Archive for July, 2010

Australia Economic Crisis Management Julia Gillard Style: “Cash For Clunkers”

July 30th, 2010 Comments off

Julia Gillard, Australia’s brand-new prime minister, is about to head into a general election. Having deposed her former boss and Labour Party P.M. Kevin Rudd in a Machiavellian scheme that can only be labelled a bloodless putsch, the politically ambitious Gillard is determined to win the Australian election, which will be held on August 21, by any means necessary. Thus, she replicated U.S. president Barack Obama’s  “cash for clunkers” boondoggle.

In a previous post on my blog, I labelled the Obama “cash for clunkers” program as being in reality “economics for dummies.” Needless to say, Julia Gillard hopes that the voters of Australia will be similarly dumbfounded.

According to the Gillard plan, consumers who trade in a pre-1995 car for one with lower emissions will be eligible for a $2000 rebate, courtesy of the taxpayers from down under. The move is being presented as a concession to environmentalists, but at a time of global economic crisis, such a move is clearly a deficit-funded stimulus measure. And who will benefit? Of the 7 car models that qualify for the rebate, five are imported models. In other words, Julia Gillard wants Australia to take on more public debt to subsidize automobile companies located overseas.

Gillard may be a savvy and ruthless politician, but as an economic policymaker she has already established herself as a waltzing disaster, in my view.

Julia Gillard




European Bank Stress Tests Are Tragic-Comedic Farce

July 25th, 2010 Comments off

When  the Obama Administration assumed office in early January 2009, the President’s chosen Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, was already on record as estimating that the United States banking sector was in such dire straits resulting from the global financial and economic crisis triggered by the collapse of leading investment banks on Wall Street, it would require $2 trillion in government bailouts to repair the damage. However, once in power, President Obama and Secretary Geithner were reluctant to ask American taxpayers for another handout for Wall Street after the highly unpopular $700 billion TARP bailout. Their response was to rig a series of so-called banking stress tests,  which were completed in the spring of 2009. Only months after the near implosion of the global financial system, Geithner’s stress tests supposedly showed that the U.S. banks were in such excellent shape, only a handful required a measly $75 billion in recapitalization, a sum that could be easily raised through private investors. Never mind that Geithner’s stress tests  incorporated “worst case” unemployment rates that were already eclipsed by the summer of 2009 and other less-than-rigid assumptions. The market seemed to be charmed by Geithner’s charade, attested to by rising equity values of financial firms. Now the Europeans hope they can pull off the same performance.

With much fanfare, the Committee of European Banking Supervisors has announced the results of their own engineered bank stress tests, involving 91 banking institutions in 20 European countries. The architects of this banking Eurofest knew they could not show that all 91 had “passed” the stress tests, as this would simply not be credible even to the most gullible. For that reason, seven banks were selected as sacrificial lambs, and revealed as having failed the stress test, including five relatively minor Spanish banks, as well as the much larger state-owned German property and municipal funding specialist, Hypo Real Estate. This latter financial institution was so heavily weighted with toxic real estate assets, providing it with a passing grade would clearly have given the game away. However, despite the not unclever manipulation engaged in by the Committee of European Banking Supervisors, a growing number of observers and investors have begun to see through this farcical exercise.

Consider this; how valid can a stress test of European banks saturated with government bonds and other long-term public debt instruments really be if the supposed “worst case scenario” envisions no possibility of sovereign debt default in Europe? Only months after Greece was on the verge of public debt default without a massive Eurozone financial bailout, in turn funded by European countries that are themselves becoming increasingly mired in a profound sovereign debt crisis? Neither did the tests consider the possibility of a real estate or commodities crash, despite warnings that, among other dire possibilities, a global commercial real estate crash is increasingly likely.

The authors of this banking stress test would have one believe that not a single UK bank is in danger from worsening economic developments, despite a warning issued by analysts at the Royal Bank of Scotland to senior British policymakers in January 2009, entitled “Living on a Prayer,” which stated that almost the entire banking sector of the United Kingdom was “ technically insolvent.”

In February 2009, the European Union’s own executive branch, the European Commission, issued a confidential report, subsequently leaked to the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, which warned that European banks collectively held as much as 18.6 trillion euros in toxic assets. In the past 18 months we have witnessed a massive expansion of public debt  across Europe to fund economic stimulus programs, which has produced at best anaemic or stagnant growth figures, at the price of catastrophic levels of sovereign debt, prompting these same countries to now reverse fiscal policy and revert to budget trimming austerity measures. The likely outcome is clear; a double-dip recession in Europe, in conjunction with a lack of financial capacity by European taxpayers to again bail out their banking system to the same profligate degree that was undertaken after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

As with Timothy Geithner, the architects of the European banking stress tests hope that  investors and the general public will believe their farce, based on totally unrealistic and overly-optimistic scenarios. In the case of Europe, the fervent desire is that the banks which are rightfully worried about counterparty risk will jettison their well-founded anxieties, and resume interbank-lending and credit flows at pre-crisis levels. However, as the American experience reveals, a banking stress test based on public relations requirements rather than realistic financial and economic modeling may boost the stock price of major banks, justifying  massive bonus payments to banking executives. However, as a solution for the continuing credit crunch and economic turmoil, it is no more than a tragic-comedic farce designed by committee.

The Ben Bernanke Federal Reserve Semi-Annual Follies

July 22nd, 2010 Comments off

Twice yearly the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, must testify before Congress on monetary policy and the Fed’s economic outlook. Bernanke has achieved during his time as a principal policymaker on the U.S. economy an enviable reputation for poor forecasting and a unique ability to put a happy, optimistic face on the global economic crisis. However, is his most recent testimony before Congress, Bernanke gave hints that he is losing his laudable ability at spinning bad economic realities into “green shoots” of an imminent recovery.

Amid all the worthless Bernanke verbosity that the world has become accustomed to (e.g. “although fiscal policy and inventory restocking will likely be providing less impetus to the recovery than they have in recent quarters, rising demand from households and businesses should help sustain growth” ), there was a single sentence that betrays how even Bernanke is running scared that his policies of unprecedented public debt and quantitative easing are leading to disaster. The once pompously arrogant but now uncertain Fed chairman told Congress, “even as the Federal Reserve continues prudent planning for the ultimate withdrawal of monetary policy accommodation, we also recognize that the economic outlook remains unusually uncertain.”

After adding trillions of dollars to the national debt, more than a trillion dollars in worthless assets to the Fed’s balance sheet and opening up its subsidized discount window to the likes of Goldman Sachs, the best Bernanke can mutter to the politicians in Washington is, “the economic outlook remains unusually uncertain.”

If Bernanke is publicly admitting that the economic outlook for the United States is unusually uncertain, I think we can cross off his previous forecast about green shoots.

Afghanistan War and the U.S. Economic Crisis

July 19th, 2010 Comments off

In a previous post on this website and the Huffington Post, I warned that the current Obama strategy for conducting the war in Afghanistan is doomed to failure (see…/can-the-us-win-the-war-in_b_212831.html ). Of course, President Barack Obama did not consult me when he decided to vastly increase the U.S. investment in lives and treasure in pursuit of achieving what the Soviet Union and British Empire had failed at; subduing Afghanistan.

With all this focus on U.S. options for Afghanistan, little has been said about Al-Qaeda’s goal. Even official U.S. sources admit that Washington is spending over $5 billion a month to support 100,000 U.S. troops confronting as few as fifty (yes, 50) Al-Qaeda members presently situated in Afghanistan. Perhaps Al-Qaeda’s goal is to achieve a maximum return on investment; 50 of its members stationed in Afghanistan, in the process further eroding the U.S. fiscal imbalance at a time of acute economic crisis in America. The leadership of Al-Qaeda has stated on several occasions that they seek to draw the United States into an Afghan quagmire, inflicting upon it the same empire-shattering blow incurred by the once powerful but no longer existing Soviet Union.

The leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, has stated that his objective is to drain the U.S. financially, bringing about its fiscal collapse and ultimate insolvency. If that is in fact Al-Qaeda’s objective, it appears that not only Obama, but almost the entire political leadership in the United States which currently supports the war, both Democrats and Republicans, have become unwitting allies of Osama bin Laden. This is a policy that is bankrupt both figuratively and literally, especially with America currently gripped by a ruinous economic crisis.

How long will Washington be able to borrow vast sums of money in the global bond market, solely to pursue 50 followers of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan? Perhaps only as long as the Federal Reserve can hold off the next stage of the American banking crisis and real estate meltdown. Once the United States is engulfed by a full-fledged sovereign debt crisis, it will be exceptionally difficult, to say the least, for a financially bankrupt U.S. government to justify throwing away nearly $100 billion a year on a war that has become increasingly devoid of rational purpose.

U.S. and UK Sovereign Debt Downgraded by China’s Leading Credit Rating Agency, Dagong: Loses AAA Status

July 14th, 2010 Comments off

A new force in assessing credit risks has emerged in spectacular fashion. Until now, Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have dominated the rating of investments, securities, bonds and sovereign debt. However, given the deficient performance of these three agencies in missing the sub-prime debacle in the United States, it is perhaps not surprising that a relatively new agency has arisen from the country that is now the leading creditor state within the global economy. Dagong Global Credit Rating Co. Ltd., founded in the People’s Republic of China in 1994, has issued its own rating of sovereign debt, and it’s not a pretty picture.

Dagong challenges its three Western competitors by downgrading the U.S. and UK, denying them the AAA status granted by the other ratings agencies. According to Dagong, the United States is rated AA with a negative outlook, while the United Kingdom is accorded an even lower AA-, also with a negative outlook.

When the leading credit ratings agency in the country upon which the United States and UK are most dependent on for purchasing their public debt downgrades their fiscal capacity and credit worthiness, it is a sign that the sovereign debt crisis afflicting a growing number of advanced economies is far from its peak, despite assurances from politicians and central bankers in Europe and the United States. Dagong may become an increasingly important player in the next phase of the global economic and financial crisis.

IMF Warning on European Sovereign Debt Crisis

July 11th, 2010 Comments off

The International Monetary Fund has issued its latest quarterly report, and in effect it talks out of both sides of its mouth. It gives the supposedly happy news that the IMF experts have revised upwards their forecast on global growth, now estimated at 4.6%. However, in contrast with this dose of economic optimism, the IMF report also issues a sombre warning about the perpetuation of the European debt crisis and its impact on the overall global economy.
According to the IMF’s director of monetary and capital markets department, governments in Europe must take “credible and decisive action,” if confidence in European banking and financial institutions is to be restored. In the face of this understated yet clear warning, the IMF’s boast that the danger of a double dip recession is “very unlikely” strikes this observer as being utterly preposterous and nonsensical.

Belief that U.S. is in an Economic Depression is Growing: Paul Krugman and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Join the Chorus of Gloom and Doom

July 6th, 2010 Comments off

Just in the past week, economic media pundits as diverse as Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who writes for The New York Times, and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the international business editor for the British newspaper, the Telegraph, have warned that the United States is already in the initial phases of an economic depression. Their chilly characterization of the U.S. economy after more than a year of the Obama stimulus, preceded by TARP, is sterile is its uninhibited gloominess.

In the case of Paul Krugman, his focus is on the disastrous unemployment rate in America, and his conviction that fiscal crisis and deficits be damned, the U.S. must borrow and spend whatever it takes to drive down the unemployment rate, or face an even more grave economic emergency. As I have stated before, while I concur with Krugman’s description of the American economy, I don’t think his prescription is supportable, based on the mathematical realities and the fact that excessive private debt sparked the global financial and economic crisis.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s most recent column had the melancholy headline, “With the U.S. trapped in depression, this really is starting to feel like 1932.” He lays out the case for why the U.S. is in the throes of a depression; dismal home and retail sales, collapsing state budgets and the resulting fiscal cuts abetting even more bad economic indicators. In his eyes, the only hope are the central banks engaging in another round of quantitative easing (being dubbed by some as QE 2) and debt monetization, the inevitable inflation actually being preferable to a deflationary spiral.

What is clear from reading these two esteemed economic observers is that very intelligent economists are losing hope over the state of the U.S. economy (which also means the global economy) and in their despair are grasping at extraordinary policy measures that are likely to further exacerbate all the macro-economic indicators they are rightfully perturbed by. The concluding comments in Evans-Pritchard’s column sum up the dire gloom that permeates his appreciation of the situation:

“Perhaps naively, I still think central banks have the tools to head off disaster. The question is whether they will do so fast enough, or even whether they wish to resist the chorus of 1930s liquidation taking charge of the debate. Last week the Bank for International Settlements called for combined fiscal and monetary tightening, lending its great authority to the forces of debt-deflation and mass unemployment. If even the BIS has lost the plot, God help us.”