European Central Bank acts to prop up debt of Italy, Spain

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post
August 8, 2011

LONDON—Moving to stem panic of an escalating debt crisis in Europe, the European Central Bank on Sunday signaled it would intervene in bond markets to prop up hard-hit Italy and Spain, as world leaders scrambled to calm investors before the opening of financial markets Monday.

The reluctant decision by the ECB underscored the gravity of a crisis that some fear could lead to a messy breakup of the euro zone if not quickly contained, and which has gathered fresh urgency following the downgrading of U.S. debt by Standard & Poors.

Worried investors have been dumping Italian and Spanish bonds, driving their borrowing costs to record levels in recent days and sparking fears the world’s 7th and 12th largest economies could be engulfed by the same kind of crisis that forced far smaller Greece, Ireland and Portugal to request emergency bailouts. By intervening in bond markets, however, the bank could at least temporarily take some of the pressure off both nations by buying debt that private investors now see as too risky.

The ECB, as is customary, did not explicitly say it would buy Italian and Spanish bonds. But it strongly suggested in a statement that it would do so, with its move amounting to an admission that the bank’s tepid dabbling in bond markets last week did not go nearly far enough in calming investors. The bank’s governing council agreed after an 11th-hour emergency teleconference on Italy and Spain to take more drastic steps “to ensure [bond] price stability in the euro area.”

The move came as European leaders Sunday were scrambling to calm investors jittery over the crushing debt of wealthy nations. Without further steps from governments and central bankers, analysts fear more drops in global stock markets – with bourses in the Middle East, open on Sunday, tumbling ahead of the opening of key Asian trading.

A European official who declined to be named given the sensitivity of the issue said “a range of international discussions” was coming together Sunday. Those talks were set to include conference calls between G7 financial chiefs.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy issued a joint statement backing moves by Rome and Madrid on Friday to speed up austerity measures and adopt reforms to improve stagnant growth.

Opposition in fiscally conservative Germany, by far the largest economy in the 17-nation euro zone, to intervention by the ECB was seen as one major factor holding the bank back. But the ECB, in the text of its statement Sunday, appeared to interpret Merkel’s joint statement with Sarkozy as a sign of grudging acceptance from Berlin that more must be done.

With concern increasingly centered on Italy, whose debt amounts to a whopping 119 percent of its national economy, Merkel and Sarkozy “especially” welcomed the announcement by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi “to achieve a balanced budget a year earlier than previously envisaged.”

Raj Badiani, an economist with IHS Global Insight in London, called the ECB move “an attempt to provide a sharp jolt to the negative sentiment engulfing Spain and Italy.”

But he and others warned it may only be a short-term solution. The ECB cannot indefinitely intervene in European bond markets on such a grand scale. A program that goes on too long could trigger inflation and undermine the stability of the euro. Rather, the ECB may effectively be buying time for European leaders to do something they have thus far failed to do — take decisive action to end the crisis.

Analysts have been calling for European leaders to greatly expand a bailout fund to cover a worst-case scenario in Italy and Spain. But European leaders were doggedly sticking to a July 21 agreement that once again shored up Greece while also allowing rescue funds to be used to buy up the bonds of troubled nations in times of crisis, much like the ECB.

But the pool of cash available, about $616 billion, does not approach the level needed to aid Italy or Spain, and European leaders have showed no signs of agreement in raising that amount. In addition, all 17 nations in the euro zone still need to ratify that deal before it can go into effect.

Europe, led by Germany, has bailed out Greece, Ireland and Portugal. But German voters have had it with bailouts, and in a worst-case scenario Italy would need roughly $1.4 trillion — or more than double the size of the current European rescue fund.

Rather, Europeans leaders and the ECB seem to be banking on temporary intervention to give Italy and Spain time to make good on their pledges to restore market confidence through budget cuts and long-awaited economic reforms.

“I suspect it could help to stabilize Italian bond yields at current levels, and help to deflect some of the financial contagion hitting Italy,” Badiani said. “However, we will need to see much more detail about the scale of the proposals and the pace of implementation before there is any significant unwinding of the bond yield rises of the past month.”

If Italy or Spain fails to quell market panic, analysts say, Europeans might be forced to move toward the advent of a new euro-bond, putting the economic weight of Germany behind its profligate neighbors. But Germany and other northern European nations remain opposed to such a deal, as well as the more radical step of a more established fiscal union that would go further in turning a vast chunk of Europe into one giant economy.

First Traitor who wants out: Tim Geithner considers leaving U.S. Treasury

Bloomberg
June 30, 2011

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner has signaled to White House officials that he’s considering leaving the administration after President Barack Obama reaches an agreement with Congress to raise the federal debt limit, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Geithner said speculation about his departure was being driven by his decision to commute to New York so his son can finish his final year of high school there.

“I live for this work,” he said at the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever done. I believe in it. We have a lot of challenges as a country. I’m going to be doing it for the foreseeable future.”

Geithner hasn’t made a final decision and won’t do so until the debt-ceiling issue has been resolved, according to one of the people. All spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about private discussions.

The Treasury secretary has said the U.S. risks defaulting on its obligations if Congress doesn’t raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2. The administration and Republicans in Congress are at an impasse in negotiations to raise the limit, which is tied to efforts to cut the nation’s long-term deficit.

Moody’s Investors Service said on June 2 that it expects to place the U.S. government’s Aaa credit rating under review for a possible downgrade if there’s no progress on the debt limit by mid-July. Fitch Ratings said June 21 it would place the U.S. on a negative rating watch if no action is taken by Aug. 2.

Completing the Turnover

An exit by Geithner would complete the turnover in Obama’s original economic team, with Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee scheduled to leave in early August to return to the University of Chicago.

That would leave Obama with two key posts to fill as Republicans are seeking to turn the 2012 election into a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy and as the recovery is slowing. The unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent in May, according to the Labor Department, and the economy grew at a 1.9 percent pace in the first quarter, according to Commerce Department figures released June 24.

Jen Psaki, a White House spokeswoman, declined to comment.

“Geithner leaving may raise the level of uncertainty for the direction of economic policy, and that is never a positive thing for the markets and the recovery,” said Christopher Sullivan, who oversees $1.7 billion as chief investment officer at the United Nations Federal Credit Union in New York.

‘Shock Value’

Still, he said, it wouldn’t have too much “shock value,” especially if Geithner remains at Treasury until the debt ceiling is settled, “which is the most pressing concern anyone would have.”

Treasuries fell for a fourth day as stocks rose and a measure of U.S. business activity improved. The yield on the 10- year note climbed five basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 3.16 percent at 5:14 p.m. in New York.

Investors may be more interested in who would come after Geithner.

“The question in cases like this is always who will be the replacement,” said Jay Mueller, who manages about $3 billion of bonds at Wells Fargo Capital Management in Milwaukee. “You can’t judge if this is good or bad for the market until you see who follows.”

The market was “comfortable” with Geithner because he was “a visible player in trying to blunt the crisis,” Mueller said.

Read Full Article…

Goldman Sachs Defrauded Investors, sent bailout outside U.S.A

by Karen Mracek and Thomas Beaumont

Goldman Sachs sent $4.3 billion in federal tax money to 32 entities, including many overseas banks, hedge funds and pensions, according to information made public Friday night.Goldman Sachs disclosed the list of companies to the Senate Finance Committee after a threat of subpoena from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Ia.

 Asked the significance of the list, Grassley said, “I hope it’s as simple as taxpayers deserve to know what happened to their money.”

 He added, “We thought originally we were bailing out AIG. Then later on … we learned that the money flowed through AIG to a few big banks, and now we know that the money went from these few big banks to dozens of financial institutions all around the world.”

 Grassley said he was reserving judgment on the appropriateness of U.S. taxpayer money ending up overseas until he learns more about the 32 entities.

 SETTLEMENT: Goldman Sachs admits it misled investors, pays $550M fine

GOLDMAN CONSENT: SEC vs. Goldman Sachs

JUDGEMENT: Final judgement of defendant

 Goldman Sachs (GS) received $5.55 billion from the government in fall of 2008 as payment for then-worthless securities it held in AIG. Goldman had already hedged its risk that the securities would go bad. It had entered into agreements to spread the risk with the 32 entities named in Friday’s report.

 Overall, Goldman Sachs received a $12.9 billion payout from the government’s bailout of AIG, which was at one time the world’s largest insurance company.

 Goldman Sachs also revealed to the Senate Finance Committee that it would have received $2.3 billion if AIG had gone under. Other large financial institutions, such as Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, sold Goldman Sachs protection in the case of AIG’s collapse. Those institutions did not have to pay Goldman Sachs after the government stepped in with tax money.

 Shouldn’t Goldman Sachs be expected to collect from those institutions “before they collect the taxpayers’ dollars?” Grassley asked. “It’s a little bit like a farmer, if you got crop insurance, you shouldn’t be getting disaster aid.”

 Goldman had not disclosed the names of the counterparties it paid in late 2008 until Friday, despite repeated requests from Elizabeth Warren, chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel.

 “I think we didn’t get the information because they consider it very embarrassing,” Grassley said, “and they ought to consider it very embarrassing.”

 FINANCIAL REFORM: How Congress rewrote the regulations

FIXED? Will new regulations prevent future meltdowns?

FINANCIAL OVERHAUL AND YOU: Mortgages, debit cards, loans, more

 The initial $85 billion to bail out AIG was supplemented by an additional $49.1 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP, as well as additional funds from the Federal Reserve. AIG’s debt to U.S. taxpayers totals $133.3 billion outstanding.

 “The only thing I can tell you is that people have the right to know, and the Fed and the public’s business ought to be more public,” Grassley said.

 The list of companies receiving money includes a few familiar foreign banks, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays.

 DZ AG Deutsche Zantrake Genossenschaftz Bank, a German cooperative banking group, received $1.2 billion, more than a quarter of the money Goldman paid out.

 Warren, in testimony Wednesday, said that the rescue of AIG “distorted the marketplace by turning AIG’s risky bets into fully guaranteed transactions. Instead of forcing AIG and its counterparties to bear the costs of the company’s failure, the government shifted those costs in full onto taxpayers.”

 Grassley stressed the importance of transparency in the marketplace, as well as in the government’s actions.

 “Just like the government, markets need more transparency, and consequently this is some of that transparency because we’ve got to rebuild confidence to make the markets work properly,” Grassley said.

 AIG received the bailout of $85 billion at the discretion of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which was led at the time by Timothy Geithner. He now is U.S. treasury secretary.

 “I think it proves that he knew a lot more at the time than he told,” Grassley said. “And he surely knew where this money was going to go. If he didn’t, he should have known before they let the money out of their bank up there.”

 An attempt to reach Geithner Friday night through the White House public information office was unsuccessful.

 Grassley has for years pushed to give the Government Accountability Office more oversight of the Federal Reserve.

 U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Waterloo Democrat, said he would propose that the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations convene hearings on the need for more Federal Reserve oversight. Braley is a member of the subcommittee.

 Braley said of Geithner, “I would assume he would be someone we would want to hear from because he would have firsthand knowledge.”

 Braley also noted that the AIG bailout was negotiated under President George W. Bush, a Republican.

 He said he was confident that the financial regulatory reform bill signed by President Obama this week would help provide better oversight than the AIG bailout included.

 “There was no regulatory framework in place,” Braley said. “We had to put something in place to begin reining them in. I’m confident they will begin to be able to do that.”

Greece Selling Islands to “Save Its Economy”

As any other consolidation scheme created by the bankers, the control and acquisition of Greek lands and resources is well on its way.  Greece asked for financial aid to the very bankers it was in debt with.  Now, as part of the deal, Greece is giving away its land.  How much can an undeveloped island cost in the middle of a depression these days?  Little enough for billionaires and bankers to buy it for pennies on the Euro.

Elena Moya

Desperate attempt to repay debts also driven by inability to find funds to develop infrastructure on islands

There’s little that shouts “seriously rich” as much as a little island in the sun to call your own. For Sir Richard Branson it is Neckar in the Caribbean, the billionaire Barclay brothers prefer Brecqhou in the Channel Islands, while Aristotle Onassis married Jackie Kennedy on Skorpios, his Greek hideway.

Now Greece is making it easier for the rich and famous to fulfill their dreams by preparing to sell, or offering long-term leases on, some of its 6,000 sunkissed islands in a desperate attempt to repay its mountainous debts.

The Guardian has learned that an area in Mykonos, one of Greece’s top tourist destinations, is one of the sites for sale. The area is one-third owned by the government, which is looking for a buyer willing to inject capital and develop a luxury tourism complex, according to a source close to the negotiations.

Potential investors also looking at property on the island of Rhodes, are mostly Russian and Chinese. Investors in both countries are looking for a little bit of the Mediterranean as holiday destinations for their increasingly affluent populations. Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea football club, is among those understood to be interested, although a spokesman denied he was about to invest.

Greece has embarked on the desperate measures after being pushed into a €110bn (£90bn) bailout by the EU and the IMF last month, following a decade of overspending and after jittery investors raised borrowing costs to unbearable levels.

The sale of an island – or convincing a member of the international jet-set to take on a long-term lease – would help to boost its coffers. The Private Islands website lists 1,235-acre Nafsika, in the Ionian sea, on sale for €15m. But others are on for less than €2m – less than a townhouse in Mayfair or Chelsea. Some of the country’s numerous islands are tiny which could barely fit a single sunbed.

Only 227 Greek islands are populated and the decision to press ahead with potential sales has also been driven by the inability of the state to develop basic infrastructure, or police most of its islands. The hope is that the sale or long-term lease of some islands will attract investment that will generate jobs and taxable income.

Told by the Guardian that such sales or leases were in prospect, Makis Perdikaris, director of Greek Island Properties, said that he would be unhappy at the prospect of any outright sale of state land: “I am sad – selling off your islands or areas that belong to the people of Greece should be used as the last resort,” he said. But he was not necessarily against long-term leases: “The first thing is to develop the economy and attract foreign domestic investment to create the -necessary infrastructure. The point is to get money.”

In its battle to raise funds, the country is also planning to sell its rail and water companies. Chinese investors are understood to be interested in the Greek train system, as they already control some of the ports. In a deal announced earlier this month, the Greek government also agreed to export olive oil to China.

After the socialist government of prime minister Geórgios Papandreou responded to the IMF bailout with draconian budget cuts, rioters took to the streets, costing three lives in May.

In the midst of the crisis, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, delayed her support as she faced local elections and popular opposition to any public-funded help to Greece.

As strikes almost paralysed the country and hedge funds bet against the economy, German politicians called for Greece to start selling islands, historic buildings and artworks. It now appears that the Greek government has heeded their demands.

The City, where investors are increasingly shunning Greek investments, welcomed any island sales. “It’s a shame if it has come to this but it does at least demonstrate that Greece is prepared to take all actions necessary to try and meet its obligations,” said Gary Jenkins, a credit analyst at Evolution Securities.

Property prices have fallen between 10% and 20% since the May riots in Athens, as bad publicity has drawn visitors away, Perdikaris said.

“We have experienced a very slow booking season. Most tour operators offer hugely discounted rates,” he said. Britons account for more than 60% of his company’s property sales.

• This article was amended on 25 June 2010. The original heading – Greece puts its islands up for sale to save economy – went beyond what the story said. This has been corrected. More context has been added to a quotation from Makis Perdikaris, director of Greek Island Properties, to make clear that he was not expressing knowledge of existing Greek government sales of island land.

The Cycle of Debt Deflation

Before It’s News

One of the most famous quotations of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises is that “There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency involved.” In fact, the US economy is in a downward spiral of debt deflation despite the bold actions of the federal government and of the US Federal Reserve taken in response to the financial crisis that began in 2008 and the associated recession. Although the vicious circle of debt deflation is not widely recognized, precisely what von Mises described is happening before our eyes.

A variety of positive economic data has been reported in recent months. Retail sales rose 0.4% in April 2010 as consumer spending rose and the US gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a rate of 3%.  In May 2010, home sales rose to a five-month high and consumer confidence rose 17% (from 57.7 to 63.3). Industrial production rose 0.8% and durable goods orders rose 2.9%, more than had been forecast. However, the modest gains reported represent the continuing adaptation of economic activity at dramatically lower levels compared to the pre-recession period and most of the reported gains have been substantially manufactured by massive government deficit spending.

Despite the widely reported green shoots, in May, the unemployment rate rose to 9.9% while paychecks in the private sector shrank to historic lows as a percentage of personal income, and personal bankruptcies rose. Roughly 14% of US mortgages are delinquent or in foreclosure, credit card defaults are rising and consumer spending hit 7 month lows. To make matters worse, the reported increase in consumer credit, in fact, points to a further deterioration because consumers appear to be borrowing to service existing debt. Outside of the federal government, which is borrowing at record levels and expanding as a percentage of GDP, and outside of the bailed out financial sector, debt deflation has continued unabated since 2008.

Money Supply vs. Debt Service

A contraction of the broad money supply is taking place because the influx of money into the US economy, i.e., lending to consumers and non financial businesses, has fallen below the rate at which money is flowing out of general circulation as a function of debt service (interest and principle payments on existing debt), thus a net drain of money from the broad US economy is taking place. As a result, additional borrowing, as consumer spending falls, appears to be servicing existing debt in a pattern that is clearly unsustainable and that signals a further rise in debt defaults in coming months.
M3
The estimate of the broad money supply (the Federal Reserve’s M3 monetary aggregate) is crashing and the Federal Reserve’s M1 Money Multiplier, a measure of how much new money is created through lending activity, fell off of a cliff in 2008, and remains practically flat-lined.
MULT
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
The contraction of the broad money supply points to a potential slowing of economic activity and indicates that consumers and non financial businesses will be less able to service existing debt. Despite easing somewhat in March 2010, credit card losses are expected to remain near 10% over the next year and mortgage delinquencies, are currently at a record highs, and these dismal predictions implicitly assume a stable or growing money supply.

A tsunami of eventual mortgage defaults seems to be building and loan modifications have been a failure thus far. There have been only a small number of permanent loan modifications (295,348) under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) in 2009, out of 3.3 million eligible (60 days delinquent) loans and more than half of modified loans default.

Mortgage Delinquencies and Foreclosures
Chart courtesy of Calculated Risk
Although it has been reported that American consumers are saving at a rate of 3.4%, the contraction of the broad money supply suggests savings liquidation. Given a contracting money supply, ongoing debt defaults and declining consumer spending, the increase in non-mortgage consumer loans indicates that consumers are borrowing where possible to consolidate debts, cover debt service, or borrowing to continue operating financially as their total debt grows, thus as they approach insolvency.
CONSUMER
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
The increase in non-mortgage consumer loans has not prevented an overall decline in total household debt attributed to ongoing deleveraging by consumers. While deleveraging (paying down debt) has been interpreted as caution on the part of consumers, or as low consumer confidence, the decline in outstanding credit reflects a reduced ability to borrow, i.e., to service additional debt. This suggests that the recovery of the US economy may be illusory and that the economy is likely to contract further in coming months.
CMDEBT
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Commercial borrowing has declined more sharply than household debt suggesting that the nominal return to growth estimated at 3% has not been matched by debt financed expansion in the private sector.
BUSLOANS
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
The broad US money supply is no longer being maintained or expanded by normal lending activity. If federal government deficit spending ($1.5 trillion annually), debt monetization and emergency actions by the Federal Reserve (totaling an estimated $1.5 trillion since 2008) to recapitalize banks are considered separately, there remains a net drain effect on the broad money supply. The scarcity of money hampers economic activity, i.e., money is less available for investment, and directly exacerbates debt defaults as consumers and businesses experience cash shortfalls, while at the same time being less able to borrow. Since unemployment is a key indicator of recession, then if the US economy were contracting, it would be evident in unemployment statistics.

Structural Unemployment

Unemployment and labor force data suggest that the US labor market is in a structural decline, i.e., millions of jobs have been and are being permanently eliminated, perhaps as a long term consequence of off-shoring, outsourcing to other countries and the ongoing de-industrialization of the United States. However, the immediate meaning of the term “structural” has to with the fact that jobs created or sustained during the unprecedented expansion of debt leading to the financial crisis that began in 2008, e.g., a substantial portion of service sector jobs created in the past two decades now appear not to be viable outside of a credit expansion.

Officially, the US unemployment rate rose to 9.9% in April 2010, which represents the percentage of workers claiming unemployment benefits. However, the total number of unemployed or underemployed persons, including so-called “discouraged workers” (Bureau of Labor Statistics U-6), rose to 17.1%Using the same methods that the BLS had used prior to the Clinton administration, U-6 would be approximately 22%, rather than the official 17.1% statistic.

U-6 Unemployment
With official U-6 unemployment of 17.1% and a workforce of 154.1 million there are roughly 26,197,000 people officially out of work. Using the pre-Clinton U-6 unemployment calculation of approximately 22%, there would be 33.9 million unemployed. If the average US household consists of 2.6 persons and if 33% of the unemployed are sole wage earners, then 55.5 million US citizens currently have no means of financial support (17.9% of the population).
Unemployment by Duration
Chart courtesy of Calculated Risk
While it has been reported that the labor force is shrinking, the characterization of workers permanently exiting the workforce by choice may be inaccurate. While a shrinking workforce could reflect demographic changes, the rate of change suggests that tens of millions of Americans are simply unemployed.
EMRATIO
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Setting aside the question of whether or not those “not in the workforce” are, in fact, permanently unemployed, the workforce, as a percentage of the total US population, is currently at 1970s levels. Since many more households today depend on two incomes to meet their obligations, compared to the 1970s, a marked drop in the percentage of the population in the workforce points to a decline in the labor market more significant than official unemployment statistics suggest. What is more important, however, is that structural unemployment suggests structural government deficits, e.g., unemployment benefits, welfare, food stamps, etc. Since more than 2/3 of US GDP (roughly 70%) consists of consumer spending, a sustainable recovery from recession seems improbable if unemployment is worsening or if the labor force is in a structural decline, since that would imply unsustainable government deficits, whether or not they are masked by nominal GDP gains thanks to economic stimulus measures.

Government and GDP Growth

The US federal government is a growing portion of GDP, thus reported GDP growth is largely a byproduct of government deficit spending and stimulus measures, i.e., reported GDP growth is unsustainable. Total government spending at the local, state and federal levels accounts for as much as 45% of GDP, thus nominal gains would be expected when government deficit spending increases. According to some measures, reported gains in GDP are a byproduct of relatively new statistical methods and, using earlier methods of calculation, GDP remains negative.
GDP
Government borrowing and spending may have offset declines in the private sector but only to a degree and only temporarily. The resulting growth in US public debt has an eventual mathematical limit: insolvency. Of course, the actual limit to US borrowing remains unknown. The continuing solvency of the US depends on the ability and willingness of governments, banks and investors around the world to lend to the US, which in turn depends on the tolerance of lenders for the US government’s profligacy and money printing by the Federal Reserve, e.g., quantitative easing and exchanging new cash for worthless bank assets. US Treasury bond auctions will fail if lenders conclude that a sufficiently large portion of their investment will be diluted into oblivion by proverbial money printing. In that event, the US dollar will surely plummet, despite deflationary pressures within the domestic US economy, and the cost of foreign goods, e.g., oil, will rise causing high inflation or triggering hyperinflation.
GFDEBTN
Chart courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
According to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the federal budget deficit increased from 3.1% of GDP in 2007 to 9.2% in 2010.  Rather than being the result of one-time expenses, such as temporary stimulus measures, much of the deficit represents permanent increases in government spending, e.g., due to the growing number of federal employees. If increased government spending is removed, GDP appears to be declining significantly.
GDP Minus Government Deficit Spending
Chart courtesy of Karl Denninger
Of course, sustainability has more to do with total debt than with deficit spending because a deficit assumes that there is an underlying capacity to service additional debt.

Unsustainable Debt

While asset prices have declined, e.g., real estate and equities, debt levels have remained high due to the federal government’s policy of preserving bank balance sheets, which had ballooned prior to the financial crisis to the point that overall debt in the US economy reached unsustainable levels.
Total Debt to GDP
Chart courtesy of Karl Denninger
The absolute debt to GDP ratio of the US economy peaked in 2007 when debt levels exceeded the ability of the economy to service debt from income based on production, even at low interest rates. Although US GDP began to decline prior to the advent of the global financial crisis, debt coverage had been in decline approximately since the 1970s, coincidentally, around the time that the US dollar was decoupled from gold.
Declining Debt Coverage from 1971 on
Chart courtesy of Karl Denninger
Government deficit spending cannot correct the situation because, for every dollar of new borrowing, the gain in GDP is negligible and some have argued that the US economy has passed the point of “debt saturation.”
Debt Saturation
Chart courtesy of Nathan A. Martin
In a growing economy, additional debt can result in a net gain in GDP because the money supply grows and economic activity is stimulated by transactions that flow through the economy as a result. The debt saturation hypothesis is that, as debt levels rise, additional debt has less impact on GDP until a point is reached where new debt causes GDP to decline, i.e., the capacity of the economy to service debt has been exceeded and, not only is it impossible for the economy to grow at a rate sufficient to service existing debt (since interest compounds), but economic activity actually declines further as a function of additional debt.

A Downward Spiral

The process of debt deflation is straightforward. New lending at levels that would maintain or expand the broad money supply is impossible for two reasons: (1) asset values and incomes have fallen and millions remain unemployed; and (2) debt levels remain excessive compared to GDP, i.e., real economic activity (outside of the government and financial services industry) cannot service additional debt. The inability to lend, actually the result of prior excess lending, results in a net drain of money from the economy. The drain effect, in turn, leads to further defaults as cash strapped consumers and businesses fail to service existing debt, and as debt defaults impact bank balance sheets, putting a damper on new lending and completing the cycle of debt deflation.

Keynesian economic policies, i.e., government deficit spending, are irrelevant vis-à-vis excessive debt levels in the economy and bailing out banks is not a solution since it cannot stop the deterioration of their balance sheets. The process is self-perpetuating and cannot be stopped by any government or monetary policy because it is not a matter of policy, but rather one of mathematics.

Since the presence of excess debt (beyond what can be supported by a stable GDP, or by sustainable GDP growth) impacts the broad money supply, efforts to preserve bank balance sheets, i.e., to keep otherwise bad loans on the books of banks at full value, will ultimately cause bank balance sheets to deteriorate more than they would have otherwise. The fact that US banks issued trillions in bad loans cannot be corrected by changing accounting rules, nor can the consequences be avoided by government deficit spending or by unlimited bailouts, and the problem cannot be papered over by dropping freshly printed money from helicopters flying over Wall Street. The major problems facing the US economy today—a tsunami or debt defaults, structural unemployment, massive government budget deficits, a contraction of the broad money supply outside of the federal government and the financial system, and a lack of sustainable growth—cannot be addressed as long as excess debt levels are maintained. As von Mises clearly understood, sound economic conditions cannot be restored unless and until the excess debt, which resulted from a boom brought about by credit expansion, is purged from the system. The alternative, and the current policy of the United States, is a downward spiral into a bottomless economic abyss.