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Posts Tagged ‘European financial crisis

Portugal loses patience with Europe

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by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Posted July 18th, 2011

 

AT LAST, SOME RAW EMOTIONAL GAULLISTE PATRIOTISM FROM THE VICTIMS of Europe’s Maquina Infernal? Portugal’s new premier Pedro Passos Coelho — a free marketeer — began to growl over the weekend. “We want to take part in an ambitious European project and make our contribution so Europe can confront its problems in the most ambitious way, but as prime minister I will not stand by and wait for Europe to govern Portugal,” he told the party faithful.

For Portuguese readers: “Nós queremos participar num projecto europeu ambicioso e queremos dar o nosso contributo para que a Europa saiba encontrar respostas mais ambiciosas para os problemas, mas como primeiro-ministro nunca ficarei à espera do que a Europa tenha que fazer para governar Portugal”

Please correct me if my loose translation is wrong.

So, it has begun: last week Greece’s premier George Papandreou launched two angry broadsides against EU magnates. How could he do otherwise after Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker told a German newspaper that Greece’s sovereignty would be “massively limited”?

“Massively limited?” Mr Juncker should be clamped in irons if he dares set foot on Greek soil. Now the leader of what is arguably Europe’s oldest nation state (foundation 868, under Vimara Peres) has shown the first hints of frustration.

Just to remind you: unemployment in Portugal is 12.4pc (youth: 28.1) and about to rise much further as the fiscal punch hits. The figures for Spain are 20.9pc (44.4), Greece 15pc (38.5), Ireland 14pc (26.5), Latvia 16.2pc (32.9). Yet the these countries are all facing further headwinds of fiscal and monetary tightening.

For a serving prime minister to make such remarks at this delicate juncture might be taken by some as a cloaked threat  to walk away from the EU project, if the country continues to be treated in a humiliating and damaging fashion. Mr Passos Coelho is fencing with a double-edged blade. Even to hint at misgivings over EMU is to set matters in motion. The markets were very quick to pick up on political body language during the ERM crisis in 1992. The Portuguese leader also said there was a “colossal” €2bn hole in the public accounts left by… well, somebody. He refrained from blaming the outgoing Socialists. They are needed to help pass laws in the Assembleia. Any other skeletons to be uncovered?

I have great sympathy for Mr Passos Coelho and for the Portuguese people. The German-led creditor states have treated the EMU crisis as if it were a morality tale, castigating Club Med and Ireland for alleged fecklessness. All that is required — goes the argument — is further austerity, a dose of 1930s wage and debt-deflation, and virtue will be its own reward. The Left-wing Bloco calls it “social terrorism”.

Adding injury to insult, Germany has insisted that Portugal, Greece, and Ireland pay a penal rate of interest some 200 to 300 basis point over the cost of funding paid by the EU’s bail-out machinery, though this may soon be cut somewhat. As former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said this morning in the pink sheet, such penal rates play havoc with debt dynamics and are driving a string of countries into insolvency and depression.

This Germanic view of events is self-serving and intellectually dishonest. Southern Europe is in trouble because Europe’s monetary union is and always was dysfunctional. The Maastricht process caused interest rates to plunge in the Club Med bloc, setting off credit booms. Portugal’s rates fell from 16pc to 3pc in short order.

The ECB poured further petrol on the fire by tilting monetary policy to German needs in the middle of the last decade, when Germany was in trouble. The ECB breached is own eurozone M3 and inflation targets for year after year. In the specific case of Portugal, the boom occurred earlier, in the late 1990s. No doubt a great many foolish errors were made in those halycon days. (I wrote about them at the time or shortly after, and was roundly reproached for my insolence).

Yet over the last eight years Portugal has been relatively frugal. It did not have an Irish banking bubble, or a Spanish property bubble. It did let social transfer costs creep up to 22pc of GDP — when they should have been falling — but it also passed a string of fiscal austerity packages. Yet at the end of the day it was punished anyway. It has failed to reap any worthwhile benefits. There has been no economic convergence or EMU catch-up effect. Productivity has remained stuck at 64pc of the core-EU average. Portugal switched from surplus on its external accounts in the early 1990s to a deficit of 109pc of GDP today.

Public and private debt has ballooned to 330pc of GDP, one of the highest in the world. Portugal will still have a current account deficit of almost 8pc this year and the budget deficit was still running at a 8.7pc rate in the first quarter. Such a profile two or three years into draconian cuts and demand compression is almost tragic. And now they must implement yet further austerity, without debt relief or offsetting monetary stimulus or devaluation. This policy is a near certain formula for economic asphyxiation..

In Portugal — as well as Greece, Ireland, and perhaps Spain in due course — we are moving closer to the point where national leaders must decide whether to satisfy EU demands, or placate their own citizens, for is it no longer possible to serve these two masters at the same time?

Can there really be any doubt as to the outcome of this tug-of-war

Europe at the Abyss

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by Robert Samuelson
Posted originally May 30, 2011

IT HAS COME TO THIS. A year after rescuing Greece from default, Europe is staring into the abyss. The bailout has proved insufficient. Greece needs more money, and it can’t borrow from private markets where it faces interest rates as high as 25 percent. But Europe’s governments are reluctant to advance more funds unless other lenders – banks, bondholders – absorb some losses by writing down their debts.

This, however, would constitute a default, risking a broader banking crisis that might torpedo Europe’s fragile recovery in France, Germany and elsewhere. There is no easy escape.

WHAT’S CALLED A “DEBT CRISIS” IS INCREASINGLY A POLITICAL AND SOCIAL CRISIS. Looming over the financial complexities is the broader question of the ability – or willingness – of weak debtor nations to endure growing hardship to service their massive government debts. Already, unemployment is 14.1 percent in Greece, 14.7 percent in Ireland, 11.1 percent in Portugal and 20.7 percent in Spain. What are the limits of austerity? Steep spending cuts and tax increases do curb budget deficits; but they also create deep recessions, lowering tax revenues and offsetting some of the deficit improvement.

Just how long this grinding process can continue is unclear. In Spain, the incumbent socialist party lost big in recent elections. Popular unrest persists in Greece amid signs of a “resurgence of an anarchist movement” there and elsewhere.

Some causes of Europe’s plight are well-known: the harsh recession following the 2008-2009 financial crisis; aging populations coupled with costly welfare states. But there’s also another less recognized culprit: the euro, the single currency now used by 17 countries.

Launched in 1999, it aimed to foster economic and political unity. Economic growth would improve. Costly currency conversions would cease; money would flow smoothly across borders to the best profit opportunities. Using euros – and not marks or lira – Germans, Italians and others would increasingly consider themselves “Europeans.” For a while, it seemed to succeed. In the euro’s first decade, jobs in countries using the common currency increased by 16 million.

It was a mirage. The euro helped create the crisis and has made its resolution harder, as a new report from the International Monetary Fund shows. For starters, the euro fostered a credit bubble that led to booms in housing, borrowing and consumer spending. When each country had its own currency, the country’s central bank (its Federal Reserve) regulated local interest rates and credit conditions. With the euro, the European Central Bank (ECB) assumed that job. But one policy didn’t fit all: Interest rates suited to Germany and France were too low for “periphery” countries (Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain).

“Financial markets” – private investors – compounded the problem by assuming that the euro’s creation reduced risk. Weak countries would be protected by the strong. Money poured into the periphery countries. There was a huge compression of interest rates. In 1997, rates on 10-year Greek government bonds averaged 9.8 percent compared to 5.7 percent for similar German bonds. By 2003, Greek bonds fetched 4.3 percent, just above the 4.1 percent of German bonds.

“The markets failed. All this would not have occurred if banks in Germany and France had not lent so much,” says economist Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute. “It was like the U.S. housing market.” Both American and European banks went overboard in relaxing credit standards.

Now that the credit bubble has burst, the euro impedes recovery. One way countries revive from financial crises is by depreciating their currencies. This makes exports and local tourism cheaper, creating some job gains that cushion the ill effects of austerity elsewhere. But latched to the euro, Greece and other vulnerable debtors forfeit this safety valve.

Greece’s debt is now approaching an unsustainable 160 percent of its annual economy (gross domestic product). If it defaulted, investors might dump bonds of other weak debtors for fear that they too would default. That could send interest rates soaring and saddle European banks with huge losses. At the end of 2010, Europe’s banks had about $1.3 trillion of loans and investments – both governmental and private – in Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, reports the Institute of International Finance, an industry research group. A banking crisis would imperil economic recovery.

So Europe is playing for time. It’s struggling to delay any Greek default long enough for other vulnerable countries to demonstrate they can handle their debts. The very process makes the euro – contrary to original intent – a source of contention, as nations shift blame and costs to others. Given Europe’s huge debts, even the holding action may fail. It may merely postpone a broader crisis. “They may dodge this bullet,” says Lachman, “but not the next.”

Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

This is just a warm up for what’s coming our way

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by Graham Summers
Phoenix Capital Research
Posted originally June 3, 2011

Despite the fact we were told repeatedly that the Greece situation was solved just 12 months ago, the country is once again at the forefront of the ongoing crisis in the Euro-zone. Having already thrown billions at this problem last year, this time around European officials are actually considering REAL solutions, i.e. Greece leaving the Euro-zone. Of course, as soon as these rumors surfaced, several Greek officials (who never seem to be named) quickly responded to say the rumors are unfounded.

At this point it is clear that the Euro-zone will be restructured in the near future. Whether or not it will change with Greece alone leaving the EU, or if we see multiple players drop out, one thing is clear: the EU in its current form is finished.

How we get to this outcome remains to be seen. But the “Greece issue” serves as a perfect illustration of the central issues plaguing the world financial system today. Consider that Greece’s entire GDP is less than $330 billion (about the same size as the state of Massachusetts). The country also has a debt to GDP levels of over 100% and deficit of around 12%. In other words, it’s clear, plain as day that the country is broke. So why does Greece matter so much to the EU? The answer is quite simple: derivatives and the interconnectedness of the global banking system.

It’s now well documented that Greece should never have been allowed to join the EU. The only way it met the fiscal requirements was by using off balance sheet derivatives (crafted by Goldman Sachs and pals naturally) to hide the true state of its financial health. However, once Greece entered the EU, its bonds quickly entered the toxic debt game of “hot potato” amongst the EU banks. By the time the European crisis erupted last year, German and French banks were on the hook for $65 billion and $82 billion of Greece’s debt, respectively.

Small wonder then that these more fiscally sound countries pushed to bail Greece out. Failure to do so would mean a banking crisis in either country. So banks got the EU into this mess in the first place (Wall Street helped hide Greece’s true debt loads to get Greece into the EU) and now banks are making sure that European taxpayers pony up the cash for this dishonesty (German and French banks are leaning on politicians to not allow Greece to collapse).

And so here we are, with austerity measures and higher taxes occurring in Europe because of bankers’ greed and dishonesty. Having realized that their politicians aren’t going to do the right thing, the people are now openly expressing their disgust at the ballot box (Angela Merkel’s party is getting slammed in Germany for supporting the bailouts) and the streets (protests are occurring across Europe).

And it’s just a taste of what’s coming to the US.

Indeed, everything happening in Europe right now (civil unrest, political turmoil, currency crisis) is coming to the US’s shores in the future. We are running similar debt-to-GDP ratios, deficits and our banking system is similarly laden with worthless derivative garbage.

Again, the same upheaval happening in Europe will come to these shores. It’s only a matter of time. Which is why the wise thing to do is prepare in advance of this. This means getting some food, water, and bullion on hand. It also means considering what one would do if the stock market came undone again.

The Charade of World Depression

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from The Daily Bell
Posted originally, December 23, 2010

Self-righteous Germany must accept a euro-debt union or leave EMU If Germany and its hard-money allies genuinely wish to save the euro – which is open to doubt – they should stop posturing, face up to the grim imperative of a Transferunion, and desist immediately from imposing their ruinous and reactionary policies of debt deflation on southern Europe and Ireland … One can sympathise with the German people. Their leaders in the 1990s told them “famine in Bavaria” was more likely than the preposterous suggestion that Germany might have to bail out countries as a result of EMU. But events have moved … Chancellor Angela Merkel must know that the Spanish state, juntas, and banks cannot refinance €300bn (£254bn) next year at a bearable cost if the Tesoro is already paying a decade-high of 5.45pc to sell 10-year bonds, yet she continues to play for time she does not have. – UK Telegraph

Dominant Social Theme:
Germany must grasp the nettle.

Free-Market Analysis:
The problem of the EU seems simple, as indicated by this article excerpt above. The Southern PIGS are bankrupt but cannot devalue because of the euro contract. The wealthy North will therefore have to bail out the PIGS and in doing so, provide substantive oversight. Germany ends up being the guarantor of last resort and also the state providing the watchdogs, basically, since it is German money that will save the EU. It is a German EU after all, and the Germans will have to stop dithering …

This is one (fairly simplistic, we would argue) way of evaluating the situation that is currently evolving in the EU. But here at the Bell we have also argued that the Anglo-American axis is really behind the EU – and perhaps the average German won’t have much say in the matter. The Anglosphere seeks world government and the EU is a basic building block.

The point we want to advance in this article is that there is perhaps a deeper subterfuge going on. Yes, we’ve suggested this before, but as the EU unwinds, as America quakes from unemployment and China shudders from inflation, we continue to explore the possibility. And so we ask, once more … Is the world being manipulated into an ever-more-massive depression? And how would that work exactly?

In order to explain it, we need to establish (for purposes of argument anyway) that there is an Anglo-American power elite composed of certain fabulously wealthy families that seek one-world government. There has been speculation, for instance, that these families have a hand in the recent saga of Foundation X which sounds more like the plot of a bad paperback novel than anything real. Lord James of Blackheath mentioned Foundation X at the House of Lords in early November.

It was his contention that ‘Foundation X’ had the resources to “bail out” the UK and that Foundation X’s gold reserve was larger than what is considered to be the world’s total mined reserves. Lord James of Blackheath was roundly derided as a “nutter.” We don’t find him so. We have asked if Foundation X was merely a cover for the financial interests of the Anglo-American power elite. It still seems a pertinent question. This kind of money is massive indeed, assuming Lord James didn’t drop off his meds for a day. It reinforces the idea that what we are watching around the world is a charade.

We have previously argued that there is a level of behind-the-scenes collusion between ALL the powers-that-be. All of them, East and West, may be cooperating to bring down the current system with an eye toward instituting something in its place that will be mutually agreed upon. (The IMF’s bancor comes to mind.)

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From bad to worse: The economy today, and tomorrow

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by Giordano Bruno
Posted originally in Neithercorp Press
Dec 7, 2010

AT FIRST WE WERE TOLD THE AMERICAN ECONOMY WAS A FREIGHT TRAIN: INVINCIBLE. After the derivatives and mortgage crisis began in 2007-2008, we were told the problem was a mere blip in our financial timeline; nothing to be concerned about. In 2009, we were told that the recession was over, and that “green shoots” were on the way. Later, they said we were “turning the corner”, whatever that means.

In 2010, we were told it was time to get used to the “new normal”, which of course has yet to be clearly defined. Now, at the cusp of 2011, the year which many establishment economists originally claimed would bring a bright new era in U.S. employment and finance, it has become clear to much of the public that we are being deliberately herded with empty words and false promises towards a very dangerous and uncertain future.

We have discovered that there is no “new normal”. The word “normal” denotes a certain consistency, a set of rules to the system which are generally understood, yet we have seen nothing consistent except the continued downward freefall of our fiscal infrastructure and the end of anything remotely resembling stability.

I feel quite a bit of empathy and maybe even a little remorse for those who blindly believed the mainstream nonsense of the past few years. I can’t imagine being so lost and so utterly disappointed on such a regular basis. The only good to come out of this dashing of false hopes is that it has caused many to begin questioning what the hell is really happening. Why have things only become worse? What about all the government legislation and stimulus? When is it finally going to produce the effects that were once guaranteed? In fact, what are the benefits of ANY action the government or the private Federal Reserve has taken so far?

Let’s look at financial conditions across the globe and here at home, and perhaps we can gain a true understanding of the situation before us, and find answers for some of these questions…

Europe: American instability with an accent?

How many times over this summer did we hear about the bailout that “saved” the EU? About as much as we heard about the bailouts that supposedly saved America.

In spring, the MSM was warning of complete disintegration of the European Union. After the Greek bailout, all was suddenly well. The turnaround in rhetoric was enough to give me whiplash. I’m curious now as to where all that candy-coated bubbly adoration for European bonds and the Euro went. When I warned during the “summer of bailout love” that nothing had changed in the EU accept the media’s coverage of the problem, this is what I was talking about…

As we have been pointing out for the past two years, the debt default problems in the EU are not going away, nor are they likely to go away for quite some time. Greece, for instance, is now under review for yet another ratings downgrade by the S&P:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-03/greece-s-credit-rating-may-be-cut-by-s-p-as-eu-rules-threaten-bondholders.html

All the exuberance over the IMF/EU bailout of Greece this spring was for naught, as the country continues to falter with no end to their debt woes in sight. The bailout changed nothing (because bailouts never do). This lesson in Greece has apparently made no impression on mainstream media analysts and international investors, who now applaud a similar bailout of Ireland, and who will probably applaud the bailouts of Portugal, Spain, and Italy, once it finally becomes evident to the public that those countries are in equally terrible financial conditions.

Credit-default swaps for Portugal and Spain have risen to record levels as their debt exposure, which has been ignored by the MSM until this past month, is slowly revealed:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-29/corporate-bond-risk-falls-in-europe-credit-default-swaps-show.html

This means that the cost of insuring Portuguese or Spanish debt securities is becoming untenable. Like a couple of convicted drunk drivers, the risk of insuring them is tremendous. The likelihood of a crash is simply too high.

Italian bank refinancing costs are also exploding due to the unsustainable debt of the government, meaning an expanded credit crisis is looming for Italians (could this signal a coming bank holiday?):
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-02/italian-banks-refinancing-costs-soar-on-contagion-concern-nation-s-debts.html

Ireland and every other EU nation’s response to this disaster will, obviously, be the implementation of austerity measures in order to pay off their IMF creditors. Ireland has already announced a possible 20% cut in overall spending and the simultaneous raising of taxes; a double whammy for Irish citizens who will now lose many government aid programs while at the same time losing valuable income out of their pocket:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-24/ireland-plans-to-reduce-spending-20-raise-taxes-as-rescue-talks-climax.html

Countries that find themselves this indebted to the IMF rarely if ever actually improve conditions enough to pay off their liabilities, and that is not an accident. Global bankers have no intention of ever releasing EU nations from their clutches. The debt cycle must go on forever…

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