After I sent out this week's OTB on Germany, I remembered this very intriguingly titled piece by my friend George Friedman, founder of a geopolitical analysis company called Stratfor.
The piece was written a few days ago, but when it comes to someone as ahead of the pack as George, who managed to write a book called The Next 100 Years, well, let's just say what he writes is pretty timeless.
The content of this report is as bold and thought-provoking as the title. Some nuggets:
• Greece disappointed Europe not because of the choice it made but because it was crippled with indecision.
• Germany has become the problem in the eurozone where once it was the solution.
• France is not yet leading a coalition against Germany, but it is difficult to imagine a different scenario.
If you like the piece below, consider subscribing to Stratfor. <<OTB readers can click here to access a pretty significant discount on a Stratfor subscription>>. Their coverage of Europe (and the rest of the world) provides a unique geopolitical perspective. I also know that a very in-depth report on the geopolitics of Germany is coming up in the next couple of weeks, so you may want to subscribe to access it.
Your wishing this Italy trip was also timeless analyst,
Nobody, in my book, slices and dices data more thoroughly or convincingly than Greg Weldon. In this week's Outside the Box, he first dispels the illusion that either of the two most-expected outcomes of the growing eurozone crisis is really any kind of a solution – neither expelling Greece nor keeping Greece in the club is going to work, he argues – and then, in a feat of legerdemain, he conjures up an alternative that just might work – and backs up his idea as only Greg can. But is this a rabbit he's pulled out of his hat, or is it ... a Black Eagle?
This letter will print a little longer but, as is usual with Greg, it's chock full of great charts. You can learn more about his work at www.weldononline.com. For institutions and hedge funds, it should be required reading. (It is a little more than your average service, but as you can see, he really gets into the data very deeply!)
I am in Philadelphia tonight to speak for Steve Blumenthal's Advisor Forum. We did an evening at the National Constitution Center museum, where they had a Bruce Springsteen exhibit on the first floor and rather fascinating historical display of the history of the US and the Constitution. At the end is a room where there are 39 bronze life-sized statues of the men who were at the Constitutional Convention, displayed as they might have been arrayed at the signing. It got me to thinking about the times. Indeed, there was a quote from Washington about how bad things had become in 1789, sounding much like so many who now see the US as a hopeless culture, careening down a path of socialism and entropy. And certainly, the US and much of the world face some very hard choices in the next year or so; but somehow I think we will do just fine, even if we make a few bad choices and have to correct our course more than we would like.
Of course, it helps to have a Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson to help guide the ship on its course, but we will have to make do with what we have. Every country needs leaders with a clear vision and a love of posterity. Maybe later generations will recognize leadership where we do not. Here's hoping.
On Wednesday I get to spend much of the day with David Rosenberg, and I am sure we will go over our own poor vision of what will happen. And Thursday I get to have lunch with George and Meredith Friedman of Stratfor, in Austin, where I will listen as he gives me his latest take on the world. I always come away from my time with them with a whole lot more insight. Then it's a few afternoon meetings and on to the University of Texas for a seminar with Rosie and Rich Yamarone (with whom I had lunch yesterday in New York). It will be fun.
Your trying to get a whole lot done in a short amount of time analyst,
Today's Outside the Box comes to us from Grant Williams, who covers the world from his perch in Singapore, in his always instructive and always entertaining Things That Make You Go Hmmm... I felt for him right at the outset today, because (like yours truly) he was trying really hard ... not to talk about Greece. And so, he announced, he was going to talk about Spain and about oil; but then, before he even made it through his opening paragraph, there was this:
"... ahhhh NUTS! They did it AGAIN.... ok... the Greek restructuring. It's not as though I could ignore it, now, is it? ... Oil can wait until next time.... no doubt it'll be an issue then too."
But he's determined to talk about Spain ... so let's talk about Spain. But ... (What is this? Why is Greece such a strange attractor?) on his way to the pain that falls mostly on the plain in Spain, Grant just can't help sharing with us this wry factoid:
"... some 2,400 years after 10 Greek municipalities became the first sovereign entities to default when they stiffed the temple of Delos, birthplace of Apollo."
But Spain, Grant! Yes:
"Spain's GDP of $1.4 trillion, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, puts it just behind oil-rich Russia and Canada and people-rich India. Spain is a big country. Spain matters.
"Spain is now about to become the country everyone cares about all over again and, when the world's focus returns to the Iberian Peninsula, it will realise that the large, grey shape in the corner of the room was a Spanish elephant."
Spain's public debt-to-GDP ratio is a relatively appealing 68%, Grant notes (that's just a little over half of Italy's, at 120%), but here's the rub:
"As manageable as Spain's public debt would appear to be at face value, her private debt is an altogether different story – standing at a staggering 227% of GDP and, according to McKinsey, Spanish corporations hold twice as much debt relative to their output as US companies and, in comparison to Germany, that number goes up to six times....
"As Spain reduced its deficit in accordance with the EU's Growth & Stability Pact, it meant an increasing reliance on private debt was needed in order to prolong the enormous construction boom that had been ongoing in Spain since the 1970s but which really picked up steam in the 90s and 00s. The outcome of that reliance? A tripling of average household debt."
Throw in the part about the Spanish unemployment rate skyrocketing toward the 25% mark this year (and twice that for those under 25) and the bit where the new Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, draws a line in the sand by unexpectedly announcing that his government's budget deficit would be 5.8% of GDP in 2012, more than 30 percent higher than the 4.4% agreed on with his supposed masters in Brussels, and we have all the makings for quite a spicy little paella.
But stop reading at about the middle of page 10 if you just don't think you can stomach another helping of spanakopita.
I did something rather fun this morning. The wonderful people at the Commonfund were kind enough to invite me and my co-author of Endgame, Jonathan Tepper, who lives in London, to update their attendees on the sovereign-debt crisis we predicted in our book. This was the first time we had done a full-on presentation together. It was fun and came off rather well, and I think the attendees appreciated our combined views. We both agreed we need to do it more. Jonathan is a very brilliant young man. He makes me look good (I will take whatever help I can get). Enjoy the week!
Your losing my taste for Continental cui$ine analyst,
Long-time readers will be familiar with Michael Lewitt, one of my favorite thinkers and analysts. He has gone off on his own to write his letter, and I am encouraging him to write even more. I call Michael a thinker because he really does. He reads a lot of thought-provoking tomes and then thinks about them. And then writes, making his readers think. The world needs more Michael Lewitts.
Today, he roams the world, commenting as he goes, starting of course with Europe. I have permission to use the first half of this most recent letter as today’s Outside the Box, leaving off the investment recommendations that he shares with his subscribers. If you are interested you can subscribe at www.thecreditstrategist.com.
I am back from the Kilkenomics Economics Festival in Ireland, where there was a lot of attendee angst about their banks. They are not happy about taking on private debt with public money, and the mood in Ireland is to tell the ECB to take their debt and (insert your favorite personal expletive). Clearly, the rest of Europe wants the Irish to pay.
I told them to be patient. When the rest of European banks are upside down sometime next year and France, Spain, et al. have to pay, the mood among voters everywhere will be quite different. I said they could probably default on their bank debt at that point and no one would notice, amidst the massive debts that are going to implode on the Continent. My remarks excited a measure of schadenfreude-tinged laughter from the crowd.
Michael Lewitt agrees. Noting this interview with Oliver Sarkozy, the half-brother of France’s Nicholas Sarkozy, he says:
“Institutional funding has a three-year average life, so European banks need to generate more than $800 billion each month to fund maturing institutional borrowings. This is, in Mr. Sarkozy’s words, unsustainable. And the markets are saying so. The CDS market for European banks is back at or above the peak levels seen during the 2008 financial crisis. While Mr. Sarkozy does not come out and say it, TCS will – the likely future for European banks is Dexia SA, which was nationalized by France and Belgium when it ran aground a couple of weeks ago.”
I will write more about what I learned in Kilkenny later this week, but Europe is getting ever closer to imploding, one way or another. There is no end of problems for the markets to focus on. I can only hope that we in the US will observe the increasingly sad state of affairs in Europe and become sufficiently motivated to fix our own problems. If we do not, we will end up in an even worse condition, which will then be worse for the entire world. I remain somewhat optimistic that we will fix what ails us, as not doing so is just too horrible to contemplate.
On that bright note, have a great week. I am off to Atlanta tomorrow and then DC this Sunday, and then home for a few months (more or less).
Your seeing too much to worry about analyst,
This week's Outside the Box will be unusual. Rather than one essay, I give you a number of short ones, and links that are representative of the confusion that is Europe, along with a little history. As I noted this weekend, last week's Eurozone announcement was short of details, and very little of the real work had been done. Merkel has to get her own country on board, keep the other nations that are in trouble from demanding haircuts, and keep the markets from trashing Italian and Spanish debt. Berlusconi has to figure out how to get the Italian budget balanced while staying out of jail and "balancing" his social calendar. Maybe he can dollar-cost average with a 70-year-old date? (Sorry, that was snarky, but it is so easy.)
Europe's problems will visit shores all over the world. China will not come to the rescue, at least not cheaply. It is becoming increasingly unclear where they will get the money without ECB participation, but that is VERY euro bearish.
I don't want to seem like I am piling on Euroland, but they are the crisis du jour. And it's just a matter of time until it's the US. Sigh.
And lest I forget again, let me say a special thanks to Joan McCullough for pointing me last week to Mike Masters, who was very helpful in understanding the intricacies ofcredit default swaps and their implications.
Another busy week and lots of airplanes. It will be my first time ever on Aer Lingus, as I fly to Ireland. This weekend will be fun, and even though I will do a few speeches, it will b a very different crowd than I normally speak to. No PowerPoints, just explanations of how the world works to average people – while professional stand-up comedians try and keep me honest! We shall see how that works.
Your keeping it simple analyst,
Folks, you hear a lot about the eurozone crisis, but what you don't run across very often is a coherent idea on how to move forward. My friends at STRATFOR, a private intelligence company, have done us all the courtesy of saying out loud what everyone else shies away from: Eject Greece from the eurozone.
It's not pretty. It belies the lovely concept of a unified and prosperous Europe. And the worst part: it comes with a big fat price tag, of the 2-trillion-euro variety. But it may be the only way to steer the train before it derails completely.
Today I have the privilege of sending you two pieces from STRATFOR. If you have a couple of minutes now, <<watch this video on preparing for Greece's (inevitable) failure>>. Then check out the written piece below, a deeper dive into the crisis as a whole. If you're interested in following all of STRATFOR's geopolitical analyses, as an OTB reader you can get a hefty discount off their subscription rate, plus a free copy of the NY Times bestseller by George Friedman (my buddy, and STRATFOR's founder).
Your hoping the Rangers take it all analyst,
For today's special-edition OTB, let's turn our fiscal eye across the pond to all that's going haywire in Europe. But not the continent's banking crisis, per se. Today's piece takes a broad look at who's really running the show. I'll give you a hint: they've done it before, and it wasn't too long ago. The folks at STRATFOR (a global intelligence publication) have spent the better part of two years saying that Germany will run Europe. The newly redesigned EFSF (European Financial Security Facility) can be considered concrete evidence of such.
From Berlin's point of view, the Eurozone is its sphere of influence, and its preservation is in Germany's national security interest. It's a new Europe, where Germany is not just the checkbook anymore, but holds some reins.
I'm sure you'll find this piece as thought-provoking as I did. Investors are always talking about geopolitical risk (but you and I talked about it first here); and if you're looking for geopolitical analysis and forecasting, I highly recommend you check out STRATFOR. OTB readers can get a hefty discount on a STRATFOR subscription, plus a free copy of (warning: more self-promotion) my book Endgame.
Your now craving schnitzel analyst,
This will be one of the more controversial Outside the Box posts in a great long time. Indeed, I debated with myself at some length. It will make some readers mad, but I decided it is more important to make most readers think. And, as it happens, there are parts of this week’s essay that I rather aggressively disagree with. That being said, there is a great deal of truth here. This represents a serious body of thought that is being debated, and we need to hear all sides, rather than just the ones we like.
Michael Hudson is a research professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, which is a serious place, so this is no ill-informed screed. I generally like their stuff.
Hudson first lays the European crisis at the feet of banks and the institutions (ECB, IMF, and the EU) that are taking the Greek (and other) bank debt and putting it into public hands. He has a very real point. Then he points out that Greece is far better off just walking away, a la Iceland (at least read the last part of this post, on Iceland). And in polls he cites, 85% of the Greek people are against taking on the debt and paying the banks.
As I wrote last week, there is a revolution going on all over Europe, slowly building up as people realize that the “solution” being offered benefits banks and not German taxpayers or Greek creditors. Ireland will be watching. There is no easy way out. If there is a referendum on this new “troika” proposal, it is likely to lose. This is not over.
Hudson offers a a lot of facts with his analysis. This is a little longer than most Outside the Boxes, but I encourage you to take the time to read it. It will make you think, that at least I can promise.
(Thanks to Yves Smith for posting this at Naked Capitalist.) And if you like this, be aware that I read scores (if not hundreds) of pieces each week for Outside the Box (yes, even here in Tuscany). And now I'll bring you the 5-10 best of the best each week as part of my new subscription service, Over My Shoulder. If you like Outside the Box, then you're going to love Over My Shoulder. It's like having your own personal filter – with decades of analyst experience and access to exclusive resources. If your time is as valuable to you as your investments, click here to find out more about how I help you home in on the essentials.
Tuscany is renewing my soul. What a contrast. Such beauty to view while I think about the ugliness of Greek debt. My good friends and old business partners Gary and Debi Halbert just showed up to spend a few days, and we have a local sommelier coming in to do a wine and cheese tasting in a few minutes, so I am going to call it a day. Have a great week.
Your getting ready to sample some Tuscan wines analyst,
I am attending the Global Interdependence Center’s latest conference here in Philadelphia, writing you from the Admiral’s Club on my way to Boston. The chatter last night at dinner and between sessions was focused on the risks in Europe. I did an interview with Aaron Task on Yahoo’s Daily Ticker, where I noted that European leaders are starting to use the word contained when they talk about Greece. Shades of Bernanke and subprime. This too will not be contained.
And that brings us to this week’s Outside the Box. Greg Weldon has graciously allowed me to use his latest missive on Europe’s woes. A teaser:
“The EU, like the US, suffers from what we might call the 'Cyrenaic Syndrome', a dynamic linked to the ancient Greek philosophers Aristippus and Hegesias of Cyrene, who, in 3rd and 4th Centuries BC, hypothesized that the goal of life was the avoidance of pain and suffering. Addicts accomplish this thru substance abuse. The EU is trying to accomplish this thru pure denial, and an outright refusal to accept that austerity, like sobriety, is the ONLY way to actually deal with the problems it faces.”
Greg is my favorite slicer and dicer of data. And he (as a registered CTA) has real skin in the game, as he runs money; so his work is not just some guy drawing lines on charts. He has to draw real-world conclusions, for real-world trades. For those who have NOT had a free trial of Weldon’s three research publications, visit www.Weldononline.com and sign up for a free trial.
And for the record, the euro will not fall out of bed until I have exchanged my last dollar in the third week of June. But what’s a little exchange-rate issue when you are talking Tuscany? I can’t complain too much. Have a great week.
Your wondering if Bernanke will ever say the word contained again analyst,
The disconnect in Europe just gets worse and worse, as I sadly predicted at least a few years ago, and have made a big deal out of over the last year, with the very pointed note that a European banking crisis is the #1 monster in my worry closet. Today, within 15 minutes of each other, I ran across the following three notes, from Zero Hedge, the London Telegraph, and the Financial Times, with a quote from Bloomberg as well. Read them all. And then try and figure out how they can all get what they want. There are going to be tears and lots of them somewhere. Greek three-year rates are now at 21%. And so I decided to link these three short pieces into your Outside the Box this week. To kick things off, a few teaser quotes and observations:
“On Saturday Jurgen Stark, an executive board member of the ECB, warned that a restructuring of debt in any of the troubled eurozone countries could trigger a banking crisis even worse than that of 2008.
“‘A restructuring would be short-sighted and bring considerable drawbacks,’ he told ZDF, the German broadcaster. ‘In the worst case, the restructuring of a member state could overshadow the effects of the Lehman bankruptcy.’” (From the Telegraph, with more below.)
“There is ‘no painless way’ for countries that sought aid to reduce debt, while a restructuring may cut off the respective country from the financial markets for an unforeseeable time, Stark was quoted as saying. The only viable path for such countries is to ‘strictly push through reform programs and repay debt in full,’ the central banker was quoted as saying. Stark did not refer to a specific country.” (Bloomberg)
Let me repeat a phrase here: “The only viable path for such countries is to ‘strictly push through reform programs and repay debt in full.’”
But in a well-done column from Zero Hedge, which discusses a controversial Citibank report, we learn that, “In addition, no country with Debt/GDP ratio of more than 150% has ever avoided a default anyways. Why would Greece be different?” Athens has said it will also implement fiscal measures worth €26bn in an attempt to reduce the budget deficit to 1pc of GDP by 2015. The plans have sparked a fresh wave of anger in Greece and more threats of strikes and marches from trade unions.
But the Greeks are not the only ones who are unhappy. I wrote about the Finns last week. Now we jump to a marvelous Wolfgang Münchau piece from the Financial Times (www.ft.com), which gives us additional insight and points out that the Germans are getting rancorous. A quote from this must-read piece: “A premature Greek default would change everything. As would the failure by the EU and Portugal to agree a rescue package in time; or an escalation in the EU’s dispute with Ireland over corporate taxes; or a ratification failure of the ESM in the German, Finnish or Dutch parliaments; or a German veto for a top-up loan for Greece in 2012; or the refusal by the Greek parliament to accept the new austerity measures; or a realisation that the Spanish cajas are in much worse shape than recognised, and that Spain cannot raise sufficient capital.”
All this bodes for a great deal of volatility and uncertainty, which markets hate. This makes for a very interesting Outside the Box, and one you should ponder and that we will be visiting in the regular letter in the future. Gentle reader, this is important. Let’s jump right in.
Your keeping one eye on Europe 24/7 analyst,
I get a lot of client letters from various managers and funds, as you might imagine. I read more than I should. But one that shows up every quarter or so makes me stop what I am doing and sit down and read. It is the quarterly letter from Hayman Advisors, based here in Dallas. They are macro guys (which I guess is part of the magnetic attraction for me), and they really put some thought into their craft and have some of the best sources anywhere. So today we take a look at their latest letter, where they cover a wide variety of topics, with cutting-edge analysis and sharp insight. I really like these guys, and suggest you take the time to read the entire letter.
Today (Tuesday) is the day I want you to start buying Endgame. The early reviews on Amazon are quite gratifying – writing a book is damn hard work, so when people say nice things it just feels good. Have a great week! Now let’s jump into the Hayman client letter.
This week we look at some mostly bullish analysis from my friends at GaveKal for the Outside the Box. Much of the letter is devoted to looking at why Europe may fare better than many think (which will make uber-European bull David Kotok happy to read!). But be very sure to read the last page as Steve Vannelli analyzes the latest speculation about the Fed and quantitative easing. All those calling for QE2 may not actually do what they think it will. His conclusion?
"Once again, if there is no growth in broad money, no increase in velocity and no increase in Fed credit (hybrid money), then the only source to finance growth in the real economy will remain the sale of risky assets. When confidence seems to be stuck in a low plateau and talk of reigning in fiscal deficits is growing louder, a policy of undermining the value of risky assets couldn't be more counterproductive to growth."
I find myself in New York this morning (I once again did Yahoo Tech Ticker) leaving for DC later. Then sadly will have to forego Turks and Caicos, but that does allow for me to go to Baton Rouge for a one day course on the affects of the gulf oil spill on the regional economy, helicopter flyovers, etc. I will report back in this week's letter what I learn.
Have a great week.
Your wishing he was still fishing in Maine analyst,
We're bombarded with information from the minute we wake up until the second we fall asleep. I was watching a news network last night for 45 minutes and the exact stories started coming back around. Nothing new to report, but the same topics on repeat, with the rare nominal development.
When I need something different (and relevant to me), I go to STRATFOR.com. They provide deep insight and explanation of events the networks can't begin to tackle. Today I'm including an extensive article on the banking situation in Europe. Enjoy, and sign up for their free email list to receive weekly reports and special offers.
The cause célèbre these days is the potential reconstitution of the eurozone: ie, Germany leaving it, or Greece getting kicked out. To look a little deeper, today I'm sending you STRATFOR's take on these two scenarios. STRATFOR explores the geography of the continent and the historical context of the EU to understand what a German exit or a Greek expulsion might mean for the rest of the region.
After you read the article, sign up here to receive more STRATFOR global intelligence reports like this one.
Was it only last week I was expressing outrage that US taxpayers would have to pick up the check for Greek profligacy in the form of IMF guarantees? This morning we wake to up the sound of $250 BILLION in IMF guarantees for a European rescue fund, most of which will go to countries that are eventually (in my opinion) going to default. That is $50 billion in US taxpayer guarantees. Not sure what that translates into for Britain or Canada or Australia.
I can swallow the Fed dollar swaps to the ECB. Don't really like it, but I can deal with it, as I don't think it will ultimately put US tax-payers at risk, as long as the swaps are in dollar terms. But the IMF bailout is just wrong.
Interestingly, the euro shot up on the announcement in what was now clearly short covering. As I write this, it is almost back down to where it started. That seems to me to be a vote of "I don't believe you." We will see. But if the ECB actually goes ahead and floods the market with liquidity, that will be very good for all types of risk assets.
Note that in last Friday's letter I quoted Trichet where he said we would not do what he agreed to do over the weekend. What a turn-about. So much for ECB independence. The European leadership must have realized the wheels were coming off and brought out the nuclear option in order to stave off a very serious crisis. In my opinion, this buys time but does not solve the problem.
The eurozone leaders assume that this is a liquidity problem. It is not. It is a solvency and balance sheet problem. You do not solve a debt problem with more debt. This only shoves the football a few yards (or maybe I should say meters) down the field. And it is going to cause a MASSIVE misallocation of capital once again which will create more imbalances that will have to be dealt with. Ugh.
Now, with that off my chest, let's turn to this week's Outside the Box, which is an essay by a name that is familiar to readers, Michael Lewitt. He has written a brilliant book, the Death of Capital, which should be on your short reading list. I asked him to give us a note for Outside the Box and he graciously complied. It is a thoughtful and fun read with wonderful lines you will want to read again peppered all the way through this all-too-short piece. The book is a ringing indictment of both the regulatory and money management worlds. Get it at Amazon.com.
Your how can I get even more outraged analyst,
From my friend George Friedman, founder & CEO of STRATFOR, here's my newest favorite quote concerning economic recessions: "Like forest fires, they are painful when they occur, yet without them, the forest could not survive. They impose discipline, punishing the reckless, rewarding the cautious." The thin line of where risky becomes reckless is something I'd like to focus us on today. No matter the risk-level of your portfolio, if you are reading this you are probably smart enough to know that when you play with fire you may get burned. You have to know how to look for smoke, or signs of a potential catastrophe, so you know not to grab the doorknob with both hands.
I'm including George's discussion of the contributing facets of a recession, its inevitability and the idea of risk. As if the title won't intrigue you to begin with, take my advice and give "The Global Crisis of Legitimacy" a read. STRATFOR uses its signature analytic approach to decipher today's issues, applying historical context ranging from Adam Smith to the Lehman Brothers. Also, join their mailing list to receive two weekly intelligence pieces, and find that fire before your next investment opportunity comes along.
Let's have a thought game. What if the Eurozone breaks up? My friend and very serious philosophical thinker Charles Gave (of GaveKal) thinks that would be a positive event. To quote his conclusion:
"But we return to the most simple of questions, namely: Was the end of the USSR a negative event? When Americans stopped wasting capital building empty condos in Florida or Arizona, was that bad news? If, like us, our reader answers "no" to the above questions, then the Greek crisis should be seen as a reason for hope, rather than despair."
Now, that is a truly Outside the Box proposition and one which I found very compelling. His partner, Anatole Kaletsky, elsewhere argues that the ECB will enlarge their mandate to try and save the day by printing enormous sums of money, ultimately making things worse.
The team at GaveKal gave me permission to share this with you, as I think it deserves a wide audience. Warning: the first part is philosophical in nature. You will need to think through it. This is not one for speed reading. But if you grasp what he is saying, I think it will give you a major insight into the plight that is now engulfing Europe. Note. Even though Marc Faber calls the GaveKal team "euro perma-bears" GaveKal is mostly quite bullish on everything else. They always seem to find the bright side of the street to walk on, or at least a few spots in the sun in which to sit.
Read this and learn why the break-up of Europe might be a bullish event. As I said, Outside the Box is for ideas that challenge the status quo, and this, if anything, does just that.
Let me start this week's Outside the Box by venting a little anger. It now looks like almost 30% of the Greek financing will come from the IMF, rather than just a small portion. And since 40% of the IMF is funded by US taxpayers, and that debt will be JUNIOR to current bond holders (if the rumors are true) I can't tell you how outraged that makes me.
What that means is that US (and Canadian and British, etc.) tax payers will be giving money to Greece who will use a lot of it to roll over old bonds, letting European banks and funds reduce their exposure to Greece while tax-payers all over the world who fund the IMF assume that risk. And does anyone really think that Greece will pay that debt back? IMF debt should be senior and no bank should be allowed to roll over debt and reduce their exposure to Greek debt on the back of foreign tax-payers.
I don't think I signed on for that duty. Why should my tax money go to help European banks? This is just wrong on so many levels and there is nothing seemingly we can do. Oh, well. Thanks for listening.
This week we look at an essay by my friend Tony Boeckh, who from 1968 until 2002, was chairman and editor-in-chief of BCA Publications, publisher of The Bank Credit Analyst. He has written a very important book called The Great Reflation. Tony feels that one of the most important things for investor to understand is money flows, whether from debt or monetary easing. The ebb and flow of money can both create and burst bubbles and we are now in what he calls a Great Experiment where governments around the world are trying to again reflate the economy (and are succeeding). What bubbles will this create and how does it end? How should we then invest?
My good friend Marc Faber has this to say about The Great Reflation:
"The Great Reflation is by far the best economic and investment book that I have read in the last ten years. Tony is a seasoned historian, economist, and strategist with a unique ability to explain complex issues in simple, readable terms. These are illustrated with numerous charts on economic and financial trends that put current conditions in a historical context."
—Marc Faber, Editor, The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report
The book is in most bookstores and you can of course get it by going to www.amazon.com and you save 34% and it is available on Kindle. So, let's enjoy Tony's essay.
Your never did like the IMF anyway analyst,
This is a special Outside the Box. I got this letter from my good friend Greg Weldon last night and got permission to pass it on to you. I think it illustrates the problems that the world is facing from the sovereign debt crisis that is building in Europe.
There are no good solutions here, only very difficult ones. In order to get financing, Greece must willingly put itself into a multi-year depression. And borrowing more money when it cannot afford to pay back what it has will not solve the problem. 61% of Greeks now favor leaving the euro. How has Greece responded? By banning short selling on its stock market for the next two months. That should make things better. Greeks are responding by rioting and going on strike. But you truly know when a country is dysfunctional when its AIR FORCE goes on strike. Yesterday Reuters reported that hundreds of Greek pilots called in sick in protest. The response from government? The Minister of Defense said he was "profoundly disappointed." Now that had to make the pilots feel bad.
Money is flying from Greek banks, which makes sense, as how can a bankrupt Greek government guarantee Greek bank deposits? I know that Greek bankers may have a different view, but Greek depositors are voting with their feet. And Greg shows us it is not just Greece. It is fast becoming Portugal. And Spain is not far behind in my opinion.
I can well imagine there are private meetings among Greek government officials, banks and other leaders as to what must now be done. Those meetings I am sure can be tense. These things matter, as European banks hold a lot of Greek debt, as well as Portuguese and Spanish debt. European banks have not come close to dealing with their problems and are seriously over-leveraged. There is the potential for yet another banking and credit crisis stemming from European banks. Will world banks see their trust for each other (and especially European banks with large amounts of Club Med bonds) devolve as it did on August of 2008? It is something we must think about. It is possible, in my opinion. I sincerely hope it does not happen, but we must think about it. (Note, this is not something that will happen for awhile, but we should be aware of the problem.)
I want to thank Greg for letting me send this on to you. His website is www.weldononline.com. This letter is typical of his work – thorough and detailed and full of charts. He is the best slicer and dicer of data that I know.
Back and recovering from my Strategic Investment Conference this weekend (where I decided to give myself permission not to write my usual letter, but I promise I will be back at it this next Friday!) I have spent some time pondering what we learned. It was a fabulous conference. Lacy Hunt, Dr. Gary Shilling, David Rosenberg, Niall Ferguson, Paul McCulley, George Friedman, former Fed Senior Economist Jason Cummins (who is now Chief Economist for Brevan Howard, the largest European hedge fund, and who was quite impressive), Jon Sundt of Altegris, and your humble analyst were all in top form. I must admit with a little pride that I think this is the finest speaker lineup for ANY investment conference anywhere. We were given a lot to think about.
Let me give you a few key points as an intro to this week's Outside the Box. First, there is a bubble building and it is in sovereign debt. It threatens to be a worse bubble than subprime or the credit crisis. Second, at one panel where we were asked what is our main worry, Paul McCulley said "Europe," which triggered an intense discussion, both in the panel and later that night over dinner. I agreed, of course, as I have written that very thing.
Both Paul and Niall think the consequences of a euro breakup could be severe, not only for Europe but for the world. I agree. That is why I have focused so much space in my writing and in Outside the Box on the European and especially the Greek situation. Everyone is hopeful that a major breakup can be avoided, but the problems the Mediterranean countries face are serious. I got the sense that most everyone expects the euro to fall further over the coming years.
In my opinion, there is little hope that Greece can resolve its fiscal crisis in a way that is less than draconian. I see almost no way out without a default of some kind. There will be band-aids and other measures to postpone the day of reckoning, but not to avoid it. They have just gone too far down a road of bad decisions.
Today we look at two short essays on Greece, one from Stratfor (George Friedman was in rare form this weekend) and the other from my friends Eric Sprott and David Franklin of Sprott Asset Management. Sprott gives us some details on a brewing Greek banking crisis and then closes with some thoughts on sovereign debt. He throws this little bon mot at us:
" ... [the US Government Accounting Office] goes on to state, however, that using reasonable assumptions, 'roughly 93 cents of every dollar of federal revenue will be spent on the major entitlement programs and net interest costs by 2020.'"
That is an example of the economic truism that if something can't happen, then it won't. Long before we get to 2020, massive change will be forced upon the US. The question is, do we do it willingly or do we become Greece?
And before I turn you over to the capable hands of Stratfor and Sprott, I have to end with what I think was the best one-liner of the conference (and there were so many). Paul McCulley noted that the debt crisis (the shadow banking system, subprime mortgages, SIVs, etc.) was the equivalent of an under-age drinking party with the rating agencies handing out fake IDs.
Have a good week. (And a special thanks to Lee Stein and David Malcolm for being so generous with their homes and wine cellars, respectively.)
Your feeling like I was drinking information through a fire hose analyst,