On April 20, finance chiefs and central bankers of the G-20 hold a shindig in Washington DC. At issue is money. Bailout money for the Eurozone. The IMF wants to dig deeper into its pocket, but the amounts are skyrocketing, and … “We certainly need more resources,” explained IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. Bankrupt countries try to bail out bankrupt countries. And taxpayers everywhere get to foot the bill.
Economic reforms are tough. While they’re supposed to open opportunities, put budgets on sounder footing, or make the country more competitive, they invariably cut into the flesh of some groups, who then react with demonstrations and strikes to put pressure on the reformers to preserve the status quo. But in Italy, pharmacists have come up with an ingenious and tongue-in-cheek strike aimed straight at the reformers personally.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, while in Japan, summarized it eloquently when he said, “The financial aspect of the crisis is over.” The ECB, despite apparently fake German reservations, has jumped with both feet on the money printing bandwagon where it happily joins the Fed, the Bank of Japan, and other central banks. The endless flow of money has started in the Eurozone, and Greek politicians have figured this out.
At 2 p.m on Thursday, the final day of the annual wage negotiations that were going nowhere, Bruno Ferrec, the man in charge of the nine Fnac stores in Paris, was “retained” by 120 of his employees at a conference room at the Hotel Ibis in Paris. “For now, we do not know when we will let him go,” said the representative of the CGT, one of the unions involved in the negotiations. And the police did nothing.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, practically written-off in the French presidential election, is grasping at straws, and in the process, during an interview on France Info, he created a new classification of people in France, and maybe even in the whole entire world: Muslim by appearance.
Europe with its relatively affluent population of 500 million has turned into a nightmare for the auto industry. And the R-word—restructuring—unpalatable and almost illegal as it is in Europe, is being bandied about, this time by Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who, as President of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, spoke for all EU automakers. It was a dire warning and a cry for help.
The latest success—I suppose you could call it that, at least for those involved on the financial end—was the Kiekert deal last week. The company was founded in 1857 near Düsseldorf, Germany, and became the largest manufacturer of automotive door-lock systems. Its customers are GM, Ford, VW, BMW, and other automakers around the world. But now a Chinese company bought Kiekert, the sign of a sea change.
Inflation pervades every aspect of our lives, from skyrocketing gasoline to rents to well, corruption. But inflation in the cost of under-the-table payments is notoriously difficult to measure, and so it’s not included in any of the indices. But in Germany, which is historically paranoid, and rightfully so, about inflation, after two wipe-outs in one generation, there’s progress: inflation in the cost of corruption can now be estimated.
In early December, Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, the Exxon à la Française, shocked the French when he said that there was “no doubt” that a liter of gasoline would reach €2 and that the only question was when. He cited the calamities in the news at the time to justify the skyrocketing prices of oil and gasoline—source of Total’s mega profits. He was talking his book, obviously, which isn’t illegal, not even in France.
France, tangled up in a presidential election with major implications for the Eurozone, has gotten used to watching President Sarkozy getting clobbered in a historic fashion by socialist Hollande. But on Tuesday, the country woke up to the news—quelle horreur—that their presumed loser was suddenly ahead in the polls. Amidst this chaos, two fundamental cross currents in the French economy went practically unnoticed, though they should have caused an outburst of national soul searching.