Monday, November 7, 2011

Financial fascism....and the financial-political contradictions of the euro project....

Zioconned Western countries are broken because the system is fixed by the utterly corrupt and the power behind the Power.....

Financial fascism....and the financial-political contradictions of the euro project....

By Chan Akya

If politics were just war by another name, then economics would be the favored armory of both sides. Europe has gone one step further last week, almost unimaginably bringing back the era of fascism as it contends with the unwieldy agglomeration of financial contradictions that the euro project has now become.

The birthplace of democracy, Greece, has gone back to a managed dictatorship after the collapse of the democratically elected George Papandreou government on Sunday, to be replaced by a national unity government with a technocrat at its helm. Reading between the lines, the idea isn't hard to understand: a pliant government in Athens that is helmed by a

eurocrat, unable to ask any questions of Brussels and unwilling to concede over any objections from the population of Greece.

The apparent crime of the Greeks was to ask their prime minister for a referendum on the latest series of proposals from European authorities on a new bailout for their country (see
The men without qualities, Asia Times Online, October 29, 2011). This set off panic in stock and bond markets mid-week and prepared the stage for an ugly showdown as well as unprecedented developments.

For the European governments, this level of panic in the markets was simply unacceptable as it showed deep "ingratitude" on the part of the Greeks; that view of course conveniently ignores ground realities of austerity that the Greeks would endure on their own so that bankers in Paris and Frankfurt wouldn't face job or pay cuts.

Greece's prime minister was invited to the Group of 20 (G-20) meeting in Cannes, making the confab G-21 for a while according to wags, although I maintain that the "G" in G-20 stood for Greece all along. After receiving suitably strong tongue-lashings from German leader Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, a suitably chastened Papandreou dropped plans for a referendum and instead started work on a national unity government that would have the implementation of the eurozone bailout plan as its major (and perhaps only) policy point.

G-20 released an insipid statement that went nowhere in terms of helping the Europeans. All the fond expectations of the Europeans were dashed to the ground - be it the increased role of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to which various countries would contribute (no contributions were forthcoming in the end), or expanded powers for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help manage the crisis (ditto).

Poorer countries objected to the very notion of further contributions to bail out rich European countries, particularly when the Europeans apparently couldn't agree on priorities. While the statement describes lofty ideals of growth globally, it does little to actually suggest ways and means of reversing the problems with countries and zones in recession: in particular, Europe.

To cut the eurozone's structural drag, countries will have to improve competitiveness. This can only be done if structural constraints on growth are removed, the main one of which is the overly generous social programs. Alternatively, Europe can choose to maintain social safeguards but will have to forsake a strong currency. Inflation would then do to the European lifestyles what common sense alone couldn't establish.

This is the meta context under which the European crisis resolution is being fought. Countries with savings - like Germany - do not wish to suffer from inflation but want instead that their southern neighbors simply destroy structural benefits instead. Southern countries would rather keep their benefit systems, but try to depreciate their currencies to a growth path.

Another issue and perhaps the core one is that the elite want one thing, and have decided to pursue that solution - written by bankers - without heeding the legitimate demands of those ostensibly being bailed out.

It gets worse. Not content with one unwieldy object, the G-20 also had to contend with a second one, namely Italy, wherein the government rejected calls for IMF aid while calling for "increased surveillance" and a formalization of the troika (European Union, IMF and European Central Bank) in case Italy needed funds later. Market observers who had to sit through months of uncertainty waiting for the Europeans to get their act together over a 100 billion euro (US$137 billion) bailout package for Greece will now have to do the same for a 1 trillion euro package for Italy.

Italian bonds crossed the magic level of 450 basis points (bps) in spread over Germany last week even as the EFSF failed in its attempted 13 billion euro funding deal. The level of 450 basis points is important because that sets rules with respect to collateral posting against global banks, and essentially puts a sovereign "in play" ie enhances volatility expectations in markets, with unspecified market demands for resolution driving sentiment.

It fell to the French president to tell off the Greeks in the end: plainly, he stated, that the Greeks could have any referendum they wanted, but would have to leave the euro if they went ahead with this particular one. Germany's most popular newspaper, the Bild, called last week for a referendum in Germany on whether Greece could stay in the single currency or not.

So it has come to this, that the French who started the era of modern European democracies with their storming of the Bastille and a cry of "liberty, equality and fraternity" essentially devalued their own history by telling the Greeks not to have inconvenient opinions. I can spy the ghost of Marie Antoinette demanding her head back.

The message from eurocrats couldn't have been more unequivocal if they had spelled it all out: democracy was an unnecessary complication in the grand European project.

Elsewhere, the new resident of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, conducted his first full meeting and started with an auspicious (I am being sarcastic) rate cut to get things going. The idea that the new ECB president would be populist and swing the monetary institution somewhat further on loose monetary policy than his predecessor ever managed was immediately (of course) played up in the popular media.

Think about it like this - the ECB has been criticized for inflicting greater pain on the highly indebted countries by raising rates and failing to do more towards monetary easing. The incoming head of the ECB likely has very similar inclinations to his predecessor (he announced, for example, that there was no mechanism for any country to leave the euro) but has decided to have a stronger public relations battle by starting off with a small rate cut that would do absolutely nothing to resolve the core issues because high interest rates are not the issue while wide credit spreads very much are.

It has been clear with every new European approach to the crisis that the primary objective of any grouping is to save the European financial system at all costs. This system includes within it a unwieldy common currency that has simply failed to meet its objectives for the 11 years of its existence. Rather than consigning the project to the dustbin of history, the elite of Europe choose to perpetuate the currency's existence at the expense of the people.

This is what fascism is all about at the end - an overwhelming subjugation of the individual at the altar of nationalism, the authoritarian rule of a financial system that disallows countries from following their own courses.

Between them, it is difficult to read too much into the events; even allowing for a fair bit of doubt to gather in one's mind the unshakable end result is a feeling of deja vu as it appears that the fascist past echoed by the likes of Mussolini, Franco and Hitler has come back to roost.
Push on for Tobin tax....
By Cleo Fatoorehchi

CANNES - While the Greek bailout and stimulus package dominated discussion among the Group of 20 (G-20) major industrialized and emerging market economies at the high-level summit in Cannes, France, last week, the proposed financial transactions tax (FTT) received meagre attention.

Dubbed by some economists and activists as the "Robin Hood tax" or "Tobin tax", the FTT has enjoyed marginal but sustained support from hard-hitters in the G-20. The purpose of a Tobin tax is to raise money by setting a very low taxation level, of hundredths or thousands of a percent, on a very large number of transactions.

In February, French President Nicolas Sarkozy nudged Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to prepare a report on the enormous potential of such a tax to jump-start development in poor countries, particularly after the 2008-2009 crash pushed many donor nations to slash their official development assistance to the global south.

A "technical note" from the report, released at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington in September, claimed that the adoption of an FTT by the G-20 or even the European Union could generate "substantial resources.

According to the note, "Some modeling suggests that even a small tax of 10 bp [basis points] on equities and two bp on bonds would yield about [US$] 48 billion on a G-20-wide basis, or [$]9 billion if confined to larger European economies. Some FTT proposals offer substantially larger estimates, in the [$]100-250 billion [dollar] range, especially if derivatives are included."

Eyes on Europe
However, fears about potential ripple effects of massive instability in the eurozone pushed the FTT further and further down the G-20 agenda over the past few days. Many experts were fearful that if the European Union crumbled further, the global impacts, especially in developing countries, would be severe.

Alan S Alexandroff, director of the Digital20 Project at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, told Inter Press Service (IPS) that the current global economic architecture meant that any regional crisis posed grave threats to other, interdependent parts of the world.

"Since China's major export market is Europe, it is going to be a very difficult problem for China if they cannot export because the economy in Europe is under stress," he said, adding that India and Brazil were also vulnerable to shock waves emanating from the eurozone.

Samuel A Worthington, president and chief executive officer of the US umbrella organization InterAction, told IPS, "The Greek crisis, the broader euro crisis, as well as the fiscal crisis in the US have a direct negative effect on the developing world. It decreases remittances; it decreases bank investments around the world, particularly with European banks in Africa; and it makes the overall prospects of global growth lower."

Push for financial transactions tax
The release on Thursday of Gates' long-awaited report, entitled "Innovation with Impact: Financing 21st Century Development", shed light on alternative methods of boosting official development assistance, even under economic pressure, through innovative development financing schemes.

Touching on a broad range of issues, the report stressed, "well designed aid reduces poverty right now, and accelerates poor countries' progress toward the moment when they will no longer need it."

It outlined the proposal of a tobacco tax, an idea promoted by the World Health Organization and also suggested taxes on aviation and bunker fuels, which would serve the dual purpose of addressing environmental concerns about pollution and over-exploitation of natural resources, as well as generating substantial revenue.

Finally, the report called outright on the G-20 governments to commit to the FTT. According to the report, even taxing financial transactions at the minimal scale of 0.001% would mobilize billions of dollars towards developing countries.

Various international and development non-governmental organizations (NGOs) warmly welcomed Gates' support on these issues.

Luc Lampriere, Oxfam's spokesperson at the G-20, said in a statement on Thursday, "Gates' enthusiasm for an FTT and a carbon charge on shipping and aviation should encourage champions like France, Germany, and Brazil and convince sceptics like Canada, UK and the US." But as Worthington pointed out, "Unfortunately, the trend seems to be going in the opposite direction."

While some G-20 countries have already implemented their own versions of an FTT at the national level - namely South Korea, South Africa and Brazil - influential countries like France are looking for a coalition, or collective agreement on the issue. Worthington believes that "France is afraid to act in isolation" for fear of putting Paris' markets at risk.

Sarkozy eventually closed the G-20 meeting in Cannes on Friday with the announcement that 10 out of 20 supported implementation of the tax, though no concrete action plan was put in place.

The US and the UK refused to agree to the FTT but were convinced to mention it in the final communique - a significant step forward, according to Khalil Elouardighi, a relentless advocate of the tax through Coalition Plus.

With a strong coalition of countries throwing their weight behind the FTT, NGOs expect that nothing will keep it from being implemented.

Last Friday, the Leading Group on Innovative Financing and Development, a body seeking new ways to fund development and with representatives from numerous countries and organizations, published a draft treaty on the FTT, complete with a blueprint for action beginning in September.

The group plans to meet in Madrid on December 29, at which point many hope that the leaders will be true to their word, and sign a concrete treaty on the tax. ....
Destructive inflationism....

by Doug Noland

I was struck recently by a question posed by CNBC's Simon Hobbs to Marc Faber - investor, analyst and financial writer extraordinaire: "In Steve Jobs' new biography, Walter Isaacson talks about a conversation that he had with Rupert Murdoch, and Steve Jobs says that for commentary and analysis the axis today is not liberal versus conservative. The axis now is constructive versus destructive. Which side of that line do you think you fall on?"

I'll assume that Mr Hobbs sees Marc Faber residing more in the "destructive" camp - and I presume many would consider my analysis "destructive" as well. We're now in this strange and uncomfortable period of heightened angst, anger and vilification, whether it is in Athens, throughout Europe, or across the US from New York City to Oakland, California. European policymakers have been keen to blame short-sellers and speculators for their bond market woes. The rating agencies are under attack on both sides of the Atlantic. And analysts such as Mr Faber and myself are generally viewed with contempt by those determined to view the world through rose-colored glasses.

From Websters: "Destructionist: One who delights in destroying that which is valuable; one whose principles and influence tend to destroy existing institutions; a destructive."

I tend to view the recent use of "destructionist" in similar light to the vilification of the so-called "liquidationists" and "bubble poppers" (a Ben Bernanke term) from the spectacular "Roaring Twenties" boom and bust cycle. There are those who believe that enlightened policymaking can implement an inflationary cycle and successfully grow out of debt problems. Then there are others that see failed policy doctrine and credit inflation as the root cause of a dangerous dynamic that risks a catastrophic end. Revisionist history has been especially unfair to Andrew Mellon and other "bubble poppers" who warned of the impending dangers associated with the runaway monetary, credit and speculative excess in the years immediately preceding the 1929 crash.

I am of the view that inflationary policy doctrine ("inflationism") is in the process of impairing the creditworthiness of the financial claims that constitute the foundation of the global financial system. Massive issuance of non-productive debt and central bank monetization have irreparably distorted the global pricing of finance and the resulting allocation of financial and real resources.
This backdrop has nurtured destructive speculative dynamics. From my perspective, it is the "destructionist" forces of "inflationism" that today pose grave risk to global capitalism. And, to be sure, the "socialism" of credit risk is at the heart of the monetary and economic quagmires imperiling Europe, the US and nations around the world.

From Wikipedia: "Destructionism is a term used by Ludwig Von Mises, a classical liberal economist, to refer to policies that consume capital but do not accumulate it. It is the title of Part V of his seminal work Socialism. Since accumulation of capital is the basis for economic progress (as the capital stock of society increases, the productivity of labor rises, as well as wages and standards of living), Von Mises warned that pursuing socialist and statist policies will eventually lead to the consumption and reliance on old capital, borrowed capital, or printed 'capital' as these policies cannot create any new capital, instead only consuming the old."

From the "Austrian" perspective, runaway credit booms destroy wealth instead of creating it. There is as well an important facet of inequitable wealth redistribution that returns to haunt the system come the unavoidable bursting of the bubble and the associated devaluation of "printed capital". I believe the current course of reflationary policymaking is doomed specifically because the ongoing massive expansion (inflation) of financial claims is not associated with a corresponding increase in capital investment and real wealth-creating capacity. Governments around the world are - and will be in the future - required to issue massive amounts of new debt to sustain maladjusted financial and economic structures, in the processes prolonging wealth-destructive over-consumption and destabilizing global imbalances. The "Austrians" use the apt analogy of consuming one's furniture for firewood.

As she has a habit of doing, The Financial Times' Gillian Tett wrote an exceptional piece on Friday. "Subprime moment looms for 'risk-free' sovereign debt: When future financial historians look back at the early 21st century, they may wonder why anybody ever thought it was a good idea to repackage subprime securities into 'triple A' bonds. So, too, in relation to assumptions about the 'risk-free' status of western sovereign debt. After all, during most of the past few decades, it has been taken as a key axiom of investing that most western sovereign debt was in effect risk-free, and thus expected to trade at relatively undifferentiated tight spreads. Now, of course, that assumption is being exposed as a fallacy ... As the turmoil in the eurozone spreads, forcing a paradigm shift for investors, the intriguing question now is whether we are on the verge of a paradigm shift in the regulatory and central bank world, too."

Italian yields jumped 16 basis points (bps) on Friday to 6.35%, tacking on another 34 bps for the week. The spread to bunds surged 69 bps this week to 453 bps. One is left pondering how the Italian bond market would have fared had the European Central Bank (ECB) not surprised the market with a rate cut and not continued to aggressively buy Italy's debt. On Tuesday from the FT: "A trader of Italian government bonds said: 'It was meltdown at one point before the ECB came in. There were no prices in Italian government bonds. That is almost unheard of in a big market like Italy. There were just no buyers and therefore no prices.'"

Just to think that there were "just no buyers and therefore no prices" in the world's third-largest sovereign debt market. To have Greek yields last week approach 100%. To have speculative positions in sovereign debt early in the week lead to the eighth largest bankruptcy filing in US history. And there were heightened market concerns as to the safety of "segregated" brokerage assets (in response to MF Global issues) and the integrity of the credit default swap (CDS) marketplace (Greece and beyond). To have G20 policymakers, again, fail to reach a consensus as to how to approach the European debt crisis. To have Greece spiraling out of control.

Well, the wrecking ball has been just chipping away at the bedrock of market faith in contemporary finance. And then to read one of the world's preeminent financial journalists contemplating market "fallacies" and a paradigm shift with respect to the nature of sovereign debt risk.

No doubt about it, it was another troubling week in global finance. But not to worry; the ECB surprised markets with a rate cut and Federal Reserve chairman Bernanke stated that the Fed was readying its mortgage-backed security (MBS) bazooka. The more destabilized world finance becomes, the more our captivated markets fixate on synchronized global reflationary policymaking. For now, faith in policymaking seems to be holding up better than confidence in finance.

There are important reasons why financial crises traditionally often originate in the so-called "money market". Money market assets are generally the most intensively intermediated financial claims. Risk intermediation is critical to the process of transforming loans with various risk profiles into financial claims essentially perceived as risk-free in the marketplace.

As I attempted to address last week, this perception of "moneyness" is an extremely powerful force in finance, the markets and economics more generally. The credit mechanism and resulting flow of finance can work miraculously when markets perceive "moneyness", although things can unravel dramatically when the marketplace begins to fear what it thought was safe and liquid "money" are instead risky and potentially illiquid Credit instruments. Just as there is a thin line between love and hate, there can be an even finer line between Credit boom and bust.

From the concluding sentences of Ms Tett's article: " ... if regulatory systems had not encouraged banks and investors to be so complacent about sovereign risk in the past, markets might have done a better job of signalling that structural tensions were rising in the eurozone - and today's crunch would not be creating such a convulsive shock. It is, as I said above, wearily reminiscent of the subprime tale. And, sadly, that is no comfort at all."

I, as well, see disconcerting parallels to subprime. Especially late in the mortgage finance bubble, a huge and expanding gulf had developed between the market's perception of "moneyness" for mortgage securities and the true underlying Creditworthiness of the debt. Importantly, it was the ongoing massive expansion of mortgage credit that supported home prices and economic growth - all working seductively to further seduce the marketplace into perceiving ongoing "moneyness".

The "terminal phase" of credit bubble excess saw systemic risk expanded exponentially, as the quantity of credit ballooned and the quality of this debt deteriorated markedly. It was both a historic mania and astonishing example of (Minsky) "Ponzi Finance".

These days, sovereign debt (Treasuries, in particular) is being issued in incredible quantities (and at amazingly low yields). The vast majority of this debt is non-productive and of rapidly deteriorating quality. Yet the markets for the most part are sufficiently content to continue perceiving "moneyness".

Part of this "moneyness" is due to the credit cycle reality that, similar to subprime, things tend to look ok even in the perilous late stage of a credit boom. And, importantly, the markets perceive that the Fed, ECB, People's Bank of China, Bank of Japan, Bank of England, and other global central bankers will continue to monetize (accumulate) this debt - in the process ensuring stable valuation and abundant liquidity in the marketplace ("moneyness").

Here's where it gets really troubling from my analytical framework: the more this "new paradigm" takes hold - of the market now recognizing the fallacy of the traditional assumption of "risk-free" sovereign debt (especially in regard to $2.5 trillion of Italian federal borrowings) - the greater the scope of central bank monetizaton anticipated by the markets.

This expectation for reflationary policymaking is increasingly underpinning speculative risk asset markets globally. Especially when it comes to Treasury debt, the markets' perception of "moneyness" is related much more to the expectation of ongoing central bank purchases than it is with (rapidly deteriorating) credit fundamentals. Ironically, the greater the upheaval in global sovereign debt and risk markets, the more willing the markets are to further accommodate Treasury bubble excess.

Increasingly, the key dynamic underpinning global risk markets is the expectation for the Fed and global bankers to ensure the "moneyness" of Treasury and global sovereign debt. Indeed, "risk on" or "risk off" now rests chiefly on the markets' immediate, perhaps whimsical, view of the capacity for the world's central banks to sustain the faltering sovereign credit boom....
Such a backdrop creates extraordinary uncertainty and is inherently unstable. It points, problematically, to binary outcomes (ongoing speculative boom or bust) across global asset classes, certainly including currencies. And it creates a dynamic where an acutely fragile global financial and economic backdrop can actually incite only more destabilizing speculation and excess.

For the record, here's Mr Faber's perfect response to Simon Hobbs: "Well, I think I'm very constructive and I'm a great optimist in life. Otherwise I would commit suicide in view of the kind of governments we have nowadays. Because, for sure, they will take wealth away from the well-to-do people one way or the other. And from the middle class they will take it away through inflating the economy and lowering the standards of living."

No comments:

Post a Comment