June 29, 2012
Tel Aviv, Israel
This week may very well go down as ‘connect the dots’ week. Things have been moving so quickly, so let’s step back briefly and review the big picture from the week’s events:
1) After weeks… months… even years of posturing and denial, Spain and Cyprus became the fourth and fifth countries to formally request aid from Europe’s bailout funds on Monday.
In doing so, these governments have officially confessed to their own insolvency and the insolvency of their respective banking systems.
Spain’s 10-year bond yield jumped to over 7% again in response, and many Spanish banks were downgraded to junk status by Moodys.
3) JP Morgan, considered to be among the few ‘good’ banks remaining in the US, conceded that the $2 billion loss they announced several weeks ago might actually be more like $9 billion.
4) The Federal Reserve reported yesterday that foreigners are reducing their holdings of US Treasuries.
5) Countries from Ukraine to Kazakhstan to Turkey announced that they have purchased gold in recent months to bolster their growing reserves.
6) Chile has joined a growing list of countries that has agreed to bypass the US dollar and settle all of its trade with China in renminbi.
7) China has further announced plans to create a special zone in Shenzhen, one of its wealthiest cities, to allow full exchange and convertibility of the renminbi.
So… what we can see from this week’s events is:
- European governments are insolvent
- European banks are insolvent
- US governments are heading in that direction
- Even the best US banks are not as strong as believed
- Foreigners are abandoning the US dollar and seeking alternatives
- Gold is money
These events are all connected, and the trend is becoming so clear that even the most casual observers are starting to wake up.
When you connect the dots, the next steps lead to what may soon be regarded as an obvious conclusion: the system, as it exists right now, is crumbling.
No amount of self-delusion can make this go away.
Rational thinking and measured action, on the other hand, can make the consequences go away… turning people from victims into spectators of the greatest bubble burst in modern times.
- It’s time to connect the dots (sovereignman.com)
- 17 Reasons To Be EXTREMELY Concerned About The Second Half Of 2012 (blacklistednews.com)
The Obama administration wants Americans to realize what a good job it and the Bush administration did saving the economy from a second Great Depression. But they’d prefer not to make this case directly. They want journalists to do it for them.
On Friday, the Treasury Department convened one of its semi-regular, invitation-only background press briefings for journalists. Senior Treasury officials spoke to us, answered our questions, and showed us a “deck,” which is annoying industry jargon for a PowerPoint presentation. “I just know this is going to be a fucking waste of time—another dog-and-pony show,” another journalist told me on our way into the meeting. The central message of the dog-and-pony show was that the US response to the 2008 financial collapse was pretty effective, especially when compared to how other countries reacted to different crises. The PowerPoint presentation used terms like “bank investment programs,” but what the Treasury gang was talking about was the highly unpopular financial bailouts (as opposed to the auto bailouts, which the Obama team views as a political winner).
The Treasury officials said many true things. It’s certainly possible that if the government hadn’t acted quickly, the 2008 financial crisis could have been as disastrous as the Great Depression. Many of the bailouts—or “rescues,” as Treasury calls them—have resulted in net gains for the taxpayers. (The current value of the government’s shares in AIG, for example, exceed the amount of money it has yet to recover from that bailout.) The Treasury is right that countries confront major economic crises frequently and that the United States will probably face one again. And it’s legitimate for the Obama administration to worry that its successors will look at the interventions made in the markets in 2008 and fear that such action is not worth the immense political costs. Consequently, they discern the need to get good press for these bailouts.
The journalists in the room justifiably focused their questions on things that the Obama administration and the Treasury Department have not done well enough: helping struggling homeowners, lowering unemployment, and moving towards a financial order where these sorts of crises are no longer inevitable. The Treasury folks mostly wanted to talk about how successful the bailouts were. But they made that argument in a no-direct-quotes, no-television, you-can’t-even-say-our-names briefing for 20 or so journalists on a Friday afternoon. In other words, in a manner that would not associate them too closely with this argument. They did it in this fashion because they want to influence our future reporting (a fair-enough desire). But they don’t want to take on the political challenge of directly defending their massively unpopular actions in the public eye.
Senior Treasury officials clearly believe that the financial sector bailouts were a brave choice that worked out as well as anyone could have hoped, and they said as much on Friday. I’m bound by the agreement not to quote any of them directly.
But when asked about the bank bailouts in public, Obama and top administration officials usually mention that the Bush administration launched the bailouts, talk about them as something America “had” to do, and change the subject as quickly as possible. One example is Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address. “If there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, and everybody in between, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout,” Obama said. “I hated it. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.” He went on to describe the bailout as a “necessary” step taken by “the last administration,” arguing that “if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today,” with more businesses closed and more homes lost.
In that speech, the bailout was the equivalent of cutting off your hand when it’s caught under a bolder and you’re dying of thirst: a terrible thing to which there was no alternative. That’s a bit at odds with how senior Treasury officials spoke about the bailouts on Friday: a wise choice that worked out better than anyone could have anticipated, and a program that makes the administration proud. That appraisal is not on the record.
- Taxpayers to make money on TARP, Treasury says (bottomline.msnbc.msn.com)
- Treasury Dept. defends bailouts (politico.com)
- Taxpayers Set to Lose $30+ Billion on the Auto Bailout – Tea Party Nation (gds44.wordpress.com)
- Treasury points out bailout profits (upi.com)
For the majority of a nerve-wracking summit that dragged on more than 10 hours, from 6 PM CET Wednesday to 4 AM CET Thursday morning, all attempts at progress to stem the crisis appeared to hit a wall.
But EU leaders finally made a breakthrough.
At 3:30 AM CET, we heard that they were closing talks with bank representatives on “voluntary” 50% haircuts on holdings of Greek bonds. Then we started hearing about leverage, and suddenly — at 4 AM CET (10 PM EST) — we finally got word of some agreement.
So here’s the rundown of what leaders decided (EU leaders were still pretty vague about all the numbers, however, citing estimates for most things):
- 50% haircuts on private holdings of Greek bonds through 2020. Evidently this will still be voluntary. It would cut Greece’s debt by €100 billion ($139 billion). German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders aim to see the credit swap take place in January.
- Leverage will increase the firepower of the European Financial Stability Facility by 4-5 times, to somewhere in the range of €1 trillion ($1.4 trillion).
- China and the IMF could play a huge role in the bailout. Not only has the IMF expressed interest in playing a role, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters that he will call Chinese Premier Hu Jintao around midday tomorrow, presumably to discuss this.
- Greece will receive €130 billion ($180 billion) in fresh aid. We’re thinking this includes the nearly €110 billion ($150 billion) it was promised back in July.
- EU leaders believe Italy’s commitment to debt sustainability and encouraging growth, even though Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi didn’t propose any new measures to accomplish these goals in a letter he wrote to some members of the summit today.
- The European Banking Authority estimates that only €106 billion ($147 billion) in funding will be needed to recapitalize European banks and help them meet capital requirements of 9%. Turns out it didn’t actually conduct new stress tests accounting for adverse scenarios this time around. European Council President Herman van Rompuy told reporters that banks must reach this 9% ratio with only the “highest quality capital.” We’re hoping he means Tier 1 capital and will not allow banks to use riskier convertible bonds to meet this number.
- We aren’t likely to see a final roadmap on EU treaty changes until March 2012.
- A statement from the summit can be found here.
Clearly there’s still a lot more progress to be made towards truly solving the crisis. None of these steps alone — or even altogether — will do that, not to mention that the numbers we’re seeing here have not all been written in stone. Indeed, until we see EU authorities start to execute some of these proposals, it will be difficult to bank on their success.
That said, the fact that EU leaders actually made (at least preliminarily) plans on a lot of the issues they said they would — particularly after all the negative news today and earlier this week — will reassure markets that these leaders are indeed capable of accomplishing something when pressed.
Looking forward, we will be looking to see EU leaders make good on these proposals, without diluting them to ineffectiveness. In particular, treaty changes — probably the most controversial of any measures we’ve heard discussed thus far — will be key to actually mending the broken bones of the euro area.