European Union

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Frontrunning: March 6

  • Kuroda to Hit ‘Wall of Reality’ at BOJ, Ex-Board Member Says (BBG)
  • Venezuelans mourn Chavez as focus turns to election (Reuters)
  • South Korea says to strike back at North if attacked (Reuters)
  • Milk Powder Surges Most in 2 1/2 Years on New Zealand Drought (BBG)
  • As Confetti Settles, Strategists Wonder: Will Dow's Rally Last?  (WSJ)
  • Pollution, Risk Are Downside of China's 'Blind Expansion' (BBG)
  • Obama Calls Republicans in Latest Round of Spending Talks (BBG)
  • Ryan Budget Plan Draws GOP Flak (WSJ)
  • Samsung buys stake in Apple-supplier Sharp (FT)
  • China Joining U.S. Shale Renaissance With $40 Billion (BBG)
  • Say Goodbye to the 4% Rule  (WSJ)
  • Traders Flee Asia Hedge Funds as Job Haven Turns Dead End (BBG)
  • Power rustlers turn the screw in Bulgaria, EU's poorest country (Reuters)
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Guest Post: A Roadmap For American Grand Strategy Part 2 (Of 3)

The United States desperately needs to formulate a grand strategy that reinforces the domestic foundations of American power while providing strategic guidance and direction to the nation’s actions in foreign policy. America must adapt with new ideas, tools and innovations if it is going to meet the opportunities and challenges of a rapidly changing world. To be successful, this strategy must embrace several overarching themes: first, the United States must remain committed to playing a leadership role; second, American grand strategy must promote a positive, hopeful, and optimistic vision for the world that it seeks to build; third, a grand strategy will be effective only if it commands broad and unequivocal support from the American public and their policymakers; and finally, the nation is long past the age when American grand strategy can pursue “cookie-cutter” or “school solutions” to challenges. What we are proposing is the hardly radical but often overlooked principle that American grand strategy should be, above all else, agile and flexible as it responds to the demands of the American people and the challenges of a rapidly evolving world.

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A Disparate Place

The world is a disparate place these days. It is dislocated. Central bank money buoying all of the markets; equities, debt, commodities while the underlying economies languish or dissipate. Month after month the division widens while even a slight whisper that the monetary creation might cease or falter hits the markets hard and then the leaders of the central banks assure everyone that it will go on ad infinitum and the markets all bounce back and begin to breathe again. The markets might be characterized as “Pucker and Sigh.” “Over the Rainbow” plays on non-stop in the media and those of us with a more skeptical eye are long past “If” and on to the “When.”

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Frontrunning: March 5

  • As ZH has been saying for months... Draghi Will Need to Push the Euro Down Some More (WSJ) ... but careful with "redenomination risk"
  • Senate Report Said to Fault JPMorgan (NYT)
  • EU Opens Way for Easier Budgets After Backlash (BBG)
  • China Moves to Temper Growth - Property Bubble Is a Key Concern (WSJ)
  • China bets on consumer-led growth to cure social ills (Reuters)
  • Italian president mulls new technocrat government (Reuters)
  • Grillo says MPS won't back technocrats (ANSA)
  • The Russians will be angry: Euro Chiefs Won’t Rule Out Cyprus Depositor Losses (BBG)
  • China Bankers Earn Less Than New York Peers as Pay Dives (BBG)
  • Investors click out of Apple into Google (FT)
  • Community colleges' cash crunch threatens Obama's retraining plan (Reuters)
  • Alwaleed challenges Forbes over his billions - Calculation of $20bn net worth is flawed, says Saudi prince (FT)
  • Guy Hands Dips Into Own Pockets to Fund Bonuses at Terra Firma (BBG)
  • North Korea to scrap armistice if South and U.S. continue drills (Reuters)
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All Roads Lead To Rome

Grillo refers to Berlusconi as “the psycho dwarf.” Grillo’s vision of Bersani is a “dead man walking.” In an interview that Grillo had with the New York Times over the weekend he said he would support neither side and that doing so “would be like Napoleon making a deal with Wellington.” He went on to say that, “We can change everything in the hands of respectable people, but the existing political class must be expelled immediately.” He has called for a nationwide referendum on Italy’s participation in the European Union and indicated that while Italy will pay its debts; it might be done in Lira. Do not underestimate this man. Do not assume that Italy will go on as usual and that this is just a split between the Left and the Right because this is not the case. Grillo’s call is for a new order, a new way of doing business and a new spirit for the Italians.

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Frontrunning: February 28

  • Grillo kills move to break Italy deadlock (FT)
  • Abe nominates Kuroda to run BoJ (FT)
  • More WMT bad news: Wal-Mart Chief Administrative Officer Mars to Leave: WSJ (BBG)
  • Japan's Abe: Islands Are Indisputably Ours (WSJ) - Except for China of course
  • Low-key departure as pope steps down, to enter the final phase of his life "hidden from the world" (Reuters)
  • Cuts unlikely to deliver promised budget savings (Reuters)
  • European Union caps bankers’ bonuses (FT)
  • White House, Republicans dig in ahead of budget talks (Reuters)
  • Jockeying Stalls Deal on Cuts (WSJ)
  • Argentina Says It Won’t Voluntarily Comply With Bond Ruling (BBG)
  • Italian president says forming new government cannot be rushed (Reuters) - or happen at all
  • Central Banks Spewing Cash Must Plan Exit Timing, Rohde Says (BBG)
  • China Regional Targets Cut in Sign Debt Concerns Heeded (BBG)
  • RBA Says Up to 34 Central Banks Holding Australian Dollars (BBG)
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If You Ask The Right Questions You Might Find The Right Answers

One of the reasons mistakes are made, and often serious mistakes, are because the right questions are not asked. If you ask the wrong questions then the answers, even if answered correctly, will lead you to the wrong conclusions. What we are seeing in Italy this morning is a good example of asking and answering the small questions when the larger questions are vastly more important. What most people have not grasped yet, but the dawning will come, is that a Referendum has just taken place in Italy. All of the political upheaval in Italy was caused by anger and frustration with the European Union and their policies. The EU is now cornered.

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Guest Post: 20 Signs The U.S. Economy Is Heading For Big Trouble In The Months Ahead

Is the U.S. economy about to experience a major downturn?  Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of signs that economic activity in the United States is really slowing down right now. In many ways, what we are going through right now feels very similar to 2008 before the crash happened.  Back then the warning signs of economic trouble were very obvious, but our politicians and the mainstream media insisted that everything was just fine, and the stock market was very much detached from reality.  When the stock market did finally catch up with reality, it happened very, very rapidly.  Sadly, most people do not appear to have learned any lessons from the crisis of 2008.  Americans continue to rack up staggering amounts of debt, and Wall Street is more reckless than ever.  As a society, we seem to have concluded that 2008 was just a temporary malfunction rather than an indication that our entire system was fundamentally flawed.  In the end, we will pay a great price for our overconfidence and our recklessness.

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Frontrunning: February 25

  • Risk of instability hangs over Italy poll (FT), Protest votes add to uncertainty in close Italy election (Reuters), and... Risk On
  • Czech inspectors find horsemeat in IKEA meatballs (Reuters)
  • China’s Slower Manufacturing Casts Shadow Over Recovery (Bloomberg)
  • So much for reform: China Prepares for Government Shuffle as Zhou Stays at PBOC (Bloomberg)
  • France to pause austerity, cut spending next year instead: Hollande (Reuters)
  • Sinopec to buy stake in Chesapeake assets for $1.02 billion (Reuters)
  • White House warns states of looming pain from March 1 budget cuts (Reuters)
  • China Quietly Invests Reserves in U.K. Properties (WSJ)
  • Osborne Keeps Austerity as Investors See Downgrade as Late (BBG)
  • South Korea's new president demands North drop nuclear ambitions (Reuters)
  • Russia accuses U.S. of double standards over Syria (Reuters)
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Franco-German Divide Nears Record High

Yesterday we mentioned the chasm between European union nations' minimum wages from the core to the periphery, but when even the so-called 'core' nations are diverging aggressively in their macro-conditions, we ask - rhetorically once again - how can they expect to hold this together with a single monetary policy. The difference is exhibited in many ways: manufacturing (yesterday's PMIs) differentials are the highest since Feb 2011, and as Bloomberg notes, the third highest on record; France's weakness relative to its German neighbor is also evident in GDP where Germany has recovered its post-2008 losses but France remains lower; Unemployment levels are stunningly wide with Germany at a mere 5.3% relative to France's 10.6%. All of this is summed up perfectly in the 'Taylor Rule' suggesting main policy rates that are 4 percentage points apart - a record since the Euro began - stoking inflationary concerns in Germany (relative to France). The market, as repressed as it ever was, is starting to wake up to this divergence with France 10Y yields at their widest relative to Germany in 2013 today.

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Spain's "Inverse Austerity" Leads To Multi-Year High Budget Deficit

For a country that laments the imposition of draconian "austerity" measures, now allegedly in their third year, which have so far seen government revenues slide, while spending rises, Spain sure has a problem with figuring out how it is supposed to work. Yet while the world was shocked back in December 2011 when Spain quietly announced its budget deficit would jump from 6% to 8.5%, before finally settling on 8.9% of GDP, today's announcement that the 2012 Spanish deficit was a whopping 10.2% of 2012 GDP hardly caused any commotion. Apologists will quickly say that this budget gap was boosted by the 3.2% increase due to setting up the bad bank, and rolling bank bailouts, and of course they will be right: just as all those economists were right to say that when one excludes all the negatives, US Q4 GDP was in fact positive. Or, indeed, as Goldman said to ignore this week's negative initial claims and new housing starts data: after all they too were negative. In fact, when one excludes all the negative trading days in 2013, the stock market has not had a down day yet. As for Spain, too bad the country can't have its broke bank cake and eat the budget surplus that would result "if only" things were different.

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Is It Time For A European Minimum Wage?

Much has been made of President Obama's non-deficit-increasing desire to raise the minimum wage by around 20%. This all sounds so good in front of a teleprompter but, as we noted here, a higher price for a good (low cost labor) simply means less of it will be demanded (higher unemployment). However, while setting a federally mandated minimum wage may make sense in the mind's eye of a President's panderers, a glance at Europe will blow most people's minds. The disparity across the nations of the European Union is 12-to-1: from Romania's EUR157 to Luxembourg's EUR1874 per month. This compares with an equivalent EUR998 for the US. As Bloomberg's Niraj Shah notes, this disparity drops to 6-to-1 if adjusted for local prices but two critical points come to mind; first, how can a 'union' with such massive disparity in labor function under a single monetary policy (hint: it can't); and second, with nations such as France, UK, and Ireland offering higher minimum wages than the US, it is hardly inspiring for any benefits Obama hopes to reap from his new deal.

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Italy's North-South Divide, And Lombardia's Starring Role In The Elections

The divide between the 'givers' and the 'takers' is well known across the broad European Union, but it is just as prevalent in the next risk-flaring centre - Italy - and this chasm between the two sides of fiscal profligacy will mark a critical separation in the pending elections. As the chart below shows, the North of the country tends to be the net tax contributor and the South the net receiver of fiscal benefits. At the very top is Lombardia (the richest state), a northern region that sends a net EUR44bn to the rest of the nation - and unsurprisingly perhaps is very pro-Berlusconi (in the polls) and has the most seats allocated (at 49 of 315). Interestingly, the region at the other end of the scale (the most broke state) - Sicilia - which receives net EUR 12.8 from the rest of the nation is also pro-Berlusconi's centre-right party. So it seems the rich and the mafia want Silvio though current opinion polls suggest Sicily is too close to call. The Italian election, for now ignored by all but the Italian sovereign bond market, remains a key risk event for confidence that Draghi's promise can really hold things together - no matter how profligate a nation becomes.

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Guest Post: Why Competition Between Global Players Is Heating Up

When the global financial pie is expanding, there's plenty of swag for everyone, so competition is limited and cooperation is rewarded. If we step back, what is most striking about China's emergence in the global economy over the past 30 years is how little actual conflict between global players this generated. To fully understand why this period of cooperation is ending and competition is heating up, we need to understand two key dynamics of global capitalism.  Either way, the game of depending on ever-expanding debt and exports for growth is over. This global competition is playing out on multiple interlocking levels.

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Signs Of The Times

The financial world, at the moment, is a scary place. The signs of this are all about us and yet the consensus view is to worry about nothing. This has been caused by one singular action which is the orchestrated input of cash into the financial system by every major central bank on Earth. Money will go somewhere as it is created and so it has which is exactly why the markets are at or close to all-time highs while economic conditions have crumbled precipitously. It is not this market or that market which is in a bubble but all of them and it is systemic by its very creation. Politics, economics and the debauchery of the truth. There are consequences; there are always consequences. The world has subsisted on fantasies for four years but I think this spring will bring on the vengeance of the Fates for the demagoguery that has transpired.

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