Yesterday, I wrote up a piece at the New York Times’ Room for Debate forum about the legacy that Tim Geithner left behind, given his recent memoir “Stress Test”. The question was : “Did the government miss a historic opportunity to reshape the financial system — or was its moderate approach correct?” I recommend you read the other answers from […]
In 2012, I started the subscriber newsletter out with Ten Surprises for 2012. The goal was to give Credit Writedowns Pro subscribers a list of things that investors only assigned one in three odds of occurring that I believed had a fifty percent or better chance of occurring. So if I was right, then I should get 5 out of ten predictions correct, while 3 to 4 out of ten should have been expected by investors. Last year, I graded myself at 7-3. Let’s see how I did this year.
In the links today, the biggest threads outside of the NSA scandal were on Greece and Europe. I believe the economy there is bottoming and I want to discuss some of the news flow. There was also a rate decision by the Japanese central bank that was met with disappointment. Let’s put this into context regarding the viability of Abenomics.
The data flow out of Europe today is pretty bad. German factories orders missed and unemployment rose to record levels in France and Greece. Meanwhile the IMF admitted that Greece’s delayed debt restructuring “provided a window for private creditors to reduce exposures and shift debt into official hands.” Does any of this change my bullish bias on Europe’s economy? No, I believe Europe will exit recession at some point in the second half of 2013.
Last year, we saw a sea change in official German policy regarding the euro crisis and inflation. The German government came out in favour of accepting higher inflation domestically in Germany as a sacrifice for eurozone wage and price adjustments to help alleviate crisis. The question is whether this matters. I believe it does, but only in part.
Portugal is going to market with a 10-year sovereign bond issue, its first since 2011. I think this is a pretty big deal. Think of it as a complete return to public market access for the Portuguese government, one of the critical pre-conditions for an OMT-style bailout. This is a Herculean achievement by the Portuguese that I did not believe the Portuguese could pull off just three months ago. Ironically, I would credit the deposit tax in Cyprus for this turn of fortune. I will explain why below.
I have been saying for some time now that Germany is concerned about its own public finances. So it is good to see that Angela Merkel is now confirming this. According to the Telegraph, Merkel believes that Germany simply doesn’t have the economic strength to launch a stimulus package to counteract the austerity now ongoing elsewhere in the periphery. This is significant because it drives not just the adjustment process in Europe but also the perceived need for bail-ins and private sector involvement.
A recent ECB household-wealth survey was interpreted by the media as evidence that poor Germans shouldn’t have to pay for southern Europe. This column takes a look at the numbers. Whilst it’s true that median German households are poor compared to their southern European counterparts, Germany itself is wealthy. Importantly, this wealth is very unequally distributed, but the issue of unequal distribution doesn’t feature much in the press. The debate in Germany creates an inaccurate perception among less wealthy Germans that transfers are unfair.
In all of the bailed out nations of the euro zone, sovereign default is the worry as this can create a cascading knock-on effect like the failure of Creditanstalt in 1931 that ushered in the banking crisis of the Great Depression. We see this from the default in Greece, which led to bank insolvency in Cyprus and now threatens to bankrupt the sovereign as well. These kinds of cascades of bankruptcy is what Europe is desperately trying to avoid. The question then is what to do about it.
I was on BNN’s Headline with Howard Green yesterday talking about the Fed’s QE program. I said that QE would be tapered and I believe it will likely end at the end of this year if the economy does not slip into recession. This is the timetable I felt was likely when I last spoke to BNN about QE a couple of months ago when commenting on Bill Gross’ view that QE would last through at least 2013.
The European Union is an existential crisis because its crowning achievement, the single currency, has come under assault from all sides. The continued existence of the Euro has even been called into question as country after country within the euro zone has been forced into bailouts and austerity. The heart of the problem is, as elsewhere in the industrialized world, stems from the unseemly growth in private credit that preceded the financial crisis in 2008 and the private debt overhang that accompanied that credit growth, even in the aftermath of extensive asset price deflation. Put simply, many private sector households and businesses across the industrialized world are upside down, in negative equity, bust by common definitions of balance sheet solvency. And the result has been and continues to be crisis.
Depositors in Eurozone banks are facing a steep learning curve on just exactly what deposit insurance means. This column points out that the precedents set in Cyprus and Iceland show that deposit insurance is only a legal commitment for small bank failures. In systemic crises, these are more political than legal commitments, so the solvency of the insuring government matters. A Eurozone-wide deposit-insurance scheme would change this.