Monday, September 26, 2011

Today's links

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1--The longer we delay, the worse it will be for peripheral Europe, Credit Writedowns

Excerpt: Slow growth is embedding itself solidly into the US economy and the bond mayhem in Europe continues. The external environment for China is getting worse. This will almost certainly make China’s adjustment – when Beijing finally gets serious about it – all the more difficult. With still weak domestic consumption growth, and little chance of this changing any time soon, weaker foreign demand for Chinese exports will cause greater reliance than ever on investment growth to generate GDP growth.

Europe’s travails in particular can’t be good for exports. What’s worse, it’s now pretty much official that the euro will fail soon enough...

As I see it, we cannot continue with the existing currency arrangement. Countries like Spain (I am reverting to my habit of calling all the deficit countries “Spain” and all the surplus countries “Germany”) simply will not adjust quickly enough as long as they maintain the euro, and we are going to watch their economies contract and their debts grow until finally the electorate has had enough and forces a radical change in strategy.

Much if not most of peripheral Europe will then leave the euro and default, and Germany will have to eat the losses on its outstanding (and growing) loans. But why wait? The longer we put off the reckoning the worse it will be for peripheral Europe and the greater the losses that Germany will have to swallow. So shouldn’t Germany simply force Spain to leave the euro now?

2--Art Cashin: Eye of the storm, Wall Street Journal

Excerpt: The classic Thursday/Monday syndrome starts with the kind of action we saw yesterday. The markets open under pressure and selling accelerates in swelling volume. By early afternoon, there is a virtual stampede of selling. Then, later in the session, stocks stabilize a bit based on some reassurance…

The action on Friday (and Saturday in the case of 1929) is uneven, often ending choppily steady or somewhat weaker.

Then on Monday, the trapdoor opens with liquidation and margin calls bringing tsunamis of selling.

Is that what’s going to happen? Who knows? If it were that easy, kindergarten kids could do this. But chance favors the prepared mind. Old fogeys will guard against undue risk and exposure. Some may even get out a special shopping list…

Not infrequently, the Monday massacre spills over into Tuesday morning – a capitulation bottom in mid-morning resulting in a massive reversal to the upside.

Will this follow the pattern? It’s always a long shot, but we thought you should at least know the history of the pattern. Grace under pressure, Grasshopper. Grace under pressure.

3--Did EU just unleash the bazooka, Pragmatic Capitalism

Excerpt: “German and French authorities have begun work on a three-pronged strategy behind the scenes amid escalating fears that the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis is spiralling out of control.

…First, Europe’s banks would have to be recapitalised with many tens of billions of euros to reassure markets that a Greek or Portuguese default would not precipitate a systemic financial crisis. The recapitalisation plan would go much further than the €2.5bn (£2.2bn) required by regulators following the European bank stress tests in July and crucially would include the under-pressure French lenders.

Officials are confident that some banks could raise the funds privately, but if they are unable they would either be recapitalised by the state or by the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) – the eurozone’s €440bn bail-out scheme.

The second leg of the plan is to bolster the EFSF. Economists have estimated it would need about Eu2 trillion of firepower to meet Italy and Spain’s financing needs in the event that the two countries were shut out of the markets. Officials are working on a way to leverage the EFSF through the European Central Bank to reach the target.

4--Credit Update: Emerging market contagion, Pragmatic Capitalism

Excerpt: China’s Squeeze on Property Market Nearing ‘Tipping Point’ – Bloomberg – 23rd of September:

“The squeeze on China’s property market may be reaching a “tipping point” that drives growth lower just when exports are under threat from a global slowdown and investor confidence is plunging, said Zhang Zhiwei, Hong Kong-based chief China economist at Nomura Holdings Inc.

Land transactions in 133 cities tracked by Soufun Holdings Ltd., the country’s biggest real-estate website, fell 14 percent by area in August from a month earlier. Prices of new homes declined in 16 of 70 cities last month compared with July, according to government data.”

Pop goes the real estate bubble in China, from the same article:

“Property construction is a mainstay of investment that last year drove more than a half of economic growth while land sales contributed 40 percent of revenues earned by local authorities that have amassed 10.7 trillion yuan ($1.67 trillion) of debt.

A funding squeeze on developers risks a “domino effect” as companies needing cash cut prices, forcing others to follow, Credit Suisse Group AG said yesterday.

“We’re reaching a tipping point where land sales are dropping much faster than before, developers are losing more access to bank financing, and housing prices are showing weakness,” Nomura’s Zhang said in an interview in Beijing yesterday.”

And Bloomberg to add:

“The price of land in Beijing slumped 76 percent in August from a month earlier, while in Guangzhou it plummeted 53 percent, according to Soufun. Land auction failures surged 242 percent in the first seven months of this year because of government curbs on the property market, the Beijing Times reported Aug. 3.”

A Chinese Subprime crisis in the making?

“Some developers have turned to trust firms for financing, usually in the form of loans that are repackaged into investment products and sold to retail investors. The debt is typically funded by banks or investors themselves, according to Samsung Securities Asia Ltd.”...

“The equity market finally realized what the credit market was” flashing” for a while… and reacted accordingly. But the race to catch back with the credit market has still a long way to go…and the path may not be a straight line. Bottom line, equities will go lower as the new “norm” of slow economy worldwide will be accepted…

Which means lower prices for commodities (goodbye Canadian dollar and Australian dollar carry trade), higher US dollar (a higher US dollar and slower growth will be the poison pill for the international US corporations)…”

No more safe havens, even in Switzerland, as the country now flirts with deflation, Japanese style...” ‘No more risk free assets’ may result in a big re-pricing of all asset classes.

When there is too much debt in a system and when everybody is reluctant to erase the debt, the only solution is to deflate the value of the debt and the capital in order to bring them in line with the value of the assets or collateral… The trend will be “to deflate”, because we are in “deflation” … even if nobody wants to hear it.”

5--The main problem with the eurozone is...?, Pragmatic Capitalism

Excerpt: The ESM, like the EFSF is fatally flawed as it doesn’t resolve the inherent flaw in the currency union. The ESM is a reactive fix to problems and not the proactive fix that the Euro needs. For instance, in the USA, the states are given an allotted disbursement from the Federal government each year. This helps fill any budget gaps that might be caused by a state’s funding deficiencies. And the USA does this every single year and even at times when Congress decides it to be appropriate.

It’s a proactive measure. A way of saying – “bring it on bond vigilantes because we are a union of 50 strong and if you try to bring one of us down we will unleash the wrath of the other 49 on you via fiscal disbursement!”. The vigilantes understand this message and they stay in their corners like good dogs should. Like it or not, Europe needs the same sort of mechanism. I am not sure how they’ll finally come up with it, but it’s the endgame here….

6--Romer: A Plan on Jobs Deserves a Hearing, Christina Romer, Commentary, NY Times via Economist's View

Excerpt: ... People are concerned about the deficit, and this concern is holding back the recovery. Fiscal austerity, not more stimulus, is the answer.

This argument makes me crazy. There’s simply no evidence that concern about the current deficit is a significant factor limiting consumer spending or business investment. And government borrowing rates are at record lows, suggesting that financial markets are not worried about the deficit, either.

Moreover, as I discussed in a previous column, the best evidence shows that fiscal austerity depresses growth and raises unemployment in the near term. That’s the experience of countries like Greece, Portugal and Britain... Cut the current deficit and you will raise unemployment, not lower it.

Like many other countries, the United States has two terrible problems: a devastating lack of jobs right now and an unsustainable budget deficit over the longer run. The right question is not whether we can reduce unemployment by lowering the deficit (we can’t), but whether we can make progress on both problems.

With 14 million Americans unemployed and no prospect of rapid recovery on the horizon, we really have no choice: we must take additional measures to create jobs. ... Just as important, policy makers should be discussing how to make meaningful progress on the long-run deficit at the same time. We need a credible plan that phases in aggressive deficit reduction as the economy recovers.

The president has started a discussion about job creation. His proposal deserves a full debate based on facts, evidence and careful analysis.

7--America and Europe: Saving the Rich and Losing the Economy, Paul Craig Roberts, Global Research

Excerpt: Economic policy in the United States and Europe has failed, and people are suffering.

Economic policy failed for three reasons: (1) policymakers focused on enabling offshoring corporations to move middle class jobs, and the consumer demand, tax base, GDP, and careers associated with the jobs, to foreign countries, such as China and India, where labor is inexpensive;

(2) policymakers permitted financial deregulation that unleashed fraud and debt leverage on a scale previously unimaginable; (3) policymakers responded to the resulting financial crisis by imposing austerity on the population and running the printing press in order to bail out banks and prevent any losses to the banks regardless of the cost to national economies and innocent parties.

Jobs offshoring was made possible because the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in China and India opening their vast excess supplies of labor to Western exploitation. Pressed by Wall Street for higher profits, US corporations relocated their factories abroad. Foreign labor working with Western capital, technology, and business know-how is just as productive as US labor. However, the excess supplies of labor (and lower living standards) mean that Indian and Chinese labor can be hired for less than labor’s contribution to the value of output. The difference flows into profits, resulting in capital gains for shareholders and performance bonuses for executives.

As reported by Manufacturing and Technology News (September 20, 2011) the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages reports that in the last 10 years, the US lost 54,621 factories, and manufacturing employment fell by 5 million employees. Over the decade, the number of larger factories (those employing 1,000 or more employees) declined by 40 percent. US factories employing 500-1,000 workers declined by 44 percent; those employing between 250-500 workers declined by 37 percent, and those employing between 100-250 workers shrunk by 30 percent.

8--Banks Splinter on Europe Debt Crisis, Bloomberg

Excerpt: Wall Street leaders, urging coordinated action from world governments to solve the European sovereign-debt crisis, struggled themselves during four days of meetings in Washington to agree on what’s needed to end it.

The chiefs of firms including JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) and Societe Generale (GLE) SA met for three hours at the National Archives on Sept. 23. They differed on which government and private solutions may restore confidence in European debt and banks, and on some elements of regulation, said two participants who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting wasn’t public.

“It was a big group there, they’re going to differ about stuff; there’s a lot of tension in the air because of the world we live in,” Morgan Stanley (MS) Chief Executive Officer James Gorman, 53, said as he left the event, which coincided with weekend meetings of the International Monetary Fund and Institute of International Finance. “There’s no one solution. It’s going to be 25 different things.”

Bank-stock indexes in Europe and the U.S. have dropped more than 30 percent this year and borrowing costs for European lenders have climbed amid concern that Greece and other European countries may default. The level of disagreement between bankers and government officials who gathered for the annual IMF meeting was matched only by their shared sense that the stakes have rarely been higher....

Compares With 1930s

Yet in private discussions, bankers said the environment was exceptional. A senior European banker said he sees policy makers’ decisions as being as momentous as those in the 1930s. A senior U.S. bank executive said he’s more worried than he was at any point during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.

9--Maritime firms to struggle with credit squeeze, Reuters

Excerpt: With fears of a recession rising, the maritime industry will find it increasingly difficult to obtain financing for expansion over the next year, with the exception of the offshore-energy sector, industry experts said.

The economic gloom in Europe and the United States has amplified the pain for shipping companies, already struggling with rock-bottom freight rates and a glut of new vessels that were ordered when times were good.

The International Monetary Fund last week warned that the West could slip back into recession next year unless they quickly tackled economic problems that could infect the rest of the world.

"Given the underlying economics of oversupply and current day (freight) rates, the banks are far more cautious," said Gervais Green, head of Asia shipping with law firm Norton Rose.

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