The latest details on the Spanish financial sector bailout continue to remind us not to underestimate politicians’ readiness to undermine whatever is left of a free market capitalist system. Instead of adopting Economist Juan Ramón Rallo' (as we discussed here), who has suggested a “bail-in” formula to effectively restructure and recapitalize the financial sector in a more transparent and fair manner - which would teach the resulting bank owners to learn the lesson of the dangers involved in placing politicians and ballet dancers on banks’ boards; the actual plan is to cleanse the Spanish banking sector of its toxic assets by means of transferring them into “bad banks” has a new twist: instead of reflecting such assets’ real market value, the idea is to impose a markup (based on an estimated “long-term value”) to minimize losses. In contrast to Rallo’s “bail-in” proposal, the current Spanish banking sector reform is aimed at bailing out and protecting those who have benefited from the practices which caused the problem in the first place: the political class, inefficient regulators, as well as private companies close to the establishment.
I am fairly certain the answer to why Bernanke isn’t increasing inflation when his former self and former colleagues say he should be is actually nothing to do with domestic politics, and everything to do with international politics. Most of the pro-Fed blogosphere seems to live in denial of the fact that America is massively in debt to external creditors — all of whom are frustrated at getting near-zero yields (they can’t just flip bonds to the Fed balance sheet like the hedge funds) — and their views matter, very simply because the reality of China and other creditors ceasing to buy debt would be untenable. Why else would the Treasury have thrown a carrot by upgrading the Chinese government to primary dealer status (the first such deal in history), cutting Wall Street’s bond flippers out of the deal?
So the end stage of neoliberalism threatens a Dark Age of poverty/immiseration – most characteristically, one of debt peonage. ~ Michael Hudson
Libor is not a market determined interest rate, rather it is a trimmed mean from a survey of banks participating in a survey conducted on behalf of the British Bankers Association (BBA). There are a number of problems inherent in the survey-based Libor calculation. Chairman Bernanke was asked in testimony several times yesterday whether Libor should be dropped as a benchmark interest rate. His answer was Libor should be repaired or some market determined interest rate should be embraced as an alternative. He offered up 2 market-determined replacement possibilities for Libor: (1) Repo Rates; and (2) OIS rates. Both are market determined interest rates, but neither in our minds captures the essence of what Libor is supposed to measure. Stone & McCarthy's preference for a Libor alternative would simply be the eurodollar rate.
From UBS: "We think that a creditor nation is less at risk of hyperinflation than a debtor nation, as a debtor nation relies not only on the confidence of domestic creditors, but also of foreign creditors. We therefore think that the hyperinflation risk to global investors is largest in the US and the UK. The more the fiscal situation deteriorates and the more central banks debase their currencies, the higher the risk of a loss of confidence in the future purchasing power of money. Indicators to watch in order to determine the risk of hyperinflation therefore pertain to the fiscal situation and monetary policy stance in high-deficit countries. Note that current government deficits and the current size of central bank balance sheets are not sufficient to indicate the sustainability of the fiscal or monetary policy stance and thus, the risk of hyperinflation. The fiscal situation can worsen without affecting the current fiscal deficit, for example when governments assume contingent liabilities of the banking system or when the economic outlook worsens unexpectedly. Similarly, the monetary policy stance can expand without affecting the size of the central bank balance sheet. This happens for example when central banks lower collateral requirements or monetary policy rates, in particular the interest rate paid on reserves deposited with the central bank. A significant deterioration of the fiscal situation or a significant expansion of the monetary policy stance in the large-deficit countries could lead us to increase the probability we assign to the risk of hyperinflation."
During an economic boom, exuberance finds itself lodged in all types of industries. When profits soar, so does the public’s disregard for prudence. And as tax revenues rise, politicians can’t help but give in to their bread and butter of buying votes. In the case of a credit-expansion boom fueled primarily by fractional reserve banking and interest rate manipulation through a central bank, the boom conditions are destined toward bust. Liquidation then becomes necessary as the bust gets underway and malinvestments come to light. What the city of Scranton has in common with San Bernardino, Detroit, et al. is that its dire fiscal condition is due to one thing and one thing only: benefits promised to unionized workers, and, it appears, "the salad days of the government employee are coming to an end, as they have already in Greece, Italy and Spain." To those sick and tired of the tax-eater mentality that is destroying the very core of society’s productive capacity and moral base, those days can’t come soon enough.
The Fed is caught between a rock and a hard place. If they inflate, they risk the danger of initiating a damaging and deleterious trade war with creditors who do not want to take an inflationary haircut. If they don’t inflate, they remain stuck in a deleveraging trap resulting in weak fundamentals, and large increases in government debt, also rattling creditors. The likeliest route from here remains that the Fed will continue to baffle the Krugmanites by pursuing relatively restrained inflationism (i.e. Operation Twist, restrained QE, no NGDP targeting, no debt jubilee, etc) to keep the economy ticking along while minimising creditor irritation. The problem with this is that the economy remains caught in the deleveraging trap. And while the economy is depressed tax revenues remain depressed, meaning that deficits will grow, further irritating creditors (who unlike bond-flipping hedge funds must eat the very low yields instead of passing off treasuries to a greater fool for a profit), who may pursue trade war and currency war strategies and gradually (or suddenly) desert US treasuries and dollars. Geopolitical tension would spike commodity prices. And as more dollars end up back in the United States (there are currently $5+ trillion floating around Asia), there will be more inflation still. The reduced global demand for dollar-denominated assets would put pressure on the Fed to print to buy more treasuries.
And so it begins...Last Friday the Spanish government published a proposal to cut government expenditure and raise taxes to reduce the fiscal deficit by 56.4billion euros by 2015. I have outlined why austerity will not work in Europe, but it looks like this is a lesson Europeans will have to learn for themselves--for a second time. The writing is on the wall in Ireland, who ailed in the same ways that Spain is currently ailing, but what Lord Merkel wants, Lord Merkel gets. The immediate malaise from these austerity measures will be large-scale social unrest, which is already being planned by many of the 50% of the country's unemployed young people. Regardless of one's stance on the economic merit of austerity, what is indisputable is that riots are real and riots do not end well. With nothing to lose, this round of Spanish austerity protesting has the potential to end in catastrophe.
Either limited liability should be abolished — corporations could still exist, but their owners and management are personally responsible for any debts and destruction incurred — or their behaviour should be taxed punitively to encourage individual and small business initiatives — the real wealth creators, job creators and innovators — over large scale destructo-juggernauts. At the very least, we should completely stop bailing them out when they blow up. That’s responsibility. Corporations are certainly not free market entities. Their very reason for existence — limited liability — is created through government fiat. Capitalism and markets existed long before the creation of limited liability, and surely will exist for a long time after its demise.
In a landmark shift in its bank "impairment" stance, the WSJ reports that "in a sharp turnaround" the ECB has advocated the imposition of losses on senior bondholders at the most "damaged" Spanish savings banks, "though finance ministers have for now rejected the approach, according to people familiar with discussions." The WSJ continues: "The ECB's new position was made clear by its president, Mario Draghi, to a meeting of euro-zone finance ministers discussing a euro-zone rescue for Spain's struggling local lenders in Brussels the evening of July 9. It marks a contrast from the position the central bank adopted during the 2010 bailout of Irish banks--which, like Spain's, were victims of a property meltdown--when it prevailed in its insistence that senior bondholders in bailed-out banks shouldn't suffer losses." Needless to say, if indeed the fulcrum impairment security is no longer the Sub debt, but Senior debt, as the ECB suggests, it is only a matter of time before wholesale European bank liquidations commence as the ECB would only encourage this shift if it knew the level of asset impairment is far too great to be papered over by mere pooling of liabilities (think shared deposits, the creation of TBTF banks, and all those other gimmicks tried in 2010 when as a result of Caja failure we got such sterling example of financial viability as Bankia, which lasted all of 18 months). It also means the European crisis is likely about to take a big turn for the worse as suddenly bank failures become all too real. Why? Senior debt impairment means deposits are now at full risk of loss as even the main European bank admits there is no way banks will have enough assets to grow into their balance sheet.
Lots of people have made good profits on Treasuries by buying them and flipping them to a greater fool or a central bank. On the other hand, so did many during the NASDAQ bubble, or during the ’00s ABS bubble. Bubbles are profitable for some, and that’s why there have been so many throughout history. But once the money starts to dry up they become excruciatingly painful. In theory, there are no limits to how low rates could go. In theory, nominal yields could go deeply negative, so long as there are buyers coming into the market ready to buy at a lower rate, and a push a profit to bond flippers. The inherent value in a bond is its yield; everything else is speculation. It is hard to really call the timing on the end of a bubble. People and events can always get more irrational. Japan has kept the Treasury ball (painfully) rolling for far longer than most of us expected (through market rigging as much as anything else). But this cannot end well.
On occasion of the publication of his new gold report (read here), Ronald Stoeferle talked with financial journalist Lars Schall about fundamental gold topics such as: "financial repression"; market interventions; the oil-gold ratio; the renaissance of gold in finance; "Exeter’s Pyramid"; and what the true "value" of gold could actually look like. Via Matterhorn Asset Management.
Ultimately, the surge in demand for gold reflects one thing alone: distrust of the increasingly messy, interconnected, over-leveraged and fraudulent financial system. Whether it is China — fearful of dollar debasement — loading up on bullion, or retail investors in the United States or Europe — fearful of another MF Global (or PFG, or Lehman Brothers) — stacking Krugerrands in their basement, demand for gold reflects distrust in finance, distrust in the financial establishment, distrust in banks, distrust in regulators, distrust in government and distrust in the financial media. And it is that distrust — not (by any stretch of the imagination) central bank interventionism — that is the force moving demand for gold. There will be no bear market for physical gold until trust in the financial system and regulators is fixed, until markets trade fundamentals instead of the possibility of the NEW QE, until governments represent the interests of their people instead of the interests of tiny financial elites.
The natural and sad end to every fraud: liquidation (and even sadder for the10-25K creditors of the company who will get nothing as a result of this liquidation proceedings).
While we have been surprised by the lack of public consternation within Germany at the real levels of servitude that an ungrateful Europe is trying to shove down the German taxpayer's throats; this week it appears the rubber is starting to meet the road. As Europe Online reports, German President Joachim Gauck called for Chancellor Angela Merkel to explain why Germany needs save the euro - at great expense to the country‘s taxpayers - and what will be necessary. In a TV interview, Gauck (having no doubt read our recent explanations of the TARGET2 ticking time-bomb and the real cost of GRExit) said that Merkel "has the duty to describe in great detail what it means [to stay in the Euro], including what it means for the budget". In a somewhat shockingly honest (for a European leader) comment he said that the political establishment has struggled to explain why it is vital for Germany to do its part to save Europe's currency union. Perhaps reflecting Juncker's Modus operandi, Gauck added that "sometimes it‘s hard to explain what this is all about. And, sometimes, there‘s a lack of effort to openly tell the populace what is actually happening."