Via Mark J. Grant, author of Out of the Box,
The ECB: The Missing Assets/Liabilities
“To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, but to imagine your facts is another.”
Yesterday I published the assets/liabilities of the European Central Bank as provided by them. I provided some analysis that I thought was relevant as I also asked all of you to look at the numbers yourself. To be quite open; I was stunned by the data they provided and shocked by the implications. I had not seen the data in any other source or commented about by anyone and the subject, while admittedly complex, and perhaps made more complex by design, is a huge wake-up call for anyone investing in Europe.
The ECB lists, as of the end of the 1st quarter of 2012, 16.304 trillion Euros ($ 21.032 trillion) in assets and 17.334 trillion Euros ($22.631 trillion) in liabilities. It is right there in black and white as I showed in the ECB provided data that I presented yesterday. However when you get to their consolidated balance sheet you find the numbers they bandy about in public to be a ledger of 3.240 trillion Euros ($4.00 trillion) and you catch your breath and pause. Utilizing normal American accounting practices this variance would be impossible and yet here it is; staring us all right in the face.
“Europe has put a ‘stop payment’ on our reality check!”
I can report that I did hear from a number of large institutions yesterday that also looked at the numbers themselves and were stunned. Conversations were held, questions were asked and I think an accurate summation of the conversations was that everyone was in some state or another of astonishment. The numbers were not my numbers after all and while many good issues were raised in terms of how to properly analyze the data that was presented there was a clear sense that we were being duped by the European Central Bank and played for suckers.
“Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.”
Forget that the liabilities are greater than the assets and forget that that both have increased rather appreciably in the last several years and just concentrate on the size of the numbers presented and then ask the central questions; who is responsible for these assets and liabilities and where are they counted? We know that they are not counted at the ECB as they are not a part of their consolidated balance sheet. You may ask how this is possible and I re-print, once again, the applicable note from the ECB:
“Recognition of assets and liabilities
An asset or liability is only recognized in the Balance Sheet when it is probable that any associated future economic benefit will flow to or from the ECB, substantially all of the associated risks and rewards have been transferred to the ECB, and the cost or value of the asset or the amount of the obligation can be measured reliably.”
So there is the rationale, like it or not, but then where are these assets/liabilities counted? We are talking about $21.032 trillion in assets here and $22.631 trillion in liabilities which are larger numbers that all of the GDP of Europe. We can surmise that the ECB does not count these loans, securitizations and collateral as they belong to a given nation or a bank guaranteed by the nation or the securitization is guaranteed by some country but the rub is the country doesn’t count them either. When a European nation reports out its debt to GDP ratio I knew that they did not count contingent liabilities and I knew that government backed bank bonds were not included and I knew that regional debt guaranteed by the government was not included but this, and the sheer size of it, had lain underneath everyone’s radar.
Think of it; twenty-two trillion dollars worth of assets and liabilities and accounted for nowhere. No need to worry anymore about Target2; a mere tuppence at one trillion dollars, a decimal point. Just exactly what these assets and liabilities might be is anyone’s guess. Just which nations generated them is also anyone’s guess as no data or explanation is provided. Just what any country’s real debt to GDP ratio might be if these assets/liabilities were included in the equation is also anyone’s guess but I think it is safe to assume that the numbers would be off the charts; far off the charts.
“Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.”
You know, these are not blue fairies or gnomes or elves that have gone missing. These are twenty-two trillion dollars ($22 trillion) of loans and securitizations and mortgages that are found and accountable for by no one. These are real assets and real liabilities that have been turned into cash by the ECB and it causes me to wonder just how accurate the Money Supply numbers are for Europe with this amount of cash being pumped into the system. I also wonder what anyone’s real balance sheet looks like and I wonder what kinds of losses are being incurred and by whom. To be quite forthright, and in my opinion, this seems to me not just the rigging of the game or the gaming of the system but something far past that; something out beyond the realm of the credible and of real world experiences.
This is what we are investing in when we buy European bonds? This is where we are putting our client’s money? I don’t know; they may have gone mad but I have not.
“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.”