Tag Archives: European Central Bank

Repeating history: The future of Greece, Europe, and the United States.

I’m rereading The Path to Tyranny to prepare it for a second printing and came across this section about Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s (before the Nazis took over) very relevant for today:

The country’s economic problems worsened and the government approached bankruptcy. To reduce the budget deficit, the government raised unemployment insurance premiums, increased duties on wheat and barley, reduced pension and unemployment benefits, and cut the salaries of civil servants. The Social Democratic Party’s popularity declined even more when these measures pushed up unemployment even further and weakened the already fragile banking system. The government was trapped in a no-win situation. It cut back on spending to avoid bankruptcy, but this increased hardship on the people and reduced the government’s popularity. On the other hand, the government could have continued providing welfare to the people, but this would likely have forced Germany to default on its debt, which would have resulted in massive inflation and a flight of capital out of the country. The German government’s large deficits, which were the result of the economic depression combined with Germany’s already semi-socialist economy, forced Germany to decide between two equally bad choices. The resulting economic and political crisis was inevitable, regardless of what the government chose to do.

Are we in the same no-win situation today? If governments cut back on spending, this reverse-stimulus will hurt the economy and the removal of economic support will certainly increase the pain for many poor people. However, if the government continues with its deficit spending, bankruptcy will eventually occur, first in Greece which already has debt to GDP of 173%, but eventually in most if not all Western countries.

There is something rotten in the state of Greece. Also in Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy.

Europe is patting itself on the back as they supposedly work out a fix for Greece. Basically, Greece will get billions more Euros in exchange for spending cuts. As a result, Greek interest rates fell slightly, though they are still very very high.

Greece 10-year interest rate:

Greece 2-year interest rate:

Great job Greece and Europe! The 10-year interest rate in Greece is now only 16.81%. And the 2-year rate is down to 29.38%. A job well done, indeed!

But wait a second there Europe. Don’t drink your champagne just yet. What about the rest of Europe?

Ireland 10-year interest rate:

Portugal 10-year interest rate:

Spain 10-year interest rate:

Italy 10-year interest rate:

Very puzzling. Why are those interest rates rising to record highs if you solved the problem? I’m starting to think you don’t know what you’re doing.

In case you thought the sovereign debt crisis was over: “Portugal yields soar, underline euro worries”

The sovereign debt crisis is back! Actually, it never went away…

Portugal yields soar, underline euro worries
ECB comes off THE sidelines to buy Portuguese bonds

Proving that the euro zone’s sovereign-debt crisis is yet to be vanquished, yields on Portuguese government bonds continued to climb to levels viewed as unsustainable on Thursday, prompting the European Central Bank to intervene.

Yields on the 10-year bonds soared to a euro-era high of more than 7.6% at one point Thursday morning, according to strategists. The European Central Bank later intervened to buy Portuguese bonds, several analysts said, after staying out of the markets amid relative calm in recent weeks.

Read the rest of the article here…

Portugal ready for its bailout?

In a follow-up to yesterday’s “Ready for round three of the sovereign debt crisis?Marketwatch is covering the Portugal story. Here’s the lead:

Portugal remained in the spotlight Monday as Lisbon fought intensifying speculation that it would be forced to become the third euro-zone nation to seek a fiscal bailout due to rising borrowing costs.

News reports over the weekend and on Monday said the Portuguese government was under pressure from European Union partners to tap the rescue fund established by the EU and the International Monetary Fund in hopes such a move would quell the ongoing turmoil in European sovereign-debt markets.

Portugal has continued to insist that it won’t need aid but a key test looms on Wednesday when the government attempts to sell between 750 million and 1.25 billion euros ($936 million and $1.6 billion) of three- and nine-year bonds.

Now the part I find most relevant:

The yield on 10-year Portuguese government bonds pressed above the 7% threshold on Friday to trade around 7.14% and likely would have jumped even higher had the European Central Bank not been an apparent buyer of Portuguese bonds, analysts said.

It took Greece 16 days and Ireland 20 days to request EU/IMF aid after their 10-year yields breached the 7% level, said Gary Jenkins, head of fixed income at Evolution Securities. He noted that Portugal has been through the 7% barrier previously and then saw yields retract somewhat.

The cost of insuring Portuguese government debt against default via credit default swaps continued to rise Monday, with the spread of five-year swaps widening by 12 basis points to a record 555 basis points, according to data provider Markit.

A bailout of Portugal could be imminent. But Portugal is a small country and not likely to have any major impact. However, this will only further push Spain and Italy toward bailouts.

And let’s not forget Belgium either:

King Albert II of Belgium on Monday called on the country’s caretaker government to write a new budget in an effort to calm worries the nation will be unable to meet its budget goals, The Wall Street Journal reported. The nation has been left without a formal government since a June election due to disagreements between politicians from the Dutch-speaking north and the French-speaking south. The yield premium demanded by investors to hold 10-year Belgian debt widened by 12 basis points to around 138 basis points, or 1.38 percentage points, the report said, near record levels seen in November. The king asked current Prime Minister Yves Leterme to draft a 2011 budget with a deficit below the 4.1% of gross domestic product agreed with the European Commission last year, the report said.

Europe is a total mess, not that the US is much better. So far, everything that has been done has been stop-gap. Countries with 12 percent deficits propose reducing them to 5 percent. Countries with debt of more than 100 percent of GDP have no plan to reduce them. These countries are only proposing to reduce the rate of decline, but not stop it nor turn things around. Until I see countries with plans to reduce the size of government and balance their budgets, I will continue to worry and write about the sovereign debt crisis and the economic doom it will cause if not addressed.

Ireland was no bastion of capitalism. Here’s what went wrong!

With Ireland sinking under a huge pile of debt, the socialist liberal left points out that Ireland, with its low taxes and supposedly unregulated banking system, is suffering from the excesses of capitalism. Liberals never waste an opportunity to convince you with pleasant-sounding lies.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of where the Irish and European governments, not capitalism, went wrong.

Minimum Wage

AP reports:

Ireland’s 140-page National Recovery Plan proposes to introduce property and water taxes, raise the sales tax from its current rate of 21 percent to 22 percent in 2013 and to 23 percent in 2014, and cut the minimum wage by euro1 to euro7.65 ($10.20).

So Ireland’s minimum wage was 8.65 Euros or $11.46. The minimum wage in the United States is just $7.25 with some states and cities imposing higher rates (the state of Washington has a $8.55 minimum wage, San Francisco is $9.79, and Santa Fe is $9.85) all of which are much lower than Ireland old $11.46 rate and its new $10.20 rate. With Purchasing Power nearly the same in Ireland as in the United States, the minimum wage there was 58 percent higher than in the US.

While everybody talks about Ireland’s extremely low corporate tax rate, much of that benefit was offset by this too high minimum wage. And the minimum wage did not just affect those at the low end of the wage scale. A minimum wage raises costs throughout the economy forcing employees to demand higher wages even at the higher end of the wage scale.

Liberals may argue that capitalism doomed Ireland to failure, but these high minimum wages are most certainly anti-capitalist.

Low interest rates

For years, the Irish economy was hot, earning the nickname Celtic Tiger. Wikipedia explains:

From 1995 to 2000 GNP rate growth ranged between 6 and 11% through 2001 and early 2002 to 2%. The rate then rose back to an average of about 5%. During that period the Irish GDP rose dramatically to equal then eventually surpass that of all but one state in Western Europe.

This economic growth led to speculative excess which led to inflation:

Inflation brushed 5% per annum towards the end of the ‘Tiger’ period, pushing Irish prices up to those of Nordic Europe, even though wage rates are roughly the same as in the UK.

Also:

Rising wages, inflation and excessive public spending led to a loss of competitiveness in the Irish economy. Irish wages are now substantially above the EU average, particularly in the Dublin region. These pressures primarily affect unskilled, semi-skilled, and manufacturing jobs. Outsourcing of professional jobs is also increasing, with Poland in 2008 gaining several hundred former Irish jobs from the accountancy division of Philips and Dell in January 2009 announced the transfer from Ireland, of 1700 manufacturing jobs, to Poland.

Much of this inflation and rising wages can be attributed to the high minimum wage discussed above. But where was the central bank to deal with this rising inflation?

When Ireland joined the Euro, it lost control of its monetary policy. Normally, a central bank would raise rates and decrease the money supply to fight inflation. But while Ireland was growing quickly, the rest of Europe struggled through most of the 1990s and 2000s with low growth rates and high unemployment. Thus, the European Central Bank (ECB) kept rates low in an attempt to promote growth. As a result, through no choice of its own, Ireland had a loose monetary policy at the exact time it needed a monetary tightening. Thus, Ireland’s economy, most notably its property market and banking system, experienced a huge bubble. We are now suffering the consequence of those previous excesses.

In a true free-market capitalist system, interest rates would have risen through investors’ demand and this would have slowed or stopped the Irish bubble. But the artificial government Euro system prevented this important market process from occurring.

Conclusion

Yes, Ireland was more capitalist than most. But errors like the above led the country to excess and then collapse.

Portugal and Spain deny need for aid, but it doesn’t matter what they think or say.

Even if the MSM and government officials did not see this coming, you and I certainly did.  Marketwatch reports:

Portuguese and Spanish officials scrambling Friday to head off speculation that Lisbon or Madrid could soon be forced to seek help to meet their borrowing needs.

A spokesman for the Portuguese government said a report in the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper — that Lisbon was under pressure from the European Central Bank and a majority of euro-zone countries to seek a bailout in order to ease pressure on Spain — was “totally false,” news reports said.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in a radio interview that he “absolutely” ruled out a rescue for Spain, saying the nation’s deficit-reduction measures were well under way and that the economy, while still weak, has touched bottom.

OK, so Portugal and Spain continue to deny their need for a bailout or loans from the EU or IMF. Nothing new there. But the market disagrees:

The yield premium demanded by investors to hold 10-year Spanish bonds over German bunds widened to a record 2.63 percentage points as Spain’s 10-year yield continued to climb above 5.10%.

The cost of protecting Portuguese and other peripheral euro-zone sovereign debt against default through credit default swaps, or CDS, continued to rise.

The spread on five-year Portuguese CDS widened by 20 basis points to 500 basis points, according to data provider Markit. That means it would cost $500,000 annually to insure $10 million of Portuguese debt against default for five years, up from $480,000 on Thursday.

The euro fell to a two-month low versus the dollar to change hands at $1.3236 in recent action.

Portugal, with 10-year bond yields above 7%, was long seen as the next most likely candidate to seek a bailout after Ireland. Borrowing costs under the EFSF are seen at around 5% to 6% over three years.

Uh oh! As I wrote in a previous post:

Spain, Portugal, and Italy may not be in trouble, but if people start thinking they are “at risk,” they’ll withdraw their funds and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Technically speaking, Portugal and Spain may not need help right now, but they will most certainly need help if interest rates rise too much. But the report continues:

News reports, meanwhile, said that Germany this week rejected a suggestion by the European Commission to double the size of Europe’s 440 billion euro ($588 billion) bailout fund for euro-zone governments. The euro-zone contribution is part of the total €750 billion rescue program put in place with the International Monetary Fund in the spring.

Will Europe be willing and able to bail out Spain if it comes to that? Germany appears to be having second thoughts. Why should Germany waste its money bailing out another country? More so, how much money did Spain contribute to the bailouts of Greece and Ireland as part of the EU, money it no longer has to fix its own problems? Germany may want to keep its cash just in case it needs it.

In fact, Germany is one of the best fiscal situations in the entire world. Yet even it is balking. As Margaret Thatcher reported said, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Ireland and Greece have used up much of Europe’s money and good will. Now, there is a lot less left for Portugal and Spain.

Good luck Europe.

Irish bailout in perspective. Hello Weimar Republic.

According to this article:

Lenihan said Ireland needed less than euro100 billion ($140 billion) to use as a credit line for its state-backed banks, which are losing deposits and struggling to borrow funds on open markets.

Ireland has been brought to the brink of bankruptcy by its fateful 2008 decision to insure its banks against all losses — a bill that is swelling beyond euro50 billion ($69 billion) and driving Ireland’s deficit into uncharted territory.

To put this in perspective, Ireland has approximately 4.5 million citizens. So Irish banks have already lost about $15,333 per person and Ireland will be receiving a credit line of up to $31,111 per person.

<Sarcasm> Good thing the EU and IMF do not actually have to produce and sell any goods to provide these funds. God bless the power of printing money out of thin air and dropping it from helicopters. If the EU, IMF, and Federal Reserve didn’t have these powers, we’d be seeing a financial crisis the likes of which we have not seen in generation. <End Sarcasm>

We always joke about our government fiddling while Rome burns. But in this case, the government is actually doing something. Too bad it is the wrong something. Instead of throwing water on the fire, they are putting piles of paper money onto the fire. And as we learned from the Weimar Republic, paper money burns just as well as firewood, but is much cheaper.