Posts Tagged ‘eurozone’
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.
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.
by Nomi Prins
Posted November 21, 2011
OFTEN, WHEN I TROLL AROUND WEBSITES OF ENTITIES LIKE THE ECB AND IMF, I UNCOVER LITTLE OF STARTLING NOTE. They design it that way. Plus, the pace at which the global financial system can leverage bets, eviscerate capital, and cry for bank bailouts financed through austerity measures far exceeds the reporting timeliness of these bodies.
That’s why, on the center of the ECB’s homepage, there’s a series of last week’s rates – and this relic – an interactive Inflation Game (I kid you not) where in 22 different languages you can play the game of what happens when inflation goes up and down. If you’re feeling more adventurous, there’s also a game called Economia, where you can make up unemployment rates, growth rates and interest rates and see what happens.
What you can’t do is see what happens if you bet trillions of dollars against various countries to see how much you can break them, before the ECB, IMF, or Fed (yes, it’ll happen) swoops in to provide “emergency” loans in return for cuts to pension funds, social programs, and national ownership of public assets. You also can’t input real world scenarios, where monetary policy doesn’t mean a thing in the face of tidal waves of derivatives’ flow. You can’t gauge say, what happens if Goldman Sachs bets $20 billion in leveraged credit default swaps against Greece, and offsets them (partially) with JPM Chase which bets $20 billion, and offsets that with Bank of America, and then MF Global (oops) and then…..you see where I’m going with this.
We’re doomed if even their board games don’t come close to mimicking the real situation in Europe, or in the US, yet they supply funds to banks torpedoing local populations with impunity. These central entities also don’t bother to examine (or notice) the intermingled effect of leveraged derivatives and debt transactions per country; which is why no amount of funding from the ECB, or any other body, will be able to stay ahead of the hot money racing in and out of various countries. It’s not about inflation – it’s about the speed, leverage, and daring of capital flow, that has its own power to select winners and losers. It’s not the ‘inherent’ weakness of national economies that a few years ago were doing fine, that’s hurting the euro. It’s the external bets on their success, failure, or economic capitulation running the show. Similarly, the US economy was doing much better before banks starting leveraging the hell out of our subprime market through a series of toxic, fraudulent, assets.
Elsewhere in my trolling, I came across a gem of a working paper on the IMF website, written by Ashoka Mody and Damiano Sandri, entitled ‘The Eurozone Crisis; How Banks and Sovereigns Came to be Joined at the Hip” (The paper does not ‘necessarily represent the views of the IMF or IMF policy’. )
The paper is full of mathematical formulas and statistical jargon, which may be why the media didn’t pick up on it, but hey, I got a couple of degrees in Mathematics and Statistics, so I went all out. And it’s fascinating stuff.
Basically, it shows that between the advent of the euro in 1999, and 2007, spreads between the bonds of peripheral countries and core ones in Europe were pretty stable. In other words, the risk of any country defaulting on its debt was fairly equal, and small. But after the 2007 US subprime asset crisis, and more specifically, the advent of Federal Reserve / Treasury Department construed bailout-economics, all hell broke loose – international capital went AWOL daring default scenarios, targeting them for future bailouts, and when money leaves a country faster than it entered, the country tends to falter economically. The cycle is set.
The US subprime crisis wasn’t so much about people defaulting on loans, but the mega-magnified effects of those defaults on a $14 trillion asset pyramid created by the banks. (Those assets were subsequently sold, and used as collateral for other borrowing and esoteric derivatives combinations, to create a global $140 trillion debt binge.) As I detail in It Takes Pillage, the biggest US banks manufactured more than 75% of those $14 trillion of assets. A significant portion was sold in Europe – to local banks, municipalities, and pension funds – as lovely AAA morsels against which more debt, or leverage, could be incurred. And even thought the assets died, the debts remained.
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)
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.
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.
Posted September 2, 2011
This article originally appeared on the Daily Capitalist.
YOU KNOW THOSE MOVIES WITH THE BOMB SET TO A TIMER ticking down to 00.00 where the sweaty hero nervously cuts one wire at a time while holding his breath and then at 00.01 he stops the bomb? Well, Europe is like that except that the bomb goes off and kills everyone.
These big economies are the ones that lead the rest of the world, including China. Countries like China, India, and Brazil, depend on the health of the big economies to keep buying their products and commodities so they can grow and generate wealth for their citizens.
What is especially concerning is the blow-up that is about to happen in Europe. It is not something that is happening “over there.” In a world that is so interconnected financially and by trade, a sinking Europe is everyone’s concern.
Their problems are much the same as ours with a twist. Their governments and central banks have also pursued reckless monetary and fiscal policies and now, effect is following cause. They have more or less followed the same policies as has the U.S., much to the same end. They spent large, engaged in Keynesian fiscal stimulus in a bailout attempt, ran up huge debts and deficits, and their economies are in decline.
The twist is the European Monetary Union (EMU), known as the eurozone. It is as if here in the U.S. there was no federal government and each state was truly sovereign, but there was a Federal Reserve Bank. Some states spend more than others, funding deficits by borrowing huge sums to support programs their citizens wanted. The profligate states want the Fed to buy their debt and float them loans created out of thin air, or otherwise they will go belly up and they will take down many states’ banks. The responsible states know they will be stuck with the bill.
The EMU started on the idea that it would bind the EU closer. In essence it was a political decision rather than an economic decision. They passed a stern rule that said no state could run of deficits of more than 3% of their GDP. Except for Estonia, Finland, and Luxembourg, all countries, including Germany, now exceed the limit. Thus their politicians sacrificed fiscal probity for political gains.
They have hit the wall: Greece will soon default on their sovereign debt. On Tuesday, yields on one year Greek bills reached 60%. It is a sign that investors have no faith in the Greek government’s ability to repay their debt.
The EU, ECB, and the IMF are trying to establish a European Financial Stability Facility (EFSB) in order to further bail Greece out. They have already pledged €110 billion and they are trying to put another package together of €109 billion. But Finland insists that Greece puts up additional collateral, which is not possible. Since the collateral would be part of the bailout money, it would be, in essence, Germany and France guaranteeing Finland’s contribution.
Greece has missed every fiscal target it or its saviors has had. They are trying to get their deficit down to 7.6% of GDP through more austerity measures, but it looks like they will miss again (est. 8.5+%). Basically they are asking the Greeks to do something they don’t want to do, and they will no doubt take to the streets again in protest.
If they default, then that opens a can of worms. European banks, other than Greek banks, hold €46 billion of Greek sovereign debt. Belgium’s Dexia hold Greek sovereign debt equal to 39% of its equity; for Germany’s Commerzbank, it’s about 27%. On top of that, EU banks are into private Greek companies for about €94B (France, €40B; Germany €24B). According to the Wall Street Journal, the total market cap of all EU banks was just €240. The same article also points out additional unknown liabilities to insurers and investment banks.
The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) has warned banks they need to write down, or mark-to-market, the Greek debt they hold. Whether they do or don’t doesn’t matter. The fact is that these banks are undercapitalized and in trouble. Their “stress tests” are a fiction. Liquidity is starting to shrink in their banking system because of these jitters. Rabobank, for example, said it is growing cautious about interbank lending – now limited to overnight loans. More banks are stepping up to the ECB window for funds. Overall, credit is starting to tighten. Nervous Greek depositors are withdrawing funds from their banks. Rich Greeks never trusted their banks.
In other words the Europeans have created a problem that they can’t solve, easily at least.
Here are their alternatives:
1. Keep bailing out Greece, with the specter of Italy and Spain being the next target of market forces as EU economies cool off. This is not appealing to Germany and France who know their taxpayers will have to put up most of the money.