Tag Archives: Eurozone

Euro Leaders Ready For Another Vacation.

Europe is on the brink again. The region’s debt crisis flared today, as fears intensified that Spain would be next in line for a government bailout.

 

A recession is deepening in Spain, the fourth-largest economy that uses the euro currency, and a growing number of its regional governments are seeking financial lifelines to make ends meet. The interest rate on Spanish government bonds soared in a sign of waning market confidence in the country’s ability to pay off its debts.

 The prospect of bailing out Spain is worrisome for Europe because the potential cost far exceeds what’s available in existing emergency funds. Financial markets are also growing uneasy about Italy, another major European economy with large debts and a feeble economy.

Stocks today,  fell sharply across Europe and around the world. The euro slipped just below $1.21 against the dollar, its lowest reading since June 2010. The interest rate on its 10-year bond hit 7.56 percent in the morning, its highest level since Spain joined the euro in 1999.

Spain’s central bank said today that the economy shrank by 0.4 percent during the second quarter, compared with the previous three months. The government predicts the economy won’t return to growth until 2014 as new austerity measures hurt consumers and businesses.

On top of that, Spain is facing new costs as a growing number of regional governments ask federal authorities for assistance. The eastern region of Valencia revealed Friday it would need a bailout from the central Madrid government. Over the weekend, the southern region of Murcia said it may also need help.

Spain has already required an emergency loan package of up to €100 billion ($121 billion) to bail out its banks. But that aid hasn’t quelled markets because the government is ultimately liable to repay the money. It had been hoped that responsibility for repayments would shift from the government to the banks. But that shift is a long way off — a pan-European banking authority would have to be created first and that could be years away.

Yet it is far more than Spain’s struggle that has unnerved markets.

Greece is still struggling with a mountain of debt and international creditors will visit the country tomorrow to check on the country’s attempts to reform its economy. There is concern that officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund will find that Greece is not living up to the terms of its bailouts and could withhold future funds.

Italy has also been caught up in fears that it may be pushed into asking for aid. Italy’s economy is stagnating and markets are worried that it may soon not be able to maintain its debt burden of €1.9 trillion ($2.32 trillion) — the biggest in the Eurozone after Greece. Interest rates on Italy’s government bonds rose steeply Monday while its stock market dropped 2.76 percent.

The collapse in stock prices in Italy and Spain prompted regulators to introduce temporary bans on short-selling — a practice where traders sell stocks they don’t already own in the hope they can make a profit if the stock falls in price.

Pascal Lamy, director of the World Trade Organization, said after a meeting with French President Francois Holland that the situation in Europe is ‘‘difficult, very difficult, very difficult, very difficult.’’

Ireland, Greece and Portugal have already taken bailout loans after they could no longer afford to borrow on bond markets. Yet those countries are tiny compared to Italy and Spain, the third- and fourth-largest economies in the Eurozone. Analysts say a full bailout for both could strain the other Eurozone countries’ financial resources.

Spain has already received a commitment of up to €100 billion from other Eurozone countries to bail out its banks, which suffered heavy losses from bad real estate loans. Eurozone finance ministers signed off on the aid Friday and said €30 billion would be made available right away. But that incremental step cuts little ice with investors. If Spain’s borrowing rates continue to rise, the government may end up being locked out of international markets and be forced to seek a financial rescue.

 ‘‘Events since Friday have been a clear wake-up call to anyone who thought that the Spanish bank rescue package had bought a calm summer for the euro crisis,’’ analyst Carsten Brzeski said.

The Eurozone’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, has only €500 billion in lending power, with €100 billion potentially committed to Greece. Italy and Spain together have debt burdens of around €2.5 trillion. And the ESM hasn’t yet been ratified by member states plus Eurozone governments have made it clear they won’t put more money into the pot.

 

That once again pushes the European Central Bank into the frontline against the crisis.

On Saturday, Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo pleaded for help, saying that only the European Central Bank could halt the panic. But the ECB has shown little willingness to restart its program to purchase the government bonds of financially troubled countries. The central bank has already bought more than €200 billion in bonds since May 2010, with little lasting impact on the crisis.

The central bank has also cut its benchmark interest rates to a record low of 0.75 percent in the hope of kick-starting lending. Yet many economists question how much stimulus this provides as the rates are already very low — and no one wants to borrow anyway.

There has been speculation the ECB could eventually have to follow the Bank of England and the U.S. Federal Reserve and embark on a program of ‘‘quantitative easing’’ — buying up financial assets across the Eurozone to increase the supply of money. That could assist governments by driving down borrowing costs as well.

But so-called QE is fraught with potential legal trouble for the ECB — a European treaty forbids it from helping governments borrow.

In the case of Greece, the country is dependent on foreign bailout loans to pay its bills. A cutoff of aid over its inability to meet the loan conditions would leave it without any source of financing — and could push it to exit the euro so it can print its own money to cover its debts. Really?

 

Germany’s economy minister, Phillip Roesler, said the prospect of Greece leaving the euro was now so familiar it had ‘‘lost its horror’’ and that he was skeptical Athens would meet conditions for continuing rescue money.

The deteriorating situation follows a summit June 28-29 that many hoped would convince markets political leaders were getting a handle on things. The summit agreed on easier access to bailout money and to set up a single banking regulator that could take the burden of bank bailouts off national governments. Yet many of those changes will take months or years to introduce — and there has been no increase in bailout money.

It is an echo of a similar summit in July 2011, when leaders agreed on a second bailout and debt reduction for Greece, only to see borrowing costs spike dramatically as leaders headed off for August vacations.

Stephen Lewis, chief economist at Monument Securites Ltd, said that ‘‘events are following a pattern often repeated in the course of the Eurozone’s troubles, in which the powers-that-be hail progress only to see confidence, almost instantaneously, plumb fresh depths.’’

Must be time for another vacation, I guess.


How Much Trouble Could Big Banks Be In? Lots!

The future of the Euro and the Eurozone is bleak and will likely look like a series of prolonged, rolling crises that slowly evolve to reveal just how critically the financial health of each country is affected by their individual sovereign debt and their failing banks.

The inevitable result will be severe Eurozone-wide stress, emergency liquidity loans from the IMF and the European Central Bank and politicians from all the countries involved increasingly attacking each other  over allegations of blame and corruption. To no good end.

Even the optimists now say openly that Europe will only solve its problems when there are no options left and time has run out. Less optimistic analysts increasingly think that the Eurozone will break up because all the proposed solutions are essentially Pollyannaish jokes. Let’s say the realists are right, and Europe starts to dissolve. Markets, investors, regulators and governments can stop worrying about interest-rate and credit risk, and start worrying about dissolution risk.

More importantly, they need to start worrying seriously about what the repricing of risk will do to the world’s thinly capitalized and highly leveraged megabanks. European officials, strangely, appear not to have thought about this at all; the Group of 20 meeting last week seemed to communicate a weird form of complacency and calm.

So, for all of the European officials and the U.S. bankers, here’s what dissolution risk means:  If you have a contract that requires you to be paid in euros and the euro no longer exists, what you will receive is not real clear. See? That’s dissolution risk.

Let’s say you have lent 1 million euros to a German bank, payable three months from now. If the euro suddenly ceases to exist and all countries revert to their original currencies, then you would probably receive payment in deutsche marks. You might be fine with this — and congratulate yourself on not lending to an Italian bank, which is now paying off in lira.

But what would the exchange rate be between new deutsche marks and euros? How would this affect the purchasing power of the loan repayment? More worrisome, what if Germany has gone back on the deutsche mark but the euro still exists — issued by more inflation-inclined countries? Presumably you would be offered payment in the rapidly depreciating euro. If you contested such a repayment, the litigation could drag on for years.

What if you lent to that German bank not in Frankfurt but in London? Would it matter if you lent to a branch (part of the parent) or a subsidiary (more clearly a British legal entity)? How would the British courts assess your claim to be repaid in relatively appreciated deutsche marks, rather than ever-less- appealing euros? With the euro depreciating further, should you wait to see what the courts decide? Or should you settle quickly in hope of recovering half of what you originally expected?

What if you lent to the German bank in New York, but the transaction was run through an offshore subsidiary, for example in the Cayman Islands? Global banks are extremely complex in terms of the legal entities that overlap with business units. Do you really know which legal jurisdiction would cover all aspects of your transaction in the currency formerly known as the euro?

Moving from relatively simple contracts to the complex world of derivatives, what would happen to the huge euro-denominated interest-rate swap market if euro dissolution is a real possibility? Guess what? No one really knows.

But, what I am really talking about here is the balance sheets of the really big banks. For example, in recently released filings with banking regulators, JPMorgan Chase & Co. revealed that $50 billion in losses could hypothetically bring down the bank. JPMorgan’s total balance sheet is valued, under U.S. accounting standards, at about $2.3 trillion. But U.S. rules allow a more generous netting of derivatives — offsetting long with short positions between the same counterparties — than European banks are allowed. HA!

The problem is that the netting effect can be overstated because derivatives contracts often don’t offset each other precisely. Worse, when traders smell trouble at a bank that has taken on too much risk, they tend to close out their derivatives positions quickly, leaving supposedly netted contracts exposed. Remember the final days of Lehman Brothers?

When one bank defaults and its derivatives counterpart does not, the failing bank must pay many contracts at once. The counterpart, however, wouldn’t provide a matching acceleration in its payments, which would be owed under the originally agreed schedule. This discrepancy could cause a “run” on a highly leveraged bank as counterparties attempt to close out positions with suspect banks while they can. The point is that the netting shown on a bank balance sheet can paper over this dynamic. And that means that JPMorgan’s regulatory filings vastly understate the potential danger.

JPMorgan’s balance sheet, using the European method isn’t $2.3 trillion, but closer to $4 trillion. That would make it the largest bank in the world. Holy Moly!

What are the odds that JPMorgan would lose no more than $50 billion on assets of $4 trillion, much of which is complex derivatives, in a euro-area breakup, an event that would easily be the biggest financial crisis in world history? Slim. And, None.

No one on these shores seems to see the storm coming. In an effort to forestall the impending global crisis, the Federal Reserve should be insisting that big U.S. banks increase their capital levels by suspending dividends, and set up emergency liquidity facilities with an emergency and across-the-board suspension of dividend payments, but it won’t. The Fed is convinced that its recent stress tests show U.S. banks have enough capital even though these tests didn’t model serious euro dissolution risk and the effect on global derivatives markets.

The Fed is dead wrong about that, and the pending Euro-crisis is very real. Our mega-banks are in no position to weather even the known storm, let alone the real storm when all the European counter-parties pony up to the bar with their real exposures, and the true sovereign debt gets exposed. Then, what do you think that means for smaller banks? 

How do you think that might affect the U.S. economic recovery? What is gold trading at? $1,575 an ounce?  Hmmmm.


Investors: Are You Kidding Me?

I don’t have a clue as to why the Dow is still trading above 12,000. The global economy in 2013 looks awful.

The Eurozone crisis is worsening, heavy-handed, almost emotionally-driven fiscal austerity measures are deepening recessions in most member countries, continuing high oil prices and a severe credit crunch are completely undermining any prospects for recovery.

And, I am an OPTIMIST!

The Eurozone banking system is turning into isolated stovepipes as cross-border and interbank credit lines are cut off and capital flight continues. Greece’s upcoming disorderly exit from the Eurozone will create a huge, apocalyptic bank run. I have only used “apocalyptic” once once in 370 posts.

Spanish and Italian interest rate spreads are back to their ridiculous and unsustainable levels, and the Eurozone appears to need not just an international banking bailout (as happened recently in Spain) but a sovereign bailout as well. Smart money says the Eurozone goes full bore into a disorderly exit from itself in 2013.

Back at home, the US economic performance is weakening, with first-quarter growth a ridiculous 1.9%. Job creation stalled in April and May, and it is probable that the rate could completely stall out by year end. We have talked about why jobs aren’t coming back before. There is the real risk of a double-dip recession next year, as tax increases and a continuing housing market disaster will reduce growth in disposable income, consumption and confidence. Doesn’t matter who gets elected in November.

Political gridlock will continue. There will be fights over the debt ceiling, student loans, the JOBS act, fiscal policy and taxes. There will be new rating downgrades and this time, a real risk of a government shutdown, which will further depress consumer and business confidence, reduce spending and accelerate a flight to safety that should knock the Dow down to below 8,000.

China, is actually a mess. Their growth model is totally unsustainable, their leadership is way too slow in accelerating structural reforms, and its investments are heading underwater. Leadership must reduce national saving and increase consumption, but politics and a difficult leadership transition will result in policy that does too little, and does it way too late. And, how many women do you see here?

We are all tied together now on this little planet. The Global economic slowdown will create a massive drag on growth in emerging markets, given their trade and financial links with the US, China and the European Union. At the same time, government intractability in emerging markets, and a collective surge towards greater state capitalism, will slow the pace of growth and will reduce their resiliency.

If all of that isn’t freaky enough, consider the long-simmering tensions in the Middle East between Israel and the US on one side, and Iran on the other, on the issue of nuclear proliferation. The current negotiations are likely to fail, and as we have pointed out on this blog a couple of months ago, tightened sanctions will not stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. The US and Israel will not accept negotiations, so even if the rest of the world were rosy, a military confrontation in 2013 would lead to a massive oil price spike and a global recession.

If you are a Global economic leader, you’re first response should be to shy away from risk, especially when no matter in which direction you turn, you see more and more.  So, most leaders are adopting a wait-and-see position which exasperates the slowdown and makes a Global recession largely self-fulfilling.

And, if you think that we have already seen this movie in 2009-2009, and think, so … how bad can it be? Think again. Compared to 2008-2009, when policymakers had ample space to act, monetary and fiscal authorities are running out of, or have already run out of policy bullets. Monetary policy is constrained by the proximity to zero interest rates and repeated rounds of quantitative easing. And, “Twist” is a cruel joke. Cruel, because it creates a sense that Congress is actually doing something to fix the economy when the time for fixing has come and gone.

Economies and markets no longer face liquidity problems, but rather credit and insolvency crises. Meanwhile, unsustainable budget deficits and public debt in most advanced economies have severely limited any possibilities for further fiscal stimulus.

Sovereign risk has now become bank risk. In the Eurozone, sovereigns are dumping a larger fraction of their public debt onto their banks’ balance sheet.

To try and prevent a disorderly outcome in the Eurozone is futile because of the first law of cat-herding. The current fiscal austerity needs to be implemented much more gradually, a growth contract should complement the EU’s new fiscal contract, and a fiscal union with debt mutualization (Eurobonds) should be implemented.  In addition, a full banking union, starting with Eurozone-wide deposit insurance, should be initiated, and moves toward greater political integration must be considered, even as Greece leaves the Eurozone. But, of course none of that is possible. Look no further than Germany for the answer.

Germany, understandably, resists all of these key policy measures, as it is obsessed with the credit risk to which its taxpayers would be exposed with greater economic, fiscal, and banking integration. Why on earth, should Germany carry the weight for countries who have irresponsibly led themselves into fiscal and economic policy disaster?

The Eurozone bubble may be the largest to burst, but it is not the only one threatening the global economy in 2013. Stay tuned. Sell all your equities. Stock up on canned goods and booze, and batten down the hatches.


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.


Obama Goes All Firefighter.

As much as I would like to write about all of the other crazy things that are going on, the European banking thing is the gift that keeps on giving.

Now of course, the Obama administration is stepping up efforts to push Europe to deal with this debt crisis, so that he won’t have to just 5 months prior to the election. Actually, what he is trying to avoid is dealing with the pressures on the US banking system as they build to a crescendo more like 3 months prior to the election.

If the clowns in the Romney camp had any brains, they would be building a huge media plan focused on “How Obama got us into this mess.”

So, hoping to avoid a similar disaster to 2008, the administration is holding private meetings, urging officials in the 17-nation euro zone to take swifter action to calm markets, reassure depositors about their banks’ health, and prevent some of Europe’s largest countries from suffocating under high borrowing costs and weak economic growth.

They think that the lessons learned from the 2008 financial crisis includes acting quickly and decisively to stabilize the financial system and prevent investor panic.

As an example, the administration wants Europe to use the continent’s rescue fund— now around €700 billion ($866 billion)—to provide assistance to governments struggling with soaring borrowing costs. Allowing the rescue fund to directly recapitalize banks, instead of forcing the struggling governments to borrow first from the rescue fund, would help prevent bank failures and enable the banks to continue lending, which would help support economic growth, the officials believe. Under this approach, the governments wouldn’t have to boost their own debt loads by borrowing from the fund.

How this works, by the way, is that the U.S. yells directly at the International Monetary Fund, in which it is the largest shareholder. The IMF has been urging Europe to use the rescue fund for that purpose, but the idea is opposed by Germany because they rightfully fear they will be left holding a huge bag of defaults.

The administration has also pushed Europe to build a larger rescue fund, or so-called firewall, believing a bigger war chest would ease investors’ concerns about governments beyond long-troubled Greece. But, that won’t work this time as investors are now much more cynical than they were in 2007, and they no longer trust governments to get their bailouts right.

And, to further complicate the situation, (as we have faithfully reported here) risks are rising that the financial turbulence in Spain—Europe’s fourth-largest economy—could deepen even before Greek voters go to the polls in two weeks to decide their fate in the currency union.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama and leaders from Germany, France and Italy held an hour-long videoconference to discuss the euro-zone crisis, following up on a meeting of the Group of Eight major advanced economies hosted by the White House just one week ago.

These meetings were planned before Spain’s borrowing costs shot up this week. But they underscored the administration’s rising worry about how the euro-zone crisis could drag down the weak U.S. recovery for the third straight spring.

In a Gallup poll released Thursday, 71% of Americans said they are at least somewhat concerned about the effect of the European financial crisis, but only 16% said they understood the danger to the US markets . The data suggested worries could rise as the troubles weighed on U.S. markets and gained more attention in the U.S. Among the 16% of people who said they are paying very close attention to the news about Europe’s financial situation, 95% said they are concerned. Unfortunately, that still means only 15% of the US population is concerned about this very serious and impossibly huge disaster waiting just off-shore.

What those 15% fear is that a cascading crisis across the European banking system, triggered by Spain, or Greece, or another unseen banking revelation, could cross the Atlantic and hit the U.S. financial system. As we said in a prior post, we have a $39 billion KNOWN exposure to the European banks. Almost any result imaginable will translate into less business investment and hiring and less bank lending, triggering yet another, and deeper recession.

I love him, but this one will belong exclusively to Obama. Better act NOW.


A Run On Greek Banks. What’s Next?

Last Wednesday, a senior judge was sworn in to act as a caretaker for the Greek government for 30 days while the country figures out what to do next.

Council of State head Panagiotis Pikrammenos, 67, was appointed to head Greece‘s caretaker government for a month.

He has no mandate to make any binding commitments and is just keeping the throne warm until the new election, which is scheduled for June 17. The craziness has caused major international creditors and Greeks themselves to make a run on banks, withdrawing hundreds of millions of Euros from Greek banks since the May 6 election.

About €700 million ($898 million) in deposits have left Greek banks since May 7, the day after the election, President Karolos Papoulias told party leaders after being briefed by central bank governor George Provopoulos. “The situation in the banks is very difficult,” Papoulias said according to a transcript of the meeting’s minutes released Tuesday night. “Mr. Provopoulos told me that of course there is no panic, but there is great fear which could turn into panic.”

It’s not like people are standing in lines at banks in Athens, but Greeks have been gradually withdrawing their savings over the past two years as the country’s financial crisis deepened, and either sending the money abroad or keeping it in their mattresses.

The May 6 election made it clear that the majority of Greeks refuse any and all austerity deals and would rather exit the Eurozone and revert to the Drachma.

Greece is being kept afloat by bailout loans from other Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund, and losing them would lead to state coffers running out of money, including reserves for pensions, health care and salaries. No one knows how the June elections will affect the payment of these obligations. Try to imagine being in that situation.

The Germans are hoping beyond hope that cooler heads prevail in June, but the evidence seems to be mounting that the left has most of the Greek voter sentiment, and all of the economic analysts’ reports encouraging Greece to exit the Euro is not helping. Germany and the rest of Europe will be caught holding a heavy bag and 50% of the unemployed and over-educated Greek youth will be on their way to England or Germany seeking jobs and welfare.

The stage is clearly set for a default and a disorderly exit and return to the Drachma. Then, the road may be cleared for a return to economic stability and growth, but the resulting government will definitely have a mandate to implement a socialist agenda.

Investors will undoubtedly conclude that Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland will follow Greece’s lead (why not?) and should begin a rapid and massive withdrawal of deposits from European banks.  Otherwise known as a bank run. What will the U.S. banks do in response, or in anticipation of the inevitable?

Stay tuned. It WILL be entertaining.


A Crisis of Massive Proportion.

Well, we had the obligatory G-8 meeting at Camp David last weekend,

and appropriate lip service was paid to keeping Greece in the euro zone, but the economists who are watching the continuing financial crisis in Europe are rapidly coming to two conclusions: 1) Greece is likely to abandon the common euro currency now used by 17 European countries. And 2) there will be a damaging domino effect throughout most of Europe.

One of the effects of this abandonment results from the impending Greek revival of its traditional currency, the Drachma. Salaries and prices within Greece would be converted from euros to drachmas, and the drachma would be allowed to depreciate to make the Greek economy more competitive.

The problem comes with debts that are denominated in euros, especially if the lenders are outside of Greece. These lenders would naturally resist being repaid with less valuable drachmas. However, if Greek borrowers have to repay the loans with euros, the debt would become more expensive for them to pay off after the drachma is devalued.

The most likely result therefore, is that debts to non-Greek creditors would become useless after Greece switches to the drachma.

(Shocked face here – I believe we predicted this back in January).

After all of the inevitable lawsuits, defaults, forced reductions in repayment, the lenders end up holding an empty bag and losing big money. Just as in the U.S. banking crisis of 2007-2008, once some banks lose enough money to become troubled, the contagion spreads to other banks, because they are all tethered to one another as co-parties.

The Central Bank and the IMF would step in and try to stabilize the situation, and Germany would take its lumps (and perhaps a few islands) and after a couple of years on the Drachma, Greece stabilizes itself and life goes on. Sounds ugly, but generally benign, right? Unless you happen to be a Greek, that is. But what else might happen?

Well, there is always our friend, the derivative, and it could easily set off a global chain reaction. You know derivatives, right? They are the complex, “synthetic” financial securities, which Warren Buffett famously referred to as “financial weapons of mass destruction.” And which recently caused Jamie Dimon some embarrassment and a $2B loss.

In the case of government bonds, these instruments are known as credit derivatives. They include all sorts of loans secured by bonds as well as incredibly complicated vehicles that amount to insurance policies if the bonds default, like CDS. No one really knows how much of this stuff is sloshing around the international financial system, but the total value for all types of bonds was estimated at more than $50 trillion in 2008 and has continued to grow rapidly since then.

Trouble is, if the bonds underlying these derivatives become questionable, all the derivatives become uncertain too, even if they add up to far more than the value of the bonds themselves. Moreover, some of the synthetic investments based on Greek bonds could be governed by Greek law, some by British law (if anything originated in London) and some by U.S. law (if Wall Street was involved).

What if one legal system accepts the conversion of euro loans into drachmas and another doesn’t? Everything could be thrown into the courts for months. Even worse, if synthetic investments secured by Greek bonds become untrustworthy, why would anyone trust similarly complex investments involving Spanish bonds or Italian bonds?

The result of a meltdown in the world of derivative investments could cause far more chaos than simple bond defaults, because at the very least, it would be almost impossible to figure out who owed how much to whom.

So, let’s say Greece recovers quickly, and Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal want out of the euro zone too. There is the very real possibility that Greece abandons the euro and bounces back surprisingly fast. In fact, that is exactly what we urged them to do back in January.

But, our recommendation while good for Greece, would cause another sort of disaster, potentially much, much larger than the one facing the Greeks. Both Argentina and Iceland suffered currency collapses, but after a horrible year or two, they each rebounded and were better off than if they had fought to save a failing currency. Analysts point out that both countries were big exporters of grain, meat or fish and those sales boomed after currencies were devalued.

Greece, in its own way, could profit from a similar recovery — a rebound in tourism. A 30% drop in the exchange rate might make a vacation in Greece the best deal in years. Even for Germans.

Good for Greece, but not so good for Europe and really bad for the U.S.  How could the Italian government convince its people of the need for higher taxes or the Spanish government explain soaring unemployment if Greece were obviously better off outside the euro zone? They couldn’t and wouldn’t even try. In order to remain in office, any politician worth his salt would say, “Hey. Let’s follow Greece’s lead.” Then the entire European Union would likely unravel, with Germany leading the way and with Global financial consequences many times greater than those resulting from Greece alone.

U.S banks are deeply invested in the European outcome and are in the impossible position of needing to hold their positions otherwise risk a banking panic of global proportions. The best they can do now is hope and pray, neither of which has ever been a really good strategy. However, the best you can do now is to sell all your bank stocks and watch the show safely from the sidelines.

And, what a show it is bound to be.


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.


Put A Fork In Them.

Greece is done.

The anti-austerity folks have voted, and it ain’t pretty.  The big winner of the day was the leftist anti-bailout coalition, Syriza. In the last election in 2009, it scored just 4.6%. This time it took second place with almost 17%, beating Pasok whose support base all but collapsed. This nation, punished by two years of the most drastic austerity measures in modern history, has hit out against the bailout, the political mainstream and the painful cuts that have brought Greece to its knees.

A majority has spoken and the message is clear: Rip up the “memorandum” (the bailout agreement with the IMF and the EU) read, Germany, and get rid of all immigrants. The radicals and the neo-Nazis now have the country.

So, in the next three days, the various parties have to form a new government or put on new elections and do it all over again. If anyone doesn’t see that this is a government falling into fascism without hope of civilized central discourse, then they are in denial.

And without a government in place, the next installment of Greece’s international bailout money would probably be put on hold, raising the specter of the country’s bankruptcy within weeks.

In reality, any future government here will have to – at the very least – renegotiate parts of the bailout, following the will of the majority. But the challenge will be to do so, while still ensuring Greece’s membership of the euro – something a large majority of Greeks want, according to opinion polls. That doesn’t seem possible. The opinion polls have been like this for years now, signaling a complete inability to grasp the reality of the situation. Greece needs to abide by the austerity measures of the bailout, or the Germans will withdraw and Greece will have no choice but to default and drop out of the Eurozone.

The fervor among Greeks to throw out any additional austerity measures is being fanned by  the election of France’s new Socialist President, Francois Hollande. He is openly skeptical of austerity, favoring pro-growth policies instead – the winds of change may be blowing from Paris to Athens – and may further embolden those fighting the cuts there.

Greece is where the Eurozone debt crisis began back in 2009. It remains where the problems are most acute. And now this country has been plunged into yet another period of intense instability that it – and Europe – can ill afford.

There really is no way out and the sooner Greece accepts the inevitable and cuts their losses, the better off they and the rest of Europe will be.


The Slow Train Wreck!

Greece will reap fast relief from a historic €200 billion ($266 billion) debt restructuring sealed Friday, but the default isn’t likely to end the debt-strapped country’s epic financial problems.

A panel of market participants ruled later in the day that the restructuring constitutes a credit event and would trigger insurance-like contracts that pay off if creditors suffer losses. On Friday, ratings firms Fitch and Moody’s declared Greece in default.

The restructuring will cut some €100 billion from the face value of Greece’s obligations. Yet, Greece remains mired in a long recession; unemployment is at 21%; and even after the write-off, the debt level is well in excess of a year’s economic output.

“Their problems are much greater than the solution that is in front of them,” says Pawan Malik of Navigant Capital in London. “Greece’s ability to come back to the market as a functioning and solvent sovereign is very doubtful.”

Markets aren’t hopeful, and that suggests Greece may face another restructuring—one that could well hit taxpayers of the countries that have been its rescuers.

I read this as the beginning of the end for the Eurozone – France, Spain and Italy are the next big ones to fall. This is like the Icelandic faux prosperity circa 2006, when in fact, Iceland owed more than 800% of its GDP in debt. Every penny (or Krona) went to service debt and it still couldn’t get it done. Went from darlings of International investment savvy to the crazies of finance overnight. Greece, and its people are simply screwed.

Greece said €197 billion of the €206 billion in eligible bonds would be swapped into a package of new securities. That counts both creditors who volunteered for the exchange and those who will be forced into it by the so-called collective-action clauses that Greece had inserted into most of its bonds.

A panel convened by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association determined late Friday that Greece’s use of the collective-action clauses had breached the rights of bondholders, and authorized payouts on the contracts.ISDA said an auction would be held March 19 to determine how much holders of the contracts would be paid. There is a total of $3.2 billion in outstanding contracts, after subtracting the contracts bought and sold by the same firm. The payouts would total no more than that sum. It is beginning to sound like $3.2 Billion is just chump change or rounding errors.

Greece offered the €9 billion in holdouts two weeks to change their minds. At least some of those could be pulled in by other collective-action clauses that Greece said it will try to use.

Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek finance minister, told reporters Friday that the holdouts were “naive” in thinking they would be paid in full.

For Greece, the restructuring means immediate relief. For each €100 in bonds, creditors get €15 in high-quality, short-term bonds issued by the euro zone’s rescue fund, and €31.5 in new Greek bonds that mature 11 to 30 years in the future.

The biggest immediate benefit to Greece is that its problems are put off until another day. It has a €14.5 billion bond due March 20, and it doesn’t have money to pay it.

That bond in its entirety has been forced into the swap, and Greece’s first principal payment on it will now be in 2023.

The swap also cuts Greece’s annual interest burden, which rose to about €16.4 billion last year. Greece will have less debt on which it must pay interest, and the rates are generally lower that what it has been paying.

GREECE

But the deal has costs. For one, it imposes billions in losses on Greek banks, which will need to be recapitalized, and on Greek pension funds, which will need to be replenished. And the €30 billion used to provide the cash-like bonds to creditors has to be borrowed from the rescue fund. On Friday, euro-zone finance ministers said Greece would get that, along with another loan of €5.5 billion to cover accrued interest payments to creditors.

The swap clears the way for the euro zone to approve billions more in aid loans that Greece needs to cover a persistent budget deficit.

Private creditors have agreed to tender Greek debt, paving the way for a second multi-billion euro bailout.

Euro-zone finance ministers are meeting next week in Brussels, but a senior euro-zone figure, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Friday that the path was clear for approval of fresh bailout loans for Greece.

The International Monetary Fund‘s chief, Christine Lagarde, said she would propose to the fund’s board that the IMF provide Greece with an additional €18 billion in aid loans over the next four years, on top of the €10 billion in IMF money still to be spent from the first bailout.

Perhaps most crucially, the deal makes Greece largely indebted to other euro-zone countries, and European and international institutions.The euro-zone countries, the IMF and the European Central Bank will be, by far, Greece’s largest creditors. Private bondholders will have roughly €63 billion. Thus, the bulk of any future problems in Greece will become the problems of public entities, not of financial-market players.

These public entities, to increase the chances that they will be repaid, have put Greece on a diet of fiscal austerity. That move has stunted the domestic economy.

On Friday, Greece’s statistics agency said gross-domestic product in the fourth quarter of 2011 fell 7.5% from the year-earlier period, worse than a previous estimate of 7%. Soaring unemployment has bred strong resentment of the austerity policies, and Greece faces elections as soon as this spring. Here it comes folks.

The new bonds that Greece will issue Monday to settle the exchange haven’t begun trading, but on Friday several banks were beginning to offer prices on them, according to people familiar with the matter. The bonds that mature in 2042 were initially quoted between 17% and 22% of face value, according to traders with knowledge of the matter. That suggests creditors see a high likelihood of more Greek losses.

So, bottom line is there is no way Greece can emerge nor is there any way the Eurozone can emerge still intact. I am shocked at the charade. Remember Iceland? Anybody? Huh?