Tag Archives: ECB

Goldman Sachs Conquers Europe

28 Nov

From the UK’s Independent:

Click to enlarge

What price the new democracy? Goldman Sachs conquers Europe

The ascension of Mario Monti to the Italian prime ministership is remarkable for more reasons than it is possible to count. By replacing the scandal-surfing Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has dislodged the undislodgeable. By imposing rule by unelected technocrats, it has suspended the normal rules of democracy, and maybe democracy itself. And by putting a senior adviser at Goldman Sachs in charge of a Western nation, it has taken to new heights the political power of an investment bank that you might have thought was prohibitively politically toxic.

This is the most remarkable thing of all: a giant leap forward for, or perhaps even the successful culmination of, the Goldman Sachs Project.

It is not just Mr Monti. The European Central Bank, another crucial player in the sovereign debt drama, is under ex-Goldman management, and the investment bank’s alumni hold sway in the corridors of power in almost every European nation, as they have done in the US throughout the financial crisis. Until Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund’s European division was also run by a Goldman man, Antonio Borges, who just resigned for personal reasons.

Even before the upheaval in Italy, there was no sign of Goldman Sachs living down its nickname as “the Vampire Squid”, and now that its tentacles reach to the top of the eurozone, sceptical voices are raising questions over its influence. The political decisions taken in the coming weeks will determine if the eurozone can and will pay its debts – and Goldman’s interests are intricately tied up with the answer to that question.

Simon Johnson, the former International Monetary Fund economist, in his book 13 Bankers, argued that Goldman Sachs and the other large banks had become so close to government in the run-up to the financial crisis that the US was effectively an oligarchy. At least European politicians aren’t “bought and paid for” by corporations, as in the US, he says. “Instead what you have in Europe is a shared world-view among the policy elite and the bankers, a shared set of goals and mutual reinforcement of illusions.”

This is The Goldman Sachs Project. Put simply, it is to hug governments close. Every business wants to advance its interests with the regulators that can stymie them and the politicians who can give them a tax break, but this is no mere lobbying effort. Goldman is there to provide advice for governments and to provide financing, to send its people into public service and to dangle lucrative jobs in front of people coming out of government. The Project is to create such a deep exchange of people and ideas and money that it is impossible to tell the difference between the public interest and the Goldman Sachs interest.

Mr Monti is one of Italy’s most eminent economists, and he spent most of his career in academia and thinktankery, but it was when Mr Berlusconi appointed him to the European Commission in 1995 that Goldman Sachs started to get interested in him. First as commissioner for the internal market, and then especially as commissioner for competition, he has made decisions that could make or break the takeover and merger deals that Goldman’s bankers were working on or providing the funding for. Mr Monti also later chaired the Italian Treasury’s committee on the banking and financial system, which set the country’s financial policies.

With these connections, it was natural for Goldman to invite him to join its board of international advisers. The bank’s two dozen-strong international advisers act as informal lobbyists for its interests with the politicians that regulate its work. Other advisers include Otmar Issing who, as a board member of the German Bundesbank and then the European Central Bank, was one of the architects of the euro.

Perhaps the most prominent ex-politician inside the bank is Peter Sutherland, Attorney General of Ireland in the 1980s and another former EU Competition Commissioner. He is now non-executive chairman of Goldman’s UK-based broker-dealer arm, Goldman Sachs International, and until its collapse and nationalisation he was also a non-executive director of Royal Bank of Scotland. He has been a prominent voice within Ireland on its bailout by the EU, arguing that the terms of emergency loans should be eased, so as not to exacerbate the country’s financial woes. The EU agreed to cut Ireland’s interest rate this summer.

Picking up well-connected policymakers on their way out of government is only one half of the Project, sending Goldman alumni into government is the other half. Like Mr Monti, Mario Draghi, who took over as President of the ECB on 1 November, has been in and out of government and in and out of Goldman. He was a member of the World Bank and managing director of the Italian Treasury before spending three years as managing director of Goldman Sachs International between 2002 and 2005 – only to return to government as president of the Italian central bank.

Mr Draghi has been dogged by controversy over the accounting tricks conducted by Italy and other nations on the eurozone periphery as they tried to squeeze into the single currency a decade ago. By using complex derivatives, Italy and Greece were able to slim down the apparent size of their government debt, which euro rules mandated shouldn’t be above 60 per cent of the size of the economy. And the brains behind several of those derivatives were the men and women of Goldman Sachs.

The bank’s traders created a number of financial deals that allowed Greece to raise money to cut its budget deficit immediately, in return for repayments over time. In one deal, Goldman channelled $1bn of funding to the Greek government in 2002 in a transaction called a cross-currency swap. On the other side of the deal, working in the National Bank of Greece, was Petros Christodoulou, who had begun his career at Goldman, and who has been promoted now to head the office managing government Greek debt. Lucas Papademos, now installed as Prime Minister in Greece’s unity government, was a technocrat running the Central Bank of Greece at the time.

Goldman says that the debt reduction achieved by the swaps was negligible in relation to euro rules, but it expressed some regrets over the deals. Gerald Corrigan, a Goldman partner who came to the bank after running the New York branch of the US Federal Reserve, told a UK parliamentary hearing last year: “It is clear with hindsight that the standards of transparency could have been and probably should have been higher.”

When the issue was raised at confirmation hearings in the European Parliament for his job at the ECB, Mr Draghi says he wasn’t involved in the swaps deals either at the Treasury or at Goldman.

It has proved impossible to hold the line on Greece, which under the latest EU proposals is effectively going to default on its debt by asking creditors to take a “voluntary” haircut of 50 per cent on its bonds, but the current consensus in the eurozone is that the creditors of bigger nations like Italy and Spain must be paid in full. These creditors, of course, are the continent’s big banks, and it is their health that is the primary concern of policymakers. The combination of austerity measures imposed by the new technocratic governments in Athens and Rome and the leaders of other eurozone countries, such as Ireland, and rescue funds from the IMF and the largely German-backed European Financial Stability Facility, can all be traced to this consensus.

“My former colleagues at the IMF are running around trying to justify bailouts of €1.5trn-€4trn, but what does that mean?” says Simon Johnson. “It means bailing out the creditors 100 per cent. It is another bank bailout, like in 2008: The mechanism is different, in that this is happening at the sovereign level not the bank level, but the rationale is the same.”

So certain is the financial elite that the banks will be bailed out, that some are placing bet-the-company wagers on just such an outcome. Jon Corzine, a former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, returned to Wall Street last year after almost a decade in politics and took control of a historic firm called MF Global. He placed a $6bn bet with the firm’s money that Italian government bonds will not default.

When the bet was revealed last month, clients and trading partners decided it was too risky to do business with MF Global and the firm collapsed within days. It was one of the ten biggest bankruptcies in US history.

The grave danger is that, if Italy stops paying its debts, creditor banks could be made insolvent. Goldman Sachs, which has written over $2trn of insurance, including an undisclosed amount on eurozone countries’ debt, would not escape unharmed, especially if some of the $2trn of insurance it has purchased on that insurance turns out to be with a bank that has gone under. No bank – and especially not the Vampire Squid – can easily untangle its tentacles from the tentacles of its peers. This is the rationale for the bailouts and the austerity, the reason we are getting more Goldman, not less. The alternative is a second financial crisis, a second economic collapse.

Shared illusions, perhaps? Who would dare test it?

And in Australia?

We have the Right Honourable Malcolm Turnbull MP.

I would suggest to readers that independent trader Alessio Rastani wasn’t too far wrong:

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BBC Left Speechless: “In Less Than 12 Months The Savings Of Millions Of People Will Vanish … And Goldman Sachs Rules The World”

28 Sep

Presenter: “Jaws have collectively dropped at what you have just said.”

Stunning.

The simple, honest truth is told, by an independent trader, on BBC News.

So stunning is this, it was even shown last night on Australia’s mainstream news (Channel 10).

“This economic crisis is like a cancer .. if you just wait and wait thinking this is going to go away, just like a cancer it is going to grow and it’s going to be too late. What I would say to everybody is, get prepared. This is not a time right now to, wishful thinking that the government’s going to sort things out; the governments don’t rule the world … Goldman Sachs rules the world.”

Please share with everyone you know.

Such matter-of-fact truth-telling about markets, finance, and banksters, on mainstream TV … is truly historic.

One would expect that independent trader Alessio Rastani will never get a mainstream TV interview again (h/t ZeroHedge):

Europe Faces Gravest Challenge Since WWII

17 May

From AAP (via The Australian):

Warnings that Europe faces its gravest challenge since World War II and that the “contagion” from troubled states such as Greece could quickly spread have heightened anxiety in global markets after a steep plunge on Friday reversed much of the week’s gains.

The optimism that followed last week’s E750 billion ($1.05 trillion) European bailout evaporated late on Friday, with markets across the continent plunging and Wall Street closing sharply lower.

The euro tripped to its lowest level against the US dollar in 18 months on Friday on fears of years of weak economic growth in the 16-nation European bloc. The euro is at a record low against the Australian dollar, buying just $1.3974, down from more than $2 early last year.

The euro was not helped by comments by US President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser Paul Volcker, who spoke on Friday of the potential “disintegration” of the 16 nations that share the euro currency. And Paris has had to deny reports that President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to pull France out of the euro to force German Chancellor Angela Merkel to bail out Greece.

European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet at the weekend called for more action by euro-zone governments to improve fiscal governance.

“We are now experiencing extreme tensions,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine. “In the market, there is always a danger of contagion — like the contagion we saw among the private institutions in 2008.”

And from Business Spectator:

Yesterday, Angela Merkel, German chancellor, warned that the $1 trillion rescue package had only bought Europe time, and that further steps were needed to address the differences in competitiveness and budget deficits between the member countries.

In a speech to the annual German trade union conference, Merkel emphasised that speculation against the euro was only possible because of the huge differences in economic strength and the levels of debt between individual eurozone members.

Meanwhile, the head of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, emphasised that it was urgent that eurozone countries rectify their budget deficits.

In an interview with the German magazine, Der Spiegel, Trichet said that the world was now facing “the most difficult situation since the Second World War – perhaps even since the First World War. We have experienced – and are experiencing – truly dramatic times.”

He said that after the events of 2007-8, “private institutions and markets were about to collapse completely”. That triggered governments to step in with very bold and comprehensive financial support.

The problem was that markets were now questioning whether some governments could afford to repay their debts.

Click here for 9 simple charts that show why a collapse of the Eurozone is inevitable.

9 Charts Show Why Eurozone Collapse Is Inevitable

10 May

Here are some simple charts that demonstrate why anything and everything that the EU, ECB and/or the IMF can do now, is simply to delay the inevitable disintegration of the Eurozone.

From Der Spiegel: (click on images to enlarge)

And finally, one more chart showing how interconnected (thus vulnerable) the Eurozone countries are, due to the enormous sums of money owed by member countries just to each other: (click on image to enlarge)

‘Shock And Awe’ Needed To Save Eurozone

29 Apr

Following close on the heels of the extraordinary revelation by Ben Bernanke that the US Federal Reserve has printed $1.3 Trillion out of thin air to buy toxic Mortgage Backed Securities and prop up the US economy, now the European Central Bank may have to invoke emergency powers in order to engage in massive money printing to prop up the collapsing European bond markets.

From the UK’s Telegraph:

The European Central Bank may soon have to invoke emergency powers to prevent the disintegration of southern European bond markets, with ominous signs of investor flight from Spain and Italy.

“We have gone past the point of no return,” said Jacques Cailloux, chief Europe economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland.“There is a complete loss of confidence. The bond markets are in disintegration and it is getting worse every day.

“The ECB has been side-lined in the Greek crisis so far but do you allow a bond crash in your region if you are the lender-of-last resort? They may have to act as contagion spreads to larger countries such as Italy. We started to see the first glimpse of that today.”

Mr Cailloux said the ECB should resort to its “nuclear option” of intervening directly in the markets to purchase government bonds.

This is prohibited in normal times under the EU Treaties but the bank can buy a wide range of assets under its “structural operations” mandate in times of systemic crisis, theoretically in unlimited quantities.

The issue of the ECB buying bonds is a political minefield. Any such action would inevitably be viewed in Germany as a form of printing money to bail out Club Med debtors, and the start of a slippery slope towards in an “inflation union”.

But the ECB may no longer have any choice. There is a growing view that nothing short of a monetary blitz — or “shock and awe” on the bonds markets — can halt the spiral under way.

Only US Collapse Can Save The Euro

30 Mar

From Zerohedge:

For once, some actually good insight from a CNBC guest. Philip Manduca, Head of Investment of the ECU Group, discusses Greece and the very severe implications of what the final outcome will look like. “Trichet (Ed: President of the European Central Bank) said the Greeks are crooks, and they’ve been lying about the numbers. There is a deeply embedded corruption within the Eurozone. Combined with the endemic European socialism and there is just no way you are going to get spending cuts and tax raises and maintain a GDP that makes any sense of the percentage aspect of debt to GDP. So the whole show is wrong. This is an intractable situation, this is going to continue on and on. The only hope for the Eurozone, and the Euro as a currency, is that someone takes the spotlight soon, and that may be the United States.

ECB: Stark Warning of Eurozone Debt Crisis

17 Mar

From BusinessWeek:

European Central Bank Executive Board member Juergen Stark said the euro region may face a sovereign debt crisis unless governments reduce budget deficits.

There is “a clear risk that we will enter a third wave,” which is “a sovereign debt crisis in most advanced economies,” Stark told lawmakers in the European Parliament in Brussels today.

In Australia, our government is continuing to increase our budget deficit, by refusing to withdraw its woefully incompetent and wasteful “stimulus” spending.

Even though we had no recession, and RBA Governor Glenn Stevens recently referred to 2008-09 as “the mildest downturn” we have had since WW2.

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