Tag Archive: Monday Business Edition

Oct 03 2011

Monday Business Edition

Our regular news editor ek hornbeck is experiencing technical difficulties.

  • Greek gloom rocks markets, troubles lenders

    By Harry Papachristou and Jan Strupczewski

    ATHENS | Mon Oct 3, 2011 12:14pm EDT

    (Reuters) – Greece’s admission that it will miss its deficit target this year despite harsh new austerity measures sent stock markets reeling on Monday and raised new doubts over a planned second international bailout.

    The gloomy news from Athens brought the specter of a debt default closer and will weigh on talks among euro zone finance ministers in Luxembourg later on Monday on the next steps to try to resolve the currency area’s sovereign debt crisis.

  • Greek economy stuck in recession, complicates fiscal efforts

    By Harry Papachristou and Ingrid Melander

    ATHENS | Mon Oct 3, 2011 10:59am EDT

    (Reuters) – Greece will remain trapped in recession next year, threatening the country’s efforts to cut deficits and claw its way out of a debt crisis shaking the euro zone, budget figures showed on Monday.

    The economy will suffer a fourth consecutive year of contraction, shrinking by 2.5 percent in 2012 after an expected 5.5 percent slump this year, according to the 2012 budget draft submitted to parliament after talks with international lenders.

Sep 26 2011

Should have brought the Gatlings

Monday Business Edition

Europe Readying Yet Another "This Really Will Do the Trick" Bailout Package

Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Saturday, September 24, 2011

(I)n another bit of deja vu all over again, the powers that be in Europe are readying yet another bailout plan, this one supposedly big enough to do the trick once and for all. The problem is that was the premise of several of the last grand schemes, such as the EFSF and the ESM. The market calming effect relatively short lived because analysts quickly pencilled out the programs were inadequate in size and failed to address the problems of lack of a fiscal mechanism at the EU level and the need to address the elephant in the room, bank solvency.



The new rescue program seeks to create a sovereign debt crisis firebreak at Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, when contagion has already put Spain, Ireland, and Belgium in the crosshairs. The high concept is leverage on leverage plus monetization: the EFSF, which is basically a CDO, would then provide the equity to a new fund, and the ECD would provide “protected ‘debt'” I’m not at all certain what the latter is supposed to mean; reader input is welcome. But this sounds like a CDO squared, with an unfunded equity tranche, as a legal/political cover for the ECB monetizing Euro sovereign debt. Nevertheless, this mechanism will allegedly allow for sovereign bailout program of €2 trillion.

Similarly, the size of the bank recapitalization program is in the “tens of billions”, vastly short of the €2-€3 trillion that some experts think is necessary. And note this is backwards: the debt needs to be written down directly (rather than trying to squeeze blood out of turnips via austerity) and banks recapitalized directly. Instead, the focus is (yet again) on bailing out the sovereigns, who will presumably still be expected to wear austerity hairshirts, which will worsen their debt to GDP ratios (even if this program does succeed in getting them cheaper debt in sufficient volumes).

The Eurocrats are going to be slow out of the gate. They want to launch the plan at the next G20 meeting, which is six weeks away, November 4. Mr. Market doesn’t care about the schedules of the officialdom, and is highly unlikely to wait that long.

Euro Zone Death Trip

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: September 25, 2011

European policy makers seem set to deliver more of the same. They’ll probably find a way to provide more credit to countries in trouble, which may or may not stave off imminent disaster. But they don’t seem at all ready to acknowledge a crucial fact – namely, that without more expansionary fiscal and monetary policies in Europe’s stronger economies, all of their rescue attempts will fail.



Think of it this way: private demand in the debtor countries has plunged with the end of the debt-financed boom. Meanwhile, public-sector spending is also being sharply reduced by austerity programs. So where are jobs and growth supposed to come from? The answer has to be exports, mainly to other European countries.

But exports can’t boom if creditor countries are also implementing austerity policies, quite possibly pushing Europe as a whole back into recession.

Also, the debtor nations need to cut prices and costs relative to creditor countries like Germany, which wouldn’t be too hard if Germany had 3 or 4 percent inflation, allowing the debtors to gain ground simply by having low or zero inflation. But the European Central Bank has a deflationary bias – it made a terrible mistake by raising interest rates in 2008 just as the financial crisis was gathering strength, and showed that it has learned nothing by repeating that mistake this year.

As a result, the market now expects very low inflation in Germany – around 1 percent over the next five years – which implies significant deflation in the debtor nations. This will both deepen their slumps and increase the real burden of their debts, more or less ensuring that all rescue efforts will fail.



Part of the problem may be that those policy elites have a selective historical memory. They love to talk about the German inflation of the early 1920s – a story that, as it happens, has no bearing on our current situation. Yet they almost never talk about a much more relevant example: the policies of Heinrich Brüning, Germany’s chancellor from 1930 to 1932, whose insistence on balancing budgets and preserving the gold standard made the Great Depression even worse in Germany than in the rest of Europe – setting the stage for you-know-what.

Greece needs to default on its debt and exit the eurozone

If the current Greek government can’t take the necessary steps to do this, it should give way to other political forces than can

Stergios Skaperdas, The Guardian

Monday 26 September 2011 05.00 EDT

Preparing for default involves the formation of a large number of expert teams to defend Greek interests with conviction. For the debt that is based on Greek law, Greece has the upper hand. Negotiations for other debt will be more difficult and protracted.

Since Greek banks will become insolvent, they will have to be nationalised and preparations will need to be made for that. The insurance and pension funds will need to be bailed out, too. For both banks and funds to be bailed out, the country will need its own currency. Therefore, exit from the eurozone would follow.



(T)here is little doubt among economists that the easiest mechanism for a country to gain competitiveness is to have its currency depreciate. Hence, Greece having its own currency is the easiest path to gaining international competitiveness. Cars and iPhones will become more expensive but food might actually become cheaper and employment will pick up within a few months after the introduction of the new drachma. By contrast, unemployment and deprivation with no end in sight are the predictable results of following the troika’s policies.



The main problem with an exit from the eurozone is the transition period. Capital controls will have to be imposed. Temporary measures to ration foreign exchange for the importation of petroleum and other essential items will have to be undertaken. How will the Bank of Greece settle with the ECB? How will debt be converted from euros to drachmas?

Sep 19 2011

The Battle of the Greecey Grass

Monday Business Edition

We’ve seen this play before.  All of a sudden trillions of dollars of ‘notional’ value turn into meaningless scraps of paper (or ephemeral photons if you prefer) suitable for lining litter boxes or wrapping fish.

Except it’s not even very good at that.

The biggest losers in the casino will turn to taxpayers to make good their losses or simply pretend that they don’t exist.  Markets plunge because the trust in magic evaporates and suddenly skeptical children refuse to clap for dying confidence fairies anymore.

Folks, it’s just a fucking light bulb on a string.

Sooner rather than later people are going to take their Greek bets off the table, followed shortly by Spain, Italy, France, and Germany.  The Euro will collapse, no longer a threat to the Dollar as a reserve currency.  Countries will struggle to rebuild ‘national’ financial systems.

This is all because governments, led by the United States, refused to force banks to deleverage and accept their losses in a timely fashion.

There won’t be another 2008 bailout.  In Europe, where there is already violent rioting, Bankers and Ministers will be hung from lamp posts first.  In the United States the suicide would be political.

Austerity will not make the losses good either, everything everyone in the bottom 50% owns is a mere $1.4 Trillion.  Taking it all won’t solve the problem.  Our elites are faced with a decline in their own standard of living that squeezing the poor can’t mitigate.

Good say I.

What will work is more Socialist than Keynesian.  Mark to market and vaporize ‘notional’ value.  Seize assets and aggressively tax wealth to force investment.  Stimulate production by increasing demand.

Real estate values in Greenwich are going to decline and yachts rust in the harbor, but you know, it’s better than selling apples on a street corner worrying that someone is going to cut you for your fancy ass Rolex and that’s next.

The euro zone shuns Geithner

Felix Salmon, Reuters

Sep 16, 2011 16:55 EDT

(I)n sunny Wroclaw, (Geithner) fell spectacularly flat. He waltzed into a meeting of euro zone finance ministers (he took a private car, they shared a bus), and informed them that they should follow his lead and leverage the money in the EFSF. In unison, the finance ministers responded by saying “why, Mr Geithner, that’s a simply spectacular idea, we’re shamefaced to admit that we didn’t think of it ourselves. Thanks for your advice, we’ll follow it, to the letter, forthwith!”

Or, not so much(.)



I’m not sure that Geithner was the right person to send to Poland to try to knock European heads together. As the biggest shareholder of the IMF, he would probably have been better off conferring with Christine Lagarde and getting her to make his point for him. The Europeans were never likely to take well to the Americans telling them what to do, especially when their gentle attempts to ask something of Geithner (maybe you might consider getting on board with a financial transactions tax?) were unceremoniously dismissed out of hand by the Treasury secretary.

In any case, Geithner seems to have failed in whatever it was that he was trying to achieve: the only unanimity he managed to foster was in the belief that he had no business telling the euro zone what to do.

EU finance ministers break no new ground on debt crisis

By Jan Strupczewski and Gareth Jones, Reuters

Sat Sep 17, 2011 4:08pm EDT

“He (Geithner) conveyed dramatically that we need to commit money to avoid bringing the system into difficulty,” Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter told reporters after the meeting.

“I found it peculiar that even though the Americans have significantly worse fundamental data than the euro zone, they tell us what we should do.”

Geithner also pointed out that euro zone finance ministers could boost the firepower of their bailout fund, the 440 billion euro European Financial Stability Facility, through leveraging.



Leveraging would mean that the EFSF could guarantee to cover potential losses of the European Central Bank on purchases of bonds of distressed euro zone sovereigns, boosting the fund’s intervention potential even fivefold, officials said.



EU finance ministers also agreed on Saturday that European banks must be strengthened in the follow-up to July stress tests, as a report said a “systemic” crisis in sovereign debt now threatened a new credit crunch.



The agreement does not mean European banks are likely to get large, additional capital injections from public coffers — it is just an acknowledgement of the results of the European bank stress tests in July.

The tests showed a financing gap for banks of only 6 billion euros — a sum many investors believe could be much higher if the debt crisis worsens, and which is to be primarily covered by private capital.

Meetings on European Debt Crisis End in Debate, but Little Progress

By STEPHEN CASTLE, The New York Times

Published: September 17, 2011

The meetings were highlighted by the appearance by Timothy F. Geithner, the United States treasury secretary, whose advice, and warnings, drew a tepid reaction from the euro zone’s finance ministers. And Mr. Geithner’s rejection Friday of a European idea for a global tax on financial transactions prompted a debate about whether Europe should go ahead on its own.



“The problem is that the politicians seem to be behind the curve all the time,” added Anders Borg, Sweden’s finance minister. “We really need to see some more political leadership,” he said, citing a “clear need for bank recapitalization.”



One European official, not authorized to speak publicly, said the ministers “seemed to come to no operational decisions at all.” The only positive news was an outline agreement on new laws to tighten the rulebook for the euro – though that was struck in Brussels.

Saturday’s meeting ended promptly around noon, allowing ministers to leave before a demonstration in Wroclaw against austerity measures in Europe.

Euro Bulls Capitulate After Trichet Turnaround Cuts Forecasts

By Liz Capo McCormick, Lukanyo Mnyanda and Allison Bennett, Bloomberg Business Week

September 18, 2011, 11:22 AM EDT

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sept. 14 they are “convinced” Greece, which saw yields on its two-year note rise above 80 percent last week, will stay in the currency union, and central banks agreed a day later to lend the region’s financial institutions dollars. While those moves bolstered the euro, the region’s economy has turned weaker, leading traders to bet that the European Central Bank may lower interest rates over the next year instead of raising them, removing a key support for the currency.



Mario Blejer, who managed Argentina’s central bank in the aftermath of the world’s biggest sovereign default, said Greece should halt payments on its debt to stop a deterioration of the economy that threatens the EU.

“This debt is unpayable,” Blejer, who was also an adviser to Bank of England Governor Mervyn King from 2003 to 2008, said in an interview last week in Buenos Aires. “Greece should default, and default big. A small default is worse than a big default and also worse than no default.”



Even as Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis worsened this year, the euro received support from prospects that the ECB would raise interest rates further to contain inflation. Now, that is looking less likely after ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said at a press conference in Frankfurt on Sept. 8, after the central bank left its benchmark rate at 1.5 percent, that threats to the euro region have worsened and inflation risks have eased.



Officials have contributed to investor skepticism. Bank of France Governor Christian Noyer said on Sept. 12 that French lenders are capable of facing any Greek response to sovereign- debt difficulties and have no liquidity or solvency problems. Two days before Moody’s cut its long-term debt rating by one level Societe Generale’s Chief Executive Officer Frederic Oudea told reporters on Sept. 12 that French banks “have no capital problem.”

“Policy makers and bank leaders have all come out and said ‘everything is fine,’ but clearly everything is not fine,” Louise Cooper, a market analyst at BGC International in London, said in an interview on Sept. 14. “The gap between the rhetoric and what the markets are saying about the level of the crisis is huge.”

Financial Crisis: can the euro hope to survive?

By Martin Vander Weyer, The Telegraph

7:00AM BST 18 Sep 2011

(T)he market bounce was itself an irrational, wishful-thinking response – a misreading of an unprecedentedly dangerous situation. There is a far more persuasive argument that what we have just seen was another week of denial of the reality and imminence of the eurozone’s existential meeting with destiny; another week, to use a currently popular cliché, of kicking the can down the road, rather than facing Europe’s big issues head-on.

Look behind each of the week’s news items and it’s hard not to feel a sense of despair. Geithner was in Wroclaw not to slap his European counterparts on the back for their efforts to date, but to warn them to stop bickering and address the “catastrophic risk” inherent in a widespread state of unsustainable debt and fiscal delinquency.

It is apparent not only that US banks have lost confidence in their European counterparts and have started shutting them out of inter-bank funding markets, but also that US officials are busy making matters worse by seeking to shift blame for America’s dire domestic performance on to influences from this side of the Atlantic. “Seventy-five per cent of the dark things happening in the world economy are because of the eurozone,” one of Geithner’s team said at Marseille.

And it is because of that widely held sentiment in the US financial community – the belief that European banks are sitting on crippling losses on their government bond holdings, and could go down like dominoes if Greece and others default – that the central banks’ dollar funding scheme was necessary to stave off the onset of another credit crunch. Another freezing-up of the international banking system is the quickest possible way to turn current near-zero growth performance in the industrialised world into a global double-dip recession, with the second dip likely to be deeper, longer and more painful than the first.



Markets are convinced of several things: that Greece is politically incapable of meeting the austerity demands imposed by the EU and the IMF, and is now locked into a spiral in which its debt position can only become worse as its economy deteriorates; that a default on Greek sovereign debt is therefore inevitable sooner rather than later, and will impose losses on European banks, including the likes of Société Générale and Crédit Agricole of France, which may in turn need to be bailed out by their governments; and that the eviction of a bankrupt and incorrigibly irresponsible eurozone member is not only a technical possibility but an economic necessity if the single currency is to survive at all.

The best hope now is for a managed Greek default and departure. As German transport minister Peter Ramsauer said this week, before Angela Merkel urged him to silence, “it might be risky and painful for Greece to leave the euro, but it would not be the end of the world”.

At the other end of the spectrum, the worst fear is of a final, chaotic Greek episode provoking defaults by Ireland, Portugal and, conceivably, Italy and Spain in its wake. That would be Armageddon – and no one knows what appalling political consequences might follow.

Greek PM cancels U.S. trip as debt crisis deepens

By George Georgiopoulos and Dina Kyriakidou, Reuters

Sun Sep 18, 2011 9:32am IST

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos rushed to allay fears the cancelled trip signalled imminent default, saying such talk was “ridiculous”, but the conservative opposition seized the opportunity to demand snap elections, fanning fears Greece lacks the will needed for tough measures ahead.

“The comments and analyses about an imminent default or bankruptcy are not only irresponsible but also ridiculous,” Venizelos said in a statement.

“Every weekend Greece … is subject to this organised attack by speculators in international markets.”

Papandreou was in London, en-route to United Nations and International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings, when he decided to turn back after discussing developments with Venizelos, government officials said.

From the Desk of Peter Tchir: "Is September 20th Greek Default Day?"

Daniel Alpert, Economonitor

September 17th, 2011

“If Greece is going to default, September 20th seems to be as good a day as any. Actually, it is far better than most to be GD-Day.

Two big bonds, the 4.5% of 2037 and the 4.6% of 2040 both have coupon payments due that day, totalling 769 Million Euro.  So if the IMF wanted to avoid letting another billion euro go down the drain, September 20th would be a good day to do it.  The IMF seems to have delayed approving another tranche for now, so Greece must already have the money for this payment?

The Fed Scheduled their meeting for 2 days.  It now starts on September 20th.  Maybe a co-incidence, but what better way to be prepared for new emergency policies?

CDS “rolls” on the 20th.  On the 21st, all Sept 2011 CDS will have expired.  My guess is that banks own more protection than they sold to the September 20th date, so defaulting while those contracts are still valid would be a net benefit to the banking system.  As a whole, triggering CDS will likely benefit banks as I can find banks that say they own protection against positions, but find more hedge funds are uninvolved or have sold protection to fund shorts in other sovereigns.

Suddenly, Over There Is Over Here

By GRETCHEN MORGENSON, The New York Times

Published: September 17, 2011

Billions of dollars in swaps have been written on sovereign debt, guaranteeing that those who bought the insurance will be paid if Greece or other countries default. As of Sept. 9, some $32 billion in net credit insurance exposure was outstanding on debt of Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain, according to Markit, a financial data provider. An additional $23.6 billion has been written on Italy’s debt. Billions more in credit insurance have also been written on European banks, many of which hold huge positions in troubled sovereign obligations.

But since these instruments trade in secret, investors don’t know who would be on the hook – as A.I.G. was in its ill-fated mortgage insurance – should a government default or a bank fail.



Even after what we went through with A.I.G., the huge market in credit default swaps remains unregulated and still operates in the shadows. You can thank big banks that trade these instruments – and their lobbyists – for that.



“We’re seeing a lot of the same things in the markets that we saw in the Lehman era,” Mr. Weinberg said, referring to that awful episode three years ago. “I can’t tell you specifically and exactly how the fallout from Europe will pass through to us, but I certainly can’t tell you it won’t.”

Sep 16 2011

Exchange Traded Funds

Lots of people think, as I did until recently, that ETFs are relatively low risk, low cost investments that track well understood and popular market indexes like the S&P 500 without forcing individual investors to actually assemble a portfolio of the underlying assets.

Not so much.

Terry Smith has put together a list of 4 problems with ETFs as they are traded today of which I think #3 is the biggest-

Because you can exchange trade these funds, they are used by hedge funds and banks to take positions and they can short them. Because they can apparently rely upon creating the units to deliver on their short, there are examples of short interest in ETFs being up to 1000% short i.e. some market participant(s) are short 10 times the amount of the ETF. If the ETF is in an illiquid sector, can you really rely upon creating the units as you may not be able to buy (or sell) the underlying assets in a sector with limited liquidity? The danger of allowing short sales which are a multiple of the value of a fund in an area where it may not be possible to close the trades by buying back the stocks are clear, but amazingly, during the debate in which I have been engaged by various cheer leaders for ETFs, they have claimed that there is no such risk in shorting ETFs. They clearly do not understand the product they are peddling, and if they can’t what chance has the retail investor got?

In other words leverage is creating notional supply in excess of the actual supply of an asset which leads to illiquidity when the demand exceeds it.

I’m sorry, you can’t buy anymore X at any price.

Now economists would argue that there is always a price at which a supply of X is available and on certain theoretical levels they are correct, but there is a practical level at which the price becomes too expensive and someone, somewhere is either deprived of the item they had a contract to purchase OR is forced to spend lots of money making good those promises.

This is apparently what happened at UBS.

The $2 Billion UBS Incident: ‘Rogue Trader’ My Ass

Matt Taibbi, Roling Stone

POSTED: September 15, 8:39 AM ET

Investment bankers do not see it as their jobs to tend to the dreary business of making sure Ma and Pa Main Street get their $8.03 in savings account interest every month. Nothing about traditional commercial banking – historically, the dullest of businesses, taking customer deposits and making conservative investments with them in search of a percentage point of profit here and there – turns them on.

In fact, investment bankers by nature have huge appetites for risk, and most of them take pride in being able to sleep at night even when their bets are going the wrong way. If you’re not a person who can doze through a two-hour foot massage while your client (which might be your own bank) is losing ten thousand dollars a minute on some exotic trade you’ve cooked up, then you won’t make it on today’s Wall Street.



In the financial press you’re called a “rogue trader” if you’re some overperspired 28 year-old newbie who bypasses internal audits and quality control to make a disastrous trade that could sink the company. But if you’re a well-groomed 60 year-old CEO who uses his authority to ignore quality control and internal audits in order to make disastrous trades that could sink the company, you get a bailout, a bonus, and heroic treatment in an Andrew Ross Sorkin book.

In other words, “rogue traders” are treated like bad accidents and condemned everywhere from the front pages to Ewan McGregor films. But rogue companies are protected at every level of the regulatory structure and continually empowered by dergulatory legislation giving them access to our bank accounts.



Sooner or later, this is going to blow up in our faces, and it won’t be one lower-level guy with a $2 billion loss we’ll be swallowing. It’ll be the CEO of another rogue firm like Lehman Brothers, and it’ll cost us trillions, not billions.

‘Rogue trader’? That’s the same as ‘rogue reporter’

The ‘rogues’ are those who get caught while people presiding over systems that go wrong say: ‘How deplorable’

Michael White, The Guardian

Friday 16 September 2011 06.40 EDT

A “rogue trader” in a City of London bank is really like a “rogue reporter” on the News of the World. He’s the one who gets caught and sent to jail when the people who presided over the system that allowed him to lose $2bn – or, in Clive Goodman’s case, to hack some royal phones – say “how deplorable” before business as usual is restored.



Have we learned nothing? Apparently not. Adoboli is 31, with less visible expertise and experience than his evident ambition to make money. Who left him in charge of the tea money? Yet he was able to lose $2bn in a corner of the investment market known as exchange traded funds (ETFs), which even the FT is having a struggle explaining to its more ignorant readers (bank chairmen, people like that) in today’s edition.

Apparently, they’re the hottest thing since the collateralised debt products that blew up Lehman and others in 2008. The FT columnist Gillian Tett says she wrote a column in May warning that ETFs were heading for a scandal, but not quite this soon.

A rogue trader at UBS or a rogue bank?

by John Gapper, Financial Times

September 15, 2011 3:45 pm

Given the recent history of UBS, it is fair to ask if Kweku Adoboli is a rogue trader or his employer is a rogue bank.



(T)he bank’s entire senior layer of management was forced out following its involvement in the 1998 collapse of Long-Term Capital Management, the US arbitrage hedge fund run by John Meriwether. UBS had pressed to be closely associated with an operation it regarded as smartly and safely run.

There are similarities between the products relating to the LTCM case and the trading desk on which Mr Adoboli worked. As Izabella Kaminska of FT Alphaville points out, banks’ Delta 1 desks traded and hedged exchange-traded derivatives in  ways that involve complex – and difficult to monitor – risk-taking. Mr Kerviel worked on SocGen’s Delta 1 desk.

Sep 08 2011

The Gold Bug

Edgar Allen Poe

We estimated the entire contents of the chest, that night, as a million and a half of dollars, and upon the subsequent disposal of the trinkets and jewels (a few being retained for our own use), it was found that we had greatly under-valued the treasure.

When, at length, we had concluded our examination, and the intense excitement of the time had, in some measure, subsided, Legrand, who saw that I was dying with impatience for a solution of this most extraordinary riddle, entered into a full detail of all the circumstances connected with it.

Herr Doktor Professor

So what determines the price of gold at any given point in time? Hotelling models say that people are willing to hold onto an exhaustible resources because they are rewarded with a rising price. Abstracting from storage costs, this says that the real price must rise at a rate equal to the real rate of interest.



The logic, if you think about it, is pretty intuitive: with lower interest rates, it makes more sense to hoard gold now and push its actual use further into the future, which means higher prices in the short run and the near future.



(T)his is essentially a “real” story about gold, in which the price has risen because expected returns on other investments have fallen; it is not, repeat not, a story about inflation expectations. Not only are surging gold prices not a sign of severe inflation just around the corner, they’re actually the result of a persistently depressed economy stuck in a liquidity trap – an economy that basically faces the threat of Japanese-style deflation, not Weimar-style inflation. So people who bought gold because they believed that inflation was around the corner were right for the wrong reasons.

And if you view the gold story as being basically about real interest rates, something else follows – namely, that having a gold standard right now would be deeply deflationary. The real price of gold “wants” to rise; if you try to peg the nominal price level to gold, that can only happen through severe deflation.

Aug 08 2011

2.48%

Monday Business Edition

That, dear readers, is the interest rate the United States is paying on it’s 10 year Treasuries today after the downgrade.  This is LESS than we were paying on Friday.

Frankly it could and should be 0%.  Far from being a neoliberal, I fall on the modern monetarist side of the fence and can find no rational explanation that we issue debt at all except outdated emotional attachments to a Gold Standard that hasn’t existed for almost 40 years and a conscious, if unspoken, government policy of subsidizing the extremely wealthy.

Our Masters of the Universe aren’t particularly bright.  I find their constant caterwauling about “uncertainty” particularly revealing.  Far from being brave risk takers, they’re cowardly morons miserably longing for the days of the “carry trade” when you could get Yen at 0% interest, convert it, and park it in Treasuries at 5% with zero risk.

They only like fixed games and the natural and desired state of capitalism is government sanctioned mercantilist monopolies using the military and police power of the nation to eliminate competition.

East India Company anyone?  There’s your real Tea Party.

What the market is telling us today is that there is in fact NO risk that the United States will not pay off its debts in dollars, the currency in which they’re incurred.  The market is also telling us that the almighty Dollar has NO SUBSTITUTE as the International Reserve Currency.  It is the only one that exists in sufficient quantity to do the job and we are the only nation that is willing to accept the penalty in terms of a permanent trade deficit.  Last week both China (incidentally lower rated than the U.S.) and Switzerland explicitly acted to limit the use of their currency for this purpose, because they aren’t willing to cede control of it to the market.

In fact what was the strongest candidate to replace the Dollar, the Euro, is taking a pummeling today despite the European Central Bank finally deciding to use their market power to limit the allowable decline in value (and consequent rise in interest) of Spanish and Italian bonds.

Yup, they’ve decided to “print” their way out and despite immediate negative impact there is no doubt that over the short and medium term the bond vigilantes, particularly those who have taken leveraged short positions, are going to get a buzz cut if not a shaving.  In other words a thoroughgoing asskicking.

Marshall Auerbeck

Even with our existing legal constraints (predicated on a now non-existent gold standard system in which we are forced to sell bonds before Treasury spends), Treasury/Fed have other tools to counteract the alleged effect of this downgrade.  Mr. Bernanke can simply call up the NY Fed and gives Mr. Dudley instructions to buy all the 10-year UST on offer to keep the US 10 year at, say 2.5%. It is an open market operation, which the Fed performs all the time. And the banks cannot lend out these reserves, so it’s not inflationary (see here for more explanation). Then, as Rob Parenteau and I have noted before, every time some so-called “bond market vigilante” tries to push it above 2.5% by shorting Treasuries, the Fed can slam their face into the concrete by having the open market desk buy the hell out of UST until the 10 year yield is back to 2.5%. Burn Fido enough times, yank his chain enough times, and like the Dog Whisperer, he gets it and stops.

Credibility, Chutzpah And Debt

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: August 7, 2011

(T)he rating agencies have never given us any reason to take their judgments about national solvency seriously. It’s true that defaulting nations were generally downgraded before the event. But in such cases the rating agencies were just following the markets, which had already turned on these problem debtors.

And in those rare cases where rating agencies have downgraded countries that, like America now, still had the confidence of investors, they have consistently been wrong. Consider, in particular, the case of Japan, which S.& P. downgraded back in 2002. Well, nine years later Japan is still able to borrow freely and cheaply. As of Friday, in fact, the interest rate on Japanese 10-year bonds was just 1 percent.



These problems have very little to do with short-term or even medium-term budget arithmetic. The U.S. government is having no trouble borrowing to cover its current deficit. It’s true that we’re building up debt, on which we’ll eventually have to pay interest. But if you actually do the math, instead of intoning big numbers in your best Dr. Evil voice, you discover that even very large deficits over the next few years will have remarkably little impact on U.S. fiscal sustainability.



The truth is that as far as the straight economics goes, America’s long-run fiscal problems shouldn’t be all that hard to fix. It’s true that an aging population and rising health care costs will, under current policies, push spending up faster than tax receipts. But the United States has far higher health costs than any other advanced country, and very low taxes by international standards. If we could move even part way toward international norms on both these fronts, our budget problems would be solved.

What the market is also telling us is that our economy sucks.  That these huge corporate earnings are largely illusionary in the absence of demand and that Washington’s austerity policy, endorsed by Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, is a flat, abject failure.

Why do you think stocks are going down and (downgraded) bonds are going up?  It’s because they are less attractive investments than the 2.48% Treasuries in a continuing Depression.

Aug 01 2011

How bad is it?

Monday Business Edition

G.D.P. Shocker: U.S. on Verge of Double-Dip Recession

Posted by John Cassidy, The New Yorker

July 29, 2011

When healthy, the American economy grows at an annual rate of close to three per cent. The Commerce Department’s latest report on the gross domestic product (pdf) shows that between April and June, it expanded at an annual rate of 1.3 per cent, and between January and March it grew at an annual rate of just 0.4 per cent. The first-quarter figure is particularly stunning. Previously, the Commerce Department had estimated growth in the period at 1.9 per cent. What is to prevent a similar downward revision to the second-quarter figures? Nobody can say.

Consumer spending, which is the driving force of the American economy-it makes up more than two thirds of G.D.P.-has stalled badly. After expanding at an annual rate of more than two per cent for the previous year and a half, it was essentially flat in the second quarter. Unless consumers spend more readily in the second half of the year, there is no prospect of an economic rebound. But with gas prices still high, unemployment ticking up again, and their elected representatives in Washington paralyzed, it seems unlikely that American families will be flocking back to the malls anytime soon.



Retail sales hardly grew at all in June. Wall Street analysts who had been predicting growth of close to three per cent for the rest of the year are now busy trimming their estimates. Industrial production, the other item that the N.B.E.R. watches closely, has also been showing weakness. The Fed’s index of industrial production declined slightly in April and May, before rising slightly in June. Manufacturing, the biggest component of industrial production, had its weakest quarter since the previous recession ended in mid-2009.



In one sense, the new G.D.P. figures are even worse than they seem. Bear in mind that they are all annualized. This means the government statisticians take the actual growth rate in the quarter and (roughly speaking) multiply it by four. Reversing the process (dividing by four) reveals that the economy expanded by just 0.1 percent in the first quarter and by roughly 0.3 per cent in the second quarter. These figures are so small as to be trivial.

Zandi (no Keynsian he) has predicted a loss of 1.1 million jobs from current policy, an analysis reinforced by Goldman Sachs.

We know what happens from implementing austerity policies in a Lesser Depression from the examples in Britain-

British Economy, After Austerity, at Zero Growth in the Past Nine Months

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Tuesday July 26, 2011 8:15 am

What’s amazing about this debt limit debate, and the headlong rush to austerity, is that we have empirical evidence of what can result, in this kind of economy, when you massively roll back spending. We even know what happens when you do that amid the threat of a debt downgrade rather than the fundamentals of the financial markets. All you have to do is look to Britain, which has never been the same since their austerity package was unveiled by the Tories.



Britain rolled back demand during a time when the economy was already weak, and they are suffering through the consequences. Instead of looking at this as a problem to be avoided, US policymakers are on the verge of emulating it. And not even in a good way: the British plan was at least somewhat balanced, with tax increases along with the spending cuts. This shows that the idea of a “balanced approach” is still flawed, because either way, you’re reducing demand during a time with a demand shortfall.

And in States

Conservative Budget Cuts Bad for State Economies

  • Bigger State Spending Cuts == Higher Unemployment Rates
    • Each 10% Cut == .04% Increased Unemployment

  • Bigger State Spending Cuts == More Private Employment Losses
    • Each 10% Cut == 1.6% Lost Private Employment

  • Bigger State Spending Cuts == Weaker Economies
    • Each 10% Cut == 1.6% Economic Contraction

State spending data are adjusted for inflation using the GDP price index. National changes have been removed from data on state unemployment rates, private payroll employment, and inflation-adjusted GDP growth to more clearly identify state-level economic performance. The analysis in the three charts weights each state’s data by population size to give a better reflection of a national average effect of cutting state government spending on economic performance. Weighting the analysis as such does not materially change the significance or size of the effect of cutting state spending.

AUSTERITY DOES NOT REDUCE THE DEFICIT OR DEBT!

Sure Cure for the Debt Problem: Economic Growth

By CATHERINE RAMPELL, The New York Times

Published: July 30, 2011

Before its economy crashed, Ireland was a star of this sort of debt reduction. In the 1980s, Ireland’s debt dwarfed its economy. Over the next two decades, though, that debt shrank to about a quarter of gross domestic product, largely because the economy went gangbusters.

“Ireland went from being, you know, the emerging market in a European context, to a very dynamic economy,” says Carmen Reinhart, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and co-author of “This Time Is Different,” a history of debt crises.



The same happened during the prosperous 1990s, which began with deficits and ended with surpluses. Former President Bill Clinton is often credited for that turnabout, as he engineered higher tax rates. But most economists attribute the surplus years primarily to extraordinarily rapid growth.



While it may be difficult or impossible to grow our way out of debt, the G.D.P. figures announced on Friday suggest that we could quite possibly shrink our way into bankruptcy. The austerity measures that Congress is debating would almost certainly slow growth further. That, in turn, might actually worsen the debt problem – the exact opposite of what their proponents suggest.



The problem is that reducing spending or raising taxes just now would hurt the already fragile economy. Another recession would not only be painful for ordinary Americans but would actually worsen the debt problem by reducing tax revenue.

Don’t believe it? Consider this: Of the $12.7 trillion in additional federal debt that was accumulated over the last decade, about a third came from the souring economy.

Back in the Great Depression, Washington tightened its belt with disastrous results. Congress severely reduced spending in 1937, plunging the economy back into the hole. Ultimately, that meant even more federal borrowing.

Leaving aside the moral bankruptcy of starving the poor and elderly to death while leaving the wealthiest one tenth of one pecent untouched and accelerating their robbery of the middle class, this is bad, bad, bad economic policy.

And Barack Obama and the Democrats know it.  The People know it too.

Obama Approval Drops to New Low of 40%

Similar to his approval rating for handling the debt ceiling negotiations

by Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup

PRINCETON, NJ — President Obama’s job approval rating is at a new low, averaging 40% in July 26-28 Gallup Daily tracking. His prior low rating of 41% occurred several times, the last of which was in April. As recently as June 7, Obama had 50% job approval.



Though Americans rate Obama poorly for his handling of the situation, they are less approving of how House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are handling it. Gallup does not include ratings of Congress or congressional leaders in its Daily tracking, and thus, there is no overall job approval rating of Boehner, Reid, or Congress directly comparable to Obama’s current 40% overall job approval rating.

Obama’s job approval rating among Democrats is 72%, compared with 34% among independents and 13% among Republicans. In the prior three weeks, his average approval rating was 79% among Democrats, 41% among independents, and 12% among Republicans.

Americans’ Ratings of the Economy Also More Negative Amid Stalemate

The debt crisis may be contributing to a generally sour mood for Americans that stretches beyond political ratings. For example, Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index, which is also tracked daily, averaged 49 July 2628, down 8 points in the last week and down 19 points since early July. The current index score is the worst Gallup has measured since March 2009.

The index consists of two questions, measuring Americans’ ratings of current economic conditions and their assessments of whether the economy is getting better or worse. Currently, 52% say economic conditions are poor, the highest since August 2010. And 75% of Americans say economic conditions are getting worse, a level not seen since March 2009.

Electoral victory my ass.

Jul 11 2011

Bad Policy, Bad Politics- Part 1

Monday Business Edition

Economy Faces a Jolt as Benefit Checks Run Out

By MOTOKO RICH, The New York Times

Published: July 10, 2011

Close to $2 of every $10 that went into Americans’ wallets last year were payments like jobless benefits, food stamps, Social Security and disability, according to an analysis by Moody’s Analytics. In states hit hard by the downturn, like Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Ohio, residents derived even more of their income from the government.

By the end of this year, however, many of those dollars are going to disappear, with the expiration of extended benefits intended to help people cope with the lingering effects of the recession. Moody’s Analytics estimates $37 billion will be drained from the nation’s pocketbooks this year.



“If we don’t get more job growth and gains in wages and salaries, then consumers just aren’t going to have the firepower to spend, and the economy is going to weaken,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, a macroeconomic consulting firm.

Job growth has remained elusive. There are 4.6 unemployed workers for every opening, according to the Labor Department, and Friday’s unemployment report showed that employers added an anemic 18,000 jobs in June.



Consumers account for an estimated 60 to 70 percent of the country’s economic activity, but two years into the official recovery, businesses are still complaining that people simply are not spending enough.



Because benefit payments tend to be spent right away to cover basic needs like food and rent, they provide a direct boost to consumer spending. In a study for the Labor Department, Wayne Vroman, an economist at the Urban Institute, estimated that every $1 paid in jobless benefits generated as much as $2 in the economy.

Government Aid Dissipating, Damaging Economic Performance

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Monday July 11, 2011 6:55 am

The Times story tells a simple tale, one rooted in elementary macroeconomic theory, and one which has escaped everyone in Washington. If you reduce benefits on those who have the highest propensity to spend money, that money gets taken out of the economy, and GDP suffers. And GDP has a direct bearing on unemployment. Our automatic stabilizers actually worked decently during the Great Recession. In fact, most of the stimulus went to tax cuts and beefing up those stabilizers, through aid to states and expanded benefits (in fact, too much so, as public investment in jobs was barely a sliver of the total stimulus). No doubt Republicans will see this article as some evidence of lazy Americans living on the dole, but it’s a direct result of an intelligently designed system to provide a safety net when the bottom drops out of the economy.

Herr Doktor Professor

Regular readers of this blog know that I make a big deal of the failure of interest rates to rise despite massive government borrowing. There’s a reason for that: what happens to interest rates is a key indicator of which economic model, and hence which economic policies, are right.

The Very Serious position has been that government borrowing will drive up rates, crowd out private investment, and impede recovery. A Keynes-Hicks analysis, by contrast, says that when you’re in a liquidity trap, even large government borrowing won’t drive up rates – and hence won’t crowd out private investment. In fact, it will promote private investment by raising capacity utilization and giving firms more reason to expand.



What we usually get in response to this seemingly decisive data are a series of excuses – most recently, that rates were low because the Fed was buying all the bonds. Well, that program has ended, and interest rates are still low.

More Herr Doktor Professor on excuses

The fact is, the United States economy has been stuck in a rut for a year and a half.



The truth is that creating jobs in a depressed economy is something government could and should be doing.



Our failure to create jobs is a choice, not a necessity – a choice rationalized by an ever-shifting set of excuses.

Excuse No. 1: Just around the corner, there’s a rainbow in the sky.

  • Remember “green shoots”? Remember the “summer of recovery”? Policy makers keep declaring that the economy is on the mend – and Lucy keeps snatching the football away. Yet these delusions of recovery have been an excuse for doing nothing as the jobs crisis festers.

Excuse No. 2: Fear the bond market.

  • Two years ago The Wall Street Journal declared that interest rates on United States debt would soon soar unless Washington stopped trying to fight the economic slump. Ever since, warnings about the imminent attack of the “bond vigilantes” have been used to attack any spending on job creation.

    But basic economics said that rates would stay low as long as the economy was depressed – and basic economics was right. The interest rate on 10-year bonds was 3.7 percent when The Wall Street Journal issued that warning; at the end of last week it was 3.03 percent.

Excuse No. 3: It’s the workers’ fault.

  • (I)f there really was a mismatch between the workers we have and the workers we need, workers who do have the right skills, and are therefore able to find jobs, should be getting big wage increases. They aren’t. In fact, average wages actually fell last month.

Excuse No. 4: We tried to stimulate the economy, and it didn’t work.

  • Everybody knows that President Obama tried to stimulate the economy with a huge increase in government spending, and that it didn’t work. But what everyone knows is wrong.



    What happened to the stimulus? Much of it consisted of tax cuts, not spending. Most of the rest consisted either of aid to distressed families or aid to hard-pressed state and local governments. This aid may have mitigated the slump, but it wasn’t the kind of job-creation program we could and should have had. This isn’t 20-20 hindsight: some of us warned from the beginning that tax cuts would be ineffective and that the proposed spending was woefully inadequate. And so it proved.

Neoliberal Economics has as much credibility as Stalinist Genetics.

Jun 27 2011

Monday Business Edition

Due to playing in the mud (don’t ask, trust me it’s messy), the Monday Business Edition will brought to you by c’est moi.

Consumer spending set to restrain second-quarter growth

(Reuters) – Consumer spending was flat in May, breaking a string of 10 straight months of gains, as households struggled with rising prices and automakers failed to deliver the models Americans wanted.

When adjusted for inflation, spending slipped 0.1 percent, the Commerce Department said on Monday, falling for a second straight month.

Los Angeles Dodgers file for bankruptcy

(Reuters) – The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection, blaming Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for rejecting a television deal that would have given the financially strapped baseball team a quick injection of cash.

Monday’s filing marks a dramatic attempt by Dodgers owner Frank McCourt to keep the league from seizing the storied team, which he has owned since 2004.

Jun 06 2011

Monday Business Edition

Monday Business Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Business

1 Japan’s TEPCO shares down 28% to record-low

by Miwa Suzuki,AFP

2 hrs 38 mins ago

TOKYO (AFP) – Shares in Japan’s TEPCO lost more than a quarter of their value Monday following a media report that the operator of the country’s tsunami-hit nuclear plant would log a $7 billion loss in fiscal 2011.

The stock was also hit by a reported comment by Tokyo Stock Exchange president Atsushi Saito that Tokyo Electric Power Co. should file for bankruptcy protection, a move that could hit shareholders hard.

TEPCO stock fell to 206 yen mid-morning, down 80 yen or 28.0 percent from Friday, the maximum loss allowed for one trading day. It closed a shade better at 207 yen, down 79 yen or 27.62 percent.

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