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Archive for September 8th, 2011

“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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Bailout rebellion in Germany

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by Wolf Richter – www.testosteronepit.com
Posted September 7th, 2011

“WE’RE ON THE WAY TO A WORLDWIDE FINANCIAL DICTATORSHIP governed by bankers,” said Peter Gauweiler, German Bundestags Representative (CSU), in an interview published Monday in the Welt Online. “We don’t support Greece,” he said. “We support 25 or 30 worldwide investment banks and their insane activities.”

Successful lawyer, he fought back in the German Supreme Court, claiming that the money-printing and bailout operations by the European Central Bank (ECB), and Germany’s role in them, violate the constitution. The court’s decision is expected on Wednesday. The foundation of the euro was the Stability Pact, he said—a contract that now has been broken. And he wonders if “the euro can still function as a value-retaining currency.”

This, just as Wolfgang Schäuble, Finance Minister, has been dealt a defeat of sorts by his own governing coalition during the trial vote for the expansion of the current European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) whose purpose it is to bail out an ever lager circle of debt-sinner countries. 25 members of his coalition voted against it or abstained. The actual vote is scheduled for September 29.

And the numbers are ugly. 89% of the population oppose the expansion of the EFSF and doubt that ever larger amounts will solve the debt crisis, according to a recent poll. 80% demand that parliament must agree each time before Germany can take on additional burdens and risks. And 85% demand that financial institutions, rather than taxpayer, take the first losses when a country defaults. What galls them is that they have to shoulder these risks and burdens so that debt-sinner countries can borrow even more at lower interest rates.

“The ECB’s bond buying program was a mistake,” laments Hans-Werner Sinn, President of Ifo Institute for Economic Research. Opening the money spigot removed the incentives for the affected countries to undergo needed budgetary and structural reforms. He holds up as proof Italy’s currents effort to weasel out of budget cuts and tax increases and Greece’s resistance to reform.

“It would be a lot cheaper for German taxpayers” if Greece exited the eurozone, said Hermann Otto Solms, financial expert of the FDP, the government’s coalition partner, in an interview in the Südwest Presse. Greece has violated repeatedly the condition for the aid package, and “in the long run, that cannot be permitted.” Otherwise, the system of mutual support will lose credibility, and other countries will be tempted to manage their own budgets at the expense of stronger countries. Of course, Greece’s debt would have to be restructured, and banks may have to be bailed out again, just like after Lehman, but it would cost less than endless support. Greece would also be better off. It would get rid of much of its debt. And drastic devaluation of its new currency would make it competitive in a globalized economy.

Meanwhile, Italy is backpedaling on its “blood-and-tears plan” to raise taxes and cut its budget by €45 billion. In Spain and Italy, people are demonstrating in the streets, and strikers are paralyzing Italian air traffic. Austerity plans aren’t popular. It’s easier to borrow and print than to get your financial house in order.

This is exactly what Jens Weidmann, president of the Bundesbank, warns about in an interview published in the Börsen-Zeitung. Euro-Bonds would undermine the incentives for heavily indebted countries to build solid budget policies, he said. “The jump into common liability without limits on national sovereignty could unravel the institutional framework of the Monetary Union.”

Already in August, the Bundesbank had lashed out fiercely at its omnipotent sister, the ECB, for its decision to print money and buy sovereign bonds of debt-sinner countries. These attacks put the Bundesbank on collision course with export-oriented industrialists and financial institutions that have been the primary beneficiaries of its neighbors’ borrowing binge, something Germans tend to forget in the heat of the battle. But it’s not just Germans.

“Let the euro die its natural death,” said Marine Le Pen (article in English) in her populist manner. The media-savvy and vocal president of the Front National of France is one of the top contenders in the 2012 presidential election. Populists in other European countries are gaining ground as well. People have always perceived the euro as an invention by the elite for the elite, and many of the current problems in Europe are blamed on it. So whether or not the eurozone will survive in its current form and with its current members is at least partially a question of its ability to run counter the will of its people, and get away with it.