basis points (hundredths of a percent) above Germany’s. A few short months later, Greece was paying over 150% interest on its one-year paper.

What I am asking is this: What happens when the same sweep of recognition visits the US Treasury markets? Is such a turn of events even possible or thinkable?  Here’s one scenario:

How contagion will spread to the US

My belief is that someday, perhaps within a matter of months but more likely in a year or two, the US Treasury market will fall apart as certainly and as magnificently as did Greece’s. Here’s how that might happen:

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The Endgame: Europe is finished

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by Tyler Durden
Posted Zero Hedge on September 14, 2011

THE MOST SCATHING REPORT DESCRIBING IN EXQUISITE DETAIL the coming financial apocalypse in Europe comes not from some fringe blogger or soundbite striving politician, but from perpetual bulge bracket wannabe, Jefferies, and specifically its chief market strategist David Zervos. “The bottom line is that it looks like a Lehman like event is about to be unleashed on Europe WITHOUT an effective TARP like structure fully in place.

Now maybe, just maybe, they can do what the US did and build one on the fly – wiping out a few institutions and then using an expanded EFSF/Eurobond structure to prevent systemic collapse. But politically that is increasingly feeling like a long shot. Rather it looks like we will get 17 TARPs – one for each country. That is going to require a US style socialization of each banking system – with many WAMUs, Wachovias, AIGs and IndyMacs along the way.

The road map for Europe is still 2008 in the US, with the end game a country by country socialization of their commercial banks. The fact is that the Germans are NOT going to pay for pan European structure to recap French and Italian banks – even though it is probably a more cost effective solution for both the German banks and taxpayers….Expect a massive policy response in Europe and a move towards financial market nationlaization that will make the US experience look like a walk in the park. ” Must read for anyone who wants a glimpse of the endgame. Oh, good luck China. You’ll need it.

Full Report:

In most ways the excess borrowing by, and lending to, European sovereign nations was no different than it was to US subprime households. In both cases loans were made to folks that never had the means to pay them back. And these loans were made in the first place because regulatory arbitrage allowed stealth leverage of the lending on the balance sheets of financial institutions for many years. This levered lending generated short term spikes in both bank profits and most importantly executive compensation – however, the days of excess spread collection and big commercial bank bonuses are now long gone.

We are only left with the long term social costs associated with this malevolent behavior. While there are obvious similarities in the two debtors, there is one VERY important difference – that is concentration. What do I mean by that? Well specifically, there are only a handful of insolvent sovereign European borrowers, while there are millions of bankrupt subprime households. This has been THE key factor in understanding how the differing policy responses to the two debt crisis have evolved.

In the case of US mortgage borrowers, there was no easy way to construct a government bailout for millions of individual households – there was too much dispersion and heterogeneity. Instead the defaults ran quickly through the system in 2008 – forcing insolvency, deleveraging and eventually a systemic shutdown of the financial system. As the regulators FINALLY woke up to the gravity of the situation in October, they reacted with a wholesale socialization of the commercial banking system – TLGP wrapped bank debt and TARP injected equity capital. From then on it has been a long hard road to recovery, and the scars from this excessive lending are still firmly entrenched in both household and banking sector balance sheets.

Even three years later, we are trying to construct some form of household debt service burden relief (ie refi.gov) in order to find a way to put the economy on a sustainable track to recovery. And of course Dodd-Frank and the FHFA are trying to make sure the money center commercial banks both pay for their past sins and are never allowed to sin this way again! More on that below, but first let’s contrast this with the European debt crisis evolution.

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What happens when a nation goes bankrupt?

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by Simon Black
of Sovereign Man
Posted Sept 14, 2011

THREE YEARS AGO TODAY, MY BEST FRIEND CALLED ME and told me to turn on my television. I remember the way he described it– “Lehman is finished.”  The TV showed guys packing up their desks on Sunday afternoon, moving out of their offices forever. That was the precipice from which financial markets plunged the following day, taking the global economy along for the next three years.

We appear to be at that moment once more. Greece is out of cash. Again. The Greek Deputy Finance Minister said on Monday that his country only has enough cash to operate for a few more weeks.

As I write this note, French, German, and Greek politicians are all on a conference call, feverishly trying to figure out a way to avoid default.  Everyone seems to understand the consequences at stake… given the chain of derivatives out there, a Greek default will completely dwarf the Lehman collapse. Unfortunately for the bureaucrats, dissent against the Greek bailout plan is spreading across Europe… and leaders can no longer ignore the growing wave of opposition in Finland, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany.

It’s no wonder, when you think about it. Why should a German hairdresser who retires at age 65 stick his neck out so that a Greek hairdresser can retire at age 50? This, from a continent that was perpetually at war with itself for over a thousand years. Europe’s great benefactor over the last several months has been China, whose treasury has been buying up worthless European sovereign debt to ensure that Greece doesn’t default. It’s a testament to the absurdity of our failed financial system when the highly indebted rich countries of the world have to go to China, a nation of peasants, for a bailout.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum this morning, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao delivered a stern message: there is a limit to Chinese generosity, and it will come at a price. The Chinese will undoubtedly use any further investment in European bonds as leverage to influence western politicians. They already bought Tim Geithner. The US government refuses to label China a ‘currency manipulator’. Similarly, European politicians will now be forced to acknowledge China as a ‘market economy’.

Ultimately, this charade will fail. It’s a simple matter of arithmetic. China could buy every single penny of Greek debt and it still wouldn’t solve the underlying problem: Greece would still be in debt! And more, still hemorrhaging billions of euros each month. Throwing more money at the problem only makes it worse.

Then there are those Greek assets for sale… like state-owned Hellenic Railways Group. It lost a cool billion euros last year. Or the notoriously inefficient, highly unionized, traditionally lossmaking Greek postal service, Hellenic Post. Any takers? These are not exactly high quality assets… nor can Greece expect to get top dollar in what’s clearly a distress sale.

Over 200 years ago, Napoleon was forced to sell France’s claim to 828,000 square miles of land in the New World in order to cover his war expenses. US President Thomas Jefferson happily obliged, paying the modern equivalent of around $315 million (based on the gold price), roughly 59 cents per acre in today’s money.

According to US census records, there were around 90,000 people living within the territory during that time who literally woke up the next day to a different world. This is the sort of thing that happens when governments go bankrupt. With the Lehman collapse, a lot of people got hurt… but it was mostly a financial and economic issue. When an entire nation goes bust, the pain is felt much deeper: the most basic systems and institutions that people have come to depend on simply disappear.

Argentina’s millennial debt crisis is a great example of this… suddenly the power failed, the police stopped working, the gas stations closed, the grocery stores ran out of food, the retirement checks stopped coming, and the banks went under (taking people’s life savings with them).

European leaders (with Chinese help) can postpone the endgame for a short time, but they’re really just taking an umbrella into a hurricane. It would be foolish to not expect a Greek default, and it would be even more foolish to not expect significant consequences. The only question is– how are you prepared to deal with what happens?

“The Euro is finished”

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from Mike Krieger of KAM LP
Posted September 8, 2011

There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation.  One is by the sword. The other is by debt. 
- John Adams

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

TO REGULAR READERS OF MY PIECES OVER THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS this may not seem like a particularly poignant statement.  After all, I have referred to the Euro and the U.S. dollar both as worthless political toilet paper for years.  The reason I bring it up right now is not to state the obvious long-term macro conclusion that the Euro is a foolish, unnatural creation that only political types twiddling their thumbs in a room could come up with.  No, rather the reason I say it now is because I believe the Sword of Damocles is now hovering right over it.

The only question in my mind at the moment regards the specifics of how it will end.  I would say that the majority of those that think there is a strong likelihood that the euro falls apart envision the PIIGS countries leaving or being thrown out. While I certainly think this is a possibility, especially if Greece just calls it quits and then successfully transitions to its own highly devalued currency since this would for sure start the ball rolling and before long many of the other financially weak nations would also bail.

In such an event, I suppose what is left of the euro could be comprised of stronger Northern European nations and in that case what is left of the common currency could in fact strengthen materially versus other fiat currencies for which no such “restructuring” has occurred. However, I am not convinced this is what happens. The reason I am not convinced is because I don’t believe that the desired austerity measures will ever really go into effect in these nations and even if they did it would merely collapse those economies and the problem would not be solved.

As many have stated over and over (including myself) there is no conventional solution to this crisis. There is far too much debt and there is no way real GDP growth can grow fast enough to counter this. The debt will be defaulted on via restructuring/default or a dramatic destruction of the purchasing power of fiat currencies. Nevertheless, the bureaucrats in Europe have such a deep love affair with their preposterous experiment they will turn a blind eye to all the transgressions of the PIIGS and continue to just pretend they have solved something with every new bailout scheme.

So that brings us to the other, and I think increasingly likely, outcome. That is namely that the ECB continues to transfer wealth from the prudent and fiscally more sound nations (mainly Germany) to the periphery until the populace of Germany snaps.  I think that moment is very, very close at hand.  Once that tipping point is reached there will be no turning back. The popular anger at the ECB and Euro will be so profound and so long festering that it will overwhelm all attempts to keep things together. Germany could leave the Euro. Or it could make it so difficult for the PIIGS that they are forced to leave. Either way, Germany is EVERYTHING.

Nothing else in Europe matters right now besides the sentiment on the German street and it has become pretty clear lately which way that is going. I am 100% convinced that Germany will play nice until that crucial moment is reached where it really is put up or shut up (we are close). At that point, I have no doubt that Germany will do what is best for Germany. In the event that Germany was to leave, the Euro would be gone forever. It would become pure confetti overnight. This is not my base case but it could happen. Anything can happen right now.

The Fourth Turning is Global

All of this discussion about the euro brings me to a broader point. While for obvious reasons I focus my attention on the United States because this is where I live and what I know best it is imperative for me to clarify my view that this Fourth Turning we are in is global in nature. Remember, what really characterizes these shifts is the fact that the trends, institutions, political structures and parties, social mores, money systems, etc. all die and are reborn during such episodes.

The last to get this of course are the elites and the political class who are always in bed together and seemingly at the height of their collective corruption once the Fourth Turning hits. We see this everywhere at the moment, from the U.S. to the Eurozone to China. What makes me laugh more than anything else are all these political hacks and financial “analysts” who keep saying that the answer to the crisis in Europe is a fiscal union in Europe.

That somehow this crisis will lead to the necessary resolve to form a fiscal United States of Europe, or some idiocy like that, sorry folks, it’s not going to happen. This whole “problem, reaction, solution” playbook worked for the elite in the prior era but it will no longer work. The playbook is out there. It has been read and studied. We know the playbook. It’s not going to work this time.

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German endgame for EMU draws ever nearer

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by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Telegraph International Business Editor
Posted September 4, 2011

For fifty years Germany has invariably stumped up the money required to keep Europe’s Project on track, responding to unreasonable demands with grace and generosity. We will find out to what extent Germany’s constitutional court (pictured) shares these views when it rules this Wednesday on the legality of the EU rescue machinery. Photo: AP


It bankrolled French farmers through the Common Agricultural Policy, that disguised tithe for war reparations. It then bankrolled Spanish farmers as well. It funded each new wave of EU expansion, though reeling itself from the €60bn annual cost of its own reunification. It gave up the cherished D-Mark, the anchor of German economic stability.

We are so used to German self-abnegation for the sake of Europe that we can hardly imagine any other state of affairs. But the escalating protest against EMU bail-outs by Germany’s key insistutions go beyond the banalities of money. The fight is over German democracy itself.

Those who talk of a Fourth Reich or believe that EMU is a “German racket to take over the whole of Europe” – as Nicholas Ridley famously put it – have the matter backwards.

Germans allowed their country to be tied down with “silken cords”. They are the most reliable defenders of freedom and parliamentary prerogative in Europe, precisely because they know their history. Finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble could hardly have chosen a more toxic term than “Bevollmächtigung” or general enabling power when he requested blanket authority from the Bundestag for EU rescues, as if Weimar were so soon forgotten. He was roundly rebuffed.

You can feel the storm brewing in Germany. Within days of each other, President Christian Wulff accused the European Central Bank of going “far beyond” its mandate and subverting Article 123 of the Lisbon Treaty by shoring up insolvent states, and Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann said bail-out policies had “completely gutted” the EU law.

Both believe the EU Project has taken a dangerous turn. Fiscal powers are slipping away to a supra-national body beyond sovereign control. “This strikes at the very core of our democracies. Decisions have to be made in parliament in a liberal democracy. That is where legitimacy lies,” said Mr Wulff.

Otmar Issing, the ECB’s founding guru, fears that the current course must ultimately provoke the “resistance of the people”. Instead of evolving into an authentic union with a “European government controlled by a European Parliament” on democratic principles, it has become deformed halfway house.

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