A French appeals court threw the book at Jérôme Kerviel who, in 2008, had been hung out to dry by his employer, French mega-bank Société Générale, for having—so alleged the bank—blown €4.9 billion in no time without its knowledge, using trick and device to conceal his gigantic trades for years. But now, Kerviel and his lawyer lambasted the proceedings as having been rigged from the outset.
The French government has been flailing about to counter economic trends that started while Nicolas Sarkozy was still president. And one of the most bandied-about catchwords these days is “competitiveness”—entailing the cherished and untouchable 35-hour workweek, equally untouchable wages, and sky-high employer-paid payroll taxes and social security charges. An explosive mix.
That France’s economy is hurting is an understatement. Manufacturing and service indices tested depths not seen since 2009 during the trough of the financial crisis. Cited reasons: “unfavorable business climate and lack of visibility.” In its desperation, the government deployed its big gun, a man with a vision: Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg. Him, with his big foot in his mouth.
The “shale gas revolution” opened up huge resources in the US, and natural gas production jumped as a consequence, but it pushed prices far below the cost of production, for far too long. A disaster for an entire industry. An amazing opportunity for its customers. Since April, the price has jumped 80%, and it’s still far below the cost of production.
A blatant act of fear mongering: if Greece were allowed to exit the Eurozone, it could end up costing the world €17.2 trillion, the study said; it would be “incumbent upon the community of nations to prevent” that. The study was commissioned by the powerful Bertlesmann Foundation, propagating the doctrine that certain bondholders must always be bailed out to prop up confidence in the financial markets. “Insolvency procrastination” is how a quintessential German industrialist responded.
Militants attack oil infrastructure and staff. Oil theft leads to severe pipeline damage, causing loss of production and pollution. There is piracy, sabotage, violence, and decrepit infrastructure. Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and has the ninth largest natural gas reserves in the world. Yet only 50% of the people have access to electricity.
Two thermometers into the brains of corporate America plunged to depth not seen since the trough of the Great Recession when the US was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. One was based on responses from CEOs of America’s largest corporations; the other was based on responses from analysts who’d listened to their industry contacts. Just before Lehman, these people had exactly zero predictive capabilities. So, could they now have ulterior motives?
Softbank’s announcement to buy 70% of Sprint for $20.1 billion caused its stock to plunge 17% in Japan that day. Investors had been through it before: a company paying way too much to accomplish a CEO’s megalomaniac goals, only to get mired in a corporate culture clash and other nightmares overseas. Japanese acquirers have a “terrible” track record.
Here I am on Max Keiser’s show, “On the Edge,” for a 23-minute hard-edged, tongue-in-cheek discussion about the “pauperization” of America and Europe, and other issues of our surreal times. Note how he corrects me when I call the political system in Greece a “democracy.” No way. Not on his show! It’s a “kleptocracy,” he said, and calling it a democracy is just…. Priceless!
“Do you want Catalonia to become a new state within the European Union?” That may be the question on the referendum that is causing a constitutional crisis in Spain even before the final wording has been decided. Efforts by Artur Mas, President of Catalonia, to pry his region loose from Spain are not only shaking up Spain but are pushing the European Union deeper into the conflict—just as Spain is plunging into a demographic nightmare.