Tag Archives: International Monetary Fund

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.

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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.

Sovereign debt crisis hits record levels. Preview of United States?

A quick look at the charts shows the sovereign debt crisis has hit record levels along with European interest rates:

Greece 10-year yield:

Ireland 10-year yield:

Portugal 10-year yield:

With 10-year interest rates up at 14.9, 10.5, and 9.5 percent (and two-year rates even higher in many cases), it is hard to see how these countries can afford to pay these rates. If the United States were paying a 10% interest rate with debt about 90 percent of GDP, 9 percent of GDP and about a third of federal spending would go just to paying interest on the debt. In Greece, where debt is about 130 percent of GDP, the government is spending about 19.4 percent of GDP on interest. This is clearly unsustainable, which is why everybody expects these countries to “restructure” their debts, a euphemism for defaulting and paying back less than they owe. This expectation is a self-fulfilling prophecy because it pushes rates even higher.

With the situation in the United States only marginally better, how long before rates rise here and the U.S. defaults? Best to cut spending now, when we have a choice, than later when interest rates rise and the government has to divert spending to interest payments.

Sovereign debt crisis: Here we go again.

Moody’s cuts Greece rating, stokes debt fears:

Moody’s Investors Service cut Greece’s sovereign-debt rating Monday by three notches to B1, infuriating the Greek government and temporarily denting the euro amid renewed worries about the ability of Greece and other debt-loaded euro-zone governments to avoid default.

The ratings agency, which also assigned a negative outlook to Greece’s ratings, highlighted the government’s difficulties with revenue collection and noted a risk that Athens might not meet the criteria for continued support from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union after 2013.

That could result in a voluntary restructuring of existing debt, the ratings agency said.

[…] The spread on Greek five-year credit default swaps widened 27 basis points to 1,010 basis points, according to data provider Markit. A basis point is 1/100th of a percentage point.

That means it would cost $1.01 million annually to insure $10 million of Greek debt against default for five years, up from $983,000 on Friday.

[…] The yield on Greek 10-year government bonds rose to 12.12% Friday, moving back above the 12% level for the first time since January, Jenkins noted, while the two-year spread had hit 15.22%.

It’s not just Greek yields that are rising. Portugal’s 10-year yield is hitting new highs. Many suspect that Portugal will be the next domino to fall, followed by Spain, and then Italy. Italy’s yield is also hitting new highs.

And the sovereign debt crisis continues, just as I’ve been saying it would

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.

Ready for round three of the sovereign debt crisis?

First came Greece. Next was Ireland. Next up may be Portugal.

Portugal under pressure to seek EU/IMF aid

Pressure is growing on Portugal from Germany, France and other euro zone countries to seek financial help from the EU and IMF to stop the bloc’s debt crisis from spreading, a senior euro zone source said on Sunday.

Some preliminary discussions on the possibility of Portugal asking for help if its financing costs on markets become too high have taken place since July, the source said.

No formal talks on aid have started yet, a number of euro zone sources said, but the pressure was rising in the Eurogroup, which brings together euro zone finance ministers.

“France and Germany have indicated in the context of the Eurogroup that Portugal should apply for help sooner rather than later,” the senior source said, adding Finland and the Netherlands had expressed similar views.

The article continues that Portugal and Germany are denying all the above, but then points out that this was the case before Ireland got its bailout. The article then returns to reality.

The growing pressure on Lisbon follows a sharp rise in Portuguese 10-year bond yields at the end of last week to euro lifetime highs above 7 percent, as investors worried about the prospect of up to 1.25 billion euros of bond supply it will offer at an auction on Wednesday.

The yield of five-year Portuguese bonds on the secondary market is 6.43 percent and 10-year paper trades at 7.26 percent. Economists say a key question for Portugal is how long it can sustain the high yield levels, and the auction will be an important gauge of that.

Portugal and the EU can fight reality for only so long. In all likelihood, the bond market will force Portugal to get help. And then it will force Spain and Italy to do so. Belgium may also need help if they can’t form a government. With the at-risk economies slowing due to austerity and countries like Germany and France giving free money to them, even those countries will be in economic trouble.

How long will Germany and France give away their money to others instead of saving it for themselves? How much longer will the Euro last?