Posts Tagged ‘Eurozone’

George Soros on European Fiscal & Banking Crisis and EU Summit on June 28-29, 2012

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Here I present key take-aways from George Soros’ in depth Bloomberg interview on the current European fiscal and banking crisis, Angela Merkel, the Spanish bailout, and Greece leaving the Eurozone.

The video is also below:

Banking & Fiscal Issues

  • “There is an interrelated problem of the banking system and the excessive risk premium on sovereign debt – they are Siamese twins, tied together and you have to tackle both.”
  • Soros summarizes the forthcoming Eurozone Summit ‘fiasco’ as fatal if the fiscal disagreements are not resolved in 3 days.
  • There is no union without a transfer.
  • Europe needs banking union.
    • Germany will only succumb if Italy and Spain really push it to the edge (Germany can live in the present situation; the others cannot)
    • Europe needs a fiscal means of strengthening growth through Treasury type entity
      • What is needed is a European fiscal authority that will be composed of the finance ministers, but would be in charge of the various rescue mechanisms, the European Stability Mechanism, and would combine issuing treasury bills.
        • Those treasury bills would yield 1% or less and that would be the relief that those countries need in order to finance their debt.
        • Bill would be sold on a competitive basis.
        • Right now there are something like over €700bn euros are kept on deposit at the European Central Bank earning a 0.25% because the interbank market has broken down, so then you have €700bn of capital that would be very happy to earn 0.75% instead of 0.25%, and the treasury bills by being truly riskless and guaranteed by the entire community, would yield in current conditions less than 1%.
        • Governments should start a European unemployment scheme, paid on a European level instead of national level.
        • Soros’ solutions, however, are unlikely to prove tenable in the short-term as he notes “Merkel has emerged as a strong leader”, but “unfortunately, she has been leading Europe in the wrong direction”.
          • “Euro bonds are not possible because Germany would not consider euro bonds until there is a political union, and it should come at the end of the process not at the beginning.
          • This would be a temporary measure, limited both in time and in size, and thereby it could be authorized according to the German constitution as long as the Bundestag approves it, so it could be legal under the German constitution and under the existing treaties.
          • The political will by Germany to put it into effect and that would create a level playing field so that Italy and Spain could actually refinance debt on reasonable terms.

Scenario Discussion

  • LTRO would be less effective now
  • At 6%, 7% of Italy’s GDP goes towards paying interest, which is completely unsustainable
  • Spain may need a full bailout if summit is not successful
    • Financial markets have the ability to push countries into default
    • Because Spain cannot print money itself
    • Even if we manage to avoid, let’s say an ‘accident’ similar to what you had in 2008 with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the euro system that would emerge would actually perpetuate the divergence between creditors and debtors and would create a Europe which is very different from open society.
    • It would transform it into a hierarchical system where the division between creditors and debtors would become permanent…It would lead to Germany being in permanent domination.
      • It would become like a German empire, and the periphery would become permanently depressed areas.

On Greece

  • Greece will leave the Eurozone
    • It’s very hard to see how Greece can actually meet the conditions that have been set for Greece, and the Germans are determined not to modify those conditions seriously, so medium term risk
    • Greece leaving the euro zone is now a real expectation, and this is what is necessary to strengthen the rest of the euro zone, since Greece can’t print money
    • By printing money, a country can devalue the currency and people can lose money by buying devalued debt, but there is no danger of default.
      • The fact that the individual members don’t now control the right to print money has created this situation.
      • A European country that could actually default. and that is the risk that the financial markets price into the market and that is why say Italian ten-year bonds yield 6% whereas British 10-year bonds yield only 1.25%.
  • That difference is due to the fact that these countries have surrendered their right to print their own money and they can be pushed into default by speculation in the financial markets.

On Angela Merkel

  • Angela Merkel has been leading Europe in the wrong direction. I think she is acting in good faith and that is what makes the whole situation so tragic and that is a big problem that we have in financial markets generally – she is supporting a false idea, a false ideology, a false interpretation which is reinforced by reality.
  • In other words, Merkel’s method works for a while until it stops working, and that is what is called a financial bubble
    • Financial bubbles look very good while they are being formed and everyone believes in it and then it turns out to be unsustainable…
    • The European Union could turn out to have been a bubble of this kind unless we realize there is this problem and we solve it and the solution is there.
    • I think everybody can see it, all we need to do is act on it, and put on a united front, and I think that if the rest of  Europe is united, I think that Germany will actually recognize it and adjust to it.

On Investing

  • Stay in cash
  • German yields are too low
  • If summit turns out well, purchase industrial shares, but avoid everything else (consumer, banks)

Conclusion: We are facing conditions reminiscent to the 1930s because of policy mistakes, forgetting what we should have learned from John Maynard Keynes.

Goldman on the Irish Bailout…European Contagion

Monday, November 22nd, 2010


The Irish bailout being unveiled this week will determine the performance of both the Euro and the global equity markets.  Irish and Portuguese bond spreads had been widening over the past four weeks, since Ireland again became the focus of bearish investors.  Sources claim that the current bailout will be less than 100 billion euros, and will cover the entire country’s budget needs for the next three years.  Ireland’s current budget deficit is about 19 billion euros/year. The problem is that the Irish banking system may need more help than analysts expect.  The system has more than half a trillion in assets.  According to Reuters, the hole in the commercial real estate sector is greater than 25 billion Euros alone.  This does not include potential residential losses.

To make matters worse, a Irish debt resolution could also simply shift bearish speculation to Portugal according to Citigroup and Nomura.  According to Bloomberg, “Portugal’s bonds currently yield 6.88%, compared to 8.26% for Ireland and 11.62 % for Greece.” Growth in Portugal may slow to 0.2% in 2011, which could make the deficit worse and increase worries about the country’s sovereign debt.

Zero Hedge recently provided Goldman’s perspective on the Irish bailout: “For what it’s worth, here is Goldman’s take on the Irish bailout. Since it was Goldman’s endless currency swaps that allowed Europe to lie about their deficits and true debt levels, this should be interesting…

From Francesco Garzarelli

Earlier tonight, Ireland applied for conditional funding assistance and will therefore be the first Eurozone sovereign accessing the EU-IMF support framework instituted in May. The latest European Economics Analyst provides background. There are still several uncertainties surrounding the deal, including the government’s political support (a by-election is due this Thursday), and negotiations on the banks. The yield spread between 5-yr Irish government bonds and their German counterparts has fallen by around 100bp from the 600bp highs reached on 11 November. At this point, we see scope only for a further 50bp tightening. That said, we think that this represents an important step towards a resolution of EMU sovereign woes, and a gradual relaxation of the risk premium that has built up in Italy and Spain, and in Eastern Europe.

Main Points

According to EU sources quoted by the newswires, the size of the package will be in the region of EUR 80-90bn. But this has still to be finalized, including the implications, if any for the Irish banks’ debt.  The amount is broadly in line with our estimates, and can easily be covered. Consider that the EFSM is endowed with EUR 60bn and EFSF has borrowing capacity of EUR 428bn (the portion guaranteed by Germany and France amounts to EUR 220bn). Additional IMF funding is available for up to 50% of the total amount drawn from the EFSM/EFSF with a ceiling of EUR 250bn. Both the UK and Sweden have announced they stand ready to provide bi-lateral loans.
Discussions on the cost of funds are also underway. We expect the EFSF (AAA-rated) to borrow in the region of 2.5% at the 5-yr maturity.  Assuming the terms are in line to those applied to Greece (which should represent a ceiling, given the different credit position of the two countries), the funding cost to Ireland would be along these lines:

  • EFSM/EFSF: Up to 3-yr maturity, Euribor or fixed swap + 300bp; Above 3-yr, Euribor or fixed swap +400bp; 50bp handling fee; (3-mth Euribor is currently 97bp)
  • IMF: Up to 3-yr maturity, SDR rate + 200bp; Above 3-yr, SDR rate + 300bp; Commitment fee, 50bp (est.) + 50bp service charge; (the Euro SDR rate is linked to 3-mth Euripo and is currently around 26bp)
    Using these figures and under a no IMF funding hypothesis, the savings for Ireland relative to the secondary market rates as of last Friday’s close would be in the region of 100bp (notice that the ECB has been intervening in this market, and that this is not indicative of primary access costs).
  • Ireland April 2013 yields 6.30% (bid); corresponding Eurozone funding 2.00%+300bp=5.00%
  • Ireland April 2016 yields 7.40% (mid), corresponding Eurozone funding  2.40%+400bp=6.40%

These, we stress, should be taken as ceilings. A ballpark of 60-30 from the EFSM/EFSF and IMF would result in funding cost closer to 3.5% on a 3-yr horizon.

Broader Market Implications

As discussed in our notes over the past fortnight, and in our latest Fixed Income Monthly, EMU Spreads: Navigating the Issues, we are of the view that the activation of external help should not lead to an escalation of systemic risk as seen in the aftermath of the Greek multi-lateral ‘bail-out’. A pre-agreed institutional framework is now in place, and the ‘stress tests’ have provided information on the distribution of risks across the Euro-zone banking sector.

Other than the evolution of the Irish discussions (size of the package and terms), the near term focus will also remain the Iberian peninsula. A workers strike in Portugal this Wednesday will re-kindle the debate on the much needed structural reforms. Spain unveiled a list of these last Friday, but investors remain uncomfortable about the contingent liabilities stemming from the non-listed cooperative banks.

Our opinion is that Portugal remains a possible candidate for external help, should market pressures remain high. But its systemic relevance is much smaller than that of Ireland’s or Greece’s (the largest foreign creditor is Spain). We remain of the view that Spain is in a different debt sustainability position, and the depth of its domestic market should allow it to withstand market pressures.

We continue to recommend holding 30-yr Greek paper, and would look for opportunities to re-establish long positions in intermediate maturity Italian and Spanish government bonds relative to the ‘core’ countries.

Finally, it is worth recalling that the EFSF will not pre-fund, and its funding instruments will have broadly the same profile as the related loans to Ireland. Its issuance program could lead to a marginal cheapening of bonds issued by supra-national institutions such as the European Investment Bank, the German-based KfW and the French CADES. Note, however, that these institutions have borrowing programs of EUR 60-70bn per annum, while the corresponding annual EFSF issuance would be likely quarter of that amount.”

Eurozone Credit Risk, Defined

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Great description of Eurozone Credit Risk

Eurozone Sovereign Risk (CA Research)

Greece Outlaws Shadow Transactions

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

greece3

According to Mike Shedlock, in order to collect more tax revenue in Greece, the local government recently outlawed cash transactions greater than 1,500 Euros.  Taxes were also raised on individuals who earn more than 75,000 Euros.  The Greeks have tried lowering government wages, and lowering state capital expenditures.  However, after seeing riot after riot in the education and government services industries, the only method to raise government revenue seems to be by increasing taxes and sharply reducing economic growth, while the other EU members sit back and relax.  The Greek finance minister was quoted, saying:


“From 1. Jan. 2011, every transaction above 1,500 euros between natural persons and businesses, or between businesses, will not be considered legal if it is done in cash. Transactions will have to be done through debit or credit cards”

“There’s tax relief for incomes up to 40,000 (euros)”

“Taxable income based on the new scales will include capital gains from the short-term trading of stocks”

“Deposits in banks outside Greece are exempted from audits of their origin if they are repatriated within six months of the passing of the tax bill and are taxed with a 5 percent rate”

“Wages of board members in unlisted state companies will fall by 50 percent”

“The budget bill for allowances and compensations will be cut by 10 percent”

According to Mike, “Everyone in Greece will quickly figure out that that the time to buy major purchases is now. So expect to see sales plunge starting January 1, 2011 as demand for everything priced above 1500 euros shifts forward.”

New 40% Tax Rate

In addition raising their sales and value added taxes, the Greek government plans to instate a 40% tax rate on high income individuals.

“The 40 percent tax rate will be applied on income levels that are lower than what is the case today, but there will also be intermediate rates that will provide relief for low and middle incomes,” Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou told Ta Nea newspaper in an interview.

He said that as a result of the tax changes, the biggest burden would be felt by a small percentage of tax payers as 95 percent of earners report incomes below 30,000 euros a year.

Retirement Age, Fuel Taxes Rise

Please consider Greece raises retirement age and fuel taxes a day ahead of nationwide civil service strike.

Prime Minister George Papandreou told a cabinet meeting that the reforms “must go ahead now … with greater speed.”

“Our primary duty now is to save the economy and reduce the debt, aiming to do so through the fairest possible solutions that will protect — as far as that is possible — the weaker and middle classes,” said Papandreou, who is to meet in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday ahead of a European Union summit the following day.

The new tax bill, Papaconstantinou said, will increase the burden on the rich while easing taxation for those on low incomes. The top income bracket which will be taxed by the maximum 40 percent will be expanded to include incomes of over euro 60,000 a year, from the current euro 75,000 threshold.

Papaconstantinou said that public consultation over the tax bill continued, and that there could be changes, but that any amendments would be based on the broad principles outlined in the draft.

He confirmed plans to freeze public sector hirings and wages, while cutting bonuses or stipends by 10 percent, a move he said would trim between euro18 and euro345 euros off monthly salaries. The stipend cut will also apply to those of the prime minister, ministers and other high-ranking ministry officials.

“We all know that the civil service salary system is one full of injustices, that lacks any central logic and has evolved with successive bonus payments,” Papaconstantinou said. “We are committed to have a unified payment system.”

He also said all Greeks must collect receipts in order to qualify for the income tax-free amount of euro12,000 — an attempt to crack down on widespread tax evasion, where vendors under-declare their income by not giving receipts. Cash registers will have to be installed everywhere, including kiosks found on practically every Greek street, and food markets.

Pensions Increase

In a move that makes little economic sense in light of attempted austerity measures everywhere else, Greece to grant pension increases of 1.5 pct.

“All pensions will increase by 1.5 percent,” Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said in a television interview.

“The government did not intend to raise the nation’s top 40 percent income tax rate as part of measures to shore up its finances,” he said.

Mike has “little faith this will work because revenue projections are sketchy and austerity measures will undoubtedly plunge Greece into a severe recession, if not depression.”

~I.S.

For more information, please visit Mish’s Global Economic Trends…

Greek CDS Spikes

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Greek CDS

Greek CDS has been spiking for the last two weeks, as perceived sovereign risk has risen for the “Ring of Fire” or the PIGS: Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain.  These countries all share two things in common, growing budget deficits and high debt ratios as a percentage of GDP.

For more information, please visit ZeroHedge…