Published on April 8th 2013
Deposits can not only fall driven by fear, but also by greed. This is the case in 2013 in Argentina, a likely template for the US.
(Click here to read this article in pdf format: April 8 2013)
It is hard to make sense of the markets these days. For instance, gold showed no support while the geopolitical situation in Asia deteriorated, Japan embarked in the mother of all monetization programs, and a member nation of what is supposed to be a monetary union was imposed controls on the movement of capital. Or take the case of the Euro, which jumped from $1.2750 to $1.2950 on the day of one of the most confusing and embarrassing press conferences the president of its central bank ever gave.
However, in a faraway land, where there is no shadow banking, leverage or even capital markets, economic fundamentals still hold, which and can help us, inhabitants of the developed world, visualize a dynamics lost in the shelves of our collective memory. The land I am referring to is Argentina, but not Argentina of 2001. Today, I want to write about Argentina of 2013, and no, I will not discuss their legal battles with Mr. Singer.
The topic I want to bring your attention to refers to an earlier article titled “What causes hyperinflations and why we have not seen one yet” (December 18th, 2012). In it, I drew a few conclusions; the most relevant of which was that high inflation and high nominal interest rates are not incompatible, but on the contrary…they go together: There cannot be hyperinflation without high nominal interest rates. The article suggested that high interest rates are the product of a collapse in confidence, represented by a serious shrinkage of the deposit base in a currency jurisdiction. But the article was not exhaustive. It was limited to pointing out fear of confiscation, as the driver behind the collapse in confidence. This will be the driver behind the Euro zone break up. But there is another driver and Argentina of 2013 may be a template for the US. Bear with me…
Fear and greed
When human beings act/decide/choose, they face a risk/return trade off. When choosing whether or not to leave their savings deposited in a bank, indeed their decision can be driven by fears of confiscation. In other words, at a given return (almost 0% nominally and negative in real terms these days), if risk is perceived as too high, deposits will decrease or at best and at the margin, not increase. That was the scenario contemplated in my earlier article.
The most catastrophic example of the fear scenario is the monetary developments at the fall of the Roman Empire, when depositors took their monies and dug holes in the backyards of abbeys to hide them from either the tax man or barbarian hordes. However, the earliest documented example (by Isocrates; discussed by Prof. J. Huerta de Soto in his great book “Money, Bank Credit and Economic Cycles”) of this scenario dates back to 393BC and took place in Athens, triggered by the war with Sparta and the victory at Thebes, when Passio, an Athenian banker could no longer hide the insolvency of his bank (Demosthenes seems to indicate that Passio had a leverage ratio of approx. 5 to 1). He was not alone. A general run also against the banks of Timodemus, Sosynomus and Aristolochus ensued and it resulted in a deposit freeze that lasted 10 years (ref. Bogaert, Banques et banquiers dans les cités grecques). Those who feared first, feared best.
Fast forwarding some 2,406 years to 2013, what I missed in my earlier article (although it was implied in subsequent ones: i.e. on gold manipulation) is the “return” or greed component of the decision to shrink deposits. By this I mean that, for a given, known and manageable risk, if the return is perceived as too low, the deposit base can also shrink.
The perception of a low return will be shaped in relative terms. If there is an alternative to placing savings in a chequing account, for same or lower risk, the deposit base will shrink. In the developed world, courtesy of the creation of fiat gold and the volatility it generated around the price of the metal, such alternative is still non-existent. This was the smartest move of central bankers. But with the Cyprus event and others to come, without a Plan B, even this volatility can be ignored in favour of a longer term view on gold.
An example of falling deposits driven by greed rather than fear is Argentina in 2013. Depositors there learned the “fear lesson” already 12 years ago and for that reason, today a US dollar under the mattress is always worth more than a US dollar deposited in a bank. But the story didn’t stop there. Later on, as it became increasingly evident that the confiscation by the government had not ended with the default of 2002, the US dollar market saw another segmentation. As the government competed with the public to source US dollars (to repay whatever was still left outstanding on their debt) and those dollars were out of the system, it decided to prohibit access to them in open markets. The repression began in earnest about a year and a half ago. For that “national and strategic” cause, even US dollar sniffing dogs were recruited to search for any US dollar bills, out of the system (watch here and here)
Since then, the market broke and there’s the official US dollar price, where of course you find no sellers, and the market price (for an unknown reason, called the “blue” market). The graph below (source: Reuters/La Nación) does not need additional comments; it is self-explanatory. Today, while an official US dollar is worth about 5,15 pesos, the market demands about 8,50 pesos, or a 2/3rds premium.
So far, you will be asking yourselves how this can be a template for the US. And you would be right: The gold market is still one and the US government will never have to compete with the public to source physical gold to repay its debt, which is denominated in US dollars. But there’s more to it..
Why it can be a template
But let me get back to my initial point: Deposits can also fall driven by greed, rather than fear. In Argentina of 2013, deposits in pesos are now starting to contract exponentially, not driven by fear but by greed. Why? Argentines observe the escalation in the price of the US dollar bill outside the system (+25% YTD) vs. the interest paid on peso denominated deposits (-10% in real terms) or stocks (+18.5% nominally), and correctly figure out that they are better off with a king-size mattress than a bank account. Now, that to me is likely to be a template of what may happen in the US, once the market for fiat gold collapses. Here’s why: If the fiat gold market broke in a run for physical gold, the credit multiplier on paper gold would be crushed and from that moment onward depositors in US dollars all over the world would see the performance of gold as a benchmark against US dollar deposits, just like Argentines today regard US dollar bills as a benchmark against their peso deposits. This is every central banker’s biggest nightmare: An asset whose price shapes inflation expectations.
The likely outcome of this would be an initial fall in USD deposits and a rise in interest rates, as the USD unsecured funding market would dry. Following this, the Fed, just like I am expecting the central bank of Argentina to do, would be dragged into a deficit (I am not going to explain here the mechanics of the deficit of a central bank. The reader may want to see my last article on hyperinflation, mentioned above).
As Argentina is at the gates of a new hyperinflationary process, it would be wise to follow it closely. It is a template. There are two conclusions that come to mind:
Conclusion No.1 : The Fed/US government would be better off not confiscating gold
Counter intuitively and contrary to the belief of the gold bug community, the US government would have every motive NOT to confiscate gold, for in so doing, they would trigger a run for physical gold and lose every leverage they have to suppress its price. This conclusion should hold even if a run for physical gold took place for other reasons. Their best move is to keep the suppression of the price of gold via fiat gold as long as possible.
Conclusion No. 2: The Fed would be more pressed than Argentina’s central bank to run a deficit
With the peso as a local currency, the pension funds nationalized, the absence of shadow banking and capital markets, if deposits in pesos drop, the central bank of Argentina does not worry about systemic contagion. As nobody there relies on the banking system to fund their businesses, the drop in deposits would likely end up affecting the profitability of the banks, with a high probability of seeing a complete nationalization of deposits.
The Fed however would be multiple times more pressed to intervene. Its liabilities affect credit and commodity markets worldwide, the pension and money market funds would be at the risk of collapsing. The high leverage of the shadow system would be too much. Therefore, the Fed would have to subsidize not just the US but the global banking system, to maintain US dollar deposits as a competitive alternative to gold worldwide. (Once more, to see how this would take place, please see this link)
Why I disagree with Martin Feldstein
Continuing with the topic of rising interest rate, in this recent article (link), Martin Feldstein expressed his concerns on the subject. Unfortunately, he does not explain how he sees that rise being triggered. He simply begins with “When interest rates rise…”. Unlike him, I have been explicit at least since December 2011: To me, the most likely driver is a wave of corporate defaults coming from the Euro zone, forcing the Fed to become the lender of last resort (in fact, they already are) and triggering a repudiation in US Treasuries. As a consequence, the repudiation of US Treasuries would further spark the fall of the money market and probably that of a commodity market clearinghouse. In this context, the price of gold would not fall as Mr. Feldstein predicts.
In my scenario, before (i.e. independently of) the rise in rates, credit spreads would rise as defaults increase. Markets would realize that the Fed is no longer in control and that the transfer of losses to the public sector are no longer bearable and the Fed would be forced to buy any US Treasury the market sells.
Martin Feldstein’s story has the opposite narrative thread. According to him, rates will rise and defaults will follow. In his words: “…Long-term interest rates are now unsustainably low, implying bubbles in the prices of bonds and other securities. When interest rates rise, as they surely will, the bubbles will burst, the prices of those securities will fall…”
How does Mr. Feldstein expect that rates to rise? Not because the Fed raises them, but because inflation expectations would drive nominal rates higher: “…If inflation turns out to be higher (a very likely outcome of the Fed’s recent policy), the interest rate on long-term bonds could be correspondingly higher…”
Mr. Feldstein omits to tell us what he thinks would cause inflation to be higher than the 2% targeted by the Fed, but my guess is that he has the mainstream economics model in his mind, whereby as the output gap decreases, prices increase. I will have more to say about such models in subsequent letters, but for today, let me end with this: There is no such a thing as an output gap. The notion of its existence is an ad-hoc mental tool, which dismisses the role of the price system in allocating resources.
Published on March 24th 2013
Cyprus 2013 is worse than the KreditAnstalt and Argentina 2001 crises because it has an element of confiscation and two broken promises that were absent in the latter….
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: March 24 2013
This has been a very busy week for me but I did not want it to go by without leaving a few comments on the Cyprus situation. (It’s 6am ET on Sunday, as I begin to write and will not have time to appropriately edit the comments below. Please, accept then my apologies)
First, let me say that the best coverage of the crisis so far could and continues to be found at Zerohedge.com. Almost every angle of the crisis was analyzed either by Zerohedge.com or guest posts at Zerohedge.com, which puts me in the difficult position of avoiding regurgitation. Therefore, I will not discuss facts here today. I assume that at this point readers are very aware of what goes on there. If they are not, I invite them to first read the excellent coverage from Zerohedge.com and then follow my comments below.
Why Cyprus 2013 is worse than the KreditAnstalt (1931) and Argentina 2001 crises
The Cyprus 2013, like any other event, can be thought in political and economic terms.
Political analysis: Two dimensions
Politically, I can see two dimensions. The first dimension belongs to the geopolitical history of the region, with the addition of the recently discovered natural gas reserves. The historical relevance goes as far back as 1853, the year the Crimean War began. The Crimean War took place in the adjacent Black Sea, but the political interest was the same: To avoid the expansion of Russia into the Mediterranean. The relevance of this episode was the break-up of the balance of power established after the Napoleonic Wars, with the Congress of Vienna, in 1815. From then on, a whole new series of unexpected events would lead to a weaker France, a stronger Prussia, new alliances and a final resolution sixty years later: World War I. It is within this same framework that I see Cyprus 2013 as a very relevant political event: Should Russia eventually obtain a bailout of Cyprus (as I write, this does not seem likely) against a pledge on the natural gas reserves or a naval base, a new balance of power will have been drafted in the region, with Israel as the biggest loser.
The second political dimension refers to a point I made exactly a year ago, precisely inspired in the KreditAnstalt event of 1931. In an article titled: “On gold, stocks, financial repression and the KreditAnstalt of 1931” I wrote:
“(The KreditAnstalt event) was triggered because France, a public sector creditor, introduced a political condition to Austria, in exchange for a bailout of the KreditAnstalt. Today, like in 1931, in the Euro zone, the public sector is increasingly the creditor of the public sector. In 1931, England and France were creditors of Austria and demanded conditions that no private investor would have demanded.
Private investors live and die by their profits and losses. Politicians live and die by the votes they get. Private investors worry about the sustainability and capital structure of the borrower, the collateralization and the funding profile of their credits. Politicians worry about the sustainability of their power. It’s a fact and we must learn to live with it.
In 2012, Greece and increasingly other peripheral EU countries owe to other governments, the IMF and the European Central Bank. Private investors have been wiped out and will not return any moment soon. We fear that just like in 1931, when the next bailout is due either for Greece again or Portugal or Spain, political conditions will be demanded that no private investor in his/her right mind would ever have demanded. Think of it…What in the world had the customs union between Austria and Germany in 1931 had to do with the capitalization ratio of the KreditAnstalt??? Nothing! Yet, millions and millions of people worldwide were condemned to misery in only a matter of days as their savings evaporated! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of fiat currencies! You have been warned! If months from now you read in the papers that the EU Council irresponsibly demands strange things from a peripheral country in need of a bailout, remember the KreditAnstalt. Remember 1931.
Please, understand that this is not a tail risk. The tail risk is precisely the opposite. The real tail risk here is that when the next bailout comes due, politicians think like private investors and give priority to economic rather than political considerations. That’s the tail risk! If such a crisis occurred, the media will speak of increased correlations and tell you that everything is actually fine on this side of the Atlantic. But if you read us, you will know that all that led to such a situation was perfectly foreseeable and nothing is really fine on this side of the Atlantic either. You will have remembered 1931…”
At this point, I think all is said and I have nothing else to add. My worries a year ago are proving too correct.
Economic analysis: Confiscation and two broken promises
Cyprus 2013 is worse than the KreditAnstalt and Argentina 2001 crises because it has an element of confiscation and two broken promises that were absent in the latter.
Neither in 1931 or in 2001 were the depositors in Austria or Argentina subject to an explicit and arbitrary confiscation of their savings by their fellow representatives, meeting at a Parliament. This is a totally new element of violence in the drama. Back in 1931 and in 2001, depositors simply run against their banks for price discovery: to discover the true value of holding US dollar bills –physical- vs. their respective fiat currencies (shillings and pesos). That was all what these exercises (i.e. runs) were about. The governments did not intervene to distort the final discovery. In the ‘30s, through contagion to the US, such discovery allowed depositors to realize that their US dollars were worth a lot less than 1/20.67th of an ounce of gold. In the 21st century, the final act of the same game will see holders of fiat gold realizing that there is a premium for physical gold.
Both in 1931 and 2001, governments intervened only to slow down the process of price discovery. But could not change the outcome of the same. In the case of Argentina, with a credit multiplier for US dollars of 1/0.3 (30% was the reserve ratio), the US dollar ended trading at 3 pesos by 2003. Nobody should have been surprised in Argentina therefore, that the peso lost 2/3rds of its value vs. the US dollar. The devaluation was not a confiscation. Depositors did not bail out their banks or the government. Depositors simply suffer a market priced transfer of wealth that benefited those who held physical US dollars. And neither the banks nor the government had physical US dollars. That’s why they both went bankrupt.
In Cyprus 2013, depositors have no clue as to what the final recovery of their capital will be. The expected losses have no connection with a public credit multiplier (In Argentina everyone and their grandmothers knew that as of March 1995, by regulation of the central bank, for every three fiat US dollars circulating there was only 1 real US dollar as backup). In Cyprus, the final recovery is being “debated” at this moment by members of Parliament and is consulted to powers outside the country, in Brussels, in Berlin, in Washington DC and in Moscow. This is far worse. This will bring an element of social conflict, of resentment, that will not be easy to appease.
Broken Promise no. 1: The promise of a banking union
During 2012, real efforts were made by policy makers to convince the public that the Euro zone was shifting towards a banking union first, as the stepping stone to a political union. The cornerstone of that promise was the role of the European Central Bank as lender of last resort. It had to be an unanimous promise; a promise to every jurisdiction. For all practical purposes, it should matter very little what the GDP or population of a member of the union is. In fact, if the European Central Bank can not come up with the EUR5.8BN package that is claimed to be minimally needed to kick the Cypriot can down the road….what can we expect when this problem gets to Italy, which doesn’t even have a government to negotiate with yet???
In 1931, the promise of international support for Austria was only implicit. In 2001, the promise of a lender of last resort was explicitly absent in Argentina. Nobody in either Austria or Argentina had never expected anything. Nobody was promised anything. Nobody was let down. This is not the case in 2013.
Broken Promise no. 2: The promise that deposits below EUR100,000 are guaranteed
Perhaps I missed something here, but as far as I know, I never saw Mario Draghi calling for a press conference to say: “Dear depositors of Euros in the Euro zone: As long as this central bank I preside exists, regardless of geography or political circumstance, any deposit up to EUR100M is guaranteed by my institution”. If I missed such message, please, accept my apologies and be kind enough to send me the link to watch it online (I cut my cable tv subscription last year, in the interest my kids’ education).
The promised EUR100M deposit guarantee has not been openly defended in Cyprus 2013. To my knowledge, there was never such a promise either in 1931 or in 2001. Therefore, Cypriot depositors were left in the cold far worse than their counterparts in Austria or Argentina, whose expectations had never been high.
If you look at the case of Argentina 2001, you will realize that it was a pretty clean bet. In Argentina, the reserve ratio on US dollars was known: 30%. We all knew that the USD deposits had been loaned out to the government and that the government faced a significant probability of default. Banks however offered depositors of US dollars a 20% p.a. interest rate. Therefore, an Argentine depositor was faced with a clean bet: Earn 20% p.a. vs. the probability of losing 2/3rds of capital. If you thought that the probability of default of the Argentine government was beyond four years, you would play the bet with a chance of winning it.
What are depositors of Euros faced with today? Anything but a clean bet! They don’t know what the expected loss on their capital will be, because it will be decided over a weekend by politicians who don’t even represent them. They don’t really know where their deposits went to and they also ignore what jurisdiction they really belong to. Finally, depositors are paid mere basis points for their trust in the system vs. the 20% p.a. Argentina offered in 2001 (thanks to the zero-interest rate policies of the 21st century). In light of all this, I can only conclude that anyone still having an unsecured deposit in a Euro zone bank should get his/her head examined!
(Unfortunately, I don’t have more time to write. In the next letter therefore, I will have to explain two very important points: Why the European Central Bank is hypocritical in this situation and why the rest of the periphery has to expect the same fate than Cyprus. The explanation will be technical, touching on a brief discussion on bank capital structure and showing how the long-term refinancing operations offered by the European Central Bank in 2012 were a bail-out to both subordinated debt holders and shareholders, at the expense of the unsecured depositors, constituting one of the most perverse wealth transfers on record).
Published on January 21st 2013
All this means that, as of January 30th, there will be a demand in the Euro funding market that was absent during 2012.
Click the link to read this article in pdf format: January 21 2013
In our last letter, I wrote that: “…The case of Wells Fargo and the temporary pause in the flight of deposits from the periphery of the European Union suggest that the process towards a meltdown, if any (and I believe there will be one) will be a long agony. Furthermore, in the short term, at the end of January, European banks have the option to repay the money lent by the European Central Bank in the Long-Term Refinancing Operations from a year ago, on a weekly basis. I expect them to repay enough to cause more pain to those still long of gold (including me, of course)…”
Today, I want discuss the implication of the repayment of loans made under the Long-Term Refinancing Operations. These loans were extended at the end of 2011 and at the beginning of 2012. The first thing that comes to mind, of course, is the irony that last Friday (i.e. January 18th), a $200 million 7-day repo operation by the Federal Reserve pushed the price of gold up $10/oz, while a EUR529.5 billion 3-yr collateralized loan from the European Central Bank (also known as the 2nd LTRO) made on February 29th, 2012 triggered a $100/oz sell-off. Should we expect the price of gold to rise upon the first repayment on January 30th? J
A Long-Term Refinancing Operation consists in the European Central Bank loaning funds (with a 3-yr maturity) to a bank, against collateral. Banks have the option to begin repaying loans taken under the first LTRO (made for EUR489 billion, at 1%) on January 30th, and on every week thereafter. The figure below (on the first LTRO only) should help visualize the above:
It is clear that an LTRO is a collateralized lending transaction. Why then is a repayment all of a sudden relevant? Because thanks to the backstop of Open Monetary Transactions, jump-to-default risk on the collateral used in the LTRO is perceived as non-existent. This suggests that the repayments will therefore not affect the assets purchased with the loans from the ECB. In other words, if the assets (i.e. Euro sovereign debt) that the banks had pledged as collateral are now backstopped, upon repayment of the loans, the banks will not feel the urge to get rid of them. Banks will simply have the option to fund their investments elsewhere, if appropriate. And lately, deposits in the periphery of the Euro zone seem to have ceased to flee.
All this means that, as of January 30th, there will be a demand in the Euro funding market that was absent during 2012. A bank that wants to ensure access to funds at reasonable prices may fall prey to the concept of certainty equivalence. To such bank, guaranteed funding today may seem more valuable than probably cheaper funding tomorrow, as sourcing funds in the fragile Euro market is nothing short of a non-cooperative game. But this means that in the absence of further interventions by the Central Bank, time has value (again)!!! In a world of zero-interest rate policy, such an achievement may have a relevance that goes beyond a steepener curve in the EUR funds market or the new dynamic between the EONIA and Refi rate. At the moment, one can only intuit that it will be supportive of risk and hence the Euro.
Initially, it may very well confuse the market, representing an opportunity to buy risk, including (physical) precious metals for the long term. But as I proposed earlier, in 2013 I expect imbalances to grow, and the most important gauge of these imbalances will be the value of the Euro. The higher it gets, the more difficult it will become for the Euro zone periphery to repay its debt. And I will have more to say about this in coming letters.
Published on January 15th 2013
In one sentence, during 2013, I expect imbalances to grow…
Click here to read this article in pdf format: January 15 2013
In the same fashion that I proposed an analytic framework for 2012, I want to lay out today what I think will be the big themes of 2013. Their drivers were established in September 2012, and I sought to give a thorough description of them here, here and here.
An analytic framework for 2013
In one sentence, during 2013, I expect imbalances to grow. These imbalances are theUS fiscal and trade deficits, the fiscal deficits of the members of the European Monetary Union (EMU) and the unemployment rate of the EMU thanks to a stronger Euro. A stronger Euro is the consequence of capital inflows driven by the elimination of jump-to-default risk in EMU sovereign debt. Below is a drawing I made to help visualize these concepts:
The drawing shows a circular dynamic playing out: The threat of the European Central Bank to purchase the debt of sovereigns (that submit to a fiscal adjustment program) eliminates the jump-to-default risk of this asset class. As explained and forecasted in September, this threat also forces a convergence in sovereign yields within the EMU, to lower levels. As long as the market perceives that the solvency of Germany is not affected, the Bund yields will not rise to that convergence level. So far, the market seems not to see that (Possunt quia posse uidentur). But the resulting appreciation of the Euro will eventually address that illusion.
This convergence, in my view, is behind the recent weakness in Treasuries. I proposed this thesis last September. However, the ongoing weakness in Treasuries does not mean I was right. In fact, I fear I may have been right for the wrong reasons. The negotiations on the US fiscal deficit and the latest announcement of the Fed with regards to debt monetization quantitative easing to infinity may also be behind this move. But until proven wrong, I will cautiously hold to my thesis.
The above factors drove capital inflows back to the European Monetary Union and strengthened the Euro. I believe this strength will last longer than many can endure. The circularity of this all resides in that the strength of the Euro will make unemployment and fiscal deficits a structural feature of the EMU, forcing the ECB to keep the threat of and eventually implementing the Open Monetary Transactions. The alternative is a social uprising and that will not be tolerated by the Euro kleptocracy.
All this -and particularly the strength of the Euro- is not sustainable. Ad infinitum, it would create a Euro so strong that the periphery would drag coreEuropein its bankruptcy. But while it lasts, the compression in sovereign yield will mask the increasing default risks in Euro corporate debt, specially the one denominated in US dollars. Both have been fuelling the rise in the value of equities globally.
The unsustainable framework rests upon the shoulders of the Federal Reserve, which thanks to the established USD swaps and unlimited Quantitative Easing, has completely coupled its balance sheet to that of the European Central Bank. In the end, as this new set of relative prices between asset classes sets in, it will be more difficult for the European Central Bank to sterilize the Open Monetary Transactions.
History provides an example of the current growth in imbalances
By now, it should be clear that the rally in equities is not the reflection of upcoming economic growth. Paraphrasing Shakespeare, economic growth “should be made of sterner stuff”.
Under the current framework, the European Central Bank can afford to engage in the purchase of sovereign debt because the Fed is indirectly financing the European private sector. The Fed does so with the backstop of USD swaps and tangible quantitative easing, which provides cheap USD funding to European banks and thus avoids a credit contraction of the sorts we began to see at the end of 2011.
This same structure was in place between the Federal Reserve and the central banks of France and England in 1927, 1928 and 1929 and, as a witness declared, “(it) transformed the depression of 1929 into the Great Depression of 1931”. Something tells me that this time however it will be different. It will be worse. That little something is the determination of the new Japanese government to devalue its currency via purchases of European sovereign debt (ESM debt).
How fragile is this Entente?
Most analysts I have read/heard, focus on the political fragility of the framework. And they are right. The uncertainty over theUSdebt ceiling negotiations and the fact that prices today do not reflect anything else but the probability of a bid or lack thereof by a central bank makes politics relevant. Should the European Central Bank finally engage in Open Monetary Transactions, the importance of politics would be fully visible.
However, unemployment is “the” fundamental underlying factor in this story and I do not think it will fall. In the long term, financial repression, including zero-interest rate policies, simply hurt investment demand and productivity. I do not see unemployment dictating the rhythm in 2013, indirectly through defaults. Furthermore, in the meantime, the picture may look different, because “…we should not be surprised if, under zero-interest-rate policies in the developed world, we witness a growing trend in corporate leverage, with vertical integration, share buybacks and private equity funds taking public companies private…”. This is obviously supportive of risk.
No systemic meltdown in 2013?
From earlier letters, you know that I believe quasi-fiscal deficits (i.e. deficits from a central bank) are a necessary condition for a meltdown to occur, and that these usually appear when deposits begin to seriously evaporate. So far, capital is leaving main street (via leveraged share buybacks and dividends), but at the same time, it is being parked at banks in the form of deposits. The case of Wells Fargo and the temporary pause in the flight of deposits from the periphery of the European Union suggest that the process towards a meltdown, if any (and I believe there will be one), will be a long agony. Furthermore, in the short term, at the end of January, European banks have the option to repay the money lent by the European Central Bank in the Long-Term Refinancing Operations from a year ago, on a weekly basis. I expect them to repay enough to cause more pain to those still long of gold (including me, of course).
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Published on July 9th 2012
“… For all practical purposes, the European Central bank made sure that its liabilities, the Euro, will never be able to reach a global reserve status…”
Click here to read this article in pdf format: July 9 2012
Markets had a quiet week, with a holiday in Canada and another in the United States. We will therefore be brief today.
In our last letter, we presented how we think, the end of this crisis will be brought about: With the collapse of the futures markets. It is important that these markets really break because they are the ones used to manipulate commodity prices (not just gold) and as long as commodity prices can be controlled, the flight from fiat money to real assets will not be triggered and the global depression will stay with us. We know that, “they” know that and that’s why when that critical moment approaches, the repression to avoid it will be phenomenal, of a kind nobody in the developed world has ever witnessed. We leave it here…
Last week, the central bank of Argentina declared that at least 5% percent, we understand, of deposits held by local banks “must” be lent to businesses. Everyone laughed at this ridiculous measure. Everyone knows that it is useless and that the government of that country can do nothing to prevent their eventual fall. Last week too, the central bank of the European Union declared that it will pay nothing, (zero percent rate) on deposits from Euro zone banks. Yet nobody laughed at this measure and still… it is nothing else but a twisted version of what the Argentines did. It is as ridiculous and it will be met with the same answer: Less lending and more recession.
As we wrote months ago, in order to save their currency, the Euro zone destroyed its banks. And with this last measure, it will have ended its money market. For all practical purposes, the European Central bank made sure that its liabilities, the Euro, will never be able to reach a global reserve status. The damage these irresponsible central bankers are doing is immense because until now, Euro banks were not lending to each other for a genuine reason: Very high counterpart risk within a currency zone that is falling apart. They were taking heavy capital losses on the sovereign debt holdings they had been coerced to invest their funds in but, at least, they were able to earn 25bps on immobilized monies. Now, they won’t even have this “risk-free” income, a situation that actually enhances counterpart risk, as solvency is further crushed.
At the same time, if the banks cannot afford to have funds immobilized, they will discourage the growth of deposits in the Euro zone, precisely when they are most needed. The way markets welcomed this measure shows we are not alone with this view.
On another note, last week too, Robert Diamond, ex-CEO of Barclays was called a criminal during a testimony before the British Parliament. The reason? His former employer was accused of manipulating the London inter-bank offered rate (LIBOR). We can only ask this: Why are bankers called criminal when interacting in the market to get a price for their product, while central banks, who actually “set” the rates….are not? Who is the criminal? After all, would any other business not try to move a price to its benefit? If it is successful, it’s because the demand for that product is there. The point is: They were not, which is why Libor, after all, has become an irrelevant rate. Was that criminal? Did bankers really ever force other banks or businesses to borrow by way of bank debt, rather than bonds or raising equity? Yet, central banks do actually impose rates on the market, regardless of demand. Who is the criminal? Who is it?, we ask…
Lastly, in our letter of June 25th, we argued that it was now conceivable to see Germany leave the Euro zone first. We think that the latest actions, both by the central bank and the Euro Summit, make this outcome increasingly likely.
Bob Diamond,deposit rate,deposits,Euro,Euro Summit,Euro-zone,European Central Bank,Germany,global depression,LIBOR,money market
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