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.
Hilarious explanation of QE and how it works: big industrial-strength printers all facing the windows.
Two central bank governors in Europe have gotten into hot water recently: Philipp Hildebrand, as chairman of the Swiss National Bank; and Ewald Nowotny, governor of the Austrian National Bank and member of the ECB’s governing council. Hildebrand resigned after he tried to brush off an insider-trading scandal that is still making headlines; Nowotny is clinging to his jobs though he is tangled up in a bribery, kickback, and money-laundering scandal. But finally a major politician called for his resignation.