Tag Archives: PIIGS

‘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.

Greek Default Could Have Lehman-Like Impact

29 Apr

The rapidly spreading Greek debt contagion poses a very real and present danger to the Australian banking sector, and thus to our economy. Why? Because our banking system is desperately overreliant on sourcing its funding from the global capital markets.

From The Big Chair:

The chief executive of National Australia Bank, Cameron Clyne, referred last week to Australian banks’ dependence on wholesale funding markets as their Achilles heel.

The Treasury secretary, Ken Henry, has also talked about Australian banks not being “well insulated” from the fallout of events like the Lehman Bros collapse, and the International Monetary Fund has said Australian banks are exposed to rollover risks on their short-term wholesale funding.

On average, Australian banks are sourcing just under a third of their funding from overseas wholesale markets and still too much of their existing borrowings are short term.

Australian banks are among the more vulnerable plays in the world to another Lehman-style event because of their dependence on overseas wholesale markets, which have proven already they can freeze up for extended periods.

It is these very same wholesale markets that are now trembling with trepidation at the consequences of the Greek – and now Eurozone – debt crisis.

From the UK’s Independent:

Why does Greece’s debt crisis matter to the rest of us? The answer, in a word: contagion.

If Greece defaults or crashes out of the euro it will send an almighty shockwave through the global capital markets. First of all, French and German banks, which are estimated to hold up to 70 per cent of Greece’s debt, will register writedowns. If their exposure is great enough, they could even go bust.

The fear that commercial banks were on the verge of failure was responsible for the last credit crunch as financial firms grew wary of lending money to each other at anything other than penal interest rates. If that fear of failure returns, we might witness another savage contraction in lending. And another credit crunch would open the way for the long-feared “double dip” recession.

Most Australians remain oblivious to this threat of another, much larger wave of the GFC. Doubtless this is largely because our “experts” continue to tell us that the GFC is “over”, while preaching the dawning of a “period of unprecedented prosperity”, and downplaying any concerns for this country. Just as they did in 2008 when they all completely failed to foresee the onrushing first wave of the GFC.

From The Australian (Feb 2010):

Investor confidence was roiled in recent weeks on fears of sovereign default in Europe and some signs that the broader global economic recovery was slowing as policy stimulus measures wound down.

Dr Debelle (Assistant Governor of the RBA) said risks that still existed did not relate to Australia or Asia, however, where bank balance sheets remained in sound condition – instead they referred to banks in Europe and the US, where poor macroeconomic conditions were expected to weigh on loan books.

Greece Downgraded To Junk Status

28 Apr

Readers will be aware that I’ve been highlighting news about the Greek debt situation for some months. As a member of the European Monetary Union, and the Eurozone country with the gravest debt situation, it was always likely to be the first domino to fall.  Now it has.

From AAP:

Greece’s debt has been downgraded to junk status by Standard & Poor’s amid mounting fears that the debt crisis in Europe is spiralling out of control.

In a statement on Tuesday, the agency says that it is lowering its rating on Greece’s debt to BB+ from BBB- – that means that the country’s debt does not carry the investment grade tag.

The agency is also warning debtholders that they only have an average chance of between 30 to 50 per cent of getting their money back in the event of a debt restructuring or default.

European stock markets and the euro sank on Tuesday amid growing fears that the Greek debt crisis will spread to other weak eurozone countries, with Portugal now in the firing line.

“It can really be summed up in one word – contagion,” said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

The markets fell after Standard & Poor’s, a leading international ratings agency, downgraded Greek sovereign debt to junk status and cut Portugal’s long-term credit score by two notches.

The London stock market dived 2.61 per cent, the Frankfurt DAX sank 2.73 per cent and the CAC 40 in Paris plunged by 3.82 per cent. The Lisbon stock market sank by 5.36 per cent and Athens plunged six per cent.

The euro, which has been rocked for months over the debt drama in Greece, plunged again against the US and Japanese currencies, falling to $1.3250 from $1.3378 a day earlier and to Y123.46 yen from Y125.72 on Monday.

….

“Greece’s fiscal problems, and the market’s lack of confidence in dealing with them, are spilling over to other countries seen as having a kindred fiscal spirit,” said Patrick O’Hare at Briefing.com.

Greece has asked the European Union and International Monetary Fund to activate a three-year rescue package worth up to E45 billion ($A64.98 billion) in the first year.

However, the bailout is shrouded in uncertainty, with Germany insisting that Athens must first demonstrate how it plans to get its public finances in order before it gets the money.

“It is still the uncertainty surrounding this Greece bailout,” added Spreadex trader David Rees.

To compound matters, the EU/IMF rescue package may not be enough to resolve the wider problem of debt, according to VTB Capital economist Neil MacKinnon.

“The markets are worried that any fresh EU/IMF package to cover Greece’s funding needs in the short term are not enough to resolve the problem of worsening debt sustainability,” MacKinnon told AFP.

“Double digit interest rates and triple-digit debt levels are a recipe for debt restructuring and eventual default.”

The Greek debt crisis also unnerved Wall Street, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average sliding 1.24 per cent, Nasdaq shedding 1.44 per cent and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index declining 1.57 per cent.

The first domino has fallen. Who will be next? And just how far will the contagion spread?

Barnaby Joyce began speaking out about the risks to our economy from excessive debt both here and in other countries as early as October last year. For this, he was ridiculed and smeared by our know-nothing media and “expert” economic commentariat, and by the pompous “authorities” in government, the Treasury, and the RBA.

All of these utterly failed the Australian public, by their complete failure to foresee the on-rushing first wave of the GFC in 2008.

Now they are failing us all over again, by their naïve and arrogant dismissal of the potential global impacts of the rapidly spreading Eurozone debt crisis.  They seem to believe that because our island “escaped” the first wave, that somehow means we will miss the next (bigger) one as well.

Barnaby Is Right.

Greek Debt Woes Rising

8 Apr

From the Associated Press:

European stock markets fell Wednesday amid mounting concerns about Greece’s debt crisis while U.S. shares drifted lower as the Dow Jones industrial average fell short of breaking above 11,000.

Once again, Greece took center stage as investors continued to fret about the country’s ability to pay off its debts — the ten-year spread between Greek and Germany bond yields stood at 4 percentage points, having earlier hit 4.12 percent, its highest level since the euro was introduced in 1999. The spread is also way up on the 3 percent level when the EU agreed on an aid program that would involve the International Monetary Fund.

“All of this puts a question mark over longer term debt sustainability as well as the threat of contagion elsewhere in the eurozone,” said Neil Mackinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital.

With fiscal retrenchment due in Greece, as well as Portugal and Spain, there are also mounting concerns that the debt crisis will weigh on eurozone economic growth for a long time yet, particularly as lower demand for German goods could squeeze the eurozone’s biggest economy.

“This does not look like a sensible strategy and will likely end up in economic slump for the eurozone generally alongside the risk of deflation,” said Mackinnon.

Worries about the strength of the eurozone economy were stoked further on Wednesday with the news that economic growth ground to a halt in the last three months of 2009 as output stagnated in Germany and contracted once again in Italy.

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.

We’re About To Discover That Sovereign Nations Can Go Bust Just Like Companies

30 Mar

From BusinessInsider:

Bill Gross (Ed: Head of PIMCO, the world’s largest bond trading firm) knocks the halo off of sovereign bonds in his latest March outlook.

He highlights how sovereign debt has been struck with more bad news than corporate debt lately.

While sovereign credit used to be generally considered more secure than that of private companies, suddenly the default of nations such as Greece, the U.K., or even Japan seems on the table, while that of many strong corporates remains remote.

What’s happening, according to Mr. Gross, is that government bonds are starting to look just like corporate bonds, rather than existing on some privileged less-risky peer as in the past. Because it’s anything goes and anyone can default in the new ‘unibond’ market.

Bill Gross commented that:

Government bailouts and guarantees such as those evidenced and envisioned in Dubai and Greece, as well as those for the last 18 months with banks and large industrial corporations across the globe, suggest a more homogeneous “unicredit” type of bond market. If core sovereigns such as the U.S., Germany, U.K., and Japan “absorb” more and more credit risk, then the credit spreads and yields of these sovereigns should look more and more like the markets that they guarantee. The Kings, in other words, in the process of increasingly shedding their clothes, begin to look more and more like their subjects. Kings and serfs begin to share the same castle.

Barnaby Joyce began raising questions about the possibility of ‘default’ by nations such as the USA last year. He was roundly ridiculed by all and sundry for doing so.

Unfortunately, no one raised the point that there is more than one way that a sovereign ‘default’ can occur. Historically, the most common form of ‘default’ is simply where the sovereign nation inflates away its debts. How? By destroying the value of its own currency:

Thus there are no longer any holy bond cows left in this world.

Heck, even U.S. bonds are subject to ‘stealth-default’ risk, which is simply the eating away of bond value over time via inflation and dollar depreciation.

Barnaby is right.

Global Turmoil Looms: Keating

27 Mar

From The Age:

Paul Keating has delivered a bearish assessment of the world economy, warning that another bout of global turmoil is possible if trade and capital imbalances go unaddressed.

The former prime minister and treasurer last night argued current account surplus nations such as China and Germany must urgently shrink their surpluses by lifting the role of domestic demand.

Failure to do so could trigger another sharp deterioration in global economic conditions, he said, damaging Australia’s growth prospects.

Mr Keating also casts doubt on China’s ability to continue growing at recent rates of near 10 per cent. He said this rate was being artificially supported by excessive investment and its pegged currency, which makes its exporters more competitive.

“Our biggest customer China is growing for the moment… but only on investment steroids,” he said.

The former prime minister also highlighted risks to foreign countries with large debts, such as the US and Europe.

In the event of a double-dip recession, Mr Keating said the developed world would not have the funding to support massive fiscal packages.

“If a financial crisis comes in the future there won’t be the method to deal with it as we’ve seen in this crisis,” he said.

Keating is correct.

Thanks to Rudd Labor’s panicked, massive “stimulus” spending – tens of billions of borrowed money wasted on pink batts, foil insulation, and Julia Gillard Memorial School Halls – Australia no longer has a safety net.

And despite the daily warnings of crisis dead ahead – now coming even from former “world’s greatest treasurer” Paul Keating – Rudd Labor is continuing to borrow well over $1bn a week.

When the next wave of the GFC comes, everyone will know that Barnaby is right.

China Says Greek Debt Crisis ‘Tip Of The Iceberg’

26 Mar

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

The euro slumped Thursday to a fresh 10-month low after a senior Chinese central bank official warned that the Greek debt crisis was just the “tip of the iceberg.”

Analysts said the comments, and a debt downgrade for Portugal on Wednesday, suggested the crisis was widening to take in the entire eurozone project.

“The fact that Zhu Min, the deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, felt compelled … to call the Greek debt crisis ‘the tip of the iceberg,’ is as good an indication as any of how rapidly fundamental concerns are growing about the eurozone,” said analyst Neil Mellor at Bank of New York Mellon.

“Indeed, this comment might well signal the point that we stop talking about a ‘Greek debt crisis’ and start talking about a ‘Eurozone structural crisis’ instead,” Mellor said in a research note to clients.

Please take the time to browse the recent posts on this blog.

Our financial authorities – RBA Governor Glenn Stevens, Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, and the Labor Government – are all convinced that the global financial crisis is ‘over’.

They have publicly declared that Australia is all set for a new, multi-decade mining boom (thanks to China), that will provide us with a “period of unprecedented prosperity”.

They have ridiculed Barnaby Joyce, our only politician with the courage to publicly raise questions about the state of the rest of the world’s economies, and what calamity that might mean for Australia, since last October.

And, all of them (except Barnaby) completely failed to predict the GFC in the first place.

Yet, our media and the public believe that everything is fine.  That the Government can just keep right on borrowing around $2bn a fortnight, to continue squandering on a massive, rushed and bungled “stimulus”.

Barnaby is right.

Waking Up To Sovereign Debt

25 Mar

From Business Spectator:

The current Greek debt crisis is likely to be only the first of a series of disruptions this year, as global financial markets inevitably shift their attention to the sovereign debt problems of advanced economies.

These problems were magnified by the global financial crisis. Faced with a collapse in consumer spending, and the risk of widespread bank failures, governments opened their cheque books while central banks printed trillions of dollars.

This had the effect of stabilising the financial system, but we now have to deal with consequences of these actions, and particularly with the deterioration in the balance sheets of most advanced economies.

The sovereign debt problem is not confined to the so-called PIIGS of Europe (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain). Markets are also unnerved by the massive build-up of government debt in the United Kingdom and Japan. And that’s without mentioning the huge budgetary problems facing debt-laden US states, such as California.

There are various doomsday scenarios as to how this situation will ultimately play out.

The first is that countries will start off by heading in the direction that Greece is currently taking. That is, governments will attempt to repair their balance sheets by slashing their spending, and pushing up tax rates.

But the worry is that such budgetary measures will prove counter-productive. The countries that follow this path will end up with their economies plunging into recession, and with an outbreak of social unrest. And as their economies shrink, their tax revenues will dry up, which means that they won’t be able to pay the interest bills on their massive debt.

Eventually the situation will become untenable, and central banks will be forced to respond to the situation by printing more and more money in order to create enough inflation to erode the value of the debt.

Under this scenario, massive central bank money printing means ending up with hyperinflation, along the lines of the Weimar Republic, or, more recently, Zimbabwe. In which case the price of gold explodes, with some predicting it could reach $5,000 an ounce. Prices for other commodities also soar, and stock prices are also likely to remain high, as it is assumed that central banks will always keep interest rates below the rate of inflation.

The alternative fear is that the world ends up looking a lot more like Japan than Zimbabwe, and the main struggle is against deflation.

Under this scenario, the determination of consumers to reduce their debt levels overwhelms government efforts to stimulate the economy. What’s more, the deleveraging process causes demand to collapse, and this puts pressure on labour costs. Households respond to this further deterioration in their earnings by tightening their belts even further, resulting in an ongoing deflationary cycle.

One of the main arguments of this camp is that even though central banks continue to print huge amounts of money, it won’t lead to inflation because the banks are not lending the money. Instead, total credit in the economy will contract as consumers, and businesses, try to repay their existing debts, rather than taking out new loans.

According to this view, the price of gold and other commodities will collapse. The drop in demand will also put pressure on the profit margins of businesses, and this will push global sharemarkets lower, even though interest rates will be kept close to zero.

Of course, it’s likely that neither of these two extreme views will play out in their entirety. But we are likely to see markets oscillate between these two opposing fears as worries about sovereign debt continue to climb this year.

Got to love that blind optimism in the final paragraph.

It’s interesting to observe how the power of denial encourages an otherwise rational and sensible commentator to set aside all the evidence of where things are clearly headed, simply because the end of this road looks calamitous –

"She'll Be Right, Mate"

IMF Warns Wealthiest Nations About Debt

22 Mar

From the New York Times:

In a speech at the China Development Forum in Beijing, the I.M.F. official, John Lipsky, who is the deputy managing director, offered a grim prognosis for the world’s wealthiest nations, which are at a level of indebtedness not seen since the aftermath of World War II.

For the United States, “a higher public savings rate will be required to ensure long-term fiscal sustainability,” Mr. Lipsky said.

Mr. Lipsky said the average ratio of debt to gross domestic product in advanced economies was expected this year to reach the level that prevailed in 1950. Even assuming that fiscal stimulus programs are withdrawn in the next few years, that ratio is projected to rise to 110 percent by the end of 2014, from 75 percent at the end of 2007.

Indeed, the ratio is expected to be close to or to exceed 100 percent for five of the Group of 7 countries — excluding Canada and Germany — by 2014.

Mr. Lipsky warned governments not to try to inflate their way out of their debts.

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