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Investors Prepare for Euro Collapse

The fear of a collapse is not limited to banks. Early last week, Shell startled the markets. “There’s been a shift in our willingness to take credit risk in Europe,” said CFO Simon Henry. He said that the oil giant, which has cash reserves of over 17 billion dollars, would rather invest this money in US government bonds or deposit it on US bank accounts than risk it in Europe.

Banks, companies and investors are preparing themselves for a collapse of the euro. Cross-border bank lending is falling, asset managers are shunning Europe and money is flowing into German real estate and bonds. The euro remains stable against the dollar because America has debt problems too. But unlike the euro, the dollar’s structure isn’t in doubt.

08/13/2012
By Martin Hesse

Otmar Issing is looking a bit tired. The former chief economist at the European Central Bank (ECB) is sitting on a barstool in a room adjoining the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. He resembles a father whose troubled teenager has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Issing is just about to explain again all the things that have gone wrong with the euro, and why the current, as yet unsuccessful efforts to save the European common currency are cause for grave concern.

He begins with an anecdote. “Dear Otmar, congratulations on an impossible job.” That’s what the late Nobel Prize-winning American economist Milton Friedman wrote to him when Issing became a member of the ECB Executive Board. Right from the start, Friedman didn’t believe that the new currency would survive. Issing at the time saw the euro as an “experiment” that was nevertheless worth fighting for.

Fourteen years later, Issing is still fighting long after he’s gone into retirement. But just next door on the stock exchange floor, and in other financial centers around the world, apparently a great many people believe that Friedman’s prophecy will soon be fulfilled.

Banks, investors and companies are bracing themselves for the possibility that the euro will break up — and are thus increasing the likelihood that precisely this will happen.

There is increasing anxiety, particularly because politicians have not managed to solve the problems. Despite all their efforts, the situation in Greece appears hopeless. Spain is in trouble and, to make matters worse, Germany’s Constitutional Court will decide in September whether the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is even compatible with the German constitution.

There’s a growing sense of resentment in both lending and borrowing countries — and in the nations that could soon join their ranks. German politicians such as Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) are openly calling for Greece to be thrown out of the euro zone. Meanwhile the the leader of Germany’s opposition center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel, is urging the euro countries to share liability for the debts.

On the financial markets, the political wrangling over the right way to resolve the crisis has accomplished primarily one thing: it has fueled fears of a collapse of the euro.

Cross-Border Bank Lending Down

Banks are particularly worried. “Banks and companies are starting to finance their operations locally,” says Thomas Mayer who until recently was the chief economist at Deutsche Bank, which, along with other financial institutions, has been reducing its risks in crisis-ridden countries for months now. The flow of money across borders has dried up because the banks are afraid of suffering losses.

According to the ECB, cross-border lending among euro-zone banks is steadily declining, especially since the summer of 2011. In June, these interbank transactions reached their lowest level since the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2007.

In addition to scaling back their loans to companies and financial institutions in other European countries, banks are even severing connections to their own subsidiaries abroad. Germany’s Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank apparently prefer to see their branches in Spain and Italy tap into ECB funds, rather than finance them themselves. At the same time, these banks are parking excess capital reserves at the central bank. They are preparing themselves for the eventuality that southern European countries will reintroduce their national currencies and drastically devalue them.

“Even the watchdogs don’t like to see banks take cross-border risks, although in an absurd way this runs contrary to the concept of the monetary union,” says Mayer.

Since the height of the financial crisis in 2008, the EU Commission has been pressuring European banks to reduce their business, primarily abroad, in a bid to strengthen their capital base. Furthermore, the watchdogs have introduced strict limitations on the flow of money within financial institutions. Regulators require that banks in each country independently finance themselves. For instance, Germany’s Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) insists that HypoVereinsbank keeps its money in Germany. When the parent bank, Unicredit in Milan, asks for an excessive amount of money to be transferred from the German subsidiary to Italy, BaFin intervenes.

Breaking Points

Unicredit is an ideal example of how banks are turning back the clocks in Europe: The bank, which always prided itself as a truly pan-European institution, now grants many liberties to its regional subsidiaries, while benefiting less from the actual advantages of a European bank. High-ranking bank managers admit that, if push came to shove, this would make it possible to quickly sell off individual parts of the financial group.

In effect, the bankers are sketching predetermined breaking points on the European map. “Since private capital is no longer flowing, the central bankers are stepping into the breach,” explains Mayer. The economist goes on to explain that the risk of a breakup has been transferred to taxpayers. “Over the long term, the monetary union can’t be maintained without private investors,” he argues, “because it would only be artificially kept alive.”

The fear of a collapse is not limited to banks. Early last week, Shell startled the markets. “There’s been a shift in our willingness to take credit risk in Europe,” said CFO Simon Henry.

He said that the oil giant, which has cash reserves of over $17 billion (€13.8 billion), would rather invest this money in US government bonds or deposit it on US bank accounts than risk it in Europe. “Many companies are now taking the route that US money market funds already took a year ago: They are no longer so willing to park their reserves in European banks,” says Uwe Burkert, head of credit analysis at the Landesbank Baden-Württemberg, a publicly-owned regional bank based in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg.

And the anonymous mass of investors, ranging from German small investors to insurance companies and American hedge funds, is looking for ways to protect themselves from the collapse of the currency — or even to benefit from it. This is reflected in the flows of capital between southern and northern Europe, rapidly rising real estate prices in Germany and zero interest rates for German sovereign bonds.

‘Euro Experiment is Increasingly Viewed as a Failure’

One person who has long expected the euro to break up is Philipp Vorndran, 50, chief strategist at Flossbach von Storch, a company that deals in asset management. Vorndran’s signature mustache may be somewhat out of step with the times, but his views aren’t. “On the financial markets, the euro experiment is increasingly viewed as a failure,” says the investment strategist, who once studied under euro architect Issing and now shares his skepticism. For the past three years, Vorndran has been preparing his clients for major changes in the composition of the monetary union.

They are now primarily investing their money in tangible assets such as real estate. The stock market rally of the past weeks can also be explained by this flight of capital into real assets. After a long decline in the number of private investors, the German Equities Institute (DAI) has registered a significant rise in the number of shareholders in Germany.

Particularly large amounts of money have recently flowed into German sovereign bonds, although with short maturity periods they now generate no interest whatsoever. “The low interest rates for German government bonds reflect the fear that the euro will break apart,” says interest-rate expert Burkert. Investors are searching for a safe haven. “At the same time, they are speculating that these bonds would gain value if the euro were actually to break apart.”

The most radical option to protect oneself against a collapse of the euro is to completely withdraw from the monetary zone. The current trend doesn’t yet amount to a large-scale capital flight from the euro zone. In May, (the ECB does not publish more current figures) more direct investments and securities investments actually flowed into Europe than out again. Nonetheless, this fell far short of balancing out the capital outflows during the troubled winter quarters, which amounted to over €140 billion.

The exchange rate of the euro only partially reflects the concerns that investors harbor about the currency. So far, the losses have remained within limits. But the explanation for this doesn’t provide much consolation: The main alternative, the US dollar, appears relatively unappealing for major investors from Asia and other regions. “Everyone is looking for the lesser of two evils,” says a Frankfurt investment banker, as he laconically sums up the situation. Yet there’s growing skepticism about the euro, not least because, in contrast to America and Asia, Europe is headed for a recession. Mayer, the former economist at Deutsche Bank, says that he expects the exchange rates to soon fall below 1.20 dollars.

“We notice that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to sell Asians and Americans on investments in Europe,” says asset manager Vorndran, although the US, Japan and the UK have massive debt problems and “are all lying in the same hospital ward,” as he puts it. “But it’s still better to invest in a weak currency than in one whose structure is jeopardized.”

Hedge Fund Gurus Give Euro Thumbs Down

Indeed, investors are increasingly speculating directly against the euro. The amount of open financial betting against the common currency — known as short positioning — has rapidly risen over the past 12 months. When ECB President Mario Draghi said three weeks ago that there was no point in wagering against the euro, anti-euro warriors grew a bit more anxious.

One of these warriors is John Paulson. The hedge fund manager once made billions by betting on a collapse of the American real estate market. Not surprisingly, the financial world sat up and took notice when Paulson, who is now widely despised in America as a crisis profiteer, announced in the spring that he would bet on a collapse of the euro.

Paulson is not the only one. Investor legend George Soros, who no longer personally manages his Quantum Funds, said in an interview in April that — if he were still active — he would bet against the euro if Europe’s politicians failed to adopt a new course. The investor war against the common currency is particularly delicate because it’s additionally fueled by major investors from the euro zone. German insurers and managers of large family fortunes have reportedly invested with Paulson and other hedge funds. “They’re sawing at the limb that they’re sitting on,” says an insider.

So far, the wager by the hedge funds has not paid off, and Paulson recently suffered major losses.

But the deciding match still has to be played.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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Euro currency could collapse and trigger another Great Depression, IMF warns for the first time

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End of the Euro?: The IMF warns that one country leaving the single currency could force its entire collapse

By Hugo Duncan
PUBLISHED: 12:45 EST, 17 April 2012
UPDATED: 04:28 EST, 18 April 2012

The eurozone could break up and trigger a global economic slump to rival the Great Depression, the IMF warned last night.

In its World Economic Outlook report, the International Monetary Fund said the collapse of the crisis-torn single currency could not be ruled out.

It was the first time the Washington-based institution has accepted the prospect of the eurozone splitting up and follows fears over the health of the Spanish economy.

The IMF predicted a return to recession in the eurozone this year but upgraded its growth forecasts for Britain.

However, it warned that the world remains at risk of collapsing into a slump that would rival the Great Depression – with ‘acute risks in Europe’ the major threat.

‘Things have quietened down but there is a very uneasy calm,’ said IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard. ‘I have a feeling that at any moment things could get very bad again.’

Speaking at the launch of the half-yearly report in Washington, Mr Blanchard said there was ‘no plan’ in place to deal with a country leaving the euro.

However Greece is widely expected to default on its crippling debts and quit the doomed single currency.

‘If such an event occurs, it is possible that other euro area economies would come under severe pressure as well, with a full-blown panic in financial markets,’ the IMF report said.

‘Under these circumstances, a break-up of the euro area could not be ruled out. This could cause major political shocks that could aggravate economic stress to levels well above those after the Lehman collapse.’

U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers imploded in September 2008 – plunging the world economy into the worst recession since the 1930s. The IMF said that although ‘the outlook for the global economy is slowly improving again’ it is ‘still very fragile’.

It warned of the ‘possibility that several adverse shocks could interact to produce a major slump reminiscent of the 1930s’.

The IMF forecast growth of 0.8 per cent in Britain this year – more than the 0.6 per cent it predicted in January, but less than last September’s target of 1.6 per cent. Its 2013 forecast was unchanged at  2 per cent.

Asked about the IMF’s comments on the eurozone, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘The eurozone still needs to get its house in order. Those issues still exist and no doubt will be a focus of discussions at the coming meeting of the IMF towards the end of the week, which the Chancellor will be attending.’

The IMF said Britain will outperform Germany and France this year – their economies are expected to grow by just 0.6 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively.

The Italian and Spanish economies are forecast to decline by 1.9 per cent and 1.8 per cent, while a slump of 4.7 per cent is expected in Greece following a 6.9 per cent drop in 2011.

But the report warned that output in the eurozone could fall by 3.5 per cent over the next two years if the debt crisis escalates.

This would knock 2 per cent off the world economy, said the IMF, while a 50 per cent rise in the oil price would lower output by a further 1.25 per cent.

In the absence of such ‘shocks’ the global economy is expected to grow by 3.5 per cent this year, down from 3.9 per cent in 2011, with the U.S., Canada and Japan leading the way in the developed world.

‘Because of the problems in Europe, activity will continue to disappoint in the advanced economies as a group, expanding by only about 1.5 per cent in 2012 and by 2 per cent in 2013,’ said the report.

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IMF Exploits Euro-Crisis to Create Global Money Power

imageMonday, April 16, 201
by Staff Report

Euro Area Seeks Bigger IMF War Chest on Spanish Concerns … European officials travel to Washington this week seeking a bigger global war chest to combat the debt crisis as Spain’s government battles to quell renewed market turmoil over its finances. Three weeks after European leaders unveiled emergency euro- area funding exceeding the symbolic $1 trillion mark, concerns about Spain’s position have ratcheted the nation’s borrowing costs to the highest levels this year. Crisis-fighting resources will dominate talks at the International Monetary Fund’s spring meeting in Washington from April 20-22. – Bloomberg

Dominant Social Theme: Austerity would work if Europe would just cooperate.

Free-Market Analysis: Almost unnoticed, the world’s leaders now speak in terms of trillions rather than billions (or millions) as they used to, and the IMF and central banks are leaders in this trend (see above excerpt).

The goal of the elites running these facilities is world government and the European Union is a stepping-stone to this consolidation. Austerity, the program that is supposedly stabilizing European finances, is actually an elite dominant theme that does the opposite of its stated intent.

As part of this globalist thrust, the power elite seeks to empower certain international facilities with additional funding and authority. Out of chaos … order, as the article excerpted above once again illustrates:

Bowing to international pressure to do more while stopping short of a bolder proposal, European governments agreed last month that 500 billion euros ($654 billion) in fresh money would be placed aside 300 billion euros already committed to create an 800 billion-euro defense against contagion.

By also offering to give the IMF 150 billion euros, “European governments have done their part,” ECB Executive Board Member Joerg Asmussen said April 13. “I would now expect our non-European friends and partners to contribute their part to IMF resources.”

This kind of problem/solution formula is easy to understand for anyone who wants to look. The elites pursue their goals via dominant social themes, fear-based promotions that frighten people into giving up power and wealth to globalist facilities. In this case the mechanism is the “sovereign debt crisis” and the solution is to puff up the IMF with more resources.

The longer the so-called sovereign debt crisis goes on, the more the globalists utilize it to expand the power of their chosen institutions. We wrote about this phenomenon just the other day in an article entitled, “Debt Crisis Plotted to Deliver the Euro to the IMF?” Here’s how we explained the genesis:

One has to keep in mind the artificiality of the current economic construct. The economy of the world is run via monopoly fiat/paper money printed by central banks. It is this system that has seemingly crashed half of the world’s economy and is well on the way to delivering China into the same situation …

The EU crisis itself, as we have often pointed out, started when certain poorer countries were given large amounts of money by Brussels to “equalize” the economy. These funds were supposed to allow the bureaucracies to address native imbalances and create fiscal health.

Of course, this money was nothing but a kind of bribe. The elites of the given nation pocketed the funds and then made sure their countries entered the EU. After this occurred, further lending took place via the elite’s top, European commercial banks.

After the 2008 crash, it became clear that the EU’s PIGS couldn’t repay the loans. This was likely the plan all along. After this realization set in, the power elite that orchestrates this sort of thing ensured that the solution to this manipulated dilemma was “austerity.”

The idea is evidently and obviously to make people so miserable that they will eventually welcome world government and world money. The power elite orchestrating this has been using what we call directed history for at least a century and probably closer to three – within the context of the modern globalist conspiracy.

The article we are analyzing today from Bloomberg suggests an expanded IMF based on the Euro crisis. But the IMF is also promoting a US$500 billion expansion via developing countries.

The justification is that the European crisis might spill over into other continents and nations. The IMF has to be prepared for via a half billion-dollar transfer from the very countries it claims to be protecting. Reuters reports the following:

Euro Area Seeks Bigger IMF War Chest on Spanish Concerns … International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde said that she is hoping to make “real progress” at this week’s meetings …

In January, the IMF said it would need $600 billion in new resources to help “innocent bystanders” who might be affected by economic and financial spillovers from Europe … On Friday, officials from the Group of 20 nations told Reuters the world’s major economies were likely to agree to provide the IMF with somewhere between $400 billion and $500 billion.

A G20 official said the fundraising effort would likely raise about $50 billion from Japan and a similar amount from China and Saudi Arabia, in addition to the $250-300 billion already committed by EU countries. Smaller amounts will likely come from countries such as Russia, Mexico and Brazil.

Thus it is that the IMF expands. It is receiving at least US$150 billion from Europe and hundreds of billions from mostly “developing” countries. It is interesting that the Reuters article and the Bloomberg article don’t quite match up on the European contributions. What’s a few hundred billion among friends?

In fact, nobody REALLY knows how much money is flowing at the top, or where it is headed. The point of the reports is promotional and has little to do with accuracy. The idea is to throw vast sums around as to imbue government officials with godlike powers.

Often, we discover the announcements made about funds prove not to be true. The European sovereign debt crisis was supposed to have been solved years ago, when the first announcements were made that funds had been delegated to “fix” the problem by leading European sponsors.

In fact, we have come to realize this crisis – like other crises around the world – are often manufactured ones. This is no doubt why they often last so long. The longer the crisis lasts, the more possibilities for a transformative effect.

In this case it seems obvious to us that the intent is to make citizens of the West so miserable (via “austerity”) that they will welcome virtually any change, even globalism, that promises to make their lives better.

Seen through this admittedly cynical lens, the 20th century with all its “isms” and arguments for expanding government via socialism, etc., was the first part of a promotion that is now nearing its latter stages. Having successfully made people dependent on government, the powers-that-be are now removing those props in order to further their internationalist aims.

No doubt global governance will be sold the same way as were the initial governmental solutions of the 20th century – as a panacea that will somehow reduce the world’s afflictions and rectify the wrongs of the “market.”

Conclusion: We are not yet sure the IMF is destined to become the world’s central bank – complete with an SDR global currency – but the IMF is continually showing up at the center of things as world economic chaos blossoms. More that the Bank for International Settlements or even the World Bank, it appears to be the Chosen One.

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