Back in February, as part of the latest Greek bailout of European banks, we noted that the most subversive part of the German-led proposal was nothing short of a gold confiscation scheme. Today, courtesy of The Telegraph, we learn that Germany is quietly reminding the world that the stealthy, but voluntary, accumulation of gold is what it is all about. As part of a newed push for quasi-Federalism, whereby Germany would fund a "European Redemption Pact", in which Berlin would, in the form of Germany-backed joint bonds, be responsible for any sovereign debt over the 60% Maastrtich limit, but with a big catch. The catch is that "a key motive is to relieve the European Central Bank of its duties as chief fire-fighter. "We have got to get the ECB out of the game of distributing money, and separate fiscal and monetary policy. Germany has only two votes on the ECB Council and has no way to control consolidation," he said. Germany would have a lockhold over the fund, able to enforce discipline. Each state would have to pledge 20pc of their debt as collateral. "The assets could be taken from the country’s currency and gold reserves. The collateral nominated would only be used in the event that a country does not meet its payment obligations," said the proposal. In other words: a perfectly legitimate, and fully voluntary scheme in which sovereign gold is pledged to a German "pawn broker" until such time as the joint bonds are extinguished, and if for some "unpredictable" reason, a country fails to meet its obligations, read defaults, all the pledged gold goes to Germany!
But why Gold? Why not spam. After all gold is selling off, spam is stable, and the dollar is soaring. Couldn't Germany merely demand that broke countries simply pledge all their USD reserves, and keep their worthless, stinking yellow metal? Apparently not.
At François Hollande’s “growth” policies, Greece, the ECB, the Fed, Paul Krugman....
European stock futures saw a jump higher at the cash equity open as the Eurostoxx broke through yesterday’s high of 2160. Comments from the Italian PM from late yesterday, who said that the majority of ministers are in favour of Euro bonds was noted but the move was largely technically driven with stops tripped on the ascent. In reaction to this the European bond yield spreads in the 10yr part of the curve tightened aggressively with OAT’s outperforming once again edging back toward the psychological 100bps level. Meanwhile in the FX market the USD weakened in early trade on the renewed risk appetite which bolstered the gains in EUR/USD alongside touted option defence by a Swiss name at the 1.2500 level. Commodity linked currencies such as the AUD was the main benefactor of a moderate move higher in crude futures and precious metals but has been capped so far by offers at 0.9800. Into the North American open prices have pared, with European equities in the cash and futures both slipping into the red, excepting the DAX. A distinctly light calendar from the US with only the May final Michigan report due, coupled with an early closure in the Treasury pit today, ahead of the Memorial day holiday, means that volumes will likely decline into the latter stages of the US session today.
While hard information is scarce, concerns about deposit flight from Greek banks have increased since the 6 May elections. To the extent that such flight arises from liquidity concerns, the ECB can contain it (or its impact) via its various monetary policy and ELA operations. But, as Goldman Sachs notes in its Focus today, the ECB cannot deal with concerns about bank solvency and/or deposit currency redenomination. That requires a pan-Euro area guarantee of the Euro value of bank deposits by the fiscal authorities. Politically, it will not be domestically popular in Germany (inter alia) to extend such guarantees, however much Germany may benefit from arresting the financial instability deposit runs may cause. And institutionally, in order to contain the threat of free-riding on the guarantee of others, entering into a pan-Euro area deposit guarantee would need to be associated with a deepening of the pan-Euro area system of financial supervision and regulation. This would involve substantial loss of sovereignty relative to the status quo and require significant institutional innovation. However, attractive in principle, even Goldman agrees with our skeptical perspective that it is unlikely that such a guarantee can be implemented credibly in short order. So, what would you do with your hard-earned deposits? Demand them or leave them at the bank on the basis that the EU leaders will do what they promise - this time is different.
With only new home sales (which we actually report as opposed to NAR goalseeked marketing materials) to hit the docket in the US, the only newsflow that matters again will be that coming out of Europe, which is holding an informal summit. As BofA reminds us, the summit was originally set up to discuss growth. Now, it is there for Grexit damage control. Today's discussions will focus on the use of existing tools for supporting short-term growth. Spain and Greece are likely to be on the agenda as well. On Greece, although discussions should focus on the pros and cons of a Greek exit, we believe there will be no communiqué other than to mention that Greece should stay in the euro area and implement the programme. On Spain, discussions will likely focus on the banking sector. The discussion will likely be around using the EFSF (or its successor ESM) directly to fund the banking sector, a step Germany opposed in the past. Overall, we do not expect many decisions from the summit. Rather, we expect a communiqué about what was officially discussed, and a date for a later rendezvous. In other words, "investors are likely to be let down by today's summit" (that was BofA's assessment). Also let down, were markets in the overnight session when the BOJ, contrary to some expectations, left its QE program unchanged. As usual keep an eye on headlines: record EUR interest means violent short covering squeezes if the algos sense a hint of optimism in any red flashing text (if only briefly, as the long-term outlook for the situation is quite hopeless).
Just when one thought it was safe to come out of hiding from under the school desk after the latest nuclear bomb drill (because Europe once again plans on recycling the Euro bond gambit - just like it did in 2011 - so all shall be well), here comes David Rosenberg carrying the launch codes, and setting off the mushroom cloud.
We have not been shy to point out the potential (and now proven) flaws in the Euro experiment (here, here, and here for example) over the past year or so but UBS reminds us that while most people remain fixated on the absence of a fiscal transfer union in so large a monetary union (to offset incidents of inappropriate monetary policy) as Eurobonds and Federalism come back to the fore; it is the second flaw - the absence of an integrated banking system (backed implicitly by a credible lender of last resort) - that should be getting front-page headlines. As Niall Ferguson noted at Zeitgeist this morning, "Structural reforms will work but will not work this week" and in the meantime, TARGET2 balances grow out of control and the longer the 'problem' remains, the worse it becomes leaving an implicit infinitely supported firewall as the only interim solution. While most who foresaw the Euro as implicitly leading to federalism were right, it seems the link to a German dominance (of ECB rulings and general fiscal and monetary decisions) has been the ultimate outcome. While an integrated banking system would do nothing to change the relative competitiveness or growth issues that plague Europe, the 'essential' internal capital flows would be sustained. Is this sort of integration a realistic prospect? The politics is not especially propitious.
The standard Keynesian narrative that "Households and countries are not spending because they can’t borrow the funds to do so, and the best way to revive growth, the argument goes, is to find ways to get the money flowing again." is not working. In fact, former IMF Director Raghuram Rajan points out, today’s economic troubles are not simply the result of inadequate demand but the result, equally, of a distorted supply side as technology and foreign competition means that "advanced economies were losing their ability to grow by making useful things." Detailing his view of the mistakes of the Keynesian dream, Rajan notes "The growth that these countries engineered, with its dependence on borrowing, proved unsustainable.", and critically his conclusion that the industrial countries have a choice. They can act as if all is well except that their consumers are in a funk and so what John Maynard Keynes called “animal spirits” must be revived through stimulus measures. Or they can treat the crisis as a wake-up call and move to fix all that has been papered over in the last few decades and thus put themselves in a better position to take advantage of coming opportunities.
At the beginning of the week, European equities are seen modestly higher in the major indices with underperformance noted in the peripheral markets. Markets have sought some solace in the G8 summit over the weekend, with leaders agreeing that the optimal scenario would be Greece remaining within the European Monetary Union, and have furtively agreed that further measures may be necessary to return Europe to growth. The disagreements, however, continue to rollover as leaders fail to commit to a specific growth strategy. The tentative risk sentiment is reflected in the fixed income markets, with the German Bund remaining in negative territory for much of the session and 10yr government bond yield spread between the periphery and the German benchmark tighter on the session. Touted bids by domestic accounts helped support BTPs (Italian paper), especially in the short end of the curve, where the spread between the German equivalent is trading tighter by around 3bps. From Tokyo, comments from Fed’s Lockhart have drawn attention, who commented that with the downside risks emerging from the Eurozone, it would be unwise to take QE3 off the table.