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ECB is euroland’s last hope as bail-out machinery fails to resolve crisis

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by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

International Business Editor
Posted 14 Aug 2011

THE LEADERS OF GERMANY AND FRANCE HAVE THREE BAD CHOICES AS THEY DECIDE whether to save EMU this week, or pretend to do so. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet Tuesday in Paris. They can agree to fiscal fusion and an EMU debt union, entailing treaty changes and a constitutional revolution. This implies the emasculation of Europe’s historic nation states.

They can tear up the mandate of European Central Bank and order Frankfurt to go nuclear with €2 trillion of `unsterilized’ bond purchases until the M3 money supply in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Greece stops contracting at depression rates and starts to grow again at recovery speed (5pc). This might destabilize Germany. Or they can try to muddle through with their usual mix of half-measures and bluster. This will lead to a rapid disintegration of monetary union and a banking collapse. It risks a repeat of 1931 if executed badly, as it most likely would be. They have days or weeks to make up their minds, not months.

The EFSF rescue fund was never more than a stop-gap device to avoid grappling with the core issue: the economic chasm between North and South. It has failed. Insistence that it could handle a dual crisis in Spain in Italy was a bluff, and last week that bluff was called when France too was sucked into the maelstrom.

Escalating bail-out costs are eroding French debt dynamics. “Bad” is contaminating “good”. The EFSF has itself become a source of contagion and this would turn yet more virulent if the fund were quadrupled to €2 trillion as some suggest. “The larger the EFSF, the faster the dominos fall,” says Daniel Gross from the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

“Only Germany can reverse the dynamic of European disintegration,” writes George Soros in the Handelsblatt. “Germany and the other AAA states must agree to some sort of Eurobond regime. Otherwise the euro will implode.” Mr Soros knows that the trigger for the denouement of the pre-euro ERM in 1992 was a quote from a Bundesbanker in the same Handelsblatt hinting that sterling and the lira were overvalued. That was all it took. The Tory government that had tied Britain’s fate to an over-heating Germany was destroyed.

Once again we are all reading the German press, and what we see is subversive commentary once again from Frankfurt, and bail-out fatigue and simmering anger among Bavaria’s Social Christians, Free Democrats (FDP), and Angela Merkel’s own Christian Democrats in Berlin. If Germany is about to immolate itself for the sake of EMU, this is not obvious in the Bundestag.

What German politicians want is yet more Club Med austerity, even though Euroland growth has wilted. The demands have become ideological, going beyond any coherent therapeutic dose. The effect of such fiscal tightening at this stage is to repeat the error of the 1930s Gold Standard when the burden of adjustment fell on weaker states, pushing them into a downward spiral that eventually engulfed everybody. Fiscal cuts make little sense for Italy, where the output gap is 3.1pc. “Increasing potential growth should be the main policy goal. Fiscal tightening could further depress aggregate demand” said the IMF in its Article IV report.

Italy does not have a debt problem as such. Its budget is in primary surplus this year. Total debt – the relevant gauge — is under 250pc of GDP: similar to France, and lower than Holland, Spain, Britain, the US, or Japan. Italy is one of the few EU states to have sorted out its pension liabilities, by linking payouts to life expectancy

What Italy has is a growth problem, rooted in currency misalignment. Having lost over 40pc in unit labour cost competitiveness against Germany since EMU, it is trapped in slump. Per capital income has contracted for a decade. So why is Europe forcing Italy to tighten drastically and run an even bigger primary surplus within two years, and doing so just as the world flirts with a double-dip downturn? Why too is the ECB’s Jean-Claude Trichet acting as the enforcer? His leaked letter to Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi is a diktat, a long list of measures imposed as a condition for the ECB’s action to shore up the Italian bond market.

Mr Berlusconi has capitulated, with a “bleeding heart”. He is slashing payments to regional authorities, though he has resisted wage cuts. “They made us look like an occupied government,” he said. Northern League leader Umberto Bossi accused the ECB of “trying to blow up the Italian government.”

Mr Trichet is moving into dangerous waters dictating budgets to sovereign parliaments. It matters enormously whether citizens have political “ownership” over austerity, or whether it is imposed by outside forces. His former colleague Otmar Issing fears that Europe is becoming a deformed union where officials run roughshod over nations and fiscal power lies beyond democratic control. Such encroachments have “brought war” in the past, he said.

The bank should correct its own errors first. It was ECB tightening that choked Europe’s recovery. “Eurozone monetary weakness has been the key driver of the recent deterioration in global economic and financial conditions,” said Simon Ward from Henderson Global Investors. Real M1 desposits are not only collapsing across southern Europe, they have turned negative in the North as well. This signals big trouble. “It was astonishing that the ECB, which trumpets adherence to monetary analysis, chose to rein back its longer-term repo lending in late 2010 and raise interest rates in April and July. This was a repeat of its error of 2008,” he said.

Mr Ward said the ECB should stop choosing which nations to rescue through “quasi-fiscal transfers” and stick to neutral central banking. It should launch quantitative easing for the whole of EMU.

“At this point the Eurozone needs a massive infusion of liquidity,” said Dr Gross from CEPS. Otherwise there will be a “break-down of the interbank market that would throw the economy into an immediate recession as after the Lehman bankruptcy”.

HSBC’s chief economist Stephen King said the ECB must print money a l’outrance in “exactly the same” way as the Fed. “At the heart of the problem is the ECB’s unwillingness to be seen ‘monetizing’ government debt. Yet if the alternative to QE is the collapse of the euro or a descent into depression, then massive expansion of the ECB’s balance sheet seems a small price to pay.” Such views are rarer in Germany but at last making themselves heard. Kantoos Economics said the ECB has been “extremely tight” and lost sight of its essential purpose. “It is therefore an important cause of the current mess.”

“European policy makers and central bankers are wrecking one of the most fascinating projects in human history, the unity and friendship among the countries of Europe. This is beyond depressing,” he said. The path of least resistance for Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday is surely to force the ECB to change course, by treaty power if necessary.

Or kiss goodbye to the Kanzleramt, the Elysee, and monetary union

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 eurozone is in bad need of an undertaker

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by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Posted originally 12 Dec 2010

The EU’s Franco-German “Directoire” and the European Central Bank have between them ruled out all plausible solutions to the eurozone’s debt crisis.

EVEN IF ANGELA MERKEL WERE TO AGREE PLANS THAT AMOUNTED to a European debt union, the scheme would still be torn to pieces by the German constitutional court. There will be no Eurobond, no increases in the EU’s €440bn (£368bn) rescue fund, and no mass purchases of Spanish and Italian bonds by the ECB. Nothing. The system is politically and constitutionally paralysed. Spain and Portugal will be left nakedly exposed before their funding crunch in January.

It is entirely predictable that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy would move so quickly to shoot down last week’s Eurobond proposal, issuing pre-emptive warning before this week’s EU summit that they will not accept “a bundling together of all Europe’s debts”.

How can Germany or France agree lightly to plans that amount to an EU debt union, with a common treasury, tax system, and budget policy, the stuff of civil wars and revolutions over the ages? To do so is to dismantle the ancient nation states of Europe in all but name.

Even if Chancellor Merkel wished to take this course – and even if the Bundestag approved it – the scheme would still be torn to pieces by the German constitutional court unless legitimised by radical EU treaty changes, which would in turn take years, require referenda, and face populist revolt in half Europe.

What the German people are being asked to do is to surrender fiscal sovereignty and pay open-ended transfers to Southern Europe, taking on a burden up to six times reunification with East Germany.

“If we pool the debts of the countries in the south-west periphery of Europe, we are blighting our children’s future: the debt levels are astronomic,” said Hans-Werner Sinn, head of Germany IFO institute. Any attempt to prop up the status quo will cement the current account imbalances of EMU’s North and South, to the detriment of both sides.

“I doubt that the current leaders of Europe fully understand the economic implications of their decisions. They are repeating the mistakes that Germany made over reunification,” he told the Handelsblatt. Transfers to the East are still running at €60bn a year two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. There has been no meaningful East-West convergence for the last 15 years.

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“The Euro game is up… Just who the hell do you think you are? You are very dangerous people”

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by Tyler Durden
Posted Zero Hedge on Nov 25, 2010

FAMOUS EUROSCEPTIC NIGEL FARAGE, IN JUST UNDER FOUR BRIEF MINUTES, tells more truth about the entire European experiment than all European bankers, commissioners, and politicians have done in the past decade. As we have already said pretty much all of this before, we present it without commentary:

“Good morning Mr. van Rompuy, you’ve been in office for one year, and in that time the whole edifice is beginning to crumble, there’s chaos, the money’s running out, I should thank you – you should perhaps be the pinup boy of the euroskeptic movement. But just look around this chamber this morning, look at these faces, look at the fear, look at the anger. Poor Barroso here looks like he’s seen a ghost. They’re beginning to understand that the game is up. And yet in their desperation to preserve their dream, they want to remove any remaining traces of democracy from the system. And it’s pretty clear that none of you have learned anything.

When you yourself Mr. van Rompuy say that the euro has brought us stability, I supposed I could applaud you for having a sense of humor, but isn’t this really just the bunker [or banker] mentality? Your fanaticism is out in the open. You talk about the fact that it was a lie to believe that the nation state could exist in the 21st century globalized world. Well, that may be true in the case of Belgium who haven’t had a government for six months, but for the rest of us, right across every member state in this union, increasingly people are saying, “We don’t want that flag, we don’t want the anthem, we don’t want this political class, we want the whole thing consigned to the dustbin of history.”

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The horrible truth starts to dawn on Europe’s leaders

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by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
London Telegraph: Last updated November 16th, 2010

Survival crisis? A newspaper seller in Dublin on Monday

The entire European Project is now at risk of disintegration, with strategic and economic consequences that are very hard to predict.

IN A SPEECH THIS MORNING, EU PRESIDENT HERMAN VAN ROMPUY (poet, and writer of Japanese and Latin verse) warned that if Europe’s leaders mishandle the current crisis and allow the eurozone to break up, they will destroy the European Union itself.

“We’re in a survival crisis. We all have to work together in order to survive with the euro zone, because if we don’t survive with the euro zone we will not survive with the European Union,” he said.

Well, well. This theme is all too familiar to readers of The Daily Telegraph, but it comes as something of a shock to hear such a confession after all these years from Europe’s president.

He is admitting that the gamble of launching a premature and dysfunctional currency without a central treasury, or debt union, or economic government, to back it up – and before the economies, legal systems, wage bargaining practices, productivity growth, and interest rate sensitivity, of North and South Europe had come anywhere near sustainable convergence – may now backfire horribly.

Jacques Delors and fellow fathers of EMU were told by Commission economists in the early 1990s that this reckless adventure could not work as constructed, and would lead to a traumatic crisis. They shrugged off the warnings.

They were told too that currency unions do not eliminate risk: they merely switch it from currency risk to default risk. For that reason it was all the more important to have a workable mechanism for sovereign defaults and bondholder haircuts in place from the beginning, with clear rules to establish the proper pricing of that risk.

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EU Tumbles Toward Failure?

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From The Daily Bell
Originally posted Tuesday, May 11, 2010

HAS EUROPE DONE THE IMPOSSIBLE AND HELPED ITSELF TO A FREE LUNCH? That’s certainly what it looks like, to judge by the performance of equity, currency and fixed income markets following the EU’s €750 billion rescue plan. A relief rally sent shares rocketing across the world, led by an almost unbelievable 20% surge in European stocks. Rescued government bonds rallied as central banks threw themselves into quantitative easing. And the euro recovered much of the ground it lost when, during the past couple of weeks, investors thought the currency was heading towards extinction. Was Milton Friedman wrong? Or maybe this lunch isn’t really free? The notion that these rescues are costless, which took hold following the wave of fiscal and monetary policy actions put in place following the credit crunch, looked to be fading recently. People started to realize private sector debt was merely being replaced by public sector borrowing, and didn’t like it. Governments might have altered who would have to repay the borrowing and over what period – typically taxpayers or savers and over the long run – but the debt itself didn’t disappear. There’s nothing to suggest Friedman was wrong in the case of this European rescue either. So who’s paying then? – WSJ/Source

Free-Market Analysis:
Eurozone leaders are ready to defend the euro with the equivalent of US$1trillion if necessary. The American Fed and other central banks stand ready to help too. There are several conclusions to be reached from this – and the mainstream and alternative media is generously presenting at least seven scenarios (perhaps our readers can provide more?). Below, we use the article excerpt above as a jumping off point to unpack them for you, explain the significance of each and then choose the most obvious answer to what’s going on. (Is it really that complicated?) Milton Friedman was right (on this point anyway). There IS no free lunch, in our opinion, and those in charge of Europe are not going to get one either.

Of course, just because we believe this exercise yields up the truth about what’s happening in Europe, we are not necessarily in a position to postulate the OUTCOME. We’re not fortune tellers! But we do understand the war between the elite’s dominant social themes and the Internet itself, which is increasingly debunking these themes and making it far more difficult for the elite in the 21st century to manipulate markets and politics than in the 20th century. Anyway … here’s the list. We’re pretty much on board with the second alternative. But let’s take these options one at a time.

1. The power elite has done what is necessary to stabilize the euro-zone.

2. The power elite has done what is necessary to stabilize the euro-zone but it may not work.

3. The euro-apparatchiks have salvaged the EU basically for banks and bank loans at risk.

4. The euro-zone has been destabilized so that further currency consolidation can be achieved.

5. The power elite and the bankers have destabilized the EU to loot its member states.

6. The power elite has struggled mightily to rescue a 50-year-old investment with mixed results.

7. Germany has received, by peaceful means, the empire that its citizens always wanted.

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