Archive for the ‘bail-out’ Category

Et tu, Brussels?

October 23, 2018

Of course everybody who goes to Rome brings home mucho pictures. People travel there from all over the world to tour the originating sites of the ancient Empire; then they take a little chunk of early European history home, in the form of photographs.

When we were there, yes, we certainly did do the obligatory tourist ritual of snapping photos of the so-called Imperial City. You’ve probably seen classic images of the Roman ruins, which commemorate the Empire period of two thousand years ago.

But I was most fascinated with a relatively new structure there, Il Vittoriano.

Designed in 1885, inaugurated in 1911, and completed in 1925, this incredible monument makes an absolutely grandiose visual impression when you first catch sight of it.

VitorioB

You can see from this grand edifice that the Italians have never forsaken their proudly imperial self-image.

This morning, however, a Roman venue of a grittier sort—the Circus Maximus— was brought to my attention. In his Seeking Alpha post,

    https://seekingalpha.com/article/4213358-now-circus-maximus?isDirectRoadblock=false

Mark J. Grant used that  ancient racetrack as a metaphor for the  fiscal contest that is now heating up over in Europe.

Here’s what Mark wrote about the presently escalating Continental showdown:

“The new “Circus Maximus” will include all of the European Union and their population of 512 million people. Sit back and enjoy the grand spectacle as Italy has now presented its budget and the European Commission has sent it back. Rome then reacted to Brussels and stood steadfast on the banks of the Tiber and now the overmasters in Brussels and Berlin will hand down judgment, and likely some form of bureaucratic justice, that was not fashioned in Italy, but which Italy is expected to obey.”

The original Circus Maximus, however is just a dirt racetrack.

If you’re a boomer geezer like me, you may remember, from a classic race scene in the 1959 MGM movie, Ben Hur, Charlton Heston heroically outmaneuvering a less-than-honorable competing charioteer, to win the great chariot race.

  BenHur

That scene may or may not have taken place in the Circus Maximus of olden times.

The real Circus Maximus, where those famous chariot races usually took place, wasn’t conducted in the Colosseum. The actual site was really a huge dirt track, located near the Tiber River, beneath Palatine Hill, where Roman emperors and their hobnobbing hoodoo entourages could view the spectacle from an elevated, privileged position. Here’s what the real Circus Maximus looks like now:

CircMax1

Seeking Alpha blogger Mark J. Grant speculates figuratively on how the present European budgetary shootout at the Circus corral may turn out:

“The European Commission will likely wield the big stick. This is initiating its so-called ‘Excessive Deficit Procedure.’ This process has never been used before and will likely be tortuous for both Italy and the European Union. Fines have never been applied to any country, with previous breaches by France and Germany overlooked, and yet, there is always a first time.”

If Mark J Grant’s racetrack metaphor is indeed indicative of the present European Contest, we’ll see in the days ahead whether Italy’s impudent leaders can prevail in their fiscal rebellion, or whether they will go down with classic mutterings of “. . . et tu, Brussels?”

Smoke

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Yes, Toto, we’re in a brave new swirl.

January 28, 2018

Today while perusing a post on the Seeking Alpha financial network I came across what appears to be a very sensible explanation of what we see in the world of finance and business today.

This no-nonsense analysis is occasionally echoed by other writers on the SA site, most notably Mr. David Stockman, former budget director for President Reagan.

He was a high-flyer back in the day, the pre-Greenspan days.

But here I make reference to a different contrarian analyst, Mark A. Grant,  upon whose article I stumbled upon this morning.

  https://seekingalpha.com/article/4140703-universe-edge-restaurant?sht=p3a1ld&shu=8wcf#comment-77507865

From a distance, I’ve been following the contrarian school of thought ever since the fall of ’08. I say “from a distance” because I am neither an economist, nor a significant investor. I am a mere citizen who happens to be a consumer, an American, an author and a semi-retired person, age 66.

This contrarian school of alarmist financial analysis generally demonstrates a perpetual amazement; their astonishment revolves around the credit-mongering house-of-cards built by the central bankers of our preset world (the Fed, EuroCBank, Bank of Japan, People’s Bank of Japan, etc.). It’s not that the contrarians have much respect for of the central bankers’ delicate arrangement of interlocking currencies and trade incentives; rather, their astonishment arises from the mystery of why it has not yet fallen apart and produced a new crash.

You see, this new international construct is not founded upon traditional economics, but rather (as it appears to this layman) upon that (at the time) new-kid-on-the-block upstart school founded in the 1930’s by Mr. Keynes; it’s all about governments and banks perpetually tweaking national/international money spigots to produce certain desired effects.

Our current zombified house-of-cards scenario has been at work for a decade or so now, ever since the crash of ’08, with its aftermath of Great Recession or great whatever-it-is.

Getting back to the source of this present article: This morning I was reading Mr. Grant’s take on the present situation and comparing it for the umpteenth time to the contrarian undertow that continues to make perfect sense. This bearish complaint corner has been going on for so long I’m beginning to wonder if the fiat-wielding central bankers have actually managed to change, by their manipulations, the fundamental nature of money.

Maybe we actually are now in a brave new world where the old rules of debit/credit will never again apply.

With all these electrons flying around the planet–all these monetized digital representations of presumed wealth and bank-enabled assets–haven’t we truly ditched the old gold-backed world of currencies-dollars, pounds, francs, marks, drachmas, denarii, Euros, rubles, shekels, yen, yuan, SDRs and zlotys?

Could Bitcoin and such be nothing more than a flash-in-pan death-throes sparkle signifying the end of our great age of post-BrettonWoods expansion? 

Might this extended wave of central banks’ Quantitative Easing actually turn out to be the debt-driven tidal wave that propels us into a land that prime forgot, where all the rules and practices of days gone by are tossed aside forever in the liquidity flood and trash heap of history?

ShipWrek

We’re getting to a precarious place now where the only solution will be to tear up the score-cards, balance sheets, and start over. The central governments of the world are forever indebted to the central banks of the world. It certainly seems that way to this observer. I’ll be surprised if we ever get back to what Mr. Smith called “the wealth of nations.”

We ain’t in Kansas any more, Toto. Exactly where we have landed is unclear. And it just might be that tapping our ruby-slippered heels of old-school analysis are gone with the wind.

When this whirlwind of fiat-instruments does wind down to a dull roar and all the chips fall where they may, who/what institutional entities  will have wrangled control of the new asset-spewing beast? Whatever that entity turns out to be–it (they) will be in a position to dole out the newly-zombified assets to the world’s surviving movers and shakers. I guess most of us out here in lala land will be quakin’ in our boots.

As for us commoners, we may all of us have to settle for a mere meal-ticket while the big chips get re-assigned.

A meal-ticket  on a card or a chip, of course.

What troubles me is: what new rules or allegiances will be demanded by the powers–that-be?

What will it cost us, John Doe/Jane Smith, to even get in the game?

King of Soul

Austerity or Stimulus?

February 25, 2017

Well this is an improvement.

When I was still a gleam in my daddy’s eye, Germany fought a world-sized war against France. But now, in 2017, all the obsolete ideology that then fueled both fanaticisms–fascist v. communist–has withered down into a battle of ideas.

Fiscal ideas, like whether budgets should be balanced, or put on hold until things get better.

From a Peace vs. War standpoint, I’d say that delicate balancing act is an improvement, wouldn’t you? Budgets and Economic Plans are, theoretically, much more manageable than tanked-up military campaigns.

Now Germany and France– those two nation-state heavyweights whose fiscal priorities set the course for the rest of Europe–they are getting along just fine now. They expend financial energies trying to keep the whole of Europe humming along on all cylinders. Budget deficits that drag down Euro economies are generated mostly in the lackadaisical southern  economies–Greece, Italy and Spain.

But those two mid-continent economic heavyweights–France and Germany, function as fiscal opposites, polarizing European values and budget priorities in opposite directions. They are two very different countries; and yet Germany and France are not as opposite as they used to be. A lot has changed since they finally made peace back in 1945.

At the time of that last Great War, early 1940’s, Germany was suffering through the death-throes of a dying monarchy. What was left of the Kaiser’s authoritative legacy had been lethally manipulated into a world-class death regime by a demonic tyrant who wore an odd, obnoxious little mustache on his flat German face.

France up to that time was still stumbling through a sort of awkwardly adolescent stage, having booted their kings and queens out back in the early stages of the industrial revolution, and then replacing, in stages, the ancient monarchy with a struggling new Republic.

What the French did as the 18th-century came to a close was similar to what we Americans did, but different. We had ditched King George III in 1776. The French cut off Louis XVI in 1792. On the other side of the Rhine, the Germans kept their Wilhelm top dog hanging on a thread until the Allies ran him down in 1918.

We Americans did a whole new thing after we rejected the old wineskins of monarchic government back in 1776; we had a lot going for us–a vast, nearly-virgin continent that stretched out for 3000+ miles, with plenty of room to grow,  and to expand our new-found explorations for Life, Liberty and Pursuits of Happiness.

The Europeans–neither the French nor the Germans–did not have all that fruited-plains expansion space like we had. They were cramped up over there in the Old World.

Having wielded a fierce guillotine ruthlessness upon their king and queen, the French tried to spread the wealth all around, ensuring that everybody got a chunk of it. They had wrung a blood-stained liberte from the palaces of privilege in 1789. Over the course of the next century and a half, they generally moved leftward the whole time, toward an egalitarian idea of solidarity.

The Germans have always tended toward authoritarian leadership, which is one reason why Hitler was able to pull off the abominations that he did. But we Allies put that to an end in 1945.

Thank God.

Now in the post-WWII Europe, the Germans have turned out to be pretty good kids on the block, considering all that had happened back in the day. The last 3/4 of a century has seen a remarkable recovery. They went through some serious changes, rebuilding after  losing two wars, and then being divide into two different countries.

Since 1990, when Germany became united again into one country, those krauts have established a pretty impressive record. They now have the strongest, most stable economy in Europe.  One reason it turned out this way is: the Germans have historically been, by necessity, very disciplined, rational people and they know how to get things done.

The French are different from that. You gotta love the French. As the Germans have made the world a better place with their great music (Bach and Beethoven), the French have brightened and lightened our worldly life with their very lively, expressive and impressionistic art, coupled with their unbridled Joie de vivre. And let’s not forget the original architectural piece-de-resistance of the Western World. It was French creativity married to inventive 19th-century industrialism that brought us the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

ParisGargoyl

The French do progress with style and artistry; the Germans get it done with impressive efficiency and precision.

As an American who has geneologic roots in both cultures, this fascinates me.

Their two different attitudes about generating prosperity also encompass, respectively, their approaches to solving money problems.

Or more specifically. . . solving “lack of money” problems.

A new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas, explains how these two nations, as the two polarizing States of modern Europe, each lead in their own way to set policy, together,  for solving Europe’s financial problems. Their tandem leadership is enhanced by their two very different strategies.

The simplest way to describe their treatments of European deficits is this:

The Germans are into Austerity; the French are into Stimulus.

Or to put it into a classic perspective:

The Germans want to balance the books,  thereby squeezing all governments and banks into economic stability. The French want the assets to get spread around so everybody can have a chunk of it.

How do I know anything about this?

This morning I saw Markus Brunnermeir being interviewed; he is one of the authors of the new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas.

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/02/europes-future-will-settled-battle-ideas/

In this fascinating, very informative interview, the questions are being posed by Rob Johnson, President of Institute for New Thinking, whatever that is.

Together, these two guys explore the two basic problem-solving approaches to working out Europe’s economic deficiencies. And it just so happens that the two main strategies are related to those two old nationalized culture, described above, between Germany and France.

Sounds simplistic perhaps, but this comparative analysis makes a lot of sense when you hear these two knowledgable men talk about the present condition of economic Europe.

So, rather than try to explain it to you, I’ll simply leave you with this list of characteristics, as identified by. Mr Markus Brunnermeier. The list identifies how each country’s budgetary priorities contributes to a strategy for solving Europe’s fiscal woes.  My oversimplified version of it  looks like this:

France

Germany

1.Stimulus

1.Austerity

2.Liquidity

2.Solvency

3.Solidarity

3.Liability

4.Discretion

4.Rules

5.Bail-out

5.Bail-In

Consider these two lists of national characteristics as two different strategies for solving large-scale economic problems.

Here are a few notes I made while watching Mr. Johnson interview Mr. Brunnermeier:

For French, the problem is always liquidity. Stimulus will flush money out of markets again.

Germans see problems as solvency difficulty. Fix the fundamentals. Don’t throw good money after bad.

French: If you see it as a liquidity problem, just bail them out.

German. If you see it as solvency problem,  Bail in, to avoid future hazards. Bail-in means: Bond holders who essentially gambled with a country or bank and  then reap the gains on upside– they should take losses on downside.

There was a radical shift in attitudes in Europe over the Cyprus bank crisis in spring 2013. Who pays? Who covers the losses?

. . . Bail-in or bail-out?

French fear systemic risk so they tend toward governmental bail-outs.

The Germans, on the other hand, see crisis as an opportunity to address and solve the systemic deficiencies. So penalize  the depositors/ investors; others will learn from that, and you will have bank-runs in other places. Such circumstances provide incentives for institutions and individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and investments.

Just how the Europeans get all this worked out, we shall see in the days ahead. And the working-out may provide some lessons for all of us.

Smoke