Banks Amok? Perhaps Not

The Greek Crisis has everyone nervous, and for good reasons. If this is what happens when a nation hits a financial crisis people around the world have to reasonably ask, “Are we next?” Every nation on this planet is deep into debt, although few are as bad off as Greece.

A lot of national debt is a threat to the world we live in for two related but distinct reasons. The first is that a nation loses the ability to make its own decisions and operate as a legitimate sovereign nation – which, in the case of democracies, means a de facto taking of power by creditors at the expense of the people. The second is that a large debt load has to be serviced by the government somehow which ultimately is a drain on the economy, reducing the standard of living and generally hurting personal opportunities.

With all this debt floating around causing so much pain it’s best to look at who holds it and how the world can get a handle on it.

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“Oxi” Means …

Greece has voted “no”. The word is “oxi”, pronounced something like “ohee” in phonetic English, but with a little bit stuck in your throat on the “h” as if you are spitting on the European Central Bank (ECB).

It may well be that this deal had to be rejected and Greece has to essentially go over the cliff to be able to really stand on its feet one day. It may be that the ECB deserves to be spat on, and for that matter perhaps all banks have it coming to them.

But banks today are what we have to watch – in Greece and all around the world. The proud Hellenic people may be about to find out what a world without banks is like as theirs are at the very least going to remain closed for a while longer.  Life is going to become increasingly more difficult for everyone.

But this is hardly the first time Greece stood up and said “no” to the great powers of the world.
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Q&A on Greece

On Sunday, 5 July, voters in Greece will head to the polls on an utterly unique referendum on a proposed bailout. The process is non binding, the question itself is strange, and the consequences of it are completely unknown.

What does any of it mean? The short answer is that Greece, and all of Europe, are in completely uncharted territory at this point. The five year crisis has gone from slow simmer to a full boil in the hot summer sun. Greece is calling Europe’s bluff, and Europe is not backing down.  The only thing we can be sure of is that there will be a resolution shortly, one way or the other. What exactly that means is itself completely up in the air as well.

Here are a few questions and answers on the Greek Crisis based on a variety of news sources.  Follow the links for more information in each question.

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Europe Muddles Through

Twenty years ago I was working in Germany, staying in the small town of Burghausen on the Austrian border. The cycle of holidays that mark the progress of the daily life of the town festooned red, white and blue as they turned towards “French Week” early in the Bavarian Spring. Buses of people from their sister city of Fumel, France came in and the menus in all the restaurants were replaced with copies in French. Burghausen celebrated the arrival of their guests as a family reunion of sorts.

I asked Herr Miterer, owner of the Hotel Post where I was staying, if this “European Union” was going to be successful. His piercing Teutonic glance betrayed the seriousness before he said a word. “It has to,” he said quietly, “We’ve seen the alternative.” Without moving his eyes he pointed to a picture of on the wall of this beautiful little inn that he and his family ran, taken in 1945. The top floor had been blown off and rubble littered what had become the biergarten.

The earnestness of Miterer comes back to me as the latest round of Greek crisis bubbled through the news this week. We’ve seen the alternative. Yet, somehow, it is never quite enough for Europe, this strange forced marriage that stays together for the kids, for the ideals, and for the sheer obligation of it all.

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Bizarro World Finance

This last week, the yield on a 2-year Irish Government bond turned negative, garnering a rate of -0.007%. That means that if you want to loan the Irish government some of your money, you have to pay for the privilege of doing so. Negative interest rates are not exactly new, but in the case of Ireland it’s particularly bizarre. Just three years ago, amid a potential default crisis, the same bonds were yielding 23%.

What changed? The short answer is no one knows. Shiela Kinsella, an Economics Professor at the University of Limerick, was exasperated. “The market is still in an irrational stage. It’s telling me that markets are lumping the same countries in again, and it’s just proof that nothing is ever learnt.”

Why did this happen? Investors in the Eurozone still can’t find anything to invest in as the European Central Bank (ECB) started a weak bond-buying program to goose investment. It’s a last ditch attempt to goose the economy and produce much needed jobs. But all it has created so far is a Bizarro World in finance.

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Exit the Eurocrisis – Slowly

Now that the Eurozone Crisis is over, we can all breathe a little easier. Right? While it’s good to not be loping along from one crisis to the next, the aftermath of the flood that lasted from 2008-2012 in drips and drops is still being mopped up. The hits are just being absorbed by the banks and growth is going to be sub-par through 2014, meaning that the lingering unemployment problem is not going away.

There are two parts left to this clean-up – what comes next and what can we learn? They are both important and will dominate 2014 in Europe and the developed world.

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Meanwhile …

A continuing resolution which re-opens the federal government was passed along with a debt ceiling increase that keeps everything hummin’ along until February. It’s good news, at least until the next manufactured crisis comes. We can’t be sure what kind of economic damaged was done in the 16 day shutdown until … well, until the workers in the government that tabulate this stuff get back to work.

So what stories have we missed during the obsession over the limits? Quite a few, actually. Here’s a rundown of some of the interesting stories that were easily lost over the last two weeks.

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