Spain is on edge. Unemployment is nearly 26%, youth unemployment over 55%. The government is mired in a corruption scandal. The economy is grinding to a halt. On January 23, the Catalan assembly declared that the region constituted a “sovereign political and legal entity.” A step closer to secession. And then a general gave a speech.
That state and local government pension funds are going broke isn’t a new problem. That it’s much worse than reported by those pension funds isn’t a new problem either. Last June, Moody’s determined that the already dizzying unfunded pension liabilities were actually three times higher than reported. To top it off, trustees are blowing a bunch of retiree money on an exotic boondoggle.
“I’m appalled that two clowns have won,” said the man who’d try to knock German Chancellor Merkel off her perch this year. He was referring to former comedian Beppe Grillo and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. One of them is “a professional clown who doesn’t mind being called that,” he explained; the other is “a clown with special testosterone boost.”
Bank bailouts have made owners of otherwise worthless bank debt whole through a circuitous process by which taxpayers transferred their money to investors. Even in Greece. Even a bank that had siphoned off $1 billion through fraud and embezzlement. It wasn’t fair. But fairness had nothing to do with it. That’s how bailouts were done. Until now.
Investors are fuming. But traders, the lucky ones who got the timing right, love it. So do Wall Street firms that shuffle companies around. For decades, Hewlett-Packard did what they wanted it to do: swallow other companies, whole or in pieces, spit out some mangled limbs, and dump tens of thousands of employees. But someone ended up holding the bag.
Deutsche Bank, long coddled by the German government, is mired in “matters” from Libor rate-rigging to carbon-trading tax-fraud. Now a new “matter” seeped out: the bank had known for years about the impact of commodities speculation on food prices and the havoc it wreaked on people in poor countries. And it lied about it to the German Parliament.
All hopes rest on Germany: its vibrant economy teeming with globalized, ultra-competitive, export-focused companies would drag France and other Eurozone countries out of their economic morass. But then, there’s reality.
“I’m sitting on cash,” Felix Zulauf said when he was asked in an interview where he was putting his money. With decades of asset management experience under his belt, he’d founded Zulauf Asset Management in Switzerland in 1990. But now he was worried—and has turned negative on just about everything.
“Preventing future acts of terrorism” is the most critical foreign-policy goal for Americans. Next: proliferation of nuclear weapons, energy supply, trade policies, etc. Fighting off Soviet tanks rumbling towards Frankfurt didn’t make the list. Yet Congress, in its infinite wisdom, is still pushing weapons designed to do just that, whether the Pentagon wants them or not.
France is in upheaval. Arguments erupt live on TV, demonstrations block the streets, strikes shut down plants, and threats of mayhem are part of the show. The problem: an economy where businesses are suffocating under an obese public sector. Ever larger budgets have been the only source of economic growth. But now that model has run aground.