The word "sacrifice" has been sacrificed on the altar of expediency. The politicians we elect (those who dare speak the truth of our impoverishment and complicity don't get elected--we abhor and fear the truth) have ground the word "sacrifice" into meaningless with overuse; it now means nothing but yet another clarion-call to swallow lies and artifice to protect our share of the loot. The government can't be the problem, because the government issues me a nice check every month. And so we cling to easy falsehoods... The problem is our consumerist, Central-State dominated society/economy that depends on ever-rising debt and and leverage is unsustainable, and placating ourselves with expedient simplicities that shift the accountability and responsibility from ourselves to someone or something else solves nothing. This reliance on excuses, denial and expediency is the hallmark of adolescence; in adulthood, these are the hallmarks of failure and pathology.
Is this what we've become, brittle, simulacra "grown-ups" who are incapable of acknowledging the truth of our situation? If we cannot dare acknowledging reality, then how can we solve our problems? If we cannot bear an awareness of our systemic rot and unsustainability, then how can we move past denial and expediency? If we have lost the ability to live within our means and to acknowledge difficult facts, then we have lost everything: our national integrity, our ability to problem-solve, our vigor and our future.
For all its rhetoric, the current situation in the Eurozone should be very familiar to most Americans: after all it is merely a Federalist organization just missing one key feature: Federalism. At least for now. Whether Europe will succeed in reversing 20 centuries of nationalist pride, a multitude of languages, religions, cultures, histories, and superficial solidarity and friendliness covering generations of broad-based enmity, blood feuds and hatred, which is precisely what will be required (because the monetary union was merely half of the game) remains to be seen. It is likely that the stock market will force this resolution sooner than most expect. Then the question becomes: will Europe truly become the United States of Europe. And if so, what would the current Greek travails look like if they were transplanted to the state of California: another place which may soon be in dire need of a bailout. Luckily Jefferies' David Zervos has performed just the thought experiment: "let's assume the European monetary system structure was in place in the US. And then imagine that a US "member state" were to head towards a bankruptcy or a restructuring of its debts - for example California." The results are below.
Either the game of chicken in Europe has just hit and surpassed ludicrous speed, or French banks SocGen and Credit Agricole, both of which have some of the worst CT1/TA ratios in the known universe, and which are the JV participants of Newedge, have decided to formally pull the plug on Greece. As the FT reported moments ago, Newedge "has told clients that it will process only sell orders, and stop extending margin loans for existing positions in Greek securities, according to a memo obtained by the Financial Times."
In any economy, “capital” is real wealth which has not been consumed. The production of new wealth is dependent on the supply of capital goods or factors of production - above all the tools essential to the task. A capitalist economy is impossible without a further form of capital - a medium of exchange or money. But money does not produce goods, it facilitates their exchange. Any money will do that, but SOUND money provides a still more important service. It allows for economic calculation. And without a reliable form of economic calculation, it is impossible to discover whether a given process of wealth production is viable or not. A SOUND money allows for the reliable calculation of profit or loss in any enterprise. By doing that, it acts to minimise the loss of real wealth by directing new capital into profitable uses and diverting it from uses which do not pay their way. This is the only process by which any nation can become prosperous. It is entirely short-circuited when the common denominator in all economic calculations - money - is produced by edict and not by effort. It has long been known that it is impossible to “create” wealth out of thin air. It has long been held that money and wealth are synonymous. It is now a tenet of market faith that when it comes to creating money out of thin air - literally anything goes. The contradiction is as glaring as it is ignored.
There are still 3 weeks until the next so very critical Greek elections (which if we are correct, will have an outcome comparable to the first, and not result in the formation of a new government absent Diebold opening a Santorini office), meaning the power vacuum at the very top in Europe will persist, and while the market demands some clarity about something, anything, nothing is likely to be implemented by a Germany which is (rightfully, as unlike the US, Europe does not have the benefit of $16 trillion in inflation buffering shadow banking) concerned by runaway inflation if and when the global central banks announce the next latest and greatest global bailout, which this time will likely by in the $3-5 trillion ballpark. However, none of this will happen before the market plummets as Citi explained last weekend, and Europe has no choice but to act. Luckily, as the events calendar below from Deutsche Bank shows through the end of July there are more than enough events which can go horribly wrong, which ironically, is precisely what the market bulls need to happen for the central-planning regime to once be given the carte blanche to do what it usually does, and believe it can outsmart simple laws of Thermodynamics, regression to the mean, and all those other things central bankers believe they can simply overrule.
As Americans mindlessly celebrate another Memorial Day with cookouts, beer and burgers, the U.S. war machine keeps churning. As we brutally enforce our will on foreign countries, we create more people that hate us. They don’t hate us for our freedom. They hate us because we have invaded and occupied their countries. They hate us because we kill innocent people with predator drones. They hate us for our hypocrisy regarding democracy and freedom. Just when we had the opportunity to make a sensible decision by leaving Iraq and exiting the Middle East quagmire, Obama made the abysmal choice to casually sacrifice more troops in the Afghan shithole. We have thrown over $1.3 trillion down Middle East rat holes over the last 11 years with no discernible benefit to the citizens of the United States. George Bush and Barack Obama did this to prove they were true statesmen. The Soviet Union killed over 1 million Afghans, while driving another 5 million out of the country and retreated as a bankrupted and defeated shell after ten years. Young Americans continue to die, for whom and for what? Our foreign policy during the last eleven years can be summed up in one military term, SNAFU – Situation Normal All Fucked Up. These endless foreign interventions under the guise of a War on Terror are a smoke screen for what is really going on in this country. When a government has unsolvable domestic problems, they try to distract the willfully ignorant masses by proactively creating foreign conflicts based upon false pretenses. General Douglas MacArthur understood this danger to our liberty.
“I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”
Mere hours after the annual European Eurovision song contest ended at a cost to the host country in the hundreds of millions, money which should have been spent productively elsewhere but wasn't while providing utterly unnecessary distraction to hundreds of millions from what is truly important, we get another stark reminder that the continent is not only broke, but that it no longer even pretends to have credible ideas about how to go about fixing itself. The latest speculation: "Secret plans are being drawn up in Brussels for a European rescue fund that could seize control of struggling banks across the Continent. The scheme, which would be funded by a levy on banks, will be presented by supporters as a "silver bullet" that could halt the steady escalation of the eurozone debt crisis. It is being worked on in tandem with a proposal from Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, for a Europe-wide guarantee on bank deposits. The proposal would throw the financial muscle of Europe's stronger nations, and healthy financial institutions, behind weaker countries and lenders. Proponents, including top advisers to the European Commission, say the removal of the threat of bank collapses would restore market confidence in Italy and Spain." In other words, last week's rumor that was supposed to be presented at the latest flop of a FinMin summit is once again being reincarnated as apparently nothing else in the European arsenal has any remaining credibility - and as a reminder, none other than unelected Monti's one-time employer Goldman Sachs said a eurowide deposit guarantee would not work.
In Christian ethics – although not in exclusivity – there are a number of vices, most often referred to as the seven deadly or capital sins, which depict the antithetical side of virtue. Of the seven, avarice or greed (Avaritia in Latin) comes at the head of the list for me since its practice affects the wellbeing of others, and not just those who profess it. And it was this lady, Avaritia, who walked the Red Carpet a week ago, Friday, May 18, in a glittering dress that reminded us of what rapacious capitalism is all about, as shares of Facebook started trading past their scheduled time in the NASDAQ. A very surprising opening with a larger (25 percent) number of shares issued for trade, at a much higher (52 percent) price… or a “more aggressive” price in Wall Street IPO parlance.
Just after the market close on what will probably go down as the worst day in history for every stock-broker-come-private-wealth-commission-taker's wealth-manager's future business (that would be the Facebook IPO - or as some call it "Blue-Friday"), the head of Morgan Stanley's 'Consulting Services Group' sent what is likely the worst timed, worded, and ironic self-congratulatory email of all time. James Walker, the MD of the group (correction - Andy Saperstein - who later blamed the NASDAQ for all his woes)- which manages $385 billion of client assets and is the nation's largest managed accounts business - was not wrong in his summation that this IPO was "orderly, fair, and well-communicated" and "will have a long-lasting impact on our clients and the organization". We assume he didn't mean "finish it" as one can only imagine the breadth of these clients who ended up stuffed full of the worst large IPO of the decade.
Europe continues to fight the wrong battle, and continues to spread contagion risk. It is clear that Greece has had a solvency issue now for over 2 years. The ECB and Troika chose to treat it as a liquidity problem. Maybe, they could have argued that in early 2010, but by the summer of 2011 it was obvious to any credit observer that the problem was solvency, yet they continued to treat it as one of liquidity. That is scary because if they fail to see the problem correctly now, they will fail miserably. Not only is the problem clearly solvency, but now forced currency conversion has been added to the mix. Any "solution" from the EU must now address that risk, and it is not the same as solvency. Programs that can protect against solvency may do nothing for the redenomination risk. We keep playing with scenarios and find it hard to find out where a Greek exit doesn't result in a steep sharp decline in the market. We could go through more ideas of ECB intervention, but in the end most will have flaws. Dealing with currency conversion risk is huge. Dealing with the contagion risk that has been created by the EFSF is huge. Will Europe force Greece out thinking they have a plan; that fails miserably and sparks the miserable series of consequences we’ve outlined? Sadly, yes.
"Just when we think the worst is over - and let's face it we have been in this crisis for five years - we get the second half; are the Europeans about to start the second half our Great Depression with massive bank runs" are the Jaws-music-inspired words that recent media-favorite (yes, us too) Niall Ferguson uses in an interview with CBC. His main concern is that this kind of (bank-run) event can quickly spiral out of the control of even the ECB as he uncomfortably conjures the image of the initial US stabilization that occurred in 1930 to May 1931 only to be knocked back into a greater depression by the failure of Credit-Anstalt, which set off bank failures and eventually defaults in 1932 on many government debts. The deposit run potential is the single-biggest reason to care about Greek-exit - in itself it is not large enough economically to interfere with global growth but it is the message and contagion that it sends that is critical in bringing forth a pan-European banking crisis and implicitly spilling over to the US and Asia via global trade and banking transmission channels. An excellent brief interview that summarizes the exact fears that face Europe and implicitly the US, explains the rather simple solution of fiscal federalism and the fact that today's German politik is very different from 1989's Helmut Kohl-era with regard to their commitment to the Federal outcome. His conclusions are worrisome. Germany is the key - and there is not a good understanding of financial markets in Berlin.
By now everyone is well aware what the main tension involving this year's presidential campaign as far as Mitt Romney is concerned, will be his professional past, namely his experience at, and exposure to, Bain Capital. By now most have also gotten a sense of the angle of attack that the incumbent will rely on in order to discredit his GOP challenger, and if they haven't, they will soon enough: after all in Obama's own words "Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital is what this campaign is going to be about." In other words, Romney's history with managing private (emphasis added) equity. Yet at Marc Thiessen at the WaPo points out, the logical retort from the Romney camp would be to shift attention to something potentially more embarrassing: Obama's record with public equity. Because, frankly, it is deplorable. And while one may debate the number of job losses at the companies that Bain took private, the driving prerogative for Romney was to generate value for his investors and shareholders. This in itself will hardly be debated by Obama. In other words, for any and all of his other failings, Romney succeeded at his primary task. The question then is: did Obama do the same? Did he succeed in investing public equity, i.e., the taxpayer capital that the US financial mechanism has afforded him. Sadly, the answer appears to be a resounding no.
Despite all the stories of apocalypse now there is a fighting chance that Greece will stay in the eurozone for the time being. This is the real tragedy of course, but unfortunately for all involved there just isn’t the political appetite for “Grexit”. The Germans have done their sums and if Greece leaves they are in deep, way above the top of their lederhosen. The Greeks of course want to stay on the euro gravy train, but it is German gravy and Siemens almost certainly built the loco. Merkel is increasingly isolated but being from the old East Germany she is almost certainly dangerous when cornered. The option for her may not be kicking the Greeks into touch, but taking Germany back to the DMark and leaving the French to sort the mess out. This is something her Finance Minister, who looks increasingly like one of Peter Sellers’ characters in Dr Strangelove, would heartily approve of and might even get her re-elected.