May 23, 2011
The world is now divided into essentially three categories:
(1) those nations that can effectively sidestep catastrophic meltdown;
(2) those nations that cannot avoid meltdown, but can afford to kick the can down the road
(3) those nations that must face their grim, unavoidable meltdown reality now
The United States, for better or worse, is in category 2. Politicians can keep pretending that the wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round because, at present, there are too many other countries in category 3… namely, much of Europe.
Greece is on the brink of official insolvency… yet in an exceedingly bizarre interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel published today, Jean-Claude Junker insists that (a) Greece is not broke, (b) if Greece doesn’t make its debt payments, this is not the same as ‘default,’ and (c) it’s OK for politicians to lie because people don’t understand capital markets.
(*Note, suspension of disbelief IS required to read this interview; Junker caps it off with a metaphoric riddle, “If the donkey were a cat it could climb a tree. But it is not a cat,” which has about as much insight as “Confucius say: Man who go to bed with itchy butt wake up with smelly finger….”)
As the Prime Minister of Luxembourg and president of the Euro Group, Junker is a very important figure in European finance… and in the interview, he makes it quite clear where his priorities lie: with the bankers.
As Junker states, “If Greece were to declare a national bankruptcy tomorrow, the country would have no access to the international financial market for years to come, and its most important creditors, the banks in Germany and Europe, would have an enormous problem…”
Well, certainly no one should expect Europe’s banks to suffer their own losses after making idiotic loans to corrupt governments. It’s much easier to stick the people with the bill by establishing a trillion dollar bailout fund with taxpayer money.
Problem is, people in Europe are starting to wake up and get it.
The anti-euro “True Finn” party in Finland recently surged in the polls to become the country’s third-largest political party and a major obstacle for any European bailout. This weekend, Spain’s ruling Socialist party was hammered with losses as voters voiced their utter disgust with the current government’s handling of the economy.
In Germany, this year’s state election results are showing that voters are sick and tired of shouldering the financial burden for the rest of Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling party is losing miserably, though in a pathetically desperate move, some local governments are changing suffrage limits and allowing 16-year olds to vote.
This is the strongest indicator yet of how bad the situation in Europe has become: German banks are so over-exposed to the PIIGS sovereign debt that, in the face of political revolt all across Europe, German politicians have resorted to recruiting the Justin Bieber crowd to maintain the status quo.
Simply put, if Greece fails, the banks will collapse, and European financial markets will tank. Politicians will stop at nothing to prevent this from happening… including sticking every man, woman, and child with the bailout bill, as well as pulling socialist-minded teenagers into the voting booths to ensure they stay in power.
Eventually, though, these efforts will prove fruitless. Greece has two months of cash left… and a default by any other name is still a default. The ‘have’ nations in Europe don’t want to foot the bailout bill any more than the ‘have not’ nations in Europe want to accept deep austerity measures.
This is going to cause a lot of turmoil in Europe in the short-term… and as the US government has successfully kicked its can down the road through late summer thanks to the Treasury Department plundering public pension money, investors are free to get their worry on in Europe.
I would suspect gold and silver in euro terms to do quite well as the market looks around, once and for all and realizes that there are truly no good major currency alternatives. This could be the start of a chain reaction.