Saturday, August 6, 2011
You can dress it up any way you want. In the end, it's simple logic. When you borrow, as we have done over the past 30 years in order too boost GDP (and gotten less GDP for each $ borrowed each successive year), you get more in the present and less in the future. We are now in the future. It's simple exponential math. If debt grows faster than GDP, which it has for decades, then there is no way to "grow our way out of it."
At some point one is forced to stop the borrowing and pay down the debt. Of course no one tells the truth about what this actually means: an at least 10% hit to GDP as the so-called stimulus masquerading as growth disappears. Watching BBG TV last night, every single asshole they brought up was singing the "more short-term stimulus is needed" tune. Well, that's what you said in 2008! That's what you said in 2000! You can't paper over the simple fact that we are NOW facing the fact that we pulled forward demand for the past 30 years through debt-financed deficit spending, and that we actually have to pay that back now.
When you borrow, you get more in the present for less in the future. Welcome to the future.
Friday, August 5, 2011
from Zero Hedge:
Well, so much for the conspiracies. S&P has just released a scathing critique of the total chaos that this country's government has become. "The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year's wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on more comprehensive measures. It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options. In addition, the plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability." What to expect on Monday: " it is possible that interest rates could rise if investors re-price relative risks. As a result, our alternate scenario factors in a 50 basis point (bp)-75 bp rise in 10-year bond yields relative to the base and upside cases from 2013 onwards. In this scenario, we project the net public debt burden would rise from 74% of GDP in 2011 to 90% in 2015 and to 101% by 2021." And why all those who have said the downgrade will have no impact on markets will be tested as soon as Monday: "On Monday, we will issue separate releases concerning affected ratings in the funds, government-related entities, financial institutions, insurance, public finance, and structured finance sectors." Translation: unpredictable consequences: you are welcome!
Short Trades are a necessity today because the market is so choppy and unpredictable! Just 20 minutes ago, the Dow was down 200 points. Then, over 20 minutes, it rallied about 170 points. Now, its down about 70 points. Time to trade very carefully!
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
A new recession is coming soon. This is only the latest in a long series of data misses since April, that point to further trouble ahead. Dow down nearly 100 points.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
This is especially striking, given the rout in stocks today. Arlan says that people are buying grain because they don't know where else to safely stash their money.
from Agrimoney's closing market commentary:
from Zero Hedge:
And another ugly economic data point. June personal income was just released at 0.1%, on expectations of 0.2%, and down from a revised 0.2% (previously 0.3%). Personal spending was far worse than expected, coming at -0.2%, down from a revised 0.1%, and missing expectations of 0.0%. PCE Core was the last metric missing, coming at 0.1%, down from 0.2%, down from a downwardly revised 0.2%. Just as importantly, as in the case of GDP, there were major downward historical revisions: "Personal income was revised up $69.1 billion, or 0.6 percent, for 2008; was revised down $244.7 billion, or 2.0 percent, for 2009; and was revised down $167.5 billion, or 1.3 percent, for 2010. .. For 2009, downward revisions to personal interest income, to personal dividend income, and to nonfarm proprietors’ income were partly offset by upward revisions to rental income of persons and to farm proprietors’ income. For 2010, downward revisions to personal interest income, to nonfarm proprietors’ income, to supplements to wages and salaries, and to personal current transfer receipts were partly offset by upward revisions to rental income of persons, to wages and salaries, and to farm proprietors’ income." In other words, the "rental income" that offset downward income revisions came exclusively from the $50-100 billion squatters' rent annually "generated" from homeowners not paying their mortgages. End result: a surge in the savings rate to 5.4% from 5.0%, the highest since March 2011, as consumers retrench across the board.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Europe is now in austerity-mode, US cities and states are cutting back, the odds of more fiscal stimulus in the US are roughly zero, the US might (and should) lose its AAA rating, Australia is a basket case on the bursting of its property bubble, Canada has the second or third largest property bubble next to China and Australia, the bond market is targeting Italy and Spain, Brazilian defaults are soaring, China is overheating and needs to slow, yet the average economist is looking for a robust second-half. Go figure. -- Mish Shedlock, Global Economic Trend blog
It is any wonder that many Americans believe that the economic downturn is still in progress? Home prices have fallen to 2002 levels. Values have dropped nearly 50 percent in parts of Florida, California, Nevada and Arizona. Property values are also down that much in parts of troubled big cities like Detroit. Estimates are that as many as 11 million homes have underwater mortgages. Banks have inventories of as many as 2 million foreclosed homes which have not even been released to the market. Home prices could fall another 10 percent if current trends persist.
Perhaps the most powerful argument that the recession never ended or that a new one has begun is the persistence of unemployment. Fourteen million people are out of work. A third of those have been jobless for more than a year. May employment data showed the jobless rate rose unexpectedly and that the economy added only 58,000 jobs. Experts believe that the unemployment rate will not improve significantly until the monthly gain in jobs is consistently 300,000 jobs or more. And, at that rate the gains would have to go one for more than two years to bring the economy back to what is traditionally considered a reasonable unemployment figure.
There are several signs that a recession is firmly in place again and that the downturn could last for several quarters. Most are already easy for the average American to see.
There is almost nothing that damages consumer confidence as badly as a rapid rise in prices. Starbucks recently increased the price of a bag of coffee by 17 percent because wholesale prices have risen by almost twice that rate in the last year. Cotton prices nearly doubled in 2010 but have fallen this year. But, apparel is made months in advance of when they reach store shelves. Summer clothing prices are up as much as 20 percent. That may change in the fall, but for the time being, the consumer’s ability to buy even the most basic clothing has been undermined. Consumers today pay more for sugar, meat, and corn-based products as well.
2. Investments have begun to yield less
Part of the recovery was driven by the stock market surge which began when the DJIA bottomed below 7,000 in March 2009. The index has risen above 12,000 and the prices of many stocks have doubled from their lows. As result, American household nest eggs that were decimated by the collapse of the market have rebounded and enabled people to splurge on themselves. However, the market has stumbled in the last quarter. The DJIA is up only 1 percent during the last three months and the S&P 500 is down slightly.
Americans, though, have few other places to put their money. Ten-year Treasuries yield about 3 percent. Gold was a good investment over the last year, but it has begun to falter as well. The market may not be a friend to investors for quite some time.
3. The auto industry
The auto industry has staged an impressive comeback, although its profitability is based as much on the layoffs it has made over the last five years as generating new sales. GM and Chrysler have emerged from bankruptcy. Year-over-year monthly sales improved late last year and through April. May sales stalled. GM’s revenue dropped by 1 percent compared to May of 2010. Ford’s sales were down about as much. There are many reasons for this trend including high gas prices and the constrained manufacturing capacity of the Japanese automakers because of the earthquake. Consumers also may be deferring big purchases because they are worried about their economic prospects. Slow car sales are not just a sign of lagging consumer confidence. They also may be a harbinger of tougher times ahead. These companies shed several hundreds thousand jobs before and during the last recession. Car firms have only just begun to hire again, but that trend will die with a plateau in sales.
4. Oil prices
Oil prices are supposed to drop as the economy slows as they did in 2008 and early 2009 when crude fell from over $140 to under $50. That drop at least allowed consumers and businesses like airlines to more easily afford fuel. Recently, crude has moved back above $100 and appears to be stuck there regardless of the economic situation. American budgets have been hurt by the rising cost of gas. Americans of more modest means have been particularly affected. A slowdown in driving usually also leads to a decline in the retail sector as consumers reduce unnecessary travel to stores. The impact on other businesses is just as great. Airlines suffer and so do firms which rely on petrochemicals. OPEC, for now, has signaled it will not increase production.
5. The federal budget
The federal budget deficit has decimated any chance for another economic stimulus package which many prominent economists like Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman say is essential to create a full recovery. His theory has become more of an issue as GDP growth slows to a rate of 2 percent. The first $787 billion Obama stimulus package may have saved some American jobs, but it is long over and did not work if a drop in unemployment and a sharp improvement in GDP were its primary goals. The deficit has caused a call for severe austerity measures which have already become part of the economics policies of countries from Greece to the U.K. to Japan. Job cuts in the U.S. will not be restricted to the federal level. A recent UBS Investment Research analysis predicted that state and local governments will cut 450,000 jobs this year and next. That process is already well underway. States like California and New York currently run massive deficits and the rates they must pay on bonds has risen accordingly. Newspaper headlines almost daily report on battles between state unions and governors over employment and benefits.
6. China economy slows
A slowdown in the Chinese economy is usually seen as a cause of global commodity price inflation, but the effects cut two ways. China’s appetite for energy and raw materials may fall. But, the demand for goods and services by its very large and growing middle class drops as well. Chinese purchaser manufacturing and export numbers have fallen as the central government has tightened the ability to borrow money. US exports to China are key to the health of many American businesses. John Frisbie, the president of The US-China Business Council, recently said, "Over the last decade we have seen exports to China rise from $16.2 billion to $91.9 billion — a 468 percent increase.” As that rate slows, it has a profound effect on tens of thousands of American companies and their employees. U.S. firms with large operations in China are also effected. GM is one of the two largest car firms in China along with VW. Large U.S. corporations like Wal-mart and Yum! Brands rely significantly on China to boost global sales. Without vibrant consumer spending in China, American companies will suffer.
Unemployment creates two immediate problems. People without jobs drastically curtail their spending, which will ultimately affect GDP growth. The second is the need for tens of billions of dollars every year in government aid to keep the unemployed from becoming destitute. That support has increased deficits and the domino effect is that cash-strapped governments need to make more spending cuts. It may be the biggest challenge the economy faces.
Unemployment has worsened because people over 65 to continue to work because the values of their homes — which they once counted on as the financial basis of their retirements — have dropped so sharply. Older Americans also fear that cuts in Medicare and perhaps Social Security are inevitable which increases the cost of their golden years. The jobs that older Americans have taken are often ones that younger Americans might have. People in their 20s must accept low wages to enter the workforce. This has delayed their prime consuming years well into their 30s which will damage GDP recovery now and for another decade.
The worst of the unemployment problem is the roughly 5 million Americans who have been unemployed for over a year. Their unemployment benefits have run out in many cases. The burden of their care falls to their families, friends, community organizations and non-profits. A family which has to support an unemployed person may be a family which cannot spend beyond its basic needs. To the extent that the federal or state governments can support the unemployed, the cost to run support programs increases.
8. Debt ceiling
The United States debt ceiling, currently at $14.294 trillion, will probably be raised before the government has to cut back essential services on Aug. 2. It might seem that the economic and employment effects of the debt cap are the same as the deficit, but they are actually more insidious and longer term. The first by-product of debt reduction, or at least a slowdown in its growth, is a combination of higher taxes and a lower level of government services. Higher taxes usually slow economic improvements, particularly when they are not coupled with stimulus measures.
A number of economists have pointed out the expense reduction alone will not sharply improve the United States balance sheet. The increase in Medicare and Social Securities costs, brought on by an aging population, are also likely to trigger a need for higher taxes. Tax increases could keep the economic growth of the US on hold for years. The taxation of companies decreases and often eliminates profits, particularly during an already troubled economic period. Profits which disappear usually cause cuts in purchasing and jobs. Taxes on wages and inheritance undermines consumer spending. And, a growth in national debt from already all-time highs will increase the borrowing costs of the U.S. That, in turn, drives up interest rates for everything from mortgages to credit cards.
9. Access To credit
The lack of access to credit has hurt the economic activity or both individuals and small businesses. Many very large companies can borrow money at rates as low as 2 percent because of their strong cash flows and balance sheets. Banks have been much less willing to loan money to companies with under 100 workers because these firms often rely on a few customers for revenue and usually have very little money on hand.
Early in June, the House Small Business Committee held hearings and among its findings were that concerns about risk and a slow economy has made financial institutions reluctant to lend to small businesses, the main driver of economic growth. Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said Congress will need to “bridge the gap” between the two sides. There is no plan to accomplish that. Individual borrowers find themselves in a similar position. The cost of credit cards debt is still above 20 percent in many cases although the Federal Reserve loans money to large financial firms for interest rates close to zero.
Potential home buyers, who might help break the gridlock of slow house sales, often find that banks want down payments as high as 20 percent. The median down payment in nine major U.S. cities rose to 22 percent last year on properties purchased through conventional mortgages, according to an analysis done for The Wall Street Journal by real-estate portal Zillow.com. That percentage doubled in three years and represents the highest median down payment since the data were first tracked in 1997. Homes which are not sold often put such great burdens on owners that they are barely consumers of the goods and services that drive GDP. Home builders have continued to struggle. Construction jobs, which were a huge amount of the employment base in states like Florida, have not returned.
Housing is considered by many economists to be the single largest drag on the American economy, and the housing market has gotten much worse in the last two months. A report from The New York Federal Reserve published early this year said: “When home prices began to fall in 2007, owners’ equity in household real estate began to fall rapidly from almost $13.5 trillion in 1Q 2006 to a little under $5.3 trillion in 1Q 2009, a decline in total home equity of over 60 percent.”
Real estate research firm Zillow reported on more recent developments. “Negative equity in the first quarter reached new highs with 28.4 percent of all single-family homes with mortgages underwater, from 27 percent in Q4.” Many homeowners who want to sell their homes cannot do so because they cannot afford to pay their banks at closing. Whether for good or ill, the American home was the primary source for money used for retirements, college educations and the purchases of many expensive items such as cars.
Economists point out the this leverage helped contribute to the credit crisis as people could not cover the costs of home equity loans as real estate values collapsed. This may be true, but the drop in value happened so quickly that the balance sheets of millions of Americans were destroyed. Their ability to consume was severely damaged, further harming GDP. High mortgage payments bankrupted or nearly bankrupted people who have lost jobs or have found that their incomes had stagnated. The building industry became a shambles overnight. And, whatever the effects have been over the last three years, they are getting progressively worse as home values drop to decade lows. There is no relief in sight because potential buyers worry that price erosion has not ended.
Just like with the ISM indexes for the rest of the globe, US ISM has now shown greater contraction than expected.
from Zero Hedge:
Earlier today we said: "the reverse decoupling thesis will be tested once again today after the July ISM is released with consensus looking for a 54.9 print, and Zero Hedge looking for number just a tad above 50." (LaVorgna was at 54.0) Unfortunately, we were correct: the July ISM plunged from 55.3 to 50.9, or yes, "a tad above 50", on expectations of 54.9. This is the lowest ISM in two years, and confirms that the Fed's viagra no longer does anything to help the soft spot. The market took it in stride and plunged to late Friday lows. So much for the latest US debt ceiling raise market euphoria. Every single subindex dropped, with only exports and imports posting an increase, although with Imports +2.5, this more than offsets the benefits from Exports rising by just 0.5.
from Zero Hedge:
News from last night out of China, coupled with early morning news from Europe confirmed what many speculated: namely that global manufacturing is now in a toxic spiral and absent another stimulus kick from various monetary and fiscal authorities there is no catalyst on the horizon to put the global economy into second gear. As Reuters observes, factories in Asia and Europe all but stagnated in July, according to business surveys that showed the weakest rates of growth since major industrial powers were struggling through the 2009 recession. While stock markets rose on signs of a last minute solution that would avoid a U.S. debt default, manufacturing purchasing managers indexes (PMIs) provided the latest evidence of a slowing global economy. The euro zone manufacturing PMI, which gauges the activities of thousands of businesses, fell to 50.4 in July from 52.0 in June -- its worst showing since September 2009 and barely above the 50 mark dividing growth and contraction. Perhaps more worryingly, China's official government PMI dropped to 50.7 from 50.9 in June, its weakest in more than two years, while the HSBC PMI fell below the 50 mark for the first time in a year -- to 49.3 in July from 51.6. Following Friday's horrendous GDP and Chicago PMI readings these are hardly a surprise. Needless to say, the reverse decoupling thesis will be tested once again today after the July ISM is released with consensus looking for a 54.9 print, and Zero Hedge looking for number just a tad above 50. But none of this matters. As Bloomberg's James Halloway points out, "Markets are for now shrugging off Friday’s poor U.S. GDP report, softening PMI prints in China and Germany, contractionary PMI readings for Ireland, Spain, U.K." One couldn't have put the idiocy of the market any better. Oh, and did we mention there is actually still no deal on the debt ceiling. It is merely priced in. As was Tarp 1 before the vote, leading to the biggest then historical collapse in the Dow once the market realized it had gotten ahead of itself. Deja vu coming up?
More from Reuters on what really matters.
So yeah, aside from the whole global "toxic combination" and economic implosion thing, buying stocks due to the fact that America is not bankrupt surely sounds like a brilliant idea.In Germany, the euro zone's key growth engine in the recovery thus far, manufacturing growth fell to a 21-month low after new orders contracted for the frist time in more than two years.
"If you're looking at Germany, and if you're looking at the trends over recent months, it does seem as though sentiment in the euro zone has turned down," said Mark Miller, global economist at Lloyds Banking Group.
Miller outlined the difference between the slowdown in China -- which he said was growth responding to a series of interest rate and bank reserve requirement hikes -- and Europe, where economies are close to stall speed.
In some cases, like Greece, they are already contracting.
Even in the UK, which so far has been shielded from the crisis gripping the euro zone, the manufacturing PMI fell to 49.1 from 51.4 in June -- the first time below the 50 mark since the country was in recession two years ago.
"The UK is going through more than just a little local difficulty," said Peter Dixon, economist at Commerzbank.
"You've got a slowdown in global economy and a fall-off in domestic demand, and that's a pretty toxic combination."
While the decline in the UK PMI was worrying, the likes of Spain and Ireland saw contraction among factories only deepening in July.
Emerging market are also taking a hit.
Indian manufacturing growth slowed in July for the third month in a row. The HSBC PMI dropped to 53.6, from 55.3 in June, the lowest level since November 2009.
New export order growth in China, the world's biggest exporter, hit its lowest level in 17 months, the official survey showed.
But HSBC said new export orders in India fell in July at their fastest pace in 29 months and in Taiwan, home to the world's two biggest contract computer chip makers, they fell markedly and for the first time in nine months.
"There is still a lot of uncertainty about how global demand will hold up," said Vishnu Varathan, economist at Capital Economics in Singapore.
Many economists prefer to describe China's economic growth as a slowdown rather than slump. But some say Beijing is treading an increasingly fine balance between fostering growth and fighting inflation, especially as its monetary policy tightening campaign runs into its 10th month.
Bucking the trend, South Korean manufacturing growth accelerated for the first time in seven months in July and new export orders also picked up.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
There is no way to spin the GDP report that came out this morning as anything but very bad. It was just last May that the consensus was that second-quarter GDP would be 3.3%. That had been revised down to 2.7%, but the number came in at 1.3%. Normally, at this time in a recovery we are growing at close to 3 times that number, or 3.6%. (You can read the press release and see the data I write about at http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/gdpnewsrelease.htm.)
Even worse, the first-quarter number was revised down from 1.9% to an anemic 0.36%. For new readers, note that the first estimate of a quarter’s growth is just that, an estimate. There are three monthly revisions that follow, and after a few years it is revised yet again with the aid of hindsight. And the 4th quarter of 2010 was taken down from 3.1% to 2.35%!
If you are looking for something (anything) that can explain the new number, then you could attribute a small portion to the effects from the Japan earthquake and tsunami, as “durable goods” from motor vehicles and parts reduced GDP by about .2%.
And it gets worse. It seems that BEA went back and revised the numbers for the recession. Would it surprise you to learn that the recession was worse than we thought at the time? The peak-to-trough decline was 5.1% instead of 4.1%. That means that in real terms the economy has not yet recovered back to the pre-recession levels. David Rosenberg notes that in his research “going back to 1947 and never before have we seen this dynamic of the level of overall economic activity lower on the second birthday of the recovery than it was at the prior cycle peak. Typically two years into a recovery, real GDP is already 9.5% above the pre-recession high.”
Look at this chart from the St. Louis Fed. It is real Gross Domestic Product going back five years. This is just ugly. More on this later, as I made this point with the Senators (I wish I’d had this data when I was there!)
Now, notice the direction of the revisions. Care to wager the over/under on where the revisions will go when the second quarter is revised? Dare we say it could go negative? Say it ain’t so, Joe!
I don’t have time to cover it this week, but global growth is slowing. China’s PMI came in at 48.9 in July. Korean exports are slowing.
Joan McCullough notes:
“Working from Q309, forward, read GDP as follows:
“1.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.8, 2.5, 2.3 … now here it comes: 0.4 … and then today’s 1.3%.
“I won’t keep you in suspense any more. Here’s my take: MOMENTUM IS BROKEN. A big, ol’ monkey wrench, courtesy of input arising from the change in inventory and Imports. And once momentum stumbles, then H2 growth becomes a wild card, right?”
“And the last chart is one I had not seen before, and is interesting. Rich notes that if year-over-year GDP growth dips below 2%, a recession always follows. It is now at 2.3%.”
Growth is clearly decelerating. Look at the growth numbers from the St. Louis Fed website for the last six quarters:
It will be very interesting to see, at the end of the month, what the numbers are for the second quarter. Another quarter like the first quarter and we should either be close to or actually dip below 2%.
Oops. Today David Rosenberg updated that chart. This from Rosie:
If Rich is right, then the next revisions will be down. And the growth in the second half is not going to be all that good for jobs and consumer spending.
And this from Rosie as well:
The economy is at stall speed, it is quite possible we’ll see further downward revisions to the already anemic growth numbers, and Congress and the President are dithering over the debt ceiling. It will not take much to push us into an outright recession. We can go a few days, I think, with the latter problem, but not too long or the markets will throw up.
I should note that the Congressmen and Senators I met with were a very wired-in bunch. Many of them are in the leadership. And they had no clue as to how the debt-ceiling snafu would play out. Lots of speculation, but no real idea. And they were worried.
But enough on the GDP. Suffice it to say that the stock market drops about 40% on average in a recession. Just sayin’.
I met with several chiefs of staff before the meeting, and they decided I should not use the typical PowerPoint approach but just talk, and gave me advice on how to go about it. Evidently, Coats and Portman had worked the room, because nine guys showed up more or less on time. Two Democrats, six Republicans, and an independent (Lieberman). Jon Kyl was there, as well as Gang of Six member, Tom Coburn from Oklahoma. Also Corker, Lugar, Coats, Portman, and Mike Lee, the “Tea Party” senator from Utah, who took the most notes. But there were a lot of them taking notes. And asking questions, some rather pointed. Overall, I was very impressed with the level of knowledge in the room and the candor.
I started by explaining what I meant by the debt supercycle and how deleveraging recessions are fundamentally different from business-cycle recessions, which is why we are not seeing a normal recovery. And it is happening all over the developed world. I think I surprised them by jumping to Europe first, noting that Europe appeared to be imploding even as we were meeting. I made the point that we could see a banking and credit crisis coming from Europe that might be worse than the subprime crisis. I noted that it was not just Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. Spain and Italy have their own share of problems, and the markets have taken their interest rates up by 1% in just the last month, just as a large rollover of debt is coming due.
We’d better stay with this Europe thing for a few minutes. A few weeks back, I talked about Italy and said I thought their debt was longer-duration, and so they might not go critical quite so fast. I got this note from London partner Niels Jensen, pointing out to me how wrong I was:
“Wrong! Italy average debt duration is in fact quite short, as illustrated in the chart below. Within Europe, only the UK has really long average debt duration (about 13 years). Most countries are averaging 5-7 years. Italy is no exception. Best, Niels.”
Then today I get this note from Bluemont Capital Advisors, written by Harald Malmgren, Global Economic Strategist, and Mark Stys, Chief Investment Officer. It is short but important, so I am going to quote it in full. Thanks, guys.
“In spite of last week’s Eurozone Summit agreement on Greece and EFSF ‘flexibility’, Italian and Spanish sovereign debt yields have resumed escalation this week. Moreover, the Italians had to cancel issuance of longer maturity debt as demand was insufficient. German Finance Minister Schauble damaged confidence Wednesday when he said the EFSF would not have a blank check to purchase Eurozone sovereign debt in the secondary market.
“Eurozone banks’ primary holding of capital is in the form of Eurozone sovereign debt. It is obvious that the EFSF is not large enough to handle crises on the scale of Italian and Spanish
sovereign debt. Schauble’s statement is interpreted as indicating precarious support within the
German parliament for the recent Summit package for Greece and the EFSF, and that an increase
in EFSF is unlikely. (Schauble is personally powerful within the CDU, so his statements most
likely carry more political weight than Merkel’s at present.)
“Meanwhile, US money market funds have been withdrawing from Eurozone bank commercial paper, leaving Eurozone banks with a big gap in availability of short-term funding and a severe shortage of dollars.
“In the background, the Fed has quietly advised the ECB and some other central banks that Congress has warned the Fed not to repeat the huge liquidity support to Europe and Asia that it provided in 2008. European officials believe the Fed would be less able to come to the rescue again with increased swap lines and direct loans to Eurozone banks, as it did post-Lehman.
“Thus, in parallel with the US debt ceiling uncertainties, the Eurozone appears to be entering into renewed crisis of breakdown in interbank trust and escalating borrowing costs for Italy and Spain, and maybe even France. Whatever happens with the US debt ceiling, attention will soon turn back to Eurozone sovereign debt problems and threats to the viability of Eurozone banks from debt contagion.
“It is increasingly possible that the ECB may not be able to function as lender of last resort on the scale required to cope with an interbank lending breakdown. It is also thus likely that the Eurozone will suffer a shortage of dollars for its interbank credit markets. Demand for dollars will likely escalate, while confidence in Eurozone financial institutions falls. This could force Eurozone banks to purchase dollars in the open market and drive the dollar higher.”
I made some similar points to the Senators about why the euro is going to parity – if it survives. Then I went into my “Japan is a bug in search of a windshield” spiel, pointing out that the yen will fall in half.
All this to say is that the bond markets are going to get spooked sooner than we are prepared for. If the US does not show up with a credible deficit-reduction program by the end of 2013, we could see interest rates rising even in the face of a deflationary recession. If we do nothing, we become Greece.
And the $4 trillion they are talking about? That is a down payment. We need $10-12 trillion in cuts over ten years, which I explained would put us into a slow-growth-at-best, Muddle Through economy with high unemployment and tough tax policies. I pointedly showed Senator Mike Lee why we could not cut spending too fast (as the Tea Party wants) – unless we want Depression 2.0 and 20% unemployment. It has to be my “glide-path” option. As I said, Lee was taking notes fast and furious. And asking the right questions. I like him. Lieberman was also engaged (I really do like him), and they were all very candid about the political problems they were facing. And it was a very sober group as we ended the meeting. But they all politely thanked me for coming and talking frankly. Even the Dems (I confess I think I know the name of one, but the website picture does not look like him, so I don’t want to get it wrong. But he was impressive with his questions as well.)
I could go on, but long-time readers know by now my Endgame scenario. I got a lot of promises that the Senators would read my book. Coats and Portman got extra copies to give out on the floor.
I have to tell you, gentle reader, that leaving that meeting I was very sober as well. They made it clear that getting it done is going to be very hard, and it will take real commitment from men and women like them to get us through this. They all noted that their mail was running 100 to 1 against cutting Medicare. Every one of them. They know that they cannot close the deficit gap just with the elimination of the Bush tax cuts. And I think I convinced any who weren’t already, that not getting the deficit under control means Depression 2.0 and a disaster.
The debate in 2012-13 will be, how much Medicare do we want and how do we want to pay for it? Sadly, I think the only way is with a VAT (value-added tax), since less than 50% of citizens pay any income taxes now. Want to run on a program of taxing the “middle class?” Didn’t think so. Want to run on a platform of cutting Medicare? That is not a winner either. We are at an impasse.
We need a massive restructuring of our entire tax code to be more encouraging of creating jobs. But that is another story for another week. It is time to hit the send button.