Tag Archives: European Commission

EU Regulators Focus On Desk Chairs While The Titanic Sinks.

I love it. Europe is quickly falling into the financial crapper of a lifetime, and instead of focusing on ways to revive their economies and develop a central governing body, they are focused on things like this:

 

EU regulators, investigating Google for alleged anti-competitive behavior, want the internet search giant to offer concessions that cover all platforms, including computers, tablets and mobile devices, two people familiar with the issue said on Friday. What concessions?

If Google is not able to provide satisfactory concessions, it will face charges and potentially severe fines, the EU’s competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, has said.

Almunia wants remedies for all computing devices that have access to the Internet and provide a search capability, one of the people said. Remedies? For what? Where’s the damages?

Earlier this month, the world’s most popular search engine proposed concessions in a bid to settle an 18-month long investigation fueled by complaints from rivals including Microsoft. Neither Google nor the EU have said what those concessions were. Ahh, yes.

The European Commission is now examining the offer. The EU watchdog has said Google may unfairly favor other Google services over rivals and may have copied material from other websites, such as travel and restaurant reviews without permission. Then sue them.

It is also concerned that Google’s advertising deals may exclude third parties from concluding similar deals with rivals while contractual restrictions on software developers may prevent advertisers from transferring their online campaigns to rival search engines. And, what? Google should be punished for making a good deal with advertisers? These people ARE crazy.

This smells to me like a complete red herring and a way for Europe to extort some sheckles from the Googs to help with their sovereign defaults. Don’t give in, Googs. This one will go away.

 

 

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Czech’s Say, “No Thanks!”

In my earlier post this morning, I focused on the ridiculous European Commission proposal for regulators and a European banking union. Here’s what the Czechs think about that:

The Czechs, who have been highly Eurosceptic, have absolutely no plans to join the euro zone, and have a healthy banking sector, have long opposed moves to centralize banking oversight.

The Daily Hospodarske Noviny (the Czech version of the New York Times) quoted Prime Minister Petr Necas today, as saying that regulation should be kept on a national basis. “We are convinced that the very high quality supervision by the Czech National Bank should not be diluted into some pan-European supervision,” Necas said.

Czech central bank Vice Governor Vladimir Tomsik said he was against raising moral hazard in the banking sector and creating a mismatch between national responsibilities of regulators while their authority would be moved to a European level.

“And the third pillar, a pan-European deposit insurance fund: I believe that is also unacceptable, because it is not possible for other countries to pay for mistakes of individual banks or supervisors,” he said in a transcript of a television interview posted on the central bank’s website http://www.cnb.cz.

And, as we mentioned in that earlier post, the UK is violently against any such proposal. British finance minister George Osborne said today that London will want to ensure safeguards are in place to protect its financial sector if the euro zone moves towards establishing a banking union.

“There is no way that Britain is going to be part of any euro zone banking union,” Osborne said in a radio interview.

So, now we have two Eurozone participants, Germany and England, making it crystal clear that they oppose any such move, and are joined by a conservative, non-Eurozone member with a healthy banking sector, who will also be severely impacted by frivolous proposals like this one.

Who are these guys and why are they allowed to speak in public?

While it is difficult for America to step into this mess, the situation in Europe is crying out for an intervention. Bernanke, Geithner and Obama have a herculean task on their hands just wrestling the U.S. economy back into grow mode with no assistance from U.S. banks, but they really need to get involved and act before the whole union catches fire.

The potential impact of a European banking collapse goes way beyond the $39 billion exposure our U.S. banks maintain. The end-result will be chaos that will drive the entire global banking community to freeze credit of all kinds, including government and corporate bonds, the last bastion of conservative investment safety.

Either the Fed and the Administration agree that Europe can be solved by a huge stimulus influx that will be sourced in a coordinated and equal effort by the U.S., Germany, China, Korea, Japan, Middle East, The UK and the rest of Europe, both in and out of the union, or agree to let it fail and accept the global consequences. This is a lot larger problem than Lehman Brothers. Maybe we need to bring Paulsen back. He was so good at bad news.

In the very short (weeks) meantime, the Fed needs to bully/scare lawmakers into actually doing something helpful. In other words, Bernanke needs to continue pressuring Congress to act now instead of bringing the economy to a so-called fiscal cliff at the end of the year where several tax cuts could expire and the debt ceiling may need to be raised again.

If I were Bernanke, I would be yelling at Congress to do something right with fiscal policy. There can’t be any more uncertainty about the fiscal cliff at the end of the year. Democrats and Republicans have to stop playing politics and actually turn into statesmen.

The European Union itself is clearly doomed. I am starting to worry about the U.S. union as well.


European Commission Rearranges Deck Chairs As Europe Burns.

The European Commission proposed what has been characterized as far-reaching powers for regulators to deal with failing banks on Wednesday.

Is this a chilling picture? This tepid proposal, which recommends closer coordination between countries and increased powers to force losses onto bondholders, won’t take effect before 2014, which will be way too late for Greece and Spain, which appears on the brink of being forced to seek a Greek-style bailout, as it is obviously unable to refinance its indebted lenders.

Even if Europe were not on fire at the moment, there are a ton of hurdles to the banking union championed by ECB President Mario Draghi – which is basically a three-pillar plan to establish a central monitoring of banks (gee, I thought that’s what the ECB already did), a fund to wind-down big lenders (we call that a bail-out here in the U.S.) and a pan-European deposit guarantee (good luck getting anything done “pan-European” style.)

Smartly, and true to form, Germany has balked at signing up to a single European scheme that could see it shoulder the costs of a bank collapse in another country (and, why should they?), and Britain fiercely resists any attempt by Brussels to impose EU controls over financial services, which account for almost a tenth of its Wall Street like economy.

At least there are a couple of people who have noticed that Europe is burning:

Nicolas Veron of Brussels think tank Bruegel, says “Everybody’s energy right now should be focused on the current crisis. I’m not sure we can afford the luxury of thinking about a permanent framework when the houses are burning.”

Daniel Gros of the Centre for European Policy Studies think tank said while it was in everyone’s interest to prevent a repeat of the chaos that followed the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, action was needed now.

“We need immediate decisions”, he said. “We have a crisis on our hands.”

The Commission’s stupid 156-page (draft) legislation, recommends giving supervisors powers to “bail in” or force losses onto bondholders of a failing bank so that taxpayers are kept off the hook, and forge closer links between national back-up funds to wind up cross-border lenders. They can’t even move off of draft.

Are they kidding?

“There was little appetite to create pan-European funds,” he said. “There would be mistrust among states in pursuing such cooperation.”

Translation: Nothing will happen.

Berlin, recognizing the panic in the details and knowing it is firmly in the driver’s seat, is in no hurry. Germany knows that Europe will not make any final decisions on strengthening economic policy coordination between member states until at the earliest, spring of 2013.

The Centre for European Policy Studies’ Gros said only an acceleration of the crisis would prompt German Chancellor Angela Merkel into faster action.

“If it is a slow grind, where the German economy is not visibly affected, it will be hard for her to do that. It has to be so urgent that there is an emergency summit of leaders and that she returns home and says: ‘there was no choice’.”

If you knew that it would come to that, and you were Angela Merkel, what would you do?


Greece, Followed Closely By Spain.

It appears finally that Greece is about to abandon the euro and drop the charade.

The divide between the supporters of the 130 euro ($168 Billion) EU/IMF bailout and the opponents has resulted in an election that has failed to produce a central government, and a new election is planned. This of course means that the anti-austerity measure supporters won BIG.

Greece is about to run out of money (in June) and there will be no government in place to negotiate the next tranche. Investors are betting that Greece will default and withdraw from the European Union in the next few months. Spanish and Italian bond yields rose as investors fretted the political deadlock meant Greece was on track to become the first country to abandon the euro. Followed closely by Spain and Italy. Germany better start pulling its horns back in.

“We wish Greece will remain in the euro and we hope Greece will remain in the euro … but it must respect its commitments,” European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told a regular news briefing.

The prospect of national bankruptcy and a return to the drachma appeared to be slowly sinking in among Greeks, who must now choose between the pain of spending cuts demanded in return for aid and the prospect of even more hardship without the euro.

“We have to stay in the euro. I’ve lived the poverty of the drachma and don’t want to go back. Never! God help us,” said Maria Kampitsi, 70-year old pensioner, who was forced to shut her pharmacy two years ago due to the economic crisis.

“They must cooperate or we’ll be destroyed. It will be chaos. For once, they must care about us and not their own position.”

Polls suggest SYRIZA would come first if elections were held again, netting it a bonus of 50 extra seats in the 300-seat parliament and raising the odds for an anti-bailout coalition taking control of government.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Greece was in a “dreadfully difficult situation” but would pay a high price if it left the euro.

It looks grim.

While this is happening in Greece, Spanish students are protesting on Barcelona‘s elegant boulevards, public-sector wages are being cut for the second time in three years and resentment is growing against the central government and beneficiaries of bank bailouts.

Such is the daily fallout from the euro zone‘s debt crisis. Like the rest of Spain, Barcelona is looking at several years of hard grind as the country adjusts to living within its means after the collapse of a debt-financed housing bubble that has brought much of the banking sector to its knees.

Spain is more representative of the generally insidious, demoralizing nature of the crisis: austerity is sapping trust in politicians across the euro zone and fraying the social fabric as the bills for years of economic mismanagement are shared out.

“The problem is social. What are we going to do when we have 25 percent unemployment? It’s dramatic,” said Joan Ramon Rovira, head of economic studies at the Barcelona chamber of commerce.

Even though every fourth Spaniard is unemployed, job protection is being eroded. In Barcelona, capital of the northeastern region of Catalonia, hospital wards are being closed, class sizes are growing and university fees are rising.

The result is a hardening of attitudes as various groups campaign to preserve their entitlements. The crisis has also ratcheted up political tensions with Madrid as supporters of Catalan independence increasingly begrudge helping to bankroll the central government, which they feel treats them with disdain.

“Spain is a backpack that is too heavy for us to keep carrying. It’s costing us our development,” said the spokesman for Catalan President Artur Mas, Joan Maria Pique.

Spanish banks have more than 180 billion euros of sour property assets on their books, and analysts fear there is worse to come as recession triggers more corporate and mortgage defaults. Spanish banks have ignored mortgage defaults and slumping housing prices on their balance sheets, so a reading of their books is highly misleading.

House prices have fallen about 25 percent since 2007 and a Reuters poll published on Friday pointed to a further decline of more than 15 percent in 2012-2013.

Roubini Global Economics sees losses ranging from 130 billion euros to 300 billion euros and attaches a 60 percent probability to the need for a sovereign bailout followed, in 2015, by a restructuring of Spain’s debt.

Conversations in Barcelona suggest that people do understand the need for belt-tightening. Importantly, strong family ties constitute a safety net of sorts for the unemployed. But there is a sense that the sacrifices are not being fairly shared.

Felipe Aranguren, 59, who works when he can as a sociologist, rails against Spain’s “rotten” banks and wants higher taxes on the rich to pay for a “New Deal” public-works program.

Psychology student Celia Nisare Bleda, 19, fears that students from poorer families will bear the brunt of the education cuts. With every second young Spaniard out of work, she suspects that not even a degree will be enough to secure a job in Spain that pays decently.

Lots of students were going abroad in search of a better future. So would she if necessary. “With the salaries we’re likely to get, there’s no possibility of having a good life. We’ll be living all our lives like students.” Nisare Bleda said.