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Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street Journal

The Nightmare after Christmas

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by Detlev Schlichter
of The Cobden Center
Posted December 26, 2011

THE PATHETIC STATE OF THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL SYSTEM WAS AGAIN ON DISPLAY THIS WEEK. Stocks around the world go up when a major central bank pumps money into the financial system. They go down when the flow of money slows and when the intoxicating influence of the latest money injection wears off. Can anybody really take this seriously? On Tuesday, the prospect of another gigantic cash infusion from the ECB’s printing press into Europe’s banking sector, which is in large part terminally ill but institutionally protected from dying, was enough to trigger the established Pavlovian reflexes among portfolio managers and traders.

None of this has anything to do with capitalism properly understood. None of this has anything to do with efficient capital allocation, with channelling savings into productive capital, or with evaluating entrepreneurship and rewarding innovation. This is the make-believe, get-rich-quick (or, increasingly, pretend-you-are-still-rich) world of state-managed fiat-money-socialism. The free market is dead. We just pretend it is still alive.

There are, of course those who are still under the illusion that this can go on forever. Or even that what we need is some shock-and-awe Über-money injection that will finally put an end to all that unhelpful worrying about excessive debt levels and overstretched balance sheets. Let’s print ourselves a merry little recovery.

How did Mr. Bernanke, the United States’ money-printer-in-chief put it in 2002? “Under a paper-money system, a determined government can always generate higher spending…” (Italics mine.)

Well, I think governments and central banks will get even more determined in 2012. And it is going to end in a proper disaster.

Lender of all resorts

Last week in one of their articles on the euro-mess, the Wall Street Journal Europe repeated a widely shared myth about the ECB: “With Germany’s backing, the ECB has so far refused to become a lender of last resort, …” This is, of course, nonsense. Even the laziest of 2011 year-end reviews will show that the ECB is precisely that: A committed funder of states and banks. Like all other central banks, the ECB has one overriding objective: to create a constant flow of new fiat money and thus cheap credit to an overstretched banking sector and an out-of-control welfare state that can no longer be funded by the private sector. That is what the ECB’s role is. The ECB is lender of last resort, first resort, and soon every resort.

Let’s look at the facts. The ECB started 2011 with record low policy rates. In the spring it thought it appropriate to consider an exit strategy. The ECB conducted a number of moderate rate hikes that have by now all been reversed. By the beginning of 2012 the ECB’s policy rates are again where they were at the beginning of 2011, at record low levels.

So why was the springtime attempt at “rate normalization” aborted? Because of deflationary risks? Hardly. Inflation is at 3 percent and thus not only higher than at the start of the year but also above the ECB’s official target.

The reason was simply this: states and banks needed a lender of last resort. The private market had lost confidence in the ability (willingness?) of certain euro-zone governments to ever repay their massive and constantly growing debt load. Certain states were thus cut off from cheap funding. The resulting re-pricing of sovereign bonds hit the banks and made it more challenging for them to finance their excessive balance sheets with money from their usual sources, not least U.S. money market funds.

So, in true lender-of-last resort fashion, the ECB had to conduct a U-turn and put those printing presses into high gear to fund states and banks at more convenient rates. While in a free market, lending rates are the result of the bargaining between lenders and borrowers, in the state-managed fiat money system, politicians and bureaucrats define what constitutes “sustainable” and “appropriate” interest rates for states and banks. The central bank has to deliver.

The ECB has not only helped with lower rates. Its balance sheet has expanded over the year by at least €490 billion, and is thus 24% larger than at the start of the year. This does not even include this week’s cash binge. The ECB is funding ever more European banks and is accepting weaker collateral against its loans. Many of these banks would be bust by now were it not for the constant subsidy of cheap and unlimited ECB credit. If that does not define a lender of last resort, what does?

And as I pointed out recently, the ECB’s self-imposed limit of €20 billion in weekly government bond purchases (an exercise in market manipulation and subsidization of spendthrift governments but shamelessly masked as an operation to allow for smooth transmission of monetary policy) is hardly a severe restriction. It would allow the ECB to expand its balance sheet by another €1 trillion a year. (The ECB is presently keeping its bond purchases well below €20 billion per week.)

Deflation? What deflation?

It is noteworthy that there still seems to be a widespread belief that all this money-printing will not lead to higher inflation because of the offsetting deflationary forces emanating from private bank deleveraging and fiscal austerity.

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The imminent failure of the Eurozone

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by Econophile
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.

Our planet has a problem. Its leading economies, the U.S., Japan, and the E.U. are declining. That is, about one-sixth of the world’s population is losing ground.

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.

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“We are on the verge of a Great, Great Depression”

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by George Washington
Posted originally June 1, 2011

THE NEWS THAT FREQUENT CNBC GUEST Peter Yastrow of Yastrow Origer (and formerly with DT Trading) told CNBC that “We’re on the verge of a great, great depression. The [Federal Reserve] knows” is going viral today. But this is not news to anyone who has been paying attention. As I pointed out Tuesday, billion dollar fund managers agree: the government never fixed the underlying economic problems, so we’ll have another crash. I provided details last month: As noted in January, the housing slump is worse than during the Great Depression.

As CNN Money points out today: Wal-Mart’s core shoppers are running out of money much faster than a year ago due to rising gasoline prices, and the retail giant is worried, CEO Mike Duke said Wednesday. “We’re seeing core consumers under a lot of pressure,” Duke said at an event in New York. “There’s no doubt that rising fuel prices are having an impact.”

Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in. Lately, they’re “running out of money” at a faster clip, he said. “Purchases are really dropping off by the end of the month even more than last year,” Duke said. “This end-of-month [purchases] cycle is growing to be a concern.

And – in case you still think that the 29% of Americans who think we’re in a depression are unduly pessimistic – take a look at what I wrote last December. The following experts have – at some point during the last two years – said that the economic crisis could be worse than the Great Depression:

States and Cities in Worst Shape since the Great Depression

States and cities are in dire financial straits, and many may default in 2011. California is issuing IOUs for only the second time since the Great Depression. Things haven’t been this bad for state and local governments since the 30s. Loan Loss Rate Higher than During the Great Depression

In October 2009, I reported: In May, analyst Mike Mayo predicted that the bank loan loss rate would be higher than during the Great Depression. In a new report, Moody’s has just confirmed (as summarized by Zero Hedge): The most recent rate of bank charge offs, which hit $45 billion in the past quarter, and have now reached a total of $116 billion, is at 3.4%, which is substantially higher than the 2.25% hit in 1932, before peaking at at 3.4% rate by 1934.

Here’s a chart summarizing the findings:

Indeed, top economists such as Anna Schwartz, James Galbraith, Nouriel Roubini and others have pointed out that while banks faced a liquidity crisis during the Great Depression, today they are wholly insolvent. See this, this, this and this. Insolvency is much more severe than a shortage of liquidity.

Unemployment at or near Depression Levels

USA Today reports today: So many Americans have been jobless for so long that the government is changing how it records long-term unemployment. Citing what it calls “an unprecedented rise” in long-term unemployment, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), beginning Saturday, will raise from two years to five years the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless.

The change is a sign that bureau officials “are afraid that a cap of two years may be ‘understating the true average duration’ — but they won’t know by how much until they raise the upper limit,” says Linda Barrington, an economist who directs the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

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Fifty things every American should know about the collapse of the Economy

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by Michael Snyder at Economic Collapse
Posted originally May 18, 2011

RIGHT NOW WE ARE WITNESSING A TRULY HISTORIC COLLAPSE OF THE ECONOMY, AND YET MOST AMERICANS DO NOT UNDERSTAND what is going on. One of the biggest reasons why the American people do not understand what is happening to the economy is because our politicians and the mainstream media are not telling the truth.

Barack Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke keep repeating the phrase “economic recovery” over and over, and this is really confusing for most Americans because things sure don’t seem to be getting much better where they live.

There are millions upon millions of Americans that are sitting at home on their couches right now wondering why they lost their jobs and why nobody will hire them.  Millions of others are wondering why the only jobs they can get are jobs that a high school student could do.  Families all across America are wondering why it seems like their wages never go up but the price of food and the price of gas continue to skyrocket.  We are facing some very serious long-term economic problems in this country, and we need to educate the American people about why the collapse of the economy is happening.

If the American people don’t understand why they are losing their jobs, why they are losing their homes and why they are drowning in debt then they are going to keep on doing all of the same things that they have been doing.  They will also keep sending the same idiot politicians back to Washington to represent us.  There are some fundamental things about the economy that every American should know.

The American people need to be shocked out of their entertainment-induced stupor long enough to understand what is really going on and what needs to be done to solve our nightmarish economic problems. If we do not wake up enough Americans in time, the economic collapse that is coming could tear this nation to shreds.

The U.S. economy was once the greatest economic machine in modern world history. It was truly a wonder to behold. It worked so well that entire generations of Americans came to believe that America would enjoy boundless prosperity indefinitely.

But sadly, prosperity is not guaranteed for any nation. Over the past several decades, some very alarming long-term economic trends have developed that are absolutely destroying the economy. If dramatic changes are not made soon, a complete and total economic collapse will be unavoidable.

Unfortunately, the American people will never agree to fundamental changes to our economic and financial systems unless they are fully educated about what is causing our problems. We have turned our backs on the principles of our forefathers and the principles of those that founded this nation. We have rejected the ancient wisdom that was handed down to us.

It has been said that those that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind. We are about to experience the consequences of decades of really bad decisions. Hopefully we can get the American people to wake up. The following are fifty things that every American should know about the collapse of the economy….

#1 Do you remember how much was made of the “Misery Index” during the presidency of Jimmy Carter?  At that time, the “Misery Index” was constantly making headlines in newspapers all across the country. Well, according to John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics, if we calculated unemployment and inflation the same way that we did back during the Carter administration, then the Misery Index today would actually be higher than at any point during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

#2 According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of about 5 million Americans were being hired every single month during 2006. Today, an average of about 3.5 million Americans are being hired every single month.

#3 According to the Wall Street Journal, there are 5.5 million Americans that are currently unemployed and yet are not receiving unemployment benefits.

#4 All over America, state and local governments are selling off buildings just to pay the bills.  Investors can now buy up government-owned power plants, prisons and municipal buildings from coast to coast.  For example, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey recently sold off 16 government buildings (including the police and fire headquarters) just to pay some bills.

#5 When Americans think of “government debt”, most of them only think of the federal government, but it is not just the federal government that has a massive debt problem.  State and local government debt has reached an all-time high of 22 percent of U.S. GDP.

#6 If you can believe it, one out of every seven Americans has at least 10 credit cards.

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More Nails in EU Coffin?

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from The Daily Bell
Posted Monday, April 18, 2011

Massive gains for a massive man – the nationalist True Finns’ shock election result in the 2011 Finnish general election befits the burly figure of their leader, Timo Soini. And there is much brain to go with the brawn, according to journalists who have followed his party’s advance from the margins of politics – from just 4.1% of the vote in 2007 to about 19% four years later.

Brain, wit and charisma applied to a Euro-sceptic and nationalistic agenda – a potent mix worrying EU strategists who are mindful that Finland, unlike other eurozone states, has reserved the option of vetoing financial bail-outs. – BBC

Dominant Social Theme:
The EU shall overcome. The union is not to be trifled with.

Free-Market Analysis:
There is yet a hammering sound surrounding the EU. Some say it comes from those who are busy building a box in which to contain the region’s endless sovereign debt crisis. Others might be persuaded the box is the EU’s coffin. The distinction is important not only to the EU but to the Anglo-American power elite that is running as hard as it can to refine plans for one-world government before the Internet and the rolling worldwide inflationary recession generates a critical mass of opposition to such plans.

Of course there IS no power elite with plans for a New World Order according to mainstream Western media. Never mind that in an interview with the website Infowars over the weekend one of America’s pre-eminent television broadcasters went on record as saying that indeed there was. “Lou Dobbs: Elites Are Setting up a One World Order,” read the Infowars headline. And Dobbs’ perspective is shared at least in part by other prominent US officials, including Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex) who may once again be a leading candidate for US president in upcoming Republican primaries.

Yes it’s fairly obvious what is going on, given the massive global regulatory infrastructure that’s being put in place. The Internet by now has shredded any pretense of that such plans are not being pursued and the result has been a change in elite tactics from what we can tell. The elites have decided to strike back by substituting intimidation for secrecy.

As we report in today’s other article, such a strategy carries risk. By increasingly attempting to promote its policies through via brute political, economic and military force, the Anglo-American power elites make each individual battle into an entire war. Lose just one contest and the inevitability of global governance begins to drain away. This is why even the smallest battles such as who will be president of the Ivory Coast take on massive resonance and are reported in detail by the mainstream press for days and weeks.

It is a kind of dominant social theme itself: The new world order is a global juggernaut that will mow down all that stands before it; the instrumentalities of global government are here to stay and will only get stronger. This invests every mechanism of global power with a resonance that the elites may not have intended to project. Surely, it adds inordinate significance to each battle; yet in a most difficult financial era there are many such skirmishes going on almost every day.

There is an alternative perspective, one we have advanced many times, which is that the Anglosphere elites seek to enhance and encourage the military, economic and political chaos that has gradually been descending on the world over the past few years. Despite their protests to the contrary, this argument holds that the elites are actively working at various kinds of destabilization in the hopes of building up a single fiat-currency system that will further cement an global Order.

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Government economic leaders surprised that Real World isn’t responding to their magic pixie dust

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Submitted by George Washington
Posted originally September 02, 2010

Fed chief Ben Bernanke told the financial crisis inquiry commission today: If the crisis has a single lesson, it is that the too-big-to-fail problem must be solved. Too-big-to-fail financial institutions were both a source… of the crisis and among the primary impediments to policymakers’ efforts to contain it…

That’s funny, given that Bernanke has been one of the biggest defenders of the too big to fail banks, arguing strenuously against breaking them up, throwing trillions of dollars their way, and begging the banks to play nice with one hand, while patting them on the back with the other hand and giving them a big wink. And Christina Romer – Obama’s outgoing chief economist and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers – said in her outgoing speech yesterday, as summarized by Dana Milbank at the Washington Post: “She had no idea how bad the economic collapse would be. She still doesn’t understand exactly why it was so bad. The response to the collapse was inadequate. And she doesn’t have much of an idea about how to fix things.”

Many have tried to explain to the neoclassical economists running the show exactly how bad the economic collapse would be, why it was so bad, and how to mount an adequate response to fix things. But Bernanke, Romer and the rest of the gang ignored them.

Who Knew?
As I pointed out in March, Greenspan’s big defense is that the financial crisis was caused by a “once-in-a-century” event. Forget about the fact that the “once-in-a-century event” couldn’t have happened if Greenspan’s Fed hadn’t:

• Turned its cheek and allowed massive fraud
• Acted as cheerleader in chief for unregulated use of derivatives at least as far back as 1999 (see this and this)
• And for subprime loans
• Allowed the giant banks to grow into mega-banks. For example, Citigroup’s former chief executive says that when Citigroup was formed in 1998 out of the merger of banking and insurance giants, Greenspan told him, “I have nothing against size. It doesn’t bother me at all”
• Argued that economists had conquered the business cycle, and that modern, technologically advanced financial markets are best left to police themselves
• Preached that a new bubble be blown every time the last one bursts
• Kept interest rates too low
• And did alot of other hinky things

More importantly, as Nassim Taleb repeatedly points out, financial experts who don’t plan for rare events are like pilots who don’t know about storms. There are storms out there, Taleb says, and any pilot who doesn’t know how to deal with storms shouldn’t be flying. Similarly, no one should be in a position of financial leadership if they don’t know about – and plan for – the infrequent event:

High Priests Shake their Magic Wands Even Harder
As Australian economist Steve Keen wrote last week, mainstream economists have been acting like religious fundamentalists, rather than scientists:

Bernanke’s failure to realize this: it’s a failing that he shares in common with the vast majority of economists. His problem is the theory he learnt in high school and university that he thought was simply “economics”—as if it was the only way one could think about how the economy operated. In reality, it was “Neoclassical economics”, which is just one of the many schools of thought within economics. In the same way that Christianity is not the only religion in the world, there are other schools of thought in economics. And just as different religions have different beliefs, so too do schools of thought within economics—only economists tend to call their beliefs “assumptions” because this sounds more scientific than “beliefs”.

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The Fallacy of ‘Bailing Out’ U.S. Cities and States

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by Rick Ackerman
Posted originally August 27, 2010

AMAZING HOW FAR A REALLY STUPID IDEA CAN TRAVEL. Warren Buffett helped spread and legitimize one a couple of months ago, and now the Wall Street Journal has pitched in on the same topic with an op-ed piece written by one Eden Martin, a lawyer and Chicago muckety-muck. Here is what Mr. Martin wrote:  “The next big issue on the national political horizon may be whether the federal government should bail out the many budget-strapped states and municipalities across the country, especially their overly generous and badly underfunded pension plans.”

And here’s Mr. Buffett on the same topic, testifying before Congress in June on the role the credit rating agencies played in nearly bringing the banking system down: “I mean, if the federal government will step in to help [states and major municipalities], they’re Triple-A. If the federal government won’t step in to help them, who knows what they are.” Buffett himself should know the answer to the question he has implicitly raised, since, no matter who is doing the bailing out, or what is used to pay for it, we – and not some entity called “the Government” — will all pay heavily for it in one way or another.

We’ll explain in a moment. But first, let us be clear that we are not holding our breath waiting for the Journal’s editors to provide responsible counterpoint to all of this bailout claptrap. Unfortunately, the business community’s newspaper of record has always played an aggressive role in telling its readers not what is, but what they presumably want to hear. How else to explain why the Journal would continue to devote hundreds of column inches lately to the possibility that the economy just might be facing a double-dip recession? In plain fact, and as any of the paper’s two million readers could attest, the nation’s economy never even emerged from the first Mindanao-deep dip (except in Washington, D.C. and Georgetown, but that’s another matter).

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