Posts Tagged ‘Merkel’

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.

Italian 10 year Yield Rises Above 7.4%, Country Theoretically Unable to Fund Itself at These Levels (Bankrupt), Prime Minister Offers to Resign

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

November 9, 2011: After Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi offered to resign yesterday, the credit markets almost sighed in relief. But today, markets were punched in the jugular as LCH.Clearnet increased margin requirements on Italian bonds. Margins were raised because 10 year credit spread exceeded 450 bps, the same point at which Clearnet raised margins on the bonds of other peripheral countries in Europe.
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The pressure is certainly on the ECB and Italy now to find a solution to this debt crisis, as Italy is too large to be bailout out. Yesterday, known for his sex scandals and political corruption, Prime Minister Berlusconi was pressured to leave his post because Italian yields were creeping above 6.5%. According to the Times, “In the end, it was not the sex scandals, the corruption trials against him or even a loss of popular consensus that appeared to end Mr. Berlusconi’s 17 years as a dominant figure in Italian political life. It was, instead, the pressure of the markets — which drove Italy’s borrowing costs to record highs — and the European Union, which could not risk his dragging down the euro and with it the world economy. On Wednesday, yields on 10-year Italian government bonds — the price demanded by investors to loan Italy money — edged above 7 percent, the highest level since the adoption of the euro 10 years ago and close to levels that have required other euro zone countries to seek bailouts.”
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Currently, the Italian 10 year yield has exceeded 7.4%, and the 2 year note has risen more than 10 year rate. At this point, Italy is theoretically unable to fund itself and could theoretically be bankrupt. The margin call on bonds due between seven and 10 years was raised by five percentage points to 11.65%, for bonds due between 10 years and 15 years it was raised by five percentage points to 11.80%, while for bonds that mature in 15 years and 30 years the margin call was raised by five percentage points to 20%. The changes come into effect Nov. 9 and will have an impact on margin calls from Nov. 10, the French arm of LCH.Clearnet said.

Soros Says the U.S. is Already in a Double Dip Recession – Defining Balance Sheet Recessions

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Soros recently asserted that Europe could be more dangerous to the global financial markets than the default of Lehman Brothers in 2008, because of the political stubbornness of European policy makers.   He has been saying this for over two years now, while government officials continue to ignore him, focusing instead on making bold statements and causing riots.  In a brilliant move, Soros returned investor capital at the end of July to avoid the eyes of the public.  I am sure he is now short sovereigns via CDS, currencies, and synthetic instruments, while he continues to donate to the poor in Eastern Europe like a modern day Robin Hood.  Since March, Italian CDS has more than doubled, and French and Belgian CDS spreads will continue to creep higher as the sovereign crisis persists.  How are Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal supposed to grow their way out of debt, as deficit cutting reduces European GDP growth to less than 1%?

The public doesn’t trust officials to make timely decisions to protect the EU.   The PIIGS (Ireland and Italy included) pose an insurmountable task for the region, as the combined nations have far greater GDP and net leverage than Germany, the only country that will be supporting the EFSF with a AAA rating. Italy itself has €1.2 trillion of debt, which is  more than Germany, and France may be downgraded in the next 6 months, which is evident in how much its CDS spread has widened over the past 2 months.  France also cannot print money like the United States, and certainly should have been downgraded beforehand, sharply decreasing the effectiveness of the stabilization facility in the EU. A French downgrade would not only endanger French banks, it would create counterparty risk for its U.S. partners as well.  Soros has already claimed that the U.S. is currently in a double dip recession, which I personally think to be true.

Both the majority of the EU and the United States are in a global double dip already not only because of policy mistakes, but due to unsustainable leverage, overspending, broken healthcare and education systems, and corrupt governments. Recent real estate, manufacturing, and confidence numbers, along with revisions down in the earnings of major metallurgical coal and transportation companies in developed countries support my thesis (look at tickers ANR, WLT).  Alpha Natural Resources recently cited a sharp decrease in coal demand for steel production in Asia, reflecting weakness in both its U.S. and ex-U.S. clients.  In the U.S., real estate usually contributes 15% to GDP growth, and it is showing no chance of recovering (HOV), as most sales over the past two years have been distressed sales driven by investors, not families or single buyers.  Developed economies are slowing down quickly, as elected officials argue over who is more important than the other.  The S&P 500 ex-dividends is at the same level it was in 1998, the FTSE MIB in Italy is down 30% on the year (40% from April), and the emerging market index (EEM) just broke its 2010 lows.  Many European financial institution equities are down 60%+ to date.  Markets are broken, as the CME has to raise margins every other day to bring down the prices of precious metals, which are rising in the face of fiat destruction and future inflation risk.  Poverty has reached 15% in the United States, unemployment is over 9.2%, underemployment is about 17%, and local government cuts have resulted in the layoffs of countless public employees, like the recent 3,000 teachers who were fired in Providence, Rhode Island.

There are 44 million people on food stamps in the United States, which is supposed to be the wealthiest nation, and the land of hope for many immigrants.  Over 30% of the U.S. population pays more than half their gross income on rent, since incomes (adjusting for inflation) have not increased since 2000.  With rents projected to increase 3-4% in metropolitan areas over the next year, even the educated poor may be driven out of cities or on to the streets. The land of hope? Why don’t you ask my hardworking university friends about hope, who are much more qualified than some of their U.S. peers, but cannot get jobs and improve the quality of our economy due to the difficulty of obtaining visas.  This country was built by immigrants, who are now blocked out of entering the nation. Teen unemployment also hit decade lows this past month.

According to New York-based Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI), which tracks some 20 large economies contributing about 80% of the world GDP and provides critical information about upturns and downturns of economic cycles to money managers, we will know within the next 60 days whether we are in a recession or not.  ECRI’s Lakshman Achuthan has been one of the most accurate forecasters for economic cycles over the past decade.   He argues that the 2008/2009 recession was different than the sharp recession of the 1980s, “This is very different than the early 1980s. The issues that ail the U.S. economy and the jobs market today are not things that result from nearby events. What we’re living through and dealing with now has been building for decades,” he says. “If you look at the data, you see that the pace of expansion has been stair-stepping down ever since the 1970s, on all counts — on production, how much can we produce, how many jobs can we create, how much money do we make, how much do we sell. These are all trending down.” In the deep recession of the 1980s, GDP growth was 5%+ coming out of it…our growth in Q111 was revised down to 0.4%, and will be less than 2% for the year. Don’t believe me? Check on your own.

“If we do have a double-dip recession, Achuthan says, the people who are already having trouble finding work and paying bills are already in a depression and that they “are going to suffer more.”  ”It poses massive problems for policymakers because a new recession automatically increases all of these expenditures out of the public sector, while at the same time dramatically decreasing all their revenue,” he says. “So there’s even less ability to help the people who are hurting the most.”

Although I am not a fan of Roubini for his sensationalist gloom and doom scenarios, he does do decent research and predicted a 60% chance of a double dip in the U.S. three weeks ago.  The United States is in a balance sheet recession, as the economist Richard Koo, a strategist at Nomura, predicted may happen back in 2009.   Most of the growth we have experienced has been the result of continued fiscal and monetary stimulus from the United States government over the past three years, as well as inventory restocking.  The biggest driver of this slow and painful recession is that more stringent underwriting standards for real estate lending and small business lending are slowing down aggregate demand and GDP growth.  Koo argues that once you have a balance sheet recession, people focus on paying down debt, making the situation much worse over time.   The government has to increase fiscal stimulus for the entire duration of the private credit contraction cycle to overcome private deleveraging.  Unfortunately war and internal conflict has made this impossible in the United States as our debt to GDP nears 100%. Since the private sector has moved away from profit maximization to debt minimization, newly generated savings and debt repayments enter the banking system but cannot leave the system due to a lack of borrowers.  The economy here will not and cannot enter self-sustaining growth until private sector balance sheets are repaired.

If the government tries to cut spending too aggressively in 2012-2013, Koo thinks that we would fall into the same trap President FDR fell into in 1937 and that Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto fell into in 1997.  The deflationary gap created by a lack of credit creation and fiscal stimulus “will continue to push the economy toward a contractionary equilibrium until the private sector is too impoverished to save any money.”  The economy will collapse again, and the second collapse will be worse than the first.  It will be difficult to convince people to change their behavior in this scenario.

In a typical recession, private sector balance sheets are not hurt very badly, and most still express profit maximizing behavior.  People borrow money and spend as interest rates are lowered.  In a balance sheet recession, consumers refuse to borrow even if rates are at 0%.  This results in asset prices collapsing and banking crises.  Banks then cannot lend into the private sector, and the government becomes the borrower of last resort, at extremely low rates, because banks don’t need to hold capital against government loans.  When people use money to pay down debt, they withdraw money from their bank accounts and pay it back to the banks, so both deposits and the money supply shrink, which actually caused the Great Depression.  For example, 88% of Obama’s tax rebates have been used to pay down debt.

Let me put it in perspective:

According to Koo, “The Board of Governors of the Fed in 1976 estimated that deposits lost in Depression-era bank closures and through increased hoarding of cash outside of the banking system explained just 15% of the almost $18 billion decline in deposits during the period. Meanwhile, bank lending to the private sector plunged 47%, or by almost $20 billion, from 1929 to 1932. The conventional wisdom is that lending fell because banks panicked in response to dwindling reserves and forcibly called in loans. But that same Fed study shows that bank reserves did not actually fall during that period, when borrowings from the Fed are taken into account. In addition, a survey of almost 3,500 manufacturers, undertaken in 1932 by the National Industrial Conference Board, showed that fewer than 15% of the firms surveyed reported any difficulty in their dealings with banks.”
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If bank closures, cash hoarding and heartless bankers didn’t cause the Depression, what did? ”There’s only one possible alternative explanation for that era’s dramatic shrinkage in deposits and loans — or, at least, for the 85% of those shrinkages that can’t be attributed to the traditional villains. And that is that firms were reducing their debt voluntarily. At that time, the Fed tried to increase money supply by pumping reserves into the system, but with everyone paying down debt, the multiplier was actually negative, so it produced no results whatsoever.”
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And companies became hellbent to pay down debt because — “The price of assets purchased with borrowed funds (as most had been, during the Roaring’20s) collapsed after the stock market crash, and companies’ leverage had already gotten extremely high before the Crash. In other words, companies in the 1930s faced the same balance sheet problems as Japanese firms confronted in the 1990s. The lesson we learned from our experience in Japan is that with the government borrowing and spending money, the money multiplier will stay positive, and that’s basically how Japan kept its GDP growing throughout its Great Recession. So we have a situation where fiscal policy is actually controlling the effectiveness of monetary policy. It’s a complete reversal of what almost everyone alive today learned in school — that monetary policy is the way to go. But once everyone is minimizing debt instead of maximizing profits, all sorts of fundamental assumptions go out the window.” Just like a severe asset price crash on leverage caused crises for the U.S. in the 1930s and for Japan in the 1990s, our real estate driven recession is more than just a manufacturing slowdown or a simple policy mistake.
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In the U.S. we had over 150 bank closures last year, and have had 72 in 2011.  Banks are reticent to lend, but the real problem continues to be that there is less demand for money, and deleveraging will continue to weigh on growth for years. There are many parallels Koo describes with the Japanese crisis as well, which I will discuss in another article.
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The worst part of our current situation in the U.S. is that new bank capital adequacy standards are making it even more difficult for banks to encourage private lending.  So banks do not wish to lend, lending standards have increased dramatically, and citizens don’t want to borrow…and now with a flat yield curve, I don’t understand how financial institutions are going to dig their way out of this mess with profits either. Thank you Ben Bernanke.  Your “operation twist” policy has eroded all profit potential for financial institutions in 2012.  Let the deleveraging continue…

Cheers, Singh

“As I said there is nothing wrong with failing. Pick yourself up and try it again. You never are going to know how good you really are until you go out and face failure.”
-Henry Kravis

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Morgan Stanley Sovereign Credit Outlook: Greece Fears Continue to Drive Bond Yields Higher

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

What should have been a 1 month affair has now become a 6 month ordeal for the world credit markets.  As of today, May 5th, the European equity markets are in fact negative for the year and the world MSCI index has given up its entire gain for 2010.  It is ironic how a country that only makes up 2.3% of Europe’s GDP could cause the Euro to fall from 1.40 to 1.28 in a matter of weeks.  Euro shorts have multiplied despite efforts by banks such as Citi to put targets on the currency at 1.35+.  Commodity markets have also been roiled, with the VIX jumping 15% yesterday as well.  Worries that Portugal would be downgraded again have multiplied investor concerns.  Investors around the world wait in fear as policy measures will be discussed by Germany and other European nations on May 7th.  Riots in Greece have killed three so far in retaliation to austerity measures linked to the proposed bailout by the European Union and the IMF.

Please see Morgan Stanley’s outlook below.

Contagion Call Slides

According to Ms. Petrakis of Bloomberg, “May 6 (Bloomberg) — Greece’s Parliament will debate today the austerity measures demanded as a condition of an internationally led bailout as the nation mourns the three victims of Athens protests against the plan.

Prime Minister George Papandreou, whose Pasok party holds a 10-seat majority in the legislature, will tell lawmakers today that the wage and pension cuts are necessary to secure the 110 billion-euro ($141 billion) package and avoid default.

“No one was happy with the new measures,” Papandreou told parliament yesterday after the killings, which he called a “brutal murder.”

“We have compassion for every family who has seen their plans for the future slip seemingly further away,” he said. “But we took these measures to secure a future which might not exist otherwise.”

Greece agreed to the austerity package on May 2, pledging 30 billion euros in budget cuts in the next three years to tame the euro-region’s second-biggest deficit. Papandreou was forced to seek the aid after soaring borrowing costs left Greece cut off from markets. The measures have fueled months of protests that culminated in yesterday’s general strike. Three bank workers were killed when a small group of protesters threw fire- bombs at a bank.

Papandreou is pushing to get parliamentary approval before a European Union summit in Brussels tomorrow on the plan that will help ready the funds for distribution. The country faces 8.5 billion euros in bond redemptions on May 19.

Bonds Drop

Yesterday’s violence deepened losses in Greek debt. The yield premium investors demand to buy Greek 10-year bonds over comparable German debt, reached 719 basis points. The country’s 2-year notes yield almost 16 percent, 26 times more than Germany.

“I want to believe it is easy to overestimate this problem,” said Erik Nielsen, chief European economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc, in a conference call yester. “One should not be overly concerned so far.”

Europe is scrambling to activate the aid package to try to stop the fallout from spreading to other high-deficit countries such as Spain and Portugal. Yield premiums on those countries’ debt have also jumped and the euro has slid more than 10 percent this year, to the lowest in more than a year.

Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to the German Parliament yesterday to approve the nation’s share of the loans, saying the stability of the euro was at stake. Germany will pay 22.4 billion euros, almost 30 percent, of the euro-region funds offered to Greece over three years, and public opposition to the bailout is running high. German lawmakers will vote tomorrow on the aid.

Anarchists’ Blaze

The debate in the Greek parliament will be overshadowed by the violence of yesterday’s strike that turned deadly when protesters, who police described as self-styled anarchists, set fire to a branch of Marfin Egnatia Bank SA, killing two women and a man trapped inside the building.

Athens police swept through the anarchist stronghold of Exarhia yesterday, arresting 25, and detaining 70, according to a police statement. A total of 29 officers were injured in yesterday’s protests, the statement said.

Opposition leaders warned Papandreou not to try to exploit the deaths to push through the austerity measures.

“The tragic death of three people is absolutely condemned,” Aleka Papariga, the head of the Communist Party of Greece, said yesterday on state-run NET TV. “But it can’t be used by the government as an alibi for the people to accept these anti-democratic measures — measures that will come every three, six, nine months.”

More Strikes

The violence may not be enough to end the protests. Local government workers are continuing their strike for another 24 hours, with garbage collectors due to begin a walkout tomorrow morning, according to the state-run Athens News Agency. Stavros Koukos, the president of the federation of bank unions OTOE, told Alter TV that a 24-hour strike would be held tomorrow after the deaths of the three bank employees.

The bill on the measures will debated all day with a vote expected late in the day.

Elected in October on pledges to raise wages for public workers and step up stimulus spending, Papandreou revised up the 2009 budget deficit to more than 12 percent of gross domestic product, four times the EU limit, and twice the previous government’s estimate. EU officials revised the deficit further on April 22, to 13.6 percent of GDP.

Papandreou has said the austerity measures are needed to lower the shortfall to within the EU limit of 3 percent of GDP in 2014. Still, they will deepen a yearlong recession and lead to a 4 percent economic contraction this year and boost unemployment already at a six-year high of 11.6 percent.

“The greatest challenge of the days is maintaining social cohesion and social peace,” Greek President Karolos Papoulias said in an e-mailed statement. “Our country has reached the edge of the abyss. It is the responsibility of all of us that we not step forward into it.”