Wolf Richter

Next Phase in Merkel’s Desperate and Risky Gamble

The conflict in the Eurozone has simmered for weeks. On one side: Chancellor Angela Merkel who is protecting her oeuvre. On the other: François Hollande who is running against President Sarkozy. But now, Merkel raised the stakes by roping in 3 powerful allies and lining them up against Hollande—a desperate and risky gamble to keep Sarkozy in power.

Geisha in Kyoto

Kyoto, April 1996. When two geisha in flamboyant kimonos, theatrical makeup, and dramatic hairdos hobble arm in arm out of a side alley….

Evaporating Japanese Pension Fund Assets

Japanese pension funds face a tricky situation. On one side is an investment environment of near-zero yields, declining real estate values, and a stock market that is down 75% from its peak in 1989. On the other side is a ballooning retirement-age population who enjoys the longest life expectancy in the world. So the one thing they don’t need is pension fund assets evaporating from an asset management firm.

Deep Trouble at the Core of the Eurozone

In France, new vehicle registrations are plunging: -17.8% in December, -20.7% in January, -20.2% in February. French automakers suffered the most. PSA Peugeot Citroën -29.2% and Renault -28.5%. The German auto industry is still basking in last year’s glow of record worldwide sales and profits, and record bonuses for their beaming employees. But so far this year, they have been stagnating. And it’s just the beginning.

Final Spasm: Greco-Teutonic Tax Wrestling

In Germany, the top personal income tax rate is 45%. People in religious organizations pay an additional “church tax.” Other taxes are piled on top. And when the hapless taxpayer spends money, a 19% value added tax comes due. Hence, tax fraud is a national sport. Yet, 160 Ministry of Finance employees are supposed to fix the Greek tax collection system—which will endear the already reviled Germans even more to the Greeks.

California’s Search For The Missing Moolah

Optimism has always been the hallmark of California—especially when it comes to tax-revenue projections. Now the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office laments that Governor Jerry Brown’s budget is another extravaganza of optimism, particularly the projections of how much moolah can be extracted from wealthy residents. Which the Governor expects to skyrocket, magically.

German Unemployment Obfuscation

One of the hardest things to get in this world is a truthful, or at least a somewhat realistic, or at the very least a not totally fabricated unemployment number. Every country has its own bureaucratic madness in pursuing obfuscation. And Germany is no exception. Official unemployment dropped to a two-decade low in January, but a recreational dive into the Federal Labor Agency’s monthly report reveals another story.

‘They should Revolt’

Tokyo, April 1996. The problem is money. It dematerializes in multiples of 10,000-yen bills. There’s even a word for ten thousand: man. Anything less is change. You pay two man yen for dinner and drinks, plus one man yen for a love hotel, plus one man yen for breakfast, lunch, and miscellaneous expenses. You’ve blown four man yen, or about $400, without having done anything fancy.

Nuclear Contamination As Seen By Japanese Humor

After an endless stream of horrid reports on the tragedy of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, we’re ready for something … lighter. This has been circulating in the Japanese internet community for months, has garnered countless comments, and a lot of nodding, agreement, and knowing smiles because it represents, in the eyes of many Japanese, a larger tongue-in-cheek truth.

Greece, “The Bottomless Barrel,” As Germans Say

In Greece, three-quarters of the independent doctors, lawyers, and engineers declare taxable income below the existential minimum. Tax fraud amounts to €20 billion per year (8.5% of GDP). And tax dodgers owe €63 billion in unpaid taxes (27% of GDP). The country is bankrupt and has been kept afloat by the Troika (EU, ECB, and IMF), of which Germany is by far the largest contributor. But there is a plan. And it’s not an endless bailout.