Via Mark J. Grant, author of Out of the Box,
Grant’s Rules have never been more important than they are now. There is Rule #1 that is cast in stone and reiterated nine times to form the bulwark of my thinking which is “Preservation of Capital.” You may do what you like and there is certainly a place for some speculation at the edges but you do not, ever, put the core of your capital at risk. It is on this corner stone where I stand and hold court and have done so for the ten years that my commentary has been in existence. Not only is my viewpoint valid in all markets but the point is now of particular importance in a time of such low interest rates where it takes so long to make lost money back. Hedge fund, money manager, bank or insurance company there is never a time and now is certainly not the time where any risk should be taken that will diminish the bulk of your capital.
Besides the issue with minimal yields there is a second consideration which is the incredible amount of risk that is currently on the table. You may believe what you like about Europe. You may be wildly optimistic or incredibly pessimistic but what cannot be denied is that tremendous risk is currently present and that things could go wildly erratic in one direction or another. Economics, outside of the classroom, never exists without its cousin politics but the political considerations are now so huge and the money at stake is now so large that the sheer size of the capital on the table should and ultimately will give everyone pause. We are about to arrive at moments where the notion of “muddling through” will no longer be possible and where real decisions, tough decisions, are going to come into play. Predicting coming events is never an easy task but it is made easier if you can determine the limits past which boundaries cannot be stretched.
There are many events that could go either way such as the German Constitutional Court’s ruling on the ESM and I think the vast majority of market participants think that the court will allow the Stabilization Fund’s existence in one form or the other and I am not speaking today about these kinds of events. Today I want to pinpoint specifically the 90% events. I want to shift your focus to the boundaries of the playing field so that the consideration of everything else properly lies within the out of bounds lines that I will try to define. Today I mark the perimeter.
Odds at 90%
Germany with a GDP of $3.5 trillion does not have the capital or the resources or the assets to support the rest of Europe. You may think of a wooden cross bar and the Brooklyn Bridge and the absolute inability of some piece of wood to support the trucks that roll across the bridge. It is just not possible and the same can be said with exactly the same amount of certainty for Germany’s position with all of Europe; they cannot support the European Union alone which is exactly what some ill informed people think. Therefore given Germany’s realistic position and not some fantasy notion, it is possible to project the limits of what can be done and what they will allow to be done to preserve their own country and their national interests. I would put forth the point that no country in Europe will bankrupt itself to save its neighbors and work backwards from this proposition.
It may be in September or a few months later or even six months from now but Germany will not keep handing Greece money ad infinitum; it is not happening. Greece, on the other hand, is not capable of paying its debts; sovereign, bank or private obligations, they cannot pay them. They also know they cannot pay them which is why they beg for money using the strategy of a European Union which is all for one and one for all and the common good and all manner of schemes appended to this basic concept but the money they owe cannot be paid back and so they make this and those kinds of noises and plead to put off the final act for as long as they can. There are only three choices here which are growth which is economically impossible or debt forgiveness which is politically impossible or the refusal to fund which is the 90% odds play that I see coming soon. In one sense Greece played the game well and got way more money than they should have ever been given and Germany played the game badly and allowed themselves to be suckered into a corner where they should have never gone but now with the stakes so high it will end soon and you can bet on it; a 90% you have it right bet.
It may be Merkel and her allies or it may be the opposition but I project that the citizens of Germany have just about had it with tossing their hard earned money into the olive tree groves in Greece and that it will soon stop. Germany is being dragged into a recession along with her neighbors and I predict soon that the productions numbers, not quite accurate for their automobile industry among others and the real costs of their Traget2 funding and the cash that is pouring into their ownership of the ECB and of the EU will not only come to light but will glisten with the resonance of a loud “Auchtung” and then a screamed “Verbotin” which will thunder down the Autobahn between Frankfurt and Berlin. As we have seen with the idiocy of the IMF projections and the 120% debt to GDP ratio for Greece that was trotted out and flaunted by the wish-it-would-be’s of Washington; the real numbers a few quarters out eventually show up to embarrass those that created the fairy tale.
Then there is the Draghi Hail Mary pass. He has made a promise that cannot be kept because there is no possible way to keep it. The ECB on its own cannot rescue Europe and his muttered under the breath “whatever it takes” flashing neon billboard proclamation is stopped in its tracks by the realizations that someone has to pay for all of this, that there are economic consequences of printing money and that the ECB is only as sound as the financial health of the nations in the EU which fund it and so with Spain and Italy slipping into the Mediterranean along with Greece there may be the will at present but there are not the resources to do it. In my mind this is another 90% bet because the ECB does not exist in a vacuum and does not stand on its own and people would be better served using their hopes and prayers in other areas of concern rather than wasting them on fantasies of Camelot and on Lancelot riding out of the castle gates to save the day. Don’t bet your money on make believe fables; that is my opinion.
The next 90% bet is Spain; they are going down. For years they have provided inaccurate Real Estate valuations, inaccurate bank numbers, inaccurate regional debt figures and the manure has hit the fan and is splattering. The country can no longer afford itself, cannot afford their obligations for the European Union and I predict a very hard landing. The hogwash about the money being only for some banks that most of us never heard of until recently is a lie compounded by Mr. Rajoy’s desire to remain in power which is also something that I see soon coming to an end one way or the other. Perhaps somewhere in some unknown universe governments can live in castles in the air but not on this world and not in our universe and the rock is going to hit the hard place and the make believe is going to collapse.
The final comment I will make today is about the ECB. It is a 90% bet that the ECB cannot do anything of gravity without the tacit support of Ms. Merkel and of the Bundesbank. There will be no grand scheme without their approval because if there is then I think that Germany will refuse to fund it and so end any fantasy. It can certainly be said that Germany has now found herself in a corner of her own making. Germany has played the Great Game badly and allowed country after country in Europe to get in financial trouble and so the majority of nations in Europe are now up against it and pleading for funds, mercy and alms all under the banner of the motto of the three musketeers but what could be done has been done and now the intrusion of reality is making itself known to one and all. Soon, I think, Italy will be joining the chorus and the tumult will be loud and noisy but the road is already marked by the brambles that have been put in place and so the course is set.
The Days of Muddling are now behind us and the Days of Reckoning are to the fore!