Are you willing to bet against three of the wealthiest men in the entire world? Jacob Rothschild recently bet approximately 200 million dollars that the euro will go down.
Billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson made somewhere around 20 billion dollars betting against the U.S. housing market during the last financial crisis, and now he has made huge bets that the euro will go down and that the price of gold will go up.
And as I wrote about in my last article, George Soros put approximately 130 million more dollars into gold last quarter. So will the euro plummet like a rock? Will the price of gold absolutely soar? Well, if a massive financial disaster does occur both of those two things are likely to happen.
The European economy is becoming more unstable with each passing day, and investors all over the globe are looking for safe places to put their money. The mainstream media keeps telling us that everything is going to be okay, but the global elite are sending us a much, much different message by their actions.
Certainly Rothschild, Paulson and Soros know about things happening in the financial world that the rest of us don’t. The fact that they are all behaving in a consistent manner right now should be alarming for all of us.
Let’s start with Jacob Rothschild. Apparently he believes that the euro is headed for quite a tumble. The following is from a recent CNBC article….
You know the euro is in deep water when a doyen of the banking industry, Lord Jacob Rothschild takes a £130 million ($200 million) bet against it.
Okay, but the euro has already been falling dramatically. In mid-2011, the EUR/USD was above the 1.40 mark, and right now it is at about 1.23.
Does it really have that much more that it can fall?
If the eurozone ends up breaking apart it sure does.
If there is a Greek default, or if Germany leaves the euro, or if a new currency comes along to replace the euro those currently betting against it will end up looking like geniuses.
Another big name in the financial world that is betting against the euro right now is John Paulson. The following is from a recent Der Spiegel article….
One of these warriors is John Paulson. The hedge fund manager once made billions by betting on a collapse of the American real estate market. Not surprisingly, the financial world sat up and took notice when Paulson, who is now widely despised in America as a crisis profiteer, announced in the spring that he would bet on a collapse of the euro.
And as I noted in my last article, Paulson has also been putting billions of dollars into gold.
So just what are Rothschild and Paulson anticipating?
Could we be on the verge of a massive financial collapse in Europe?
According to the Der Spiegel article mentioned above, a lot of investors seem to be preparing for such a possibility right now….
Banks, companies and investors are preparing themselves for a collapse of the euro. Cross-border bank lending is falling, asset managers are shunning Europe and money is flowing into German real estate and bonds. The euro remains stable against the dollar because America has debt problems too. But unlike the euro, the dollar’s structure isn’t in doubt.
The financial world is starting to wake up to the fact that the globe is absolutely drowning in debt and it is not really good to be holding fiat currencies when a debt crisis erupts.
When men like John Paulson and George Soros start pouring huge amounts of money into gold, it is time to start becoming alarmed about the state of the global financial system.
The amount of money that these men are investing in gold is staggering….
There was also news last week in an SEC filing that both George Soros and John Paulson had increased their investment in SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s largest publicly traded physical gold exchange traded fund (ETF).
Mr Soros upped his stake in the ETF to 884,400 shares from 319,550 and Mr Paulson bought 4.53m shares, bringing his stake to 21.3m.
At the current price of about $156 a share, these are new investments of about $88m of Mr Soros’ cash and more than $700m from Mr Paulson’s funds. These are significant positions.
And the central banks of the world are certainly buying gold at an unprecedented rate as well. According to the World Gold Council, the central banks of the world added 157.5 metric tons of gold last quarter. That was the biggest move into gold by the central banks of the globe that we have seen in modern financial history.
But that might just be the beginning.
According to a recent Marketwatch article, there are persistent rumors that China has plans to buy thousands of metric tons of gold….
Within the gold market, there is unconfirmed speculation that China plans to buy up to at least 5,000 to 6,000 metric tons of gold and that it will start to buy during this year, according to Kevin Kerr, president of Kerr Trading International.
If China buys this much gold, that would exceed annual, global production of gold, he said. “We do not have enough gold for China to buy that much, and it will take China time to purchase this amount of gold.”
So what comes next?
Nobody is quite sure.
Another major financial crisis could erupt in Europe at any moment.
A major war in the Middle East could start literally at any time.
Renowned investor Jim Rogers believes that things are really going to get “bad after the next election“.
Others believe that the action could start even sooner than that.
The truth is that even though we have not seen a “Lehman Brothers moment” yet, things in Europe just continue to get progressively worse. The following is from a recent article by Mark E. Grant….
Whether you turn your attention to Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal or even Ireland; it is getting worse. Nowhere on the Continent are things improving and even in France and Germany the financial strains are beginning to show. It is not a question of Euro-bear or Euro-bull; it is just the numbers as they come rolling out month after month.
There is a growing realization in Europe that the euro simply does not work. Italy is absolutely drowning in debt, the Spanish economy has basically descended into a depression, and Greece has been experiencing depression-like conditions for years at this point.
The euro is doomed. The only question is who is going to blink first.
Nobody wants to be the first to leave the euro. There are rumblings that it could actually be Finland that leaves the euro first, and that would please Germany just fine because they don’t want to look like the bad guys in all of this.
But that doesn’t mean that Germany won’t eventually pull the trigger if nobody else does. The German public is sick and tired of bailing out the weak sisters of southern Europe, and at this point it looks like it would take perpetual bailouts just to keep the euro together.
And recently there have been lots of little signs that Germany is starting to move slowly toward the exit doors.
In fact, I found it quite interesting that a giant euro sculpture was recently removed from the Frankfurt International Airport….
A massive € sculpture (identical to the one in front of the European Central Bank) was dismantled and removed from the Frankfurt International Airport in Germany Thursday.
The official explanation is ‘the plastic parts are getting weak after 11 years and the terminal needed the space‘.
Does € sculpture’s removal from the Frankfurt Airport indicate Germany is preparing for a surprise return to the Deutsche Mark?
Sure that might just be a coincidence, but it also could be a harbinger of things to come.
Sadly, most average people living in North America and Europe have absolutely no idea what is coming. Most of them just want to be able to get up in the morning and go to work and pay the bills and take care of their families.
Unfortunately, millions upon millions of those hard working individuals are in for a very rude awakening.
A lot of people are about to have their current lifestyles totally turned upside down.
But it doesn’t have to be all bad.
In fact, I found it very interesting to read about how some young people are responding to the depression in Greece….
In the spring of 2010, just as the Greek government was embarking on some of its harshest austerity measures, 29-year-old Apostolos Sianos packed in his well-paid job as a website designer, gave up his Athens apartment and walked away from modern civilisation.
In the foothills of Mount Telaithrion on the Greek island of Evia, Mr Sianos and three other like-minded Athenians set up an eco-community.
The idea was to live in an entirely sustainable way, free from the ties of money and cut off from the national electricity grid.
The group sleeps communally in yurts they have built themselves, they grow their own food and exchange the surplus in the nearest village for any necessities they cannot produce.
I think there is a lesson to be learned there.
When the system fails, it is going to be important to be able to live independently of the system.
Governments and big banks all over the world have been rapidly preparing for the coming financial collapse.
Perhaps the rest of us should be too.
If you can believe it, 77 percent of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck at least some of the time.
If another major economic crisis comes along, many of those people are going to be totally wiped out.
And there are already signs that the U.S. economy is basically on life support at this point.
Just look at the velocity of money.
In an economy that is growing and healthy, money tends to circulate very, very quickly.
But when an economy is sick, money tends to circulate very slowly.
And that is exactly what is happening right now. In fact, the velocity of money is currently at the lowest level in modern U.S. history….
This is exactly what happened back in the 1930s. The velocity of money absolutely plummeted. When people are scared, credit is tight and times are hard, money does not exchange hands as rapidly.
But this is just the beginning.
What we are experiencing right now is rip-roaring prosperity compared to what is coming.
Jacob Rothschild, John Paulson and George Soros are preparing themselves for the tremendous chaos that is coming.
Are you getting prepared?
By George Friedman
Louis M. Bacon is the head of Moore Capital Management, one of the largest and most influential hedge funds in the world. Last week, he announced that he was returning one quarter of his largest fund, about $2 billion, to his investors. The reason he gave to The New York Times was that he had found it difficult to invest given the impossibility of predicting the European situation. He was quoted as saying, “The political involvement is so extreme — we have not seen this since the postwar era. What they are doing is trying to thwart natural market outcomes. It is amazing how important the decision-making of one person, Angela Merkel, has become to world markets.”
The purpose of hedge funds is to make money, and what Bacon essentially said was that it is impossible to make money when there is heavy political involvement, because political involvement introduces unpredictability in the market. Therefore, prudent investment becomes impossible. Hedge funds have become critical to global capital allocation because their actions influence other important actors, and their unwillingness to invest and trade has significant implications for capital availability. If others follow Moore Capital’s lead, as they will, there will be greater difficulty in raising the capital needed to address the problem of Europe.
But more interesting is the reasoning. In Bacon’s remarks, there is the idea that political decisions are unpredictable, or less predictable than economic decisions. Instead of seeing German Chancellor Merkel as a prisoner of non-market forces that constrain her actions, conventional investors seem to feel that Europe is now subject to Merkel’s whims. I would argue that political decisions are predictable and that Merkel is not making decisions as much as reflecting the impersonal forces that drive her. If you understand those impersonal forces, it is possible to predict political behaviors, as you can market behaviors. Neither is an exact science, but properly done, neither is impossible.
In order to do this, you must begin with two insights. The first is that politics and the markets always interact. The very foundation of the market — the limited liability corporation — is political. What many take as natural is actually a political contrivance that allows investors to limit their liability. The manner in which liability is limited is a legal issue, not a market issue, and is designed by politicians. The structure of risk in modern society revolves around the corporation, and the corporation is an artifice of politics along with risk. There is nothing natural about a nation’s corporate laws, and it is those corporate laws that define the markets.
There are times when politics leave such laws unchanged and times when politics intrude. The last generation has been a unique time in which the prosperity of the markets allowed the legal structure to remain generally unchanged. After 2008, that stability was no longer possible. But active political involvement in the markets is actually the norm, not the exception. Contemporary investors have taken a dramatic exception — the last generation — and lacking a historical sense have mistaken it for the norm. This explains the inability of contemporary investors to cope with things that prior generations constantly faced.
The second insight is the recognition that thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo, who modern investors so admire, understood this perfectly. They never used the term “economics” by itself, but only in conjunction with politics; they called it political economy. The term “economy” didn’t stand by itself until the 1880s when a group called the Marginalists sought to mathematize economics and cast it free from politics as a stand-alone social science discipline. The quantification of economics and finance led to a belief — never held by men like Smith — that there was an independent sphere of economics where politics didn’t intrude and that mathematics allowed markets to be predictable, if only politics wouldn’t interfere.
Given that politics and economics could never be separated, the mathematics were never quite as predictive as one would have thought. The hyper-quantification of market analysis, oblivious to overriding political considerations, exacerbated market swings. Economists and financiers focused on the numbers instead of the political consequences of the numbers and the political redefinitions of the rules of corporate actors, which the political system had invented in the first place.
The world is not unpredictable, and neither is Europe nor Germany. The matter at hand is neither what politicians say they want to do nor what they secretly wish to do. Indeed, it is not in understanding what they will do. Rather, the key to predicting the political process is understanding constraints — the things they can’t do. Investors’ view that markets are made unpredictable by politics misses two points. First, there has not been a market independent of politics since the corporation was invented. Second, politics and economics are both human endeavors, and both therefore have a degree of predictability.
The European Union was created for political reasons. Economic considerations were a means to an end, and that end was to stop the wars that had torn Europe apart in the first half of the 20th century. The key was linking Germany and France in an unbreakable alliance based on the promise of economic prosperity. Anyone who doesn’t understand the political origins of the European Union and focuses only on its economic intent fails to understand how it works and can be taken by surprise by the actions of its politicians.
Postwar Europe evolved with Germany resuming its prewar role as a massive exporting power. For the Germans, the early versions of European unification became the foundation to the solution of the German problem, which was that Germany’s productive capacity outstripped its ability to consume. Germany had to export in order to sustain its economy, and any barriers to free trade threatened German interests. The creation of a free trade zone in Europe was the fundamental imperative, and the more nations that free trade zone encompassed, the more markets were available to Germany. Therefore, Germany was aggressive in expanding the free trade zone.
Germany was also a great supporter of Europewide standards in areas such as employment policy, environmental policy and so on. These policies protect larger German companies, which are able to absorb the costs, from entrepreneurial competition from the rest of Europe. Raising the cost of entry into the marketplace was an important part of Germany’s strategy.
Finally, Germany was a champion of the euro, a single currency controlled by a single bank over which Germany had influence in proportion to its importance. The single currency, with its focus on avoiding inflation, protected German creditors against European countries inflating their way out of debt. The debt was denominated in euros, the European Central Bank controlled the value of the euro, and European countries inside and outside the eurozone were trapped in this monetary policy.
So long as there was prosperity, the underlying problems of the system were hidden. But the 2008 crisis revealed the problems. First, most European countries had significant negative balances of trade with Germany. Second, European monetary policy focused on protecting the interests of Germany and, to a lesser extent, France. The regulatory regime created systemic rigidity, which protected existing large corporations.
Merkel’s policy under these circumstances was imposed on her by reality. Germany was utterly dependent on its exports, and its exports in Europe were critical. She had to make certain that the free trade zone remained intact. Secondarily, she had to minimize the cost to Germany of stabilizing the system by shifting it onto other countries. She also had to convince her countrymen that the crisis was due to profligate Southern Europeans and that she would not permit them to take advantage of Germans. The truth was that the crisis was caused by Germany’s using the trading system to flood markets with its goods, its limiting competition through regulations, and that for every euro carelessly borrowed, a euro was carelessly lent. Like a good politician, Merkel created the myth of the crafty Greek fooling the trusting Deutsche Bank examiner.
The rhetoric notwithstanding, Merkel’s decision-making was clear. First, under no circumstances could she permit any country to leave the free trade zone of the European Union. Once that began she could not predict where it would end, save that it might end in German catastrophe. Second, for economic and political reasons she had to be as aggressive as possible with defaulting borrowers. But she could never be so aggressive as to cause them to decide that default and withdrawal made more sense than remaining in the system.
Merkel was not making decisions; she was acting out a script that had been written into the structure of the European Union and the German economy. Merkel would create crises that would shore up her domestic position, posture for the best conceivable deal without forcing withdrawal, and in the end either craft a deal that was not enforced or simply capitulate, putting the problem off until the next meeting of whatever group.
In the end, the Germans would have to absorb the cost of the crisis. Merkel, of course, knew that. She attempted to extract a new European structure in return for Germany’s inevitable capitulation to Europe. Merkel understood that Europe, and one of the foundations of European prosperity, was cracking. Her solution was to propose a new structure in which European countries accepted Brussels’ oversight of their domestic budgets as part of a systemic solution by the Germans. Some countries outright rejected this proposal, while others agreed, knowing it would never be implemented. Merkel’s attempt to recoup by creating an even more powerful European apparatus was bound to fail for two reasons. First and most important, giving up sovereignty is not something nations do easily — especially not European nations and not to what was effectively a German structure. Second, the rest of Europe knew that it didn’t have to give in because in the end Germany would either underwrite the solution (by far the most likely outcome) or the free trade zone would shatter.
If we understand the obvious, then Merkel’s actions were completely understandable. Germany needed the European Union more than any other country because of its trade dependency. Germany could not allow the union to devolve into disconnected nations. Therefore, Germany would constantly bluff and back off. The entire Greek drama was the exemplar of this. It was Merkel who was trapped and, being trapped, she was predictable.
The euro question was interesting because it intersected the banking system. But in focusing on the euro, investors failed to understand that it was a secondary issue. The European Union was a political institution and European unity came first. The lenders were far more concerned about the fate of their loans than the borrowers were. And whatever the shadow play of the European Central Bank, they would wind up doing the least they could do to avert default — but they would avert default. The euro might have been what investors traded, but it was not what the game was about. The game was about the free trade zone and Franco-German unity. Merkel was not making decisions based on the euro, but on other more pressing considerations.
The investors’ problem is that they mistake the period between 1991 and 2008 as the norm and keep waiting for it to return. I saw it as a freakish period that could survive only until the next major financial crisis — and there always is one. While the unusual period was under way, political and trade issues subsided under the balm of prosperity. During that time, the internal cycles and shifts of the European financial system operated with minimal external turbulence, and for those schooled in profiting from these financial eddies, it was a good time to trade.
Once the 2008 crisis hit external factors that were always there but quiescent became more overt. The internal workings of the financial system became dependent on external forces. We were in the world of political economy, and the political became like a tidal wave, making the trading cycles and opportunities that traders depended on since 1991 irrelevant. And so, having lost money in 2008, they could never find their footing again. They now lived in a world where Merkel was more important than a sharp trader.
Actually, Merkel was not more important than the trader. They were both trapped within constraints about which they could do nothing. But if those constraints were understood, Merkel’s behavior could be predicted. The real problem for the hedge funds was not that they didn’t understand what they were doing, but the manner in which they had traded in the past simply no longer worked. Even understanding and predicting what political leaders will do is of no value if you insist on a trading model built for a world that no longer exists.
What is called high velocity trading, constantly trading on the infinitesimal movements of a calm but predictable environment, doesn’t work during a political tidal wave. And investors of the last generation do not know how to trade in a tidal wave. When we recall the two world wars and the Cold War, we see that this was the norm for the century and that fortunes were made. But the latest generation of investors wants to control risk rather than take advantage of new realities.
However we feel about the performance of the financial community since 2007, there must be a system of capital allocation. That can be operated by the state, but there is empirical evidence that the state isn’t very good at making investment decisions. But then, the performance of the financial community has been equally unacceptable, with more than its share of mendacity to boot. The argument for private capital allocation may be theoretically powerful, but the fact is that the empirical validation of the private model hasn’t been there for several years.
A strong argument can be made — corruption and stupidity aside — that the real problem has been a failure of imagination. We have re-entered an era in which political factors will dominate economic decisions. This has been the norm for a very long time, and traders who wait for the old era to return will be disappointed. Politics can be predicted if you understand the constraints under which a politician such as Merkel acts and don’t believe that it is simply random decisions. But to do that, you have to return to Adam Smith and recall the title of his greatest work, The Wealth of Nations. Note that Smith was writing about nations, about politics and economics — about political economy.
The financial chess game in Europe is still being played out, but in the end it is going to boil down to one very fundamental decision. Is Germany going to allow the ECB to print up trillions of euros and use those euros to buy up the sovereign debt of troubled eurozone members such as Spain and Italy or not? Nothing short of this is going to solve the problems in Europe. You can forget the ESM and the EFSF. Anyone that thinks they are going to solve the problems in Europe is someone that would also take a water pistol to fight a raging wildfire. No, the only thing that is going to keep Spain and Italy from collapsing under the weight of a mountain of debt is a financial nuke. The ECB needs to have the power to print up trillions of euros and use that money to buy up massive amounts of sovereign debt in order to guarantee that Spain and Italy will be able to borrow lots more money at very low interest rates. In fact, this is probably what European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has in mind when he says that he is going to “do whatever it takes to preserve the euro”. However, there is one giant problem. The ECB is not going to be able to do this unless Germany allows them to. And after enduring the horror of hyperinflation under the Weimar Republic, Germany is not too keen on introducing trillions upon trillions of new euros into the European economy. If Germany allows the ECB to go down this path, Germany will end up experiencing tremendous inflation and the only benefit for Germany will be that the eurozone was kept together. That doesn’t sound like a very good deal for Germany.
Those are unsustainable levels.
The only thing that is going to bring those bond yields down permanently to where they need to be is unlimited ECB intervention.
But that is not going to happen without German permission.
Meanwhile, the situation in Spain gets worse by the day.
An article in Der Spiegel recently described the slow motion bank run that is systematically ripping the Spanish banking system to shreds….
Capital outflows from Spain more than quadrupled in May to €41.3 billion ($50.7 billion) compared with May 2011, according to figures released on Tuesday by the Spanish central bank.
In the first five months of 2012, a total of €163 billion left the country, the figures indicate. During the same period a year earlier, Spain recorded a net inflow of €14.6 billion.
If those numbers sound really bad to you, that is because they are really bad.
At this point, authorities in Spain are starting to panic. According to Graham Summers, Spain has imposed the following new capital restrictions during the last month alone….
- A minimum fine of €10,000 for taxpayers who do not report their foreign accounts.
- Secondary fines of €5,000 for each additional account
- No cash transactions greater than €2,500
- Cash transaction restrictions apply to individuals and businesses
How would you feel if the U.S. government permanently banned all cash transactions greater than $2,500?
That is how crazy things have already become in Spain.
We should see the government of Spain formally ask for a bailout pretty soon here.
Italy should follow fairly quickly thereafter.
But right now there is not enough money to completely bail either one of them out.
In the end, either the ECB is going to do it or it is not going to get done.
A moment of truth is rapidly approaching for Europe, and nobody is quite sure what is going to happen next. According to the Wall Street Journal, the central banks of the world are on “red alert” at this point….
Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi, with words but not yet actions, demonstrated this week that they are on red alert about the global economy.
Expectations are now high that Mr. Bernanke’s Federal Reserve and Mr. Draghi’s European Central Bank will act soon to address those worries. But both face immense tactical and political challenges and neither has a handbook to follow.
So what happens if Germany does not allow the ECB to print up trillions of new euros?
Financial journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard recently described what is at stake in all of this….
Failure to halt a full-blown debt debacle in Spain and Italy at this delicate juncture – with China, India and Brazil by now in the grip of a broken credit cycle and the US on the cusp of fresh recession even before the “fiscal cliff” hits – would tip the entire global system into a downward spin, triggering the sort of feedback loop that caused such havoc in late 2008.
As I have written about so frequently, time is running out for the global financial system.
Even Germany is starting to feel the pain. This week we learned that unemployment in Germany has risen for four months in a row.
So what comes next?
There is actually a key date that is coming up in September. The Federal Constitutional Court in Germany will rule on the legality of German participation in the European Stability Mechanism on September 12th.
If it is ruled that Germany cannot participate in the European Stability Mechanism then that is going to create all sorts of chaos. At that point all future European bailouts would be called into question and many would start counting down the days to the break up of the entire eurozone.
If Germany did end up leaving the eurozone, the transition would not be as difficult as many may think.
For example, most Americans may not realize this but Deutsche Marks are currently accepted at many retail stores throughout Germany. The following comes from a recent Wall Street Journal article….
Shopping for pain reliever here on a recent sunny morning, Ulrike Berger giddily counted her coins and approached the pharmacy counter. She had just enough to make the purchase: 31.09 deutsche marks.
“They just feel nice to hold again,” the 55-year-old preschool teacher marveled, cupping the grubby coins fished from the crevices of her castaway living room sofa. “And they’re still worth something.”
Behind the counter of Rolf-Dieter Schaetzle’s pharmacy in this southern German village lay a tray full of deutsche mark notes and coins—a month’s worth of sales.
I have a feeling that it would be much easier for Germany to leave the euro than it would be for most other eurozone members to.
The months ahead are certainly going to be very interesting, that is for sure.
Europe is heading for a date with destiny, and what transpires in Europe is going to shake the rest of the globe.
Sadly, most Americans still aren’t too concerned with what is going on in Europe right now.
Well, if you still don’t think that the problems in Europe are going to affect the United States, just check this news item from the Guardian….
General Motors’ profits fell 41% in the second quarter as troubles in Europe undercut strong sales in North America.
America’s largest automaker made $1.5bn in the second quarter of 2012, compared with $2.5bn for the same period last year. Revenue fell to $37.6bn from $39.4bn in the second quarter of 2011. The results exceeded analysts’ estimates, but further underlined Europe’s drag on the US economy.
Profits at General Motors are down 41 percent and Europe is being blamed.
The global economy is more tightly integrated than ever before, and there is no way that the financial system of Europe collapses without it taking down the United States as well.
And considering the fact that the U.S. economy has already been steadily collapsing, the last thing we need is for Europe to come along and take our legs out from underneath us.
So what do all of you think about the problems in Europe?
Do you see any possible solution?
Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below….
Over the past couple of years, Europe has muddled through a long series of crunch moments in its debt crisis, but this September is shaping up as a “make-or-break” month as policymakers run desperately short of options to save the common currency.
Crisis or no crisis, many European policymakers will take their summer holidays in August. When they return, a number of crucial events, decisions and deadlines will be waiting.
“September will undoubtedly be the crunch time,” one senior euro zone policymaker said.
In that month a German court makes a ruling that could neuter the new euro zone rescue fund, the anti-bailout Dutch vote in elections just as Greece tries to renegotiate its financial lifeline, and decisions need to be made on whether taxpayers suffer huge losses on state loans to Athens.
On top of that, the euro zone has to figure out how to help its next wobbling dominoes, Spain and Italy – or what do if one or both were to topple.
“In nearly 20 years of dealing with EU issues, I’ve never known a state of affairs like we are in now,” one euro zone diplomat said this week. “It really is a very, very difficult fix and it’s far from certain that we’ll be able to find the right way out of it.”
Since the crisis erupted in January 2010, the euro zone has had to rescue relative minnows in Greece, Ireland and Portugal as they lost the ability to fund their budget deficits and debt obligations by borrowing commercially at affordable rates.
Now two much larger economies are in the firing line and policymakers must consider ever more radical solutions.
If Spain, the euro zone’s fourth biggest economy and the world’s 12th, loses affordable market financing the next domino at risk of falling is Italy – the euro zone’s third biggest economy and a member of the G7 group of big wealthy nations.
A bailout of Spain would probably be double those of Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined, while Italy’s economy is twice as large as Spain’s again.
The European Union has already agreed to lend up to 100 billion euros to rescue Spanish banks. One euro zone official said Madrid has now conceded that it might need a full bailout worth 300 billion euros from the EU and IMF if its borrowing costs remain unaffordable.
European officials have spent the past few days issuing a series of statements declaring they will act to halt the crisis.
In the latest, issued on Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Mario Monti “agreed that Germany and Italy would do everything to protect the euro zone”.
The wording was similar to remarks by European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi last week prompted buying in financial markets on the expectation that the bank would take steps to lower the cost of borrowing of Spain and Italy.
DEFLATING LIFE RAFT
The euro zone does not seem to have enough cash in the current setup to deal with a scenario of Spain and Italy needing a rescue, and a sense of doom is growing among some policymakers. Fighting the crisis, said the euro zone diplomat, is like trying to keep a life raft above water.
“For two years we’ve been pumping up the life raft, taking decisions that fill it with just enough air to keep it afloat even though it has a leak,” the diplomat said. “But now the leak has got so big that we can’t pump air into the raft quickly enough to keep it afloat.”
Compounding the problems, Greece is far behind with reforms to improve its finances and economy so it may need more time, more money and a debt reduction from euro zone governments.
If Greek debt cannot be made sustainable, the country may have to leave the euro zone, sending a shockwave across financial markets and the European economy.
September 12 is a crucial date in the European diary. On that day the German Constitutional Court is scheduled to rule on whether a treaty establishing the euro zone’s permanent bailout fund, the 500 billion euro European Stability Mechanism (ESM), is compatible with the German constitution.
A positive ruling is vital, because Germany is the biggest funder of the ESM, and the euro zone would be powerless to protect Spain or Italy without the ESM.
On the same day, parliamentary elections are held in the Netherlands where popular opposition to spending any more money on bailing out spendthrift euro zone governments is strong. The Dutch vote may complicate talks on a revised second bailout for Greece, which also has to be agreed in September.
Athens wants two more years than originally planned to cut its budget deficit to below 3 percent of GDP, so as not to impose yet more spending cuts on a country which is already in a depression.
This would mean Greece’s 130 billion euro second bailout package may need to be increased by 20-50 billion euros, according to estimates by some euro zone officials and economists, and there is no appetite in the euro zone to give Greece yet more extra money.
More importantly Greece needs to bring its debt, which is equal to 160 percent of its annual economic output, under control. This means euro zone governments, which own roughly two thirds of it, may need to write part of it off.
Private creditors have already suffered a huge writedown in the value of their Greek debt holdings but so far euro zone taxpayers have not lost a cent on any of the bailouts.
LAST CHANCE OPTIONS
Policymakers are working on “last chance” options to bring Greece’s debts down and keep it in the euro zone, with the ECB and national central banks looking at also taking significant losses on the value of their bond holdings, officials said.
If governments swallowed the bitter pill by also accepting a cut in the value of their contributions to loans already made to Greece, this would break a taboo and could provoke demands for similar treatment from Ireland or Portugal.
Peter Vanden Houte, chief economist at ING bank, said euro governments might be forced to accept a halving of the value of their Greek debt – known in the business as haircut.
“If Greece is to be saved, we must see some debt forgiveness from euro zone governments in the coming years because otherwise Greece is never going to come out of the situation it is in now,” he said. “We are talking about potentially a 50 percent haircut, which would still mean the Greek debt would be (proportionately) around the euro zone average.”
The euro zone would want concessions from Athens. “Most probably in exchange, euro zone partners will be more strict on Greek compliance with structural reforms and may ask Greece to give up some sovereignty,” said Vanden Houte.
While no official discussions are underway on another Greek debt restructuring, euro zone officials say privately it may be necessary if Greece is to have a fighting chance.
“The Greeks might say they are in such a mess that to survive they we need to ease up the austerity a bit, and to still regain debt sustainability they will have to default on 30-40 percent of the loans,” one euro zone official said.
“There would be a lot of people saying this is understandable, so maybe this makes sense and maybe we could have a reasonable discussion among the member states on how Greece can move forward,” the official said.
The official speculated that euro zone debt forgiveness for Greece could be made dependent on progress in structural reforms or that it could be reviewed once Athens has to start paying back the capital of the loans in 10 years.
“Maybe we could agree to give debt relief of, say, 25 percent to make possible some changes in the program. Then we implement that for six months or a year and maybe we find out that we need to give them another 25 percent and at the end of the day we might get to a stable situation,” the official said.
The situation will become clearer once international lenders produce a new debt sustainability analysis for Greece at the end of August.
THE BATTLE OF SPAIN
Preventing Spain and Italy from losing debt market access may require the crossing of another red line – ECB help in keeping down governments’ borrowing costs.
Draghi signaled last Thursday the bank was ready to act, indicating it may revive its program of buying bonds of troubled governments on the secondary market.
“Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough,” Draghi said. “To the extent that the size of the sovereign premia (borrowing costs) hamper the functioning of the monetary policy transmission channels, they come within our mandate.”
However, Germany has always been hostile to the idea and the Bundesbank said on Friday that it continued to view it “in a critical fashion”.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble dismissed suggestions Spain will ask the bailout fund to try to lower its borrowing costs by purchasing its bonds.
Spain faces high borrowing costs because investors fear they will not get their money back. The Spanish economy is shrinking, many of its autonomous regions need bailouts from Madrid and banks need the recapitalization of up to 100 billion euros.
Madrid still has to raise about 50 billion euros on the market by the end of the year. This may be impossible if its funding costs stay well above 7 percent for 10-year bonds.
Draghi’s remarks knocked yields down by more than 40 basis points to below 7 percent on Thursday, but they could quickly climb back if the market does not see firm ECB buying soon.
The ECB also seems to be softening its stance on another taboo – giving the ESM a banking license so the fund can borrow from the ECB against euro zone government bonds.
If Spain or Italy applied for euro zone help in bringing down their borrowing costs, the temporary European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bailout fund or the ESM could help.
But with their combined firepower, under current agreements, of 459.5 billion euros until July 2013 and at 500 billion from July 2014, the funds do not have enough to impress markets.
If the ESM could refinance itself at the ECB, however, it would have virtually unlimited firepower for bond market intervention without causing inflationary pressure.
Discussions on the banking license for the ESM have been going on in the background for many months, officials said, with France openly calling for such a solution, but Germany, Finland and the Netherlands strongly against.
After a wildly volatile week in the markets last week, which saw huge gains on Thursday and Friday, the coming week promises to be a massive one for the entire global economy.
That’s because there’s going to be tons of economic data, and potential action from the world’s most important central banks.
Tomorrow, Monday, is actually pretty quiet, but starting Tuesday it will be non-stop action all the way through Friday.
In the US on Tuesday are several important numbers: Personal Income, Consumer Sentiment, Chicago PMI, and the Case-Shiller home price report. Case-Shiller should be particularly interesting, given the growing belief that home prices are in the process of bottoming.
Then on Tuesday night we get the start of the monthly ritual of PMI day: When all the big economies around the world have their latest PMI readings unveiled on the first of the month. China and South Korea will kick things off, but the numbers will go all night, through Europe, and then of course into the US, when the ISM will be released at 10:00 AM ET on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday: The ADP jobs report, construction spending, and auto and truck sales.
And of course, the Fed makes its next policy announcement.
The next day, Thursday, we’ll get decisions from the BoE and the ECB (which is suddenly the center of the world, as more hints emanate out of Europe that the ECB may do something to suppress peripheral borrowing costs). In the US on Thursday we get initial claims and Factory Orders.
Finally on Friday comes the Big Kahuna of US economic data: The Jobs Report. Expectations are for a measly 100K new jobs, though that would actually be higher than the previous month’s 80K. Later that day comes the ISM services report.
So yes! Huge week of economic data and central bank action.
July 25, 2012 – ECONOMY – Russia’s economy is set to succumb to the baleful effects of the euro zone’s fiscal and banking crises as commodity prices fall, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said Wednesday. As long ago as October of last year, the EBRD slashed its growth forecasts for eight economies in central Europe and the Baltics, or CEB, and seven economies in southeastern Europe, or SEE, citing their close trade and financial links to the euro zone. With strong growth elsewhere in the global economy supporting prices for oil and other raw materials, the EBRD’s forecasts for Russia were largely unchanged. But in its latest report on the outlook for the economies in which it invests, the development bank said the impact of the currency area’s prolonged crisis will spread further east, and drag Russia down. “The negative spillovers are reaching east, and to Russia in particular through two main channels: lower commodity prices and a general reduction in risk appetite,” said Piroska Nagy, director for country strategy and policy at the EBRD. As recently as May, the EBRD forecast that Russia’s economy would grow by 4.2% this year and 4.3% next, roughly in line with the 4.3% expansion it enjoyed in 2011. In the development bank’s latest report, those forecasts were slashed to 3.1% and 3.3% respectively. Those forecasts jar with the Russian government’s view. On Friday, Economic Development Minister Andrei Belousov said the government expects the economy to grow by between 3.8% and 4% this year, having earlier forecast it would grow by 3.4%. The EBRD’s warning on the growth outlook follows a report by Moody’s Investors Service Monday that said that if the euro zone’s crisis intensifies, the Russian economy could contract by 5% over the next 10 to 12 months, and the ruble could depreciate by 30%. With its own economic fortunes on the line, the Russian government Monday reaffirmed its commitment to support the currency area. “We hold 40% of our gold and forex reserves in euros, and structurally we’re not lowering that level of our reserves, and some of these reserves have been invested in the government securities of European states,” President Vladimir Putin said. “We’re not changing anything, we believe in the fundamental possibilities of the European economy.” The EBRD’s projections are based on the assumption that the euro zone “muddles through” its crisis, neither resolving it in the near term, nor letting a major economy such as Italy or Spain lose access to the international bond markets, leading to failures in a number of large banks. The development bank warned that should the crisis intensify, its forecast for growth in Russia and elsewhere would be even lower. -WSJ
July 23, 2012 – GREECE – Mr. Samaras’s comments come two days before a team of Greece’s debt inspectors arrive in Athens to push for further austerity measures if the debt-laden country wants to qualify for further rescue payments and avoid a chaotic default. Athens wants to soften the terms of a €130bn euro bailout agreed last March with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, to soften their impact on an economy going through its worst post-war recession. Greek GDP is expected by the end of this to have shrunk by about a fifth in five consecutive years of recession since 2008, hammered by tax hikes, spending cuts and wage reductions required by two EU/IMF bailouts. Unemployment climbed to a record 22.6pc in the first quarter. “You had the Great Depression in the United States,” Samaras told Clinton, who was visiting Greece as part of a delegation of Greek-American businessmen. “This is exactly what we’re going through in Greece – it’s our version of the Great Depression.” Athens must reduce its budget deficit below 3pc of GDP by the end of 2014, from 9.3pc of GDP in 2011 – requiring almost another €12bn euros in cuts and higher taxes on top of the 17 billion successive governments have cut from the budget shortfall. Greece wants its lenders to give it two more years to achieve the budget goal to avoid an even deeper economic slump but its lenders have opposed the idea because it would imply an even bigger financial aid to the country. Highlighting growing frustration with Athens, German magazine “Der Spiegel” reported on Sunday, without citing sources, that the IMF may not take part in any additional financing for Greece. The German and Greek finance ministries declined to comment on the report, which suggested additional support required for Athens could range from €10-50bn euros. Officials have already indicated there would be a shortfall on the current bailout. How much is likely to depend on the extent by much Greece misses its fiscal targets and the extent of support needed to keep its major banks afloat. The inspection team of the international “troika” of the EU, the IMF and the ECB will focus on the €11.7bn of spending cuts Athens needs to take in 2013 and 2014. –Telegraph
July 9, 2012 – EUROZONE – France joined a handful of euro-zone countries Monday in selling short-term debt at negative interest rates as investors seek alternatives to expensive German and Dutch debt. Earlier in the day, Germany’s six-month borrowing costs again turned negative at an auction, after the European Central Bank slashed its key policy and deposit rates to unprecedented levels last week. The negative yield at Monday’s German auction, the lowest on record in this maturity segment, means that investors effectively pay the German state for the privilege of holding its debt. The Dutch State Treasury Agency had already sold Treasury Certificates, or short-term debt, at negative yields. Now the French government is doing so as well. Germany sold 3.290 billion euros ($4.041 billion) of six-month Treasury bills, known as Bubills, at an average yield of -0.0344%. This is not only below the 0.0070% reached at the previous auction June 11 but also lower than the -0.0122% seen at an auction Jan. 9. France sold EUR3.917 billion of 13-week Treasury bills at an average yield of -0.005%, down from 0.048% a week ago, and it sold EUR1.993 billion of 24-week Treasury bills at an average yield of -0.006%, down from 0.096% last week. Yields on France’s 50-week Treasury bills also came very close to zero, being allocated at an average yield of 0.013%, down from 0.163% a week ago. The German Finance Agency’s EUR4 billion offer attracted EUR5.480 billion in bids. The solid demand signals that many investors are still willing to forego returns in exchange for safety. While German yields have turned negative several times in the secondary market, this is the second time so far this year that borrowing costs were negative at a German debt auction. -WSJ
In May, Roubini predicted four elements – stalling growth in the U.S., debt troubles in Europe, a slowdown in emerging markets, particularly China, and military conflict in Iran – would come together to create a storm for the global economy in 2013.
“(The) 2013 perfect storm scenario I wrote on months ago is unfolding,” Roubini said on Twitter on Monday.
Chinese inflation data released on Monday, suggested that the economy is cooling faster than expected, while employment data out of the U.S. on Friday indicated that jobs growth was tepid for a fourth straight month in June.
Roubini said that unlike in 2008 when central banks had “policy bullets” to stimulate the global economy, this time around policymakers are “running out of rabbits to pull out of the hat.”
“Levitational force of policy easing can only temporarily lift asset prices as gravitational forces of weaker fundamentals dominate over time,” he said.
Bill Smead, CEO of Smead Capital Management, agrees that there is little central banks can do to arrest the global slowdown.
Last week, he told CNBC that there is “virtually zero chance” that pump-priming by central banks will succeed, suggesting that policymakers should instead let the economic bust work itself through the system.