The Next Stage of the European Debt Crisis; Towards Global Financial Collapse?

Bob Chapman
International Forecaster
November 3, 2011

Those who believe the European crisis is over are mistaken. The dislocation will continue as their economies slow and political, social and economic events converge into further crisis. The most glaring problem is the banks only taking a 50% loss on Greek bonds. The loss should have been 75% or even 80%. There is absolutely no way Greece can overcome that burden in a slowing European economy and an enraged population. They are still striking and demonstrating and they will continue even under a new government.

Some of the best economists in the world have been saying for almost as long as we have been saying that the weaker and smaller countries have to leave the euro at least temporarily. In our eyes that really means permanently. If Italy falls out it will take France with it and the euro edifice will fall. Very quickly it will be found that Greece cannot and will not recover. It is one thing to set recovery in motion in good times, but it is another to attempt to do so under austerity. These politicians in Europe have been self-serving. They are quickly going to find what they have done is not going to work. Greece should have never been saved, as we said from the beginning. They will need more and more money just to exist and you cannot have perpetual funding. Then you have the overriding social factor. It is simply impossible and once Greece goes, the other 5 will have to cut loose as well. Again, it will be called temporary, but their exists will be permanent. It simply cannot be any other way. Political hot air is not going to change anything. We have no details and bankers who refuse to face the music, and what is attempted to be achieved is impossible.

The concept of a tighter union with a new constitution won’t work either. We can go back to 1991 when these issues came forth and we stated the Europeans are doing this backwards. You need a strong constitution first, only nations involved that can meet the criteria of public debt of 3% GDP. Smaller nations cannot be allowed to falsify their balance sheets and above all you cannot use one interest rate for all. Just about everything that has been done has been done incorrectly. Unfortunately, the US and world economy hang in the balance as well. This euro, European and UK problem is not going to go away. By February it will again be front page news. There is an 80% chance that Greece will leave the euro in the next six months.

If Ireland and Portugal do not receive equal treatment, followed by Belgium, Spain and Italy, then they will all be forced to leave the euro. If you think for one minute that these nations can stand more than a year or two of austerity you are mistaken. The whole approach is wrong. They should all be allowed to leave the euro. The only reason Greece has been temporarily saved is to keep Greece in the euro. These one-worlders cannot bear to see their dream of world government fail. It has already failed. Do you really think Germans are going to give up their sovereignty? Wait for the next German election. You are going to see a house cleaning in the Bundestag that will be staggering. The German people are outraged at what these politicians have done to them. If anything the move in the EU’s strongest economy will be away from further consolidation, not toward it.

The magic number to keep the euro from collapsing over the next two years is $6 trillion that solvent European countries do not have, and using derivatives in place of cash is a prescription for disaster. Debt may be addressed, but the core economic and financial problems that were responsible for these problems are still not being addressed. That is a glaring lack of economic progress. Where is the capital needed for growth? Countries in the EU are going to have to increase money and credit and suffer the incumbent inflation; that is if they can even raise those funds and rollover old debt. Either that or China will lend $3 to $500 billion and we don’t think they are willing to do that. If China prints the money to lend, the value of the yuan will fall, the Chinese will take more market share and there will be more inflation. Their goods sold to Europe, the US and elsewhere will rise in cost as well. The Chinese will have to use cash euros or sell euro bonds. Such moves could be really upsetting to China. If aid comes it will be in much smaller amounts.

This past week the swaps association said the failure on 50% of Greek debt does not constitute failure, because it was voluntary, so the NYC legacy banks do not have to pay up on their derivative bet. That could all change, because Fitch says it does constitute default. We will now have to await the decisions of S&P and Moody’s.

What Europe has done is pull a page from US bailouts, which reduce debt starting in a few years, which would extend over 10 or 20 years. It reminds us of the two sets of books banks are currently keeping. They intend to write off bad debt over 50 years, like it really didn’t exist. This plan allows further current increases in debt over the short term. That is no solution at all. Again, it only throws the debt and service into a future that could include deflationary depression. Recovery is not a given.

Fitch has really opened a large can of worms in calling a 50% debt default a payable derivative event. We are talking about hundreds of billions of CD’s, credit default swaps OTC derivatives, which just happens to be an unregulated market. Our view is Fitch is correct and the ISDA, the derivatives information agency is wrong. What isn’t made an issue of is that banks have been asked to raise $150 billion they are offside on this issue. We projected this number long ago. The official number is $3.7 billion, which is laughable. About a month ago the players admitted to $75 billion, so we are making progress toward truth and reality. We wonder what the French bankers are saying, who bought the insurance? If NYC banks do not pay off the ECB will have to create the $150 billion and lend it to the banks in France, so they can survive. Could this be a renege? We think so, and that would ultimately allow citizens of the EU to pay the debt. These bankers are crafty buggers they are.

We also question why banks are writing off 50% of their debt and the sovereigns are not. Isn’t this strange? Why are they not writing off 50%? Could it be that if they did they would be insolvent? Could it be to deceive their taxpaying citizens and pop the question several years from now? Could this be they are just trying to extend the timeline into the future? Time has a way of revealing everything. Incidentally, none of that Greek debt will probably ever be paid off. It should also be noted that of the $140 billion lent by the IMF, US taxpayers are on the hook for about 30%, or $42 billion. We are sure that will make Americans very happy.

The difference between $516 billion allocated by EU members, half of which comes from Germany, and $1.4 trillion will come from the sale of bonds by the EFSF, the European Financial Stabilization Fund. The question is who is going to buy this tranche of some $900 billion in bonds? Nations will receive greater taxes from a phantom recovery and buy the bonds. How can this be when those economies barely have even GDP growth? All this in the midst of austerity. We do not get it. We must be missing something. Does Italy really believe that raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 is going to bring any real immediate relief? As you can see the case is terminal.

The whole plan is absurd, stupid and unworkable. These problems are going to last for years as Europe, the UK and US wallow in negative growth and eventually in deflationary depression. Greece will collapse; it is only a question of when. The ECB will continue to create money and credit, just as the US and UK are doing. It won’t take long for investors to figure out they have been bamboozled again. They will flee stock markets probably just after the Fed’s latest QE 3 is announced. Some will buy US Treasuries and lose about 10% of their purchasing power annually. Some will flee to commodities and many will use the flight to quality to purchase gold and silver coins, bullion and shares. Modes of investments are going to change dramatically, so you had best participate, or you may end up losing most of your wealth.

What you are witnessing is financial chicanery at its best. Wait until the citizens of Europe discover they are going to have to pay all these bills, just so they can be enslaved in a one-world government. They are not going to be happy.

We always tend to be ahead of the curve and the crowd. This time the time frame for discovery may be very short, because once investors understand what we have written here they will want to get out. Gold, silver and commodities will rise for different reasons, along with the flight to quality. Incidentally, this time the gold and silver mining shares will soar.

Reflecting back on our comments the second Greek bailout does not solve the EMU’s fundamental problem, which is the 30% competitiveness gap between the northern and southern countries and Germany’s giant-EMU trade surplus at the expense of the south. Unless a way can be found to rectify that there cannot be a recovery. The south has been forced into austerity, which limits their chances of being competitive. As we pointed out over and over again the end product will be a deflationary spiral and eventually deflationary depression. What the IMF and EU members are imposing on the six countries is very destructive.

A fiscal union would perhaps work, but that means the end of individual country sovereignty, which would eventually lead to authoritarianism, which would not like to see. The entire union is unnatural and should be ended. It has been a failure and just leave it at that.

All this program is going to do is buy time. It is not a long-term solution. Current debt holders are going to be incensed, as they will be forced in before sovereigns, but will banks really take a 50% haircut? We don’t really know. Is this really a fig leaf, a wholly inadequate alternative to the ECB, which cannot provide endless liquidity?

This rescue effort is really too dependent on high-risk deals, such as what caused this crisis. Four times leverage is outrageous. In the end the European public could get caught holding the bag.
At the same time we are seeing monetary contraction in Portugal, which mirrors that of Greece as it spiraled out of control. Bank deposits are off 21% over the past six months and that could well be a precursor of a weak economy and monetary trouble.

Another question that arises is due to the treatment accorded to NYC legacy, money center banks. Will those using credit default swaps continue to do so. There is a default and because it was voluntary the derivative writers do not have to pay off. Give us a break. It looks like contract law no longer exists.
In very late breaking news we find something we warned about is happening. The German High Court, the Bundesgerichtshof, has issued an express order that the nine-member committee dealing with dispersing the rescue funds is not allowed to do so. The plug has been pulled on the EU and German politicians on money releases. If the Germans and the EU are lucky they’ll have a constitutional decision by Christmas. We predicted this would happen.

Uncertainty revolves around the deal reached with Greek bondholders to face a 50% haircut on the face value of their bonds. This has not been negotiated as yet.

At the same time France needs to raise $11.2 billion to keep its AAA rating. Sarkozy says 2012 GDP growth will be about 1%, about the same as Germany, but no one mentions it would be -2% with inflation.

Switzerland’s State Secretariat for International Financial Matters said the Swiss were interested in investing in a special investment vehicle proposed by the euro zone bailout fund, but we see a real fight brewing. The Swiss People’s Party, which was against franc devaluation and the sale of Swiss gold, will be after this move by the Swiss government. They do not want closer ties to the EU.

This past summer we warned that European banks would have to increase their reserve position to 9%, because both the BIS and IMF said it was absolutely necessary. You might call the EU’s laxity of not forcing Greece to implement its austerity agreement as part of a socialist mindset. There was no way to move Greece into line. For not living up to their commitment they could have cut Greece off, because then they would default and leave the euro. Thus, they continued to fund Greece. The truth is they have to do so irrespective of what Greece does or doesn’t do.

The heart of the problem was banking incompetence followed by sovereign stupidity. Banks and solvent sovereigns never should have made the loans in the first place. All the greedy bankers, politicians and bureaucrats could think of was the euro zone and the euro being the template for one-world government. The interconnectivity of banks within nations with banks of other nations is the lynchpin that will eventually take all of them down. It’s caused by central control such as that embodied in the European Central Bank. The bottom line is if a state like Greece, partially defaults, then the banks within Greece default as well because these banks are holding large amounts of federal bonds and loans. Thus, the edifice collapses. This relationship exists all over Europe and as we are seeing six countries are in trouble and if the European economy continues to slip into recession or depression other countries will join the six. In addition in many countries supervision is all but non-existent. A perfect example of such a relationship was with France, Belgium, and the Dexia bank, which they created. As a result the taxpayers of Belgium and France have acquired all the bad assets of Dexia.

Adding to such problems is that usually half of the debt of any country is held by foreign banks and sovereigns, which means failure becomes contagion. France’s holding of 8.5% of GDP of debt from these six countries will eventually cause France to lose its AAA rating. If that is the case we venture to ask how can France be party to a commitment to bail out Greece or anyone else? They simply cannot and they are the number 2 player. You would think French citizens would elect someone who was not involved in such stupidities, such as Marine LePen of the National Party. The banks and business interests, such as the Rothschilds, couldn’t have that – could they? If France financially fails we could see 1789 all over again. This sovereign debt is widely held by other nations including the US, UK and Japan. European banks have controlled European society for a long, long time and they are the catalyst for the new world order.

We hear over and over again there will be recovery, we will grow our way out of it. That won’t be possible for Europe, the UK and the US. The number of young people who do the largest part of consumer spending in their 20s and 30s today have a hard time making ends meet, never mind spending. On top of that many are unemployed and may be for some time to come. If you have noticed unemployment has risen or stayed the same in the regions we have spoken of. Accumulation has only occurred among the upper-middle class and the wealthy. This also means borrowing has fallen and the ability to access loans and capital are limited, because so many prime age borrowers do not qualify.

One of the reasons Germany does as well as it does is because they have an abundancy of inexpensive capital available for loans and credit, which allows expansion, creates jobs and brings profits. The cost of labor is low or in the form of growing productivity and people pay their bills.

One interest rate fits all became a disaster. The weak participants borrowed at 4% instead of 8% and the result was an orgy of spending that ended up in today’s insolvencies. We said 12 years ago this would destroy the euro zone and it has. These low rates also allowed a massive influx of imports into the six problem countries, which caused major balance of trade deficits. This also brought about borrowing in foreign currencies, which turned into a nightmare, particularly in Eastern Europe.

European banking and politics are very closely intertwined. In other words the banks overtly run these countries. The same is true in the UK, but in the US it has been subtler due to ignorance of how the banking system works and that has been deliberate. In Europe the stress test used 5% as a guideline, instead of the normal 10%. This shows you the power and control banking has over EU government making the margin for error extremely thin. Considering the exposure cash reserves were increased to 9%. This means capital has to be raised and that is not easy in today’s recessionary environment. Two-thirds of European banks are currently under 9%. The worst exposed are RBS, Deutsche Bank, Unicredit, Bank Paribas, Barclays and Societ General. Hundreds of billions of euros are needed and the question is where will they come from? In addition how many banks are shuffling assets between trading, deposit, and banking sectors, such as Dexia had been doing until they had to be taken over by the French and Belgium governments? The banks need $270 billion that is readily available. If funds are not available then that means governments will have to supply the capital from out of thin air, which is very inflationary.

The EFSF, the European Financial Stability Facility, which was set up to aid Greece, Ireland and Portugal, now aids banks and European governments, such as the Fed does. An EFSF if allowed to dispense $1.4 trillion based on a $900 billion derivative structure would take months to move into action. Then there is the question will the German High court allow leveraging. We do not think so. The Court had already told the Bundestage you cannot do that, but they did it anyway.

As we can say is stay tuned for the next episode in this saga. It could end up taking down the entire world’s financial system.

Brazil Being Dragged into Debt Abyss

Brazil could help euro zone through IMF

Reuters
October 28, 2011

Brazil’s government could help euro zone nations mired in a debt crisis but would likely limit its aid to a bilateral agreement with the International Monetary Fund, a local newspaper reported on Friday.

Latin America’s largest economy does not intend to directly help boost the European Financial Stability Facility to 1 trillion euros, newspaper Valor Economico reported on Friday, without citing a source.

The government of President Dilma Rousseff is waiting for more details of the European agreement to make a decision, Valor added. Brazil would only use a slice of its international reserves if the euro zone plan is solid and effective, Valor said.

Newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo also reported that the European Union plans to send a mission to Brazil to ask the country for help in the rescue plan, which boosted global markets sharply on Thursday as investors saw the euro zone avoiding a disastrous collapse.

No date has been set for the trip, Estado said.

However the European Financial Stability Facility, through a spokesman, denied the trip was imminent and said the report was not true.

Attempts to reach Brazil’s Finance Ministry and the presidency for comment were not immediately successful.

Euro zone leaders struck a deal on Thursday to contain the currency bloc’s two-year-old debt crisis. However, they are now under pressure to finalize the details of their plan to slash Greece’s debt burden and strengthen their rescue fund.

After a summit in Brussels, governments announced an agreement under which private banks and insurers would accept 50 percent losses on their Greek debt holdings in the latest bid to cut Athens’ debt load to sustainable levels.

Brazilian officials in recent days have tiptoed around the issue of financing a European bailout. While the move would cement Brazil’s growing role as a global economic power, the country faces limitations on using its reserves to buy high-risk debt.

Earlier this year, Brazil floated a plan to buy European debt along with members of the powerhouse BRICS group of emerging markets, comprising also Russia, China, India and South Africa, but backed away after a tepid response from the group.

Panic Alarms hit Italian Economy

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has called an emergency meeting of top officials dealing with the euro zone debt crisis.

Reuters
July 10, 2011

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet will attend the meeting along with Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the region’s finance ministers, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Olli Rehn, the economic and monetary affairs commissioner, three official sources told Reuters.

Van Rompuy’s spokesman Dirk De Backer said: “It’s a coordination, not a crisis meeting.” He added that Italy would not be on the agenda and declined to say what would be discussed.

However, two official sources told Reuters that the situation in Italy would be discussed. The talks were organized after a sharp sell-off in Italian assets on Friday, which has increased fears that Italy, with the highest sovereign debt ratio relative to its economy in the euro zone after Greece, could be next to suffer in the crisis. A second international bailout of Greece will also be discussed, the sources said.

The spread of the Italian 10-year government bond yield over benchmark German Bunds hit euro lifetime highs around 2.45 percentage points on Friday, raising the Italian yield to 5.28 percent, close to the 5.5-5.7 percent area which some bankers think could start putting heavy pressure on Italy’s finances.

Shares in Italy’s biggest bank, Unicredit Spa, fell 7.9 percent on Friday, partly because of worries about the results of stress tests of the health of European banks that will be released on July 15. The leading Italian stock index sank 3.5 percent.

The market pressure is due partly to Italy’s high sovereign debt and sluggish economy, but also to concern that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may be trying to undermine and even push out Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, who has promoted deep spending cuts to control the budget deficit.

“We can’t go on for many more days like Friday,” a senior ECB official said. “We’re very worried about Italy.”

Monday’s emergency meeting will precede a previously scheduled gathering of the euro zone’s 17 finance ministers to discuss how to secure a contribution of private sector investors to the second bailout of Greece, as well as the results of the stress tests of 91 European banks.

GREECE

Greece is already receiving 110 billion euros ($157 billion) of international loans under a rescue scheme launched in May last year but this has failed to change market expectations that it will eventually default on its debt.

Senior euro zone officials worry that progress toward a second Greek bailout, which would also total around 110 billion euros and aim to fund the country into late 2014, is not being made quickly enough and that the delay is poisoning investors’ confidence in weak economies around the region.

“We need to move on this in the next couple of weeks. It’s not a case of waiting until late August or early September as Germany is saying. That’s too late and markets will make us pay for it,” a top euro zone official told Reuters on Saturday.

German officials insist they too want to put together the second Greek bailout as quickly as possible, but the private sector’s contribution is proving to be a major sticking point.

Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland are determined that banks, insurers and other private holders of Greek government bonds should bear some of the costs of helping Athens. But more than two weeks of negotiations with bankers represented by the Institute of International Finance (IIF), a lobby group, have made next to no progress on agreeing a formula acceptable to all sides.

Initially talks focused on a complex French plan for private creditors to roll over up to 30 billion euros of Greek debt, buying new bonds as their existing ones matured. Around half of proceeds from Greek bonds maturing before the end of 2014 would be rolled over into very long-term debt while 20 percent would be put into a “guarantee fund” of AAA-rated securities.

But as that plan has floundered, Berlin has revived a proposal to swap Greek bonds for longer-dated debt that would extend maturities by seven years. Proposals to buy back Greek bonds and retire them have also been floated.

In a buy-back, the euro zone’s bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, might buy Greek bonds from the market, or the EFSF might lend Greece money to buy bonds. However, these schemes would require further changes to the EFSF’s rules and would therefore have to go through national parliaments, an official source said.

SQUARE ONE

A senior euro zone official told Reuters on Friday that rather than progress being made in the talks with the IIF, as IIF managing director Charles Dallara has said, all sides were close to being “back to square one.”

Dallara will attend the meeting of euro zone finance ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Since the euro zone’s debt crisis erupted last year, the region’s rich governments have aimed to limit it to Greece, Ireland and Portugal, which have so far signed up to bailouts totaling 273 billion euros — a sum that is small compared to the financial resources of the zone as a whole.

Spain, traditionally seen as the next potential domino in the crisis, has managed to retain its access to market funding through fiscal reforms. But because of the large sizes of the Spanish and Italian economies, pressure on the euro zone would increase dramatically if those countries eventually needed financial assistance.

Private analysts have estimated a three-year bailout of Spain, based on its projected gross issuance of medium- and long-term debt in 2011, might cost some 300 billion euros — excluding any additional money for cleaning up Spain’s banks. A three-year rescue of Italy could cost twice that.

German newspaper Die Welt quoted an unnamed ECB source as saying on Sunday that the EFSF, which has a nominal size of 440 billion euros, was not large enough to protect Italy because it had not been designed to do that.

In Italy on Sunday, politicians and government officials scrambled to present a united front and defend Tremonti. Umberto Bossi, the powerful leader of Berlusconi’s Northern League coalition allies, praised Tremonti for “listening to the markets.”

“From tomorrow, we have the job of showing we are united and blocking the effort of speculators,” said Paolo Bonaiuti, a government undersecretary and senior aide to Berlusconi.

“In the coming months we have 120-130 billion euros of bond issues to deal with, so we need cohesion and united intent; it’ll take effort to show that the markets are overdoing it.”

However, Berlusconi himself was silent over the weekend and canceled two appointments to speak, and it was not clear how long the appearance of consensus in the government over austerity plans would last.

One factor behind bond markets’ growing instability is a sense that the euro zone’s basic strategy for dealing with debt problems — keeping countries afloat with emergency loans in the hope they can grow their way out of their debts within a few years — is flawed. More radical action to cut the countries’ debts or boost economic growth may be needed.

In Germany on Sunday, President Christian Wulff said Greece would need a lot longer to resolve its debt problems than many people in Europe were now acknowledging.

Wulff, a former leader in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and now Germany’s ceremonial head of state, told ZDF television there was a need for “an overall concept” for resolving Europe’s debt crisis.

“It can’t be something that will suffice for a three-month period but rather has to offer solutions to the problem that will cover the next 10 to 15 years,” Wulff said.

Germany Hears and Feels the Rumble of Debt

The Telegraph

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Credit default swaps (CDS) measuring risk on German, French and Dutch bonds have surged over recent days, rising significantly above the levels of non-EMU states in Scandinavia.

“Germany cannot keep paying for bail-outs without going bankrupt itself,” said Professor Wilhelm Hankel, of Frankfurt University. “This is frightening people. You cannot find a bank safe deposit box in Germany because every single one has already been taken and stuffed with gold and silver. It is like an underground Switzerland within our borders. People have terrible memories of 1948 and 1923 when they lost their savings.”

The refrain was picked up this week by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. “We’re not swimming in money, we’re drowning in debts,” he told the Bundestag.

While Germany’s public and private debt is not extreme, it is very high for a country on the cusp of an acute ageing crisis. Adjusted for demographics, Germany is already one of the most indebted nations in the world.

Reports that EU officials are hatching plans to double the size of EU’s €440bn (£373bn) rescue mechanism have inevitably caused outrage in Germany.

Brussels has denied the claims, but the story has refused to die precisely because markets know the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) cannot cope with the all too possible event of a triple bail-out for Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

EU leaders hoped this moment would never come when they launched their “shock and awe” fund last May. The pledge alone was supposed to be enough. But EU proposals in late October for creditor “haircuts” have set off capital flight, or a “buyers’ strike” in the words of Klaus Regling, head of the EFSF.

Those at the coal-face of the bond markets are certain Portugal will need a rescue. Spain is in danger as yields on 10-year bonds punch to a post-EMU record of 5.2pc.

Axel Weber, Bundesbank chief, seemed to concede this week that Portugal and Spain would need bail-outs when he said that EMU governments may have to put up more money to bolster the fund. “€750bn should be enough. If not, we could increase it. The governments will do what is necessary,” he said.

Whether governments will, in fact, write a fresh cheque is open to question. Chancellor Angela Merkel would risk popular fury if she had to raise fresh funds for eurozone debtors at a time of welfare cuts in Germany. She faces a string of regional elections where her Christian Democrats are struggling.

Mr Weber rowed back on Thursday saying that a “worst-case scenario” of triple bail-outs would require a €140bn top-up for the fund. This assurance is unlikely to soothe investors already wondering how Italy could avoid contagion in such circumstances.

“Italy is in a lot of pain,” said Stefano di Domizio, from Lombard Street Research. “Bond yields have been going up 10 basis points a day and spreads are now the highest since the launch of EMU. We’re talking about €2 trillion of debt so Rome has to tap the market often, and that is the problem.”

The great question is at what point Germany concludes that it cannot bear the mounting burden any longer. “I am worried that Germany’s authorities are slowly losing sight of the European common good,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, chair of Eurogroup finance ministers.

Europe’s fate may be decided soon by the German constitutional court as it rules on a clutch of cases challenging the legality of the Greek bail-out, the EFSF machinery, and ECB bond purchases.

“There has been a clear violation of the law and no judge can ignore that,” said Prof Hankel, a co-author of one of the complaints. “I am convinced the court will forbid future payments.”

If he is right – we may learn in February – the EU debt crisis will take a dramatic new turn.

Let’s talk European Double Dip

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RT

The US and Russia are gaining traction on an economic rebound, with China posting rudely healthy 1Q 2010 GDP growth. But its timeEurope double dip for Europe to get ready for Recession – the sequel.

Jean Claude Trichet is an urbane, intelligent and eminently reasonable man, and the ECB he leads has, as he rightly pointed out during Thursday’s Lisbon press gathering to announce a non rate movement, done a sterling job in defending the Eurozone against inflationary pressures for the better part of a generation.

Surrealism

But there was an air of surrealism that the late Luis Bunuel would have enjoyed. There were the press representatives all revved up for quick and punchy responses to the emerging contagion and what the ECB could offer. What they go was the ECB President languidly going on about Eurozone growth and inflationary pressures, and keeping the Eurozone budgetary house in order. He offered nary a word of substance about the fire which has broken out in its Greek kitchen, and even less in recognition of the potential for the curtains in its Mediterranean sunrooms to become part of the conflagration. It was sort of like a man reading out a weather report involving light breeze, some cloudy patches and fine and mild conditions in general – whilst on fire, and in heavily French accented English.

The truth be told, nothing more should be expected of him. His job is, as head of the ECB, to keep inflation rates at or about 2% first and foremost, issue warning about potential deviations from the inflationary comfort zone, and bend ECB monetary policy to maintaining or seeking it. He shouldn’t be expected to don red underpants and cape and try to be superman.

What he did say was that default wasn’t an option as far as he was concerned for Greece, but he also couched that by noting it was up to Greece, the nations lending to it, and the IMF to come to an arrangement to head that off. When asked directly about whether inflation or the Euro was the prime focus for the ECB, he was emphatic about the former.

Somewhere in the back of his mind however he must surely be countenancing the possibility of a further return to recession in Europe, and the likelihood that in the medium term he will need to cut rates once again in order to head off deflation rather than inflation, and to try again to get the Eurozone some traction on an economic recovery.

Borrowing costs heading north

For the simple matter is that the Greek debt, and the Eurozone response to it, is already starting to lift borrowing costs, and they could indeed jump considerably higher if the contagion he didn’t want to speak about yesterday were to, as appears increasingly possible, take hold in Spain, Portugal and Italy in particular.

This week already sees overnight and 3 month dollar LIBOR up, along with the LIBOR-OIS spread, as ‘Club Med’ CDS have widened sharply, and Greek Portuguese and Spanish government bond yields have pushed higher – to record levels for the latter two against the 10 Year German Bunds. A couple of screens away one can observe Greek three year bonds rising from 11-17% in a week, and other 3 year bonds from Spain and Portugal up a percent. Whilst it isn’t Lehman Brothers panic mode, there is still some way to go, and there is a faint whiff of counterparty risk coming from somewhere.

Lots of Eurozone debt

The reason for this is quite simple. A lot of Europe has far too much debt, and most nations have structural budget deficits adding to it. Greece might be out in front, but Portugal, Spain and Ireland are in the pack not far behind it, and the Italians are at best a half length behind them. The exposure of European banks to these nations is well over 2 trillion dollars. 2 trillion is also the total European debt rollover requirement of this year, with more than a trillion of that belonging to the Club Med watching their yield and CDS needs start to get pointy. Spain alone is mulling more than $550 billion.

Now at this point the first thought is that the Germans are the first logical place to look in terms of bailing all of this out and making sure that the liquidity keeps flowing. Notwithstanding the quite reasonable concerns of German taxpayers about bailing out what they see is profligate sun drenched laggards, and the pragmatic thought that German banks are amongst those where the money will end up, which is essentially socializing potential losses for them, with those same taxpayers picking up the tab, there is another fly in the ointment. Last year Germany passed a law limiting its federal government budget deficit to 0.35% of GDP from 2016. That means that opening the sluices now to help anyone too much could pressure that need.

This leaves – without wanting to point fingers of blame at anyone – a dysfunctional Eurozone large in any consideration of the future. And that counterparty risk starts to take a more overt shape.

Euro Banks bracing for a hit

Any possibility that Greece, and then possibly other nations, may either default, or restructure in some other way, is going to see the lenders – the banks – get less in the Euro than they are currently exposed for. That means potentially large writedowns. From there the next logical step for the banks is that they lend a lot less, and presumably jack up interest rates on what they have already lent. In the case of European banks there is an added issue in terms of their underlying capital base, which is in many cases less than their US counterparts. So that leaves the prospect of either a financial sector tightening due to higher borrowing costs for the state and major lenders, if not a financial sector tightening due to capital flight, a financial sector tightening due to banks having holes blown in their balance sheets, writedowns, or in the worst case, financial sector tightening due to banking collapses and corporate or state insolvencies.

With the increasing likelihood that Eurozone banks are likely to take a hit one way or the other, there isn’t a great deal the ECB can look to do. It could look to monetize debt by printing money, but that would let the inflation dog out of the bag and involve a lengthy negotiation process with a number of politicians from across the EU to get agreement on. It could look to buy any debt from banks and try and get banks in turn to buy sovereign debt, which would be the first step in taking over whole national banking systems and presumably would require a lot more lengthy political discussion – and Trichet did note at Thursdays press conference that the move to help Greece out this way announced last weekend had been arrived at as a one off. If the process of getting a game plan together for the Greeks together is any indication then any political approval process is likely to take time.

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