There still are some economic numbers that aren’t seasonally adjusted or manipulated with fancy statistical footwork by governmental, quasi-governmental, or non-governmental number mongers. And they give us the true picture of the worldwide economy: beer, wine, mood, and San Francisco real estate—with more predictive power than is allowed by law.
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.
The Costa Concordia was launched on September 2, 2005, with a mishap that back then didn’t mean anything: the champagne bottle thrown against its hull didn’t break. But on January 13, at 10 pm, the mega cruise ship hit a reef near the small island of Giglio, off the coast of the Tuscany. So far, 11 bodies have been found and 23 people are still missing.
Satellite image by Digital Globe
“The fact that we profit massively from the euro doesn’t mean we have to accept every political horse-trade to save the common currency,” said Anton Börner, president of Germany’s Association of Exporters—a swipe at the Italian prime minister who’d demanded that Germany dig deeper into its pockets to reduce the debt burden of other countries, such as, well, Italy. When the German industrial elite talks about exiting the Eurozone….
After they were downgraded in early August, US government bonds gained upward momentum and yields fell. Japan, which has danced the downgrade tango for years, is contemplating the next step, from AA- to A+, yet 10-year Japanese Government Bonds are yielding below 1%. Downgrades of sovereign bonds of developed countries make good headlines, but the impact on bond markets has been nil. With one exception: the Eurozone.
Austerity measures are taking their daily toll on Greece. Suicides and attempted suicides have jumped by 22.5%. Unemployment rose to 18.2%. Pharmacies are having difficulties obtaining medications. More cuts are coming. If there is no agreement with the bailout Troika, Greece will default in March. But now, even the Troika is in disarray.
Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, told the South African Business Day that the Eurozone might avoid a recession in 2012, an inexplicable bout of optimism in light of some ugly trends. Germany, economic superstar with unemployment at a 20-year low and exports at an all-time high, produces 34% of the Eurozone’s GDP—and it has smacked into a wall.
During the financial crisis, Germany’s export orders fell off a cliff. GDP plunged 2.1% in the 4th quarter of 2008 and a horrid 3.8% in the 1st quarter of 2009. The worst quarters in the history of the Federal Republic. But the recovery was enormous. So it’s natural that the German media would gloat over the “German success recipe.” But now the first shadows have appeared.
Just how bad is the real economy in Greece after five years of recession, countless strikes, and 17.7% unemployment? Registrations of vehicles plunged 30% in 2011, after having plunged 37% in 2010. They’re now at the lowest level in over 20 years. Troika inspectors are on their way … to demand yet more cuts. And the Prime Minister puts the nuclear option on the table.
In late 2001, German banks sold Euro Starter Kits—sealed pouches with €10.23 in coins. One of many steps in the arduous process of weaning Germans from their D-Mark. I bought one and still have it. It’s in the back of a drawer, next to a D-Mark coin. And that coin is part of a vast phenomenon: 13.3 billion in missing Deutschmarks. But now people see a reason to hang on to them.