From his perch in the United Kingdom, Alasdair Macleod provides an update on the ongoing economic crisis in Europe, which -- while largely absent from headlines in the US of late - continues to worsen. Due to bloated state-run programs and extreme malinvestment, EU governments find themselves in a box. Economic growth has stalled, and no amount of intervention seems able to get it going again. So in order to keep their economies moving forward, they are becoming increasingly rapacious in extorting tax revenues from wherever they can find them. This, of course, is strangling the private sector. And so a vicious cycle ensues.
The gravy train that poses as the Electoral College in the States is rigged to make it near impossible for anyone other than the Democrat or GOP nominee to get into the White House.... In Europe it is very different. We can vote for the Monster Raving Looney Party – yes there truly is such a thing – the Beer party and one day soon the Blessed Nigel of Farage. To get on the list of candidates over here you have to stump up £500, be a UK, Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland (how did that happen?) citizen, be seconded by 10 voters in the constituency and not be a police officer, in the military or a member of the House of Lords or bankrupt or bonkers. UKIP may well have won the Eastleigh by-election had Farage stood as a candidate – along with 13 others - but as it was Diane James took votes off the Tories and Liberal Democrats in equal measure. This may have been spun as an inconsequential protest vote the happenings in Italy earlier in the week is beginning to cause the establishment some angst.
“The country is more important than democracy”
A few days ago Bloomberg mag did all it could to aliante virtually all racial minorities residing in the US (which in three decades will be the majority) by insinuating that Bernanke's second housing bubble is the sole source of riches for those not of the Caucasian persuasion. Now it is The Economist's turn to provoke well over half of Italy, by alleging that in not voting for technocratic, Goldman-appointed oligarchs who promote solely the banker backer interests, Italy has made a horrible mistake and has ushered in the circus...
Italian electors’ rejection of Brussels-imposed economic diktat is an extraordinarily important moment in the history of modern Europe - perhaps the best political news since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Given the power of unelected technocrats, it is easy to forget that sovereignty in Europe still resides with the nation state as expressed through elections. The problem for those unelected officials who conspired to capture the political system - think Jacques Delors, Jean Claude Trichet or Mario Monti - is the obvious failure of their great project. For the first time a majority of electors has decisively voted against the euro and rejected policies imposed by technocrats. What the eurocrats offer under the banner of "reform" is nothing of the sort but just an increase in their power and the destruction of the incredible diversity which made Europe an endlessly fascinating place. It is time to return to market prices and democracy and to accept that technocracy cannot work.
If the new year started off with a bang, March is setting up to be quite a whimper. In the first news overnight, we got the "other" official Chinese PMI, which as we had predicted (recall from our first China PMI analysis that "it is quite likely that the official February print will be just as weak if not more") dropped: while the HSBC PMI dropped to 50.4, the official number declined even more to just barely expansionary or 50.1, below expectations of a 50.5 print, and the lowest print in five months. This was to be expected: Chinese real-estate inflation is still as persistent as ever, and the government is telegraphing to the world's central banks to back off on the hot money. One country, however, that did not have much hot money issues was Japan, where CPI declined -0.3% in January compared to -0.1% in December, while headline Tokyo February data showed an even bigger -0.9% drop down from a revised -0.5% in January. Considering the ongoing surge in energy prices and the imminent surge on wheat-related food prices, this data is highly suspect. Then out of Europe, we got another bunch of PMIs and while French and Germany posted tiny beats (43.9 vs Exp. 43.6, and 50.3 vs 50.1), with Germany retail sales also beating solidly to cement the impression that Germany is doing ok once more, it was Italy's turn to disappoint, with its PMI missing expectations of a 47.5 print, instead sliding from 47.8 to 45.8. But even worse was the Italian January unemployment rate which rose from 11.3% to 11.7%, the highest on record, while youth unemployment soared from 37.1% to 38.7%: also the highest on record, and proof that in Europe nothing at all is fixed, which will be further confirmed once today's LTRO repayment shows that banks have no desire to part with the ECB's cash contrary to optimistic expectations.
Aided by QE and ZIRP, the-powers-that-be tried to end February with some bullish records designed to pump-up Main Street. Theoretically, if new market record highs were achieved this would then suck more money into financial products, as the WS marketing machine would be energized.
From “I’m appalled that two clowns have won” in Italy to fear
It has been yet another quiet overnight session, devoid of the usual EURUSD ramp, and thus ES, at the Europe open (although it is never too late), which has seen the Shangai Composite finally post a meaningful rise up 2.26%, followed by some unremarkable European macro data as Eurozone CPI came as expected at 2.0%, and German unemployment just a tad better, at -3K, with consensus looking for 0K. Italy continues to be the wildcard, with little clarity on just who the now expected grand coalition will consist of. According to Newedge's Jamal Meliani, a base case scenario of Bersani/Berlusconi coalition may see a relief rally, tightening 10Y BTP/bund spread toward 300bps. A coalition would maintain current fiscal agenda and won’t implement any major reforms with fresh elections being called within a year. A Bersani/Grillo coalition is least likely, may slow reforms which would see 10Y BTP/bund spreads widening to 375bps. Of course, everything is speculation now, with Grillo saying no to any coalition, and moments ago a PD official saying against a broad coalition. But at least the market has it all priced in already - for more see Italy gridlock deepens as Europe watches nervously.
Bernanke gave more testimony on Wednesday emphasizing and defending all Fed policies. He successfully parried all questions about QE and ZIRP risks and made no mention of any policy exit dates. Bulls translation, the printing press will be on “auto” to infinity.
Interesting testimony tidbits were:
“Fed could go some time without sending profits to Treasury,” (Fed is allowed to be a deadbeat).
“Savers will benefit with economic recovery; savers won't get strong returns in a weak economy,” (So not in my lifetime?).
Following on the heels of Merkel's adviser Lars Feld's comments, German finance minister Schaeuble has raised concerns over the results of the Italian elections. His comment that,"I never said the euro crisis was over," stands in contrast to the claims of Monti, Draghi, Lagarde, Barroso, and Sarkozy who all have. along with the market's "doubts that a stable government can be formed," raises the risk of turmoil spreading to other euro countries. Schaeuble commented further that, "now it is up to those who were elected in Italy on Sunday to form a stable government. The faster they do this, the quicker the uncertainty will be overcome." The problem, as Reuters reports, appears to be not just Italy's public dissension over Germany's demands for austerity but his French counterpart's comments that "austerity has gone far enough," to which the German rebuked, "France must also do more here, Hollande knows this and so does Pierre Moscovici." Tension is certainly rising in the depression-addled union, even as Draghi explains - it's all ok, he promises.
Owners of bank debt were sacrificed
- Italy sold EUR 6.5bln in 5y and 10y BTPs this morning, solid b/c and competitive yields, especially when considering the uncertain political situation in Italy.
- Moody's also said that Italian election is indirectly credit negative for other pressured EU sovereigns.
- Fears rise that ECB plan has a weakness as the strings in the Eurozone bond buying programme may be its frailty.
For all the groundless, starry-eyed optimism permeating Europe's bureaucratic corridors of the fading oligarchy these days (because this time is not like every other time that, too, was different), there has always existed one sure, never-fail antidote: Germany, which without fail has managed to ground Europe any time its delusion of grandure hit escape velocity. Sure enough, while all the statist soothsayers who threatened with armageddon if the outcome of the Italian elections happened to be precisely the one that transpired, were stuck in backpedal mode, and scrambling to calm nerves that all shall be well after all, one person who refuses to play by the script is Lars Feld, member of panel of economic advisers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung tomorrow says the euro crisis is to return shortly and "with a vengeance" as capital loss will lead to higher risk premiums for Italy’s interest rates.
In many Western industrialized nations, debt has overwhelmed or is about to overwhelm the economy's debt-servicing capacity. In the run-up to a debt crisis, bad debt tends to move to the next higher level and may ultimately accumulate in the central bank's balance sheet, provided the economy has its own currency. Many observers assume that, once bad debt is purchased by the central bank, the debt crisis is solved for good; that central banks have unlimited wealth at their disposal, or can print unlimited wealth into existence.
However, central banks can only create liquidity, not wealth. If printing money were equivalent to creating wealth, then mankind would not have to get up early on Monday morning. Only a solvent central bank can halt hyperinflation. The longer governments run large deficits, the longer central banks continue to monetize them, and the longer their balance sheets grow, the higher the potential for enormous losses and thus hyperinflation.
Necessary preconditions for hyperinflation are a quasi-bankrupt government whose debt is monetized by a central bank with insufficient assets. One way or another, owning physical gold is the safest and most effective way of insuring against hyperinflation.