The following is a guest post by a very bright individual whom I've had the pleasure of building with on several occasions, Mr. Mordechai Grun. This is what he's had to say on the topic of Europe, with ample commentary from me along the way.
Human behavior predications usually follow the ‘least resistance, least painful, and self serving’ path in spite of its being harmful in the long run. This disposition is even more truly said of politicians and bureaucrats. "Will is the origin of all thought." Flowing from such will we have the intellectual analysis and arguments to justify those behaviors. We will therefore look at Europe through this lens and see where it takes us.
The next major crisis in Europe is lurking just beyond the bend.
Reggie’s note: the last crisis has actually never left, so this is not the next one, just a continuation of the same. I called this exactly three years ago, in explicit detail (The Coming Pan-European Sovereign Debt Crisis – introduces the crisis and identified it as a pan-European problem, not a localized one)
It will take form as either the comeback of Bond vigilantes or as a political calamity, where some peripheral country finally votes for a party that is seriously proposing to forsake the Euro.
Some smart politician will certainly test the ECB’s resolve and do away with austerity and call their bluff. The consensus of the population can only be subjected to so much strain before it turns on itself and they vote for radical (read: costly) change. While the case can be made that the government bond-funding crisis has subdued, the economic pain of the general public has not.
The likeliest scenario is that both of these crises will play out at the same time, thus creating a Lehman-type crisis.
Faced with this crisis, only two options will present themselves:
- Massive sovereign debt defaults, bank runs and bankruptcies as many banks’ liabilities are larger than the GDP of the countries that are guaranteeing them – and a potentially resulting currency crisis
- A truly massive QE Program that not only bails out the banks and the existing governments debt and deficit, but also sponsors an enormous stimulus program for anything that can be thought of, e.g. infrastructure, education, green energy, etc.
Following scenario B, the challenge will be this: Why would the Germans and Fins want to debase their currency to send their monies elsewhere? The answer will be a mix of ‘candy and stick’, so to speak. The QE stimulus program will be structured upon some European formula – per capita or otherwise – that sends significant amounts of newly printed money to them too, while, in the alternative, if the Euro disintegrates, Germany will have to recapitalize the Bundasbank and resort to either massive stimuli or quantitative easing so to cheapen their currency and rescue their own economy. Those countries that leave the Euro will, nevertheless, default on any external bondholders, as they are restructured and recapitalized in the new currency, their banks will default as well. Why wouldn’t Germany be gracious and monetarily benevolent with funds they would lose either way? This would blend in with the fact that even the new Mark will be too expensive for their export-driven economy, and they would be pressed to cheapen it. They also won’t have destination countries to export to in Europe, as each country will turn to hyper-protectionism, safeguarding the jobs they have from disappearing in an effort to stabilize their home currency in order to avoid hyper inflation (Argentina, anyone?).
Reggie's Note: A Comparison of Our Greek Bond Restructuring Analysis to that of Argentina - Now, referencing the bond price charts below as well as the spreadsheet data containing sovereign debt restructuring in Argentina, we get... Price of the bond that went under restructuring and was exchanged for the Par bond in 2005
Price of the bond that went under restructuring and was exchanged for the Discount bond
This turmoil will, obviously, generate widespread economic malaise as well. As a politician faced with this decision the answer is obvious. I can already picture the smiling politicians announcing their courageous decisions and courses of action, claiming that they have saved the Euro from certain demise while helping the people and creating new projects and job opportunities that will launch Europe into the future. It is possible that they will punish the instigator (Greece, presumably) and cut them out of the money party aka Lehman.
Is this feasible for Europe? I believe the answer is yes, as one significant minutia is overlooked. The Euro is way too high, even for Germany. This will become ever clearer as time clambers on. Europe can survive – even thrive – at 0.65 Euro to the dollar. I recall this precise scenario in Canada during the early 90s. The resulting inflation at the consumer level was much milder than expected, as taxes, services, rents, salaries and many consumer goods and products (including cars) are priced in the local currency. Of course, energy costs would rise. In Europe, though, lowering the high taxes on fuel can mitigate this. On the positive side, manufacturing and tourism in Canada flourished, generating a strong trade surplus (this was prior to the commodity boom). Europe can probably afford 6-8 trillion in QE over a 3-year period without hyperinflation, especially as this will be taking place while many other major currencies are orchestrating their own QE. If, as they do this, the peripherals restructure their own economies and bring down or solve their structural or primary deficits, the Euro may actually increase eventually, as they will have significantly lowered their debt to GDP ratios and positioned themselves on a financially sustainable path.
Reggie's note: This is code language for DEFAULT! The defaults will codify, quantify and solidify the capital destruction that we all know is there in the first place. I don't think the ride will be quite that easy. Greece has defaulted (exactly as I anticipated and clearly called) and is about to default again, and it's still f#@ked. For more on this, reference This Time Is Different As Icarus Blows Up & Burns The Birds Along The Way - Greece Is About To Default AGAIN! ... and then there's the contagion effect! Subscribers, see
All others, reference:
- Financial Contagion vs. Economic Contagion: Does the Market Underestimate the Effects of the Latter?
- The Depression is Already Here for Some Members of Europe, and It Just Might Be Contagious!
- Introducing The BoomBustBlog Sovereign Contagion Model: Thus far, it has been right on the money for 5 months straight!
- With Europe’s First Real Test of Contagion Quarrantine Failing, BoomBustBloggers Should Doubt the Existence of a Vaccination
The sad reality, though, is that they will promise such changes and not deliver on their word.
Reggie's Note: WHAAAT???!!! You mean you can't trust the European oligarchs???
- Lies, Damn Lies, and Sovereign Truths: Why the Euro is Destined to Collapse!
- Smoking Swap Guns Are Beginning to Litter EuroLand, Sovereign Debt Buyer Beware!
- Greek Crisis Is Over, Region Safe”, Prodi Says – I say Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!
- Germany Finally Comes Out and Says, “We’re Not Touching Greece” – Well, Sort of…
This will turn the crisis into only a short- to medium-term solution while eventually creating a fundamental currency crisis that will give way to no solutions.
Can the Euro handle that much QE? I believe the answer is yes. The ECB can forgive all the bonds they either own or collected as collateral for loans. Does anyone believe the principal on these loans will ever be paid down? The only stimulus from such a move will be the miniscule interest being saved.
Reggie's note: Moral hazard be damned, eh? What's to prevent other market participants from pushing to get a similar deal of borrowing money and not paying it back, expecting not to get punished. Massive forgiveness on this scale will fracture the market mechanism and destroy market pricing (as if it's not already wrecked as it is, does anybody really think core European bonds should yield what they do now?)
However, from a public confidence perspective, it would be huge, as it would drastically lower debt to GDP ratios.
Reggie's note: It will also bring about massively more stringent underwriting the next time around, effectively driving up rates anyway - you know, just as rates would have been driven up had the borrowers defaulted. Who in they're right mind would voluntarily make the same mistake twice in so short a period of time. As a reminder from my seminal link Greece Sneezes, The Euro Dies of Pneumonia! Yeah, Sounds Bombastic, Yet True!
Wait until a 2nd Greek default (virtually guaranteed as we supplied user downloadable models to see for yourself, the same model used to forecast the 1st default) mirrors history. Of the 181 yrs as a sovereign nation after gaining independence, Greece been in default 58 of them. Don't believe me! Check your history, or just read more BoomBustBlog - Sophisticated Ignorance Or Just A Very, Very Short Term Memory? Foolish Talk of German Bailouts Once Again...
It is important to note that Europe will be faced with a stark choice: either deflate assets and wages or deflate the currency. And, since as discussed, the Euro needs a significant reduction anyway, why not milk it and bring it down through QE? The crisis created by a country like Spain leaving the Euro will harm the Euro by much more than a giant QE would. There exists capacity for Europe to kick this one down a really long road and, with some discipline, actually solve it along the way.
Reggie's note: Possible, yes! Probable, Nah!!!
The challenge will be that, unlike the US, Europe has multiple players and can't turn on a dime. The crisis, when it comes, will be overwhelming, and will require solutions over a weekend or short bank holiday. Can so many politicians and central bankers on opposing sides of the language barrier figure out that their collective interests are far more in harmony than their differences? Prejudice, ego and vindictiveness – combined with an overly sensationalist media and so many involved players – stage the scene for things to easily get out of hand. If history is any guide, the answer is not very encouraging. However, Europe now shares a bureaucracy and central bank as well as a mostly shared corporate interest. So let's hope this time around is a bit different.
Reggie's note: I really liked this piece, and Mordechai is bright fellow. Of course I like it better with my commentary, which sort of... well.. Keeps it real!