Bailouts have become known for their so-called “unintended consequences”—however intended they might have been. And now, unintended consequences strike again. The ECB’s purchase of decomposing Greek debt—an under-the-radar bailout of banks and insurance companies—are making the favorite solution to the Greek crisis, namely another deep haircut, legally impossible, says Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann.
Awful as Greece’s GDP has been, it doesn’t do justice to the economic fiasco. Take new vehicle registrations: in August, they plunged 46.7% from prior year. Only 3,886 new vehicles were sold. A collapse of 80% from August 2008 at the cusp of the crisis. For the first eight months of 2012, sales were down 42% from prior year, and 65% from 2008. People have stopped buying new cars. And not just cars.
A pact with the devil—that’s now the official metaphor for the European Central Bank’s “unlimited” bond purchases that are supposed to save the Eurozone. Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann himself referred to it when he discussed the “dangerous correlation of paper money creation, state financing, and inflation.” But it’s too late. Germany has cracked in two. And part of it has embraced that pact with the devil.
Dizzying QE gobbledygook is upon us once again. It would restart its big 480-volt money printer, in addition to the desktop machine it had been using recently, the Fed said, in order “to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with its dual mandate,” namely “maximum employment and price stability.” Thus, more inflation magically creates more jobs, and “price stability” requires more inflation in order to become more … stable maybe?
When French and Dutch voters were given an opportunity to vote for the European constitution in 2005, which would have transferred considerable sovereignty from their countries to the European government and its unelected bureaucrats, they “unexpectedly” killed it. An unforgettable lesson for politicians: don’t let the riffraff decide. Such matters are best handled by the elite—politicians, bankers, and unelected bureaucrats. And on Wednesday, they were busy handling such matters.
Slovenia joined the Eurozone in 2007, went on a borrowing binge that blind bond buyers eagerly made possible, dousing some of its two million people with riches, creating a real estate bubble that has since burst, and driving up its external debt by 110%. And in October, it may go bankrupt, admitted its Prime Minister. Because borrowing binges can last only so long if you can’t print your own money. And in Germany, the debate itself may tear up the Eurozone.
People are holding their breath. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is to speak in Jackson Hole. There isn’t a soul in the markets that can shrug off even a single syllable. If his answer isn’t a clear yes, TV economists will parse his speech down to the last iota and look for commas that they haven’t seen before. Headlines stir the excitement. My blood pressure is up, my nails are bitten down to the quick, I haven’t slept in days. I’m ready. Oh dear Ben, I’m praying, let us have more QE.
Central banks are designed to be “independent,” and they shroud themselves in secrecy. But they have formidable and, when it comes to money, “unlimited” powers that they harness for the benefit of their clientele, banks. And hiding behind their veil of secrecy are shenanigans that rarely seep to the surface, but when they do, they just get worse and worse. The latest is a sordid bribery and kickback scandal at the Reserve Bank of Australia that appeared to be neatly contained to two subsidiaries, until now.
It must have been a nightmare for Neil Barofsky, former Inspector General overseeing TARP during the financial crisis. He was on CNBC this morning to hawk his new book, when all heck broke loose. An argument about TARP, the most despised law in the US … how it prevented the collapse of Wall Street or something. But they failed to mention that by the time TARP was handing out money, it had already become irrelevant. A much greater power had taken control.
“Default is not necessarily destructive,” said Panayiotis Lafazanis, a Greek politician. “It is a weapon of the weak when they reach the point of not being able to pay their debts.” Closer to the truth than anything else emanating from Greek politics. “Not necessarily destructive” for the Greeks, but highly destructive for the European Central Bank that ended up with the Greek bonds; and for banks with derivative exposure to them. Hence the bailouts. To keep the bondholders afloat, not the Greeks—no one wants to recapitalize the ECB.