Report on the Euro for November 8, 2011
Summary: News reports indicate that the EU is advancing further toward a Federal Union and a Federal State as destructionism increases, national leadership defaults, and the EU leaders and The IMF ply for greater power.
1) … The ECB, being limited by charter and by capability, to deal effectively with the European sovereign debt crisis, suggests that a fiscal union and federal state imposing fiscal spending limits, austerity measures, bank nationalizations, structural reforms, pension overhauls, is coming.
Reuters reports Governments Need To Solve Crisis, Not ECB, ECB’s Stark Says “The crisis of state finances can only be solved with far-reaching measures to consolidate government budgets,” Stark, who will step down from the bank’s six-strong Executive Board at the end of the year, said in a text of a speech prepared for a conference in Lucerne, Switzerland. “Permanently continuing the measures of the ECB cannot solve the crisis,” he said. “For this, the trust of banks amongst themselves must be rebuilt, which can only be achieved by restructuring and recapitalizing the banking system.”
Stark also dismissed any speculation about the break-up of the euro. “Does the debt crisis endanger the stability or even the existence of the euro?” he asked rhetorically. “This I answer with a clear no,” he said.
Stark said Greece had lost a year in reforming state finances by focusing its efforts on securing private sector participation in its debt restructuring. “Greece concentrated its capacities on figuring out how to make such a private sector participation work, how would a debt cut work, with what consequences,” he told the conference. “And nothing was done any more to consolidate the budget and to undertake structural reforms. And that’s why we are in this very desperate situation.”
The ECB has so far resisted growing political pressure to step up its support for debt-strained euro zone states like Italy or Spain and new ECB President Mario Draghi underlined in his first news conference last week that the ECB would not become the lender of last resort for governments.
“The ECB may not finance states. Whoever assumes that the ECB could be pressured into this — I don’t think so,” Stark said during a panel discussion at the conference on Tuesday. “I don’t think the ECB will ever cede to such pressure.”
Market Watch Blogs writes ECB Running Out Of Room, Rabobank Warns. The European Central Bank could face a stark choice as early as January as its ability to continue sterilizing its purchases of distressed government bonds nears its natural limit, Rabobank economist Elwin de Groot warned in a research note. There is a limit, de Groot argued, and it’s based on the so-called permanent level of ECB lending to the banking system – the amount banks need for maintaining regular operations and reserve requirements. With lending of around 450 billion to 500 billion euros (based on pre-crisis levels) and reserve requirements around 200 billion, the amount left for structural sterilization stands at up to 300 billion, he estimates. Since the ECB has bought around 183 billion euros of bonds since the launch of its bond-buying program, it has around 116 billion left before it hits the limit. If the ECB were to buy bonds at a pace of around 11 billion euros a week, matching its average between August and September, it would “run out of ammo” by mid-January, he said. And if the situation gets really ugly, it could hit the limit even earlier.
Jeff Black and Gabi Thesing of Bloomberg report ECB Can’t Print Money for Financing, Weidmann Says. European Central Bank council member Jens Weidmann said the ECB cannot bail out governments by printing money. “One of the severest forms of monetary policy being roped in for fiscal purposes is monetary financing, in colloquial terms also known as the financing of public debt via the money printing press,” Weidmann, who heads Germany’s Bundesbank, said in a speech in Berlin today. The prohibition of monetary financing in the euro area “is one of the most important achievements in central banking” and “specifically for Germany, it is also a key lesson from the experience of hyperinflation after World War I,” he said
Ambrose Evans Pritchard of The Telegraph reports ECB Stymied On Debt Crisis Without Fiscal Union. Germany’s top banker has vehemently rejected demands from David Cameron and other world leaders for drastic action by the European Central Bank to stop the eurozone crisis spiralling out of control.
Jens Weidmann, head of the Bundesbank and the ECB’s dominant governor, said that any move to leverage Europe’s €440bn rescue fund through central bank financing would be a “clear violation” of the ECB’s legal mandate. He said Article 123 of the EU Treaty imposed a legal “prohibition on monetary financing”, implying that the ECB cannot attempt to shore up the debt markets of Italy and Spain for covert fiscal support. Mr Weidmann said Germany learned the bitter lesson under the Weimar Republic that funding public debt “via the money printing press” leads to hyperinflation and disaster.
The comments came a day after Britain’s Prime Minister said it was “difficult to understand” why the ECB was not “doing more” to halt contagion, a view shared in Washington, Beijing and Tokyo.
Asia’s creditor states are scornful of requests to help rescue Europe when the ECB itself refuses to take on the role of lender of last resort. However, there is some dispute over whether the ECB is technically able to take on that role even if it dares bend the law any further. “The ECB is not indemnified by a eurozone treasury, because there is no such treasury,” said Julian Callow from Barclays Capital.
The Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve have explicit guarantees from national treasuries that any losses stemming from bond purchases will be compensated, giving them the “credibility halo” of sovereign states.
The picture is entirely different in Euroland where the ECB has very little money of its own and shares key powers with the national central banks. There is no fiscal union to back up monetary union, and no sovereign entity underpinning the project. There is instead a Babel of conflicting sovereign voices.
The ECB’s paper losses are already becoming an issue. Simon Ward from Henderson Global Investors said the ECB system has accumulated almost €200bn in Greek exposure alone. The bank holds an estimated €45bn of Greek bonds. As of late August, it had provided €110bn in support to Greek banks through its normal lending window as well as through “emergency liquidity assistance” (ELA) against weak collateral. This bank support may since have mushroomed to €150bn. Mr Ward said it is unclear whether the ECB has taken on similar sorts of “back-door” ELA liabilities in Italy and Spain because the data has been delayed. The stated level of ECB intervention is €587bn for eurozone banks and €184bn in bond purchases. “We think there is a lot more going on quietly,” he said.
Hans-Werner Sinn from Germany’s IfO Institute said the Bundesbank’s exposure to eurozone liabilities through so-called “TARGET” credit has ballooned to €450bn, with the Banca D’Italia making the biggest demands by far in September. In effect, this is a lending operation by the Bundesbank to EMU’s weaker central banks. Dr Sinn said it is “not legally clear” what happens if any country defaults or leaves EMU.
Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard professor and the IMF’s former chief economist, said the ECB may have to “going crawling on hands and knees” to eurozone governments for more money. “If the ECB has bought a lot of junk debt and lost money it will have to asked to be recapitalised,” he said. “Ultimately, Europe will have to change the whole constitutional structure of the eurozone, because this crisis is not a temporary liquidity problem.”
The urgency was clear again on Tuesday as yield spreads on Italy’s 10-year bond over German Bunds spiked to 497 basis points, driven by news that premier Silvio Berlusconi had survived a key budget vote. He later pledged to resign, but it is unclear whether the chaos of elections will make it any easier to govern Italy.
“We cannot keep going for long with a spread of 500 points,” said Emma Marcegaglia, head of Italy’s industry lobby Confindustria. “Such a spread means an enormous credit crunch and unsustainable public finances.”
The ECB has bought almost €90bn of Italian debt since August but has done so in a fitful fashion, turning the spigot on and off as a pressure tool to force reforms and political changes.
It is far from clear that the ECB is imposing the right fiscal medicine on Italy by demanding a balanced budget by 2013, just as the country crashes back into deep recession. Chiara Manenti from Banca SaoPaolo said the greatest risk for Italy’s debt dynamics is a sharp slowdown in the economy itself. “That would be far more dangerous,” she said.
Der Spiegel writes Euro Zone Considers Solution of Last Resort The ink on the most recent European Union summit agreement was hardly dry before it became clear that it was insufficient. With investors now increasingly wary of Italy, the consensus is growing that the European Central Bank, and the IMF, will have to play an even greater role. But will it be enough?
Neoliberalism’s Prince George Papandreou, is headed out of office. Reuters writes Papandreou was a third generation scion of Greece’s leading political dynasty. He is almost universally described by those who know him as a “nice guy”, affable and polished, a diplomat who seeks consensus and offers a cosmopolitan perspective in the provincial world of Greek politics. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and educated in Canada, Sweden and the United States, Papandreou’s linguistic repertoire extends as far as Swedish. Yet he can mangle his native language, at one point eliciting chortles from the opposition benches in parliament when he wrongly used a Greek expression, referring to “soft fingernails” to describe the EU’s soft stance on the previous government when the phrase actually means “childhood.”
“I am proud of being a Greek of the diaspora,” he shot back indignantly then, in 2010. “That’s enough! Show some respect, show some respect! I am a Greek of the diaspora and this was not my decision but because my father was exiled twice.”
Papandreou often practiced his speeches before a mirror to avoid making grammatical errors, a government source told Reuters. He prefers bicycling and canoeing between islands over sports seen by Greeks as more appropriately macho, like soccer. “Green growth” is mentioned in virtually every address, including his Friday swansong speech before a confidence vote. “Most of PASOK doesn’t even get George,” said an official at his socialist PASOK party.
The party his father founded after the fall of the military dictatorship adored the late Andreas Papandreou and for a while, in the nepotistic world of Greek politics, that seemed enough. “George became prime minister by default, because of the great deal of affection the party had for his dad — they gave him minimal resistance and maximum tolerance,” Varoufakis said.
Fearing for George’s safety, his mother sent him off to her hometown of Elmhurst, Illinois, to stay with her sister, Evelyn Nottelmann. There George settled into a normal suburban Chicago life, going to the same public high school his mother attended. Papandreou was a true socialist who preferred the student protest attire of the Vietnam War era — plaid flannel shirts, jeans and long hair, said Philip Tsiaras, a former classmate at Amherst. He strummed his guitar and sang protest songs. Samaras was a conservative, “centrist” thinker who favored blue blazers — “probably Pierre Cardin” — with gold buttons, gray slacks and black loafers, Tsiaras said. Despite being a descendant of the Greek political elite, George didn’t pretend to know a lot about European politics, said Amherst political science professor Ronald Tiersky, who taught him the subject. But as a “typical American student” who was somewhat shy, he was eager to learn, Tiersky said.
Papandreou would return to Greece in his late 20s and became active in his father’s party. In 1981, the same year his father became prime minister, he was elected to parliament — setting in motion a slow rise to the top of Greek politics. Along the way, Papandreou held various ministerial portfolios including foreign affairs — where his discreet diplomacy skills came to the fore — and helped coordinate Athens’ bid for the 2004 Olympic Games. He took control of the party in 2004, leading it through two election defeats. But his first serious challenge came in 2007, when he saw off a threat from Evangelos Venizelos — his current finance minister — for the party leadership. As, the reluctant leader, Papandreou initially seemed determined to usher in change to Greek politics. He has said he decided to ignore the well-meaning advice he got when he was first elected a member of parliament — that he had to “bang the table” to show he was in charge.
When Greece catapulted itself into the global spotlight as an economic basket case by the admission it had cooked its deficit figures, the ensuing crisis proved beyond his motley crew of advisers and aides, an odd mix of old PASOK devotees and foreign experts with scant knowledge of Greek reality. Papandreou emerged as the only one in his government who could stand in front of international cameras and make a case for his country. Over the years, his inner circle has been whittled down to advisers who do not disagree with him, says Varoufakis. “George is a real person in an unreal situation,” Tsiaras said. “I think if he had his druthers, he’d probably like to take his guitar and go somewhere remote.”
A prince of Neoauthoritarianism will be appointed to rule in Greece. Peter Scharwz of WSWS writes Ancient Athens is considered to be the cradle of European democracy. Modern Athens is threatening to become its grave. The events that have rocked Greece in recent days are a lesson and a warning for all of Europe.Three weeks ago a two-day general strike brought the country to a halt. Since then there has been one crisis summit after another—in Athens, Brussels, Cannes. The result is a new government in Greece without any democratic legitimacy intent on imposing the dictates of the financial markets upon the working population.
If one regards democracy to be the determination by the broad masses of the people of their own destiny, or even just the composition of a government, then there is no longer any democracy in Athens. There is no longer the pretense that the sovereign power is the people. It is rather the “troika,” consisting of the European Union (EU), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB). The prospective new prime minister, Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the ECB, has been selected by, and is answerable to, the troika.
What is happening in Athens is increasingly the rule rather the exception. In recent months the four other highly indebted countries in the euro zone—Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain—have either gone through, or are on the verge of, a change in government. On each occasion the initiative came from the representatives of finance capital and big business. The most important prerequisite in the selection of each new government is its ability to implement unpopular economic measures while resisting any concessions to public pressure.
Sooner rather than later other European countries will be the victims of the same process
2) … Destructionism is increasing: Italy has lost its debt sovereignty.
Mike Mish Shedlock reports Italy’s Bond Rollover Problem Dramatically Worsens … Zero Hedge reports Barclays Says Italy Is Finished: “Mathematically Beyond Point Of No Return”. … ZeroHedge reports ECB ‘Inaction’ Succeeds In Doing What Nobody Has Achieved In Decades! Sending Risk Soaring.
3) … As national leadership default grows, a EU ECB and IMF Troika is emerging as sovereign authority in the Euro zone. Diktat is emerging as the Euro zone’s new currency.
Der Spiegel reports Euro Crisis Heralds The End Of An Era In Greece One of the two men, Georgios Papandreou, 59, was the politician Europe had favored, the model schoolboy. He implemented what his country’s partners in the euro zone wanted from the Greeks. He designed cost-cutting plans, until the protests in front of the parliament building in Athens became larger and more violent. In response to marching orders from Brussels — or, as many of his fellow Greeks say, from Berlin — he raised taxes and fees, and he tried to trim down a sprawling government bureaucracy, until it bit back in resentment. He risked — and lost — his popularity among supporters who had voted him into office as his country’s savior.
And when all of this did not have the desired effect, the reliable leader suddenly veered off course, in the eyes of his handlers. He proposed that citizens vote in a referendum to decide whether he had a sufficient mandate for such draconian measures. Suddenly, Papandreou’s relationship with his European partners soured.
The other man, Antonis Samaras, 60, Papandreou’s conservative and nationalist rival, was Europe’s bogeyman. He was a member of the Greek administration that carried political nepotism and clientelism to the extreme — and submitted bogus budget figures to Brussels. Samaras, now the opposition leader, rejected all austerity measures, saying that when he comes into power, he doesn’t want to be “running a ruined country.”
He called for extensive tax cuts and wanted to renegotiate the bailout agreements between Greece and the European Union. Europe’s conservative leaders, like French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, could hardly contain their fury over their unruly fellow conservative. They felt that he was power-hungry and saw him as a politician who was prepared to sacrifice the entire country to reach his goals.
Stephen Castle of the NYT reports Euro Zone Urges Greeks To Commit To Bailout Terms Greece’s two main political parties have been told they must co-sign a letter pledging support for the country’s bailout terms in order to secure an 8 billion euro loan needed to stave off default, the head of the 17 euro zone finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker, said late Monday.
Though the ministers said they welcomed the deal to form a coalition government in Greece, European officials insisted that political consensus over a tough austerity program was a precondition for payment of the loan. Mr. Juncker said the ministers had “underlined the importance of sustained cross-party support for the program in Greece.” “We have been calling for a coalition of national unity,” added Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs. “It is essential that the new government will express a clear commitment on paper, in writing.” He added, however, that provided the assurances were forthcoming, the loan to Greece could be disbursed this month. That could be done by teleconference and without a formal meeting of finance ministers, he said. The meeting on Monday in Brussels was dominated by the political dramas unfolding in Greece and Italy. Mr. Juncker urged the authorities in Rome to begin the economic reform measures pledged by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a letter to European Union leaders last month. “What we are expecting from Italy is that Italy will be implementing all the measures which have been announced in Silvio Berlusconi’s letter,” Mr. Juncker told reporters.
Rachael Donadio of the NYT reports In Turmoil, Greece and Italy Deepen Euro Crisis. The prospect of a new transitional, technocratic government in Greece, and new pressure on Silvio Berlusconi to resign after a parliamentary vote on Tuesday, did little to reassure investors that either country was prepared to grapple with the deep structural changes that investors are demanding to restore growth and reduce deficits. In both places, it is not only the economy that is on trial, but also the ability of democratic government to make highly unpopular choices.
In Greece, where political chaos last week threatened to plunge the euro zone into crisis, doubts remained about the capacity of the political class to form a coalition government to push through reforms it has agreed to in return for a financial lifeline. So strong is the distrust that Europe’s finance ministers refused to release the next $11 billion in aid for Greece until the two leading political parties signed a letter affirming their commitment to meeting the conditions of the loan deal reached last month with European lenders. Greece and Italy have famously complex political cultures, but today they are both driven by a simple dynamic: no established parties want to assume the full political cost of pushing through unpopular austerity measures and changes to the labor market. And they are jockeying for positions in a new political constellation after eventual elections, as well as for greater bargaining power with the European Union.
With high debts, vast underground economies, low birth rates and more pensioners than workers, there is no doubt that Greece and Italy need structural changes to survive. But with deeply entrenched political patronage societies, governments in both countries have been unwilling or unable to carry out such changes, which would require striking the heart of their own constituencies. Italy first proposed those austerity measures, including pension reform, changes to labor laws and privatization of state industry in a letter to the European Central Bank the same day the European Union reached its debt deal with Greece and promised to pass them by Nov. 15. But the government has yet to draft the measures into a bill, let alone put the measure to Parliament. Instead, it has been deadlocked for weeks, as the conflicting interest groups within Mr. Berlusconi’s center-right coalition refuse to budge. The powerful Northern League Party, for one, has opposed raising the retirement age to 67 from 65. The center-left opposition ranges from neoliberals to former Communists opposed to changes in labor laws, making it difficult to imagine how it could push through structural changes in a future political order.
In Greece, Mr. Papandreou’s Socialist government has passed radical legislation aimed at cutting the public sector, but implementation has been slow, even as the economy shrinks under tax increases and wage cuts that are pushing the country to the brink. It has been struggling to forge a coalition government led by a technocrat that could share the political cost of imposing more austerity. Lucas Papademos, a former deputy president of the European Central Bank, was widely mentioned as the most likely candidate. But his ascension rapidly became mired in Greece’s political swamps, after he demanded a strong voice in naming ministers and a government of more than three months’ duration, reports said.
Throughout the crisis, long-suffering Greek citizens have said that it matters little who is in power, and growing numbers of policy intellectuals are starting to agree with them. Transforming Greece is a task “beyond Hercules,” said Daniel Gros, the Director of the Center for European Policy Studies. “It’s beyond the capacity of a single person, because you need much more to change a country, to change an administrative apparatus, to change political habits.”
Chris Marsden of WSWS writes Major Powers Successfully Dictate Regime Change In Greece. Just three days after he won a vote of confidence, Greece’s Prime Minister George Papandreou is out and a government of “national unity” is being formed, combining PASOK and the main conservative opposition, New Democracy.
Reuters reports IMF Chief Warns World Economy Risks “Lost Decade”. The head of the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday that Europe’s debt crisis risked plunging the global economy into a “lost decade” and said it was up to rich nations to shoulder the burden of restoring growth and confidence. Christine Lagarde told a financial forum in Beijing that European plans to bolster a rescue package for Greece were a “step in the right direction,” but that the outlook for the world economy remained dangerous and uncertain. “There are clearly clouds on the horizon,” Lagarde said. “Clouds on the horizon particularly in the advanced economies and particularly so in the European Union and the United States.” “Our sense is that if we do not act boldly and if we do not act together, the economy around the world runs the risk of downward spiral of uncertainty, financial instability and potential collapse of global demand, we could run the risk of what some commentators are already calling the lost decade.”
Larry Elliott of The Guardian writes The Emergence Of The Frankfurt Group Has Turned Back The Democratic Clock Here’s how things work. The real decisions in Europe are now taken by the Frankfurt Group, an unelected cabal made of up eight people: Lagarde; Merkel; Sarkozy; Mario Draghi, the new president of the ECB; José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission; Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup; Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council; and Olli Rehn, Europe’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner. This group, which is accountable to no one, calls the shots in Europe. The cabal decides whether Greece should be allowed to hold a referendum and if and when Athens should get the next tranche of its bailout cash. What matters to this group is what the financial markets think not what voters might want. To the extent that governments had any power, it has been removed and placed in the hands of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF. It is as if the democratic clock has been turned back to the days when France was ruled by the Bourbons.
Governments come and go but the policies remain the same, creating a glaring democratic deficit. This would be deeply troubling even if it could be shown that the Frankfurt Group’s economic remedies were working, which they are not. Instead, the insistence on ever more austerity is pushing Europe’s weaker countries into an economic death spiral while their voters are being bypassed. That is a dangerous mixture.
The Telegraph relates America And China Must Crush Germany Into Submission Ambrose Evans Pritchard writes As Italy’s bond yields crisis unfolds, it is time for the world to reimpose order. As we watch Italy’s 10-year bond yields near 7.5pc and threaten to detonate the explosive charge on €1.9 trillion of debt, it is time for the world to reimpose order. You cannot allow the biggest bankruptcy in history to run its course, with calamitous domino implications, before all options have been exhausted. One can only guess what is happening in the great global centres of power, but it would not surprise me if US President Barack Obama and China’s Hu Jintao start to intervene very soon, in unison and with massive diplomatic force.
Germany will of course try to say no. But it will pay a catastrophic diplomatic and political price, and will fail to save its economy anyway if it does so.Having followed the German political scene closely for the last five months, it is clear to me that almost the entire German political establishment is out of its depth, ideological, sometimes smug, apt to view the EMU debt-crisis as a Calvinist morality tale, and lacking in deep understanding of what it has got itself into. One can understand German worries about money printing, and especially the loss of fiscal sovereignty and democratic control, but matters have already moved on. It is too late for that. As for the EU authorities with their mad contractionary fiscal and monetary policies in an accelerating slump, they seem to have achieved little by toppling two elected governments in one week. In Italy they have already made matters worse. I doubt that much will change with “technocratic governments” in either Greece and Italy, yet immense damage has been done to democratic accountability. The EU Project has become both dangerous and insane.
Dr Worden writes A transformative vision is needed for ever closer union or that union could split apart from internal economic fractures capable of triggering political discordances. Given the sad experience of Europe with “transformational” leaders seeking a European “audience” in the 1930s, the singular model of leadership, which is so dominant in American political culture, is perhaps not likely to emerge at the E.U. level. Yet it is unknown whether the E.U. itself can survive continued transactional leadership that operates only incrementally.
4) … Destructionism is increasing globally … it is the natural result of Inflationism that began with the 1913 coup that established the US Federal Reserve.
Reuters reports Blue Nile Forecasts Weak FY, CEO Resigns. Blue Nile forecast weak full-year earnings and said its Chief Executive Diane Irvine has resigned, sending its shares down 15% after the bell.
The WSJ writes Global Liquidity On The Cusp Of Drying Up
Dr Housing Bubble writes Underwater Nation
Robert Wenzel of Economic Policy Journal reports Obama Institutes a New Christmas Tree Tax Crony capitalism and federal intrusion has reached the level of the Christmas tree.
James Altucher writes on the crux of Inflationism and its consequence of Destructionism in article How to have more common sense. I’m starting to agree with the people who are against the Federal Reserve’s creation in 1913. Society has slowly inflated itself to a point where the cost of things we need are costing more than our deflating incomes, making it impossible to continue enjoying the fruits of middle class-dom. (Hat Tip To Robert Wenzel of Economic Policy Journal) Mr. Altucher will be speaking in NYC on December 6th to the Society of Libertarian Entrepreneurs.
5) … In other news
Adam Liptak of the NYT reports Dispute Over Jerusalem Engages Court
In a case of regulatory capture, Ben Protess and Azam Ahmed of the NYT Derivatives Architect Gary Genzler Now Focuses On Enforcement A The CFTC.
Between The Hedges relates China officials are now banning shadow lending practices. Economic Observer reports The eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu banned lending between companies to prevent risk from spreading to state-owned companies from private enterprises, citing a notice from the local government. Many state-owned companies, with easy access to funds, have acted as “shadow banks,” lending money to small companies and real estate developers. And Shanghai Securities News reports The China Insurance Regulatory Commission has banned insurers from private lending on concern of risk, citing a notice from the regulator. The regulator last month ordered a nationwide investigation into whether insurance companies have taken part in informal lending.