Expenditure on social benefits in the EU fell to 29.1% of GDP in 2011 from 29.7% in 2009, Eurostat said yesterday. However, do not feel too bad for the broad European social state. While France (as one might expect) nears the top of the list with over 33% of GDP spent on "social benefits", Bloomberg's Niraj Shah notes that it is Denmark that spends the most on welfare at 34.3% of GDP, and Latvia spent the least, 15.1%. Of course, in the new normal, as in the US, retirees accounted for the majority of the trasnfer payments with an average of 46% of total expenditure while unemployment benefit accounted for 6%. Interestingly, Greece nears the top of the list with almost 31% of GDP spent on welfare.
The financial crisis of 2008 killed a lot of things. It killed the line of credit, it killed the finances of millions of people around the world, it ousted governments and relegated leaders to the back offices and it was the kiss of death to a failed system and brought down entire states.
There are very few people that actually give even one hoot and even fewer that could give two of them when it comes to poverty of people that are living in society alongside us.
Jitters from Syria still abound, as confirmed by reports from the Israeli army that two shells had hit the Southern Golan region. Despite the reports that the shelling appeared to be errant, WTI remains near session highs as markets remain sensitive ahead of the meeting between US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva over the next two days. Buying of the 10Y is also prevalent and the yield on the benchmark bond was has dropped below 2.90%, or at 2.88% at last check. Today's key economic news in the US session will be the weekly claims report, the Fed buying 10 Year bonds at 11 am followed by the Treasury selling 30 Year bonds at 1 pm (this follows the Fed buying 30 Year bond yesterday: yes ironic).
Reading the financial press, one gets the impression there are only two sides to the austerity debate: pro-austerity and anti-austerity. In reality, we have three forms of austerity. There is the Keynesian-Krugman-Robert Reich form which promotes more government spending and higher taxes. There is the Angela Merkel form of less government spending and higher taxes, and there is the Austrian form of less spending and lower taxes. Of the three forms of austerity, only the third increases the size of the private sector relative to the public sector, frees up resources for private investment, and has actual evidence of success in boosting growth.
Europe may be a union, but when it comes to the distribution of unemployment rates across its 27 member nations (and as of July 1 with the addition of Croatia, 28), it is anything but.
With Italy's sovereign bond yields hovering at 3 year lows, one could be forgiven for falling for the constant stream of gibberish from EU leaders that the worst is over. However, aside from the 'promised' OMT foot on the wind-pipe of non-domestic bond vigilantes (fighting an inexorable demand from self-referential banks and pension funds bidding for BTPs), the situation remains bad at best and in terms of debt-to-GDP, the worst since 1925 when Mussoilini was proclaimed fascist dictator. With Letta and his allies forming the 64th cabinet since WWII (and 27th since 1980) his lifespan seems limited to change anything and with Italy accounting for 16.5% of the EU's GDP (and forecast to contract 1.9% next year) - the current real GDP is smaller now than in 2001. Attempts to revive growth are about to be thrown into tumult once again as Berlusconi's party threatens mass resignation. As we noted last night, do not be fooled by the apparent tranquility in Europe.
It has all gone belly up if we look at the EU and we are honest. Yes, they might be trying to paper of the cracks and yes they might be shoving some super strong glue in their to stop everyone pulling in different directions, but if they are really truthful about it, the EU28 (now that Croatia has become a member since July 1st 2013)
Inflation slowed in 24 (of 27) EU nations in April to leave the average EU rate at 1.4% (versus 1.9% in March). Greece entered deflation in March for the first time in 45 years and Latvia consumer prices fell 0.4% in April (versus +2.8% a year ago). This notable plunge, while 'helpful' for the average spender in the short-term, is a problem, as Bloomberg's Niraj Shah notes, sustained falling prices will increase the nation's debt burden. At the other end of the spectrum, Romania and Estonia both have inflation running above 4% and 3% respectively. Of course, none of this serial 'depression' matters, since Draghi has your back and Hollande says "the crisis is over."
The debate about the usefulness of sovereign credit default swaps (SCDS) intensified with the outbreak of sovereign debt stress in the euro area. SCDS can be used to protect investors against losses on sovereign debt arising from so-called credit events such as default or debt restructuring. With the growing influence of SCDS, questions arose about whether speculative use of SCDS contracts could be destabilizing - and this caused regulators to ban non-hedge-related protection buying. The prohibition is based on the view that, in extreme market conditions, such short selling could push sovereign bond prices into a downward spiral, which would lead to disorderly markets and systemic risks, and hence sharply raise the issuance costs of the underlying sovereigns. The IMF's empirical results do not support many of the negative perceptions about SCDS. In particular, spreads of both SCDS and sovereign bonds reflect economic fundamentals, and other relevant market factors, in a similar fashion. Relative to bond spreads, SCDS spreads tend to reveal new information more rapidly during periods of stress, admittedly with overshoots one way or the other. Given the current apparent 'stability' in many nations' bond market spreads, the chart below suggests an alternative way of judging what the credit market thinks - the volume of protection bid - and in this case some interesting names emerge.
Yesterday, we first reported on something very disturbing (at least to Cyprus' citizens): despite the closed banks (which will mostly reopen tomorrow, while the two biggest soon to be liquidated banks Laiki and BoC will be shuttered until Thursday) and the capital controls, the local financial system has been leaking cash. Lots and lots of cash. Alas, we did not have much granularity or details on who or where these illegal transfers were conducted with. Today, courtesy of a follow up by Reuters, we do. As it turns out, the Russian oligrachs this whole operation was geared to punish, may have used the one week hiatus period of total chaos in the banking system to transfer the bulk of the cash they had deposited with one of the two main Cypriot banks, in the process making the whole punitive point of collapsing the Cyprus financial system entirely moot.
It appears the Cypriots (or more clearly the European leaders) do not appreciate the extent to which Russia has propped up the local economy. “When the Russians leave who is going to stay at the Four Seasons for $500 a night? Angela Merkel?” one wealthy Russian asks rhetorically, as The FT reports, they are receiving a deluge of overseas phone calls from helpful Swiss bankers looking to swoop up the deposit transfers. "The locals should understand: as soon as the money leaves, the people who go to restaurants, buy cars and buy property leave too. The Cypriots’ means of living will disappear," and there are signs that the locals are getting how drastic this situation is, as a large billboard has sprung up at Larnaca Airport with a Russian flag and the words "Brat’ya ne predaite nas!" - "Brothers, don’t betray us!" Many Russian businessmen appear to have one foot out of the door already and are considering whih jurisdiction to move to as they await to see if Medvedev follows through on his threat to dismantle the double tax treaty with Cyprus.
It is not just that there is a monetary union without a fiscal union, but European monetary union itself is incomplete.
Forget Citius, Altius, Fortius ("Faster, Higher, Stronger"), the real Olympic challenge among Europe's nations is Pinguissimam, Ignavissumi, Bibe Maxime (Fattest, Laziest, Drunkest). As WaPo notes, there's nothing like tales of butter-eating, wine-guzzling, yet somehow-still thin Europeans to add to American angst over holiday calories and upcoming resolutions, but while overall Europeans are fairly healthy, a recently-released report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (below) found that the prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and asthma has also increased — in part because of better diagnosis, but also thanks to underlying causes such as drinking, smoking and eating fattening foods. Here’s a look at which Europeans are most obese, most inactive and drink most (no, it's not the Brits):
"No matter where you stand, no matter how far or how fast you flee, when it hits the fan, as much as possible will be propelled in your direction, and you will not possess a towel large enough to wipe all of it off."
You thought it was tough; it is going to get tougher. You thought that Europe would not affect America and that we lived in some sort of bubble over here; think again. You thought that the liquidity provided by the world’s major central banks would carry us across the divide and intact; keep dreaming. We are at the cross roads...