Taleb video: credit crunch not black swan, moral hazard now worse

From Bloomberg:


Some great comments on the OMB (“lying on their forecasts”), Geithner (“who has a mortage on a house not far from mine… who didn’t understand risk and real estate prices”), Summers (“uses wrong mathematics in his papers” and has “systemic arrogance”), and Bernanke (“the one who crashed the plane”).

He has praise for David Cameron, whom he thinks understands how to solve the crisis.

Plenty of fodder for inflationists and bond bears here: Hard assets like metals and agricultural land would be a good way to protect value. Forget the stock market and most real estate.

Does anybody, such as professors, now understand the issues he raises? No. Don’t go to business school, but if you go, don’t take any business class that has equations in it: “it’s all bogus.”

Video on Greece w/ Hugh Hendry: Never compromise when it comes to moral hazard.

On Russia Today via Zerohedge:



-  ”This is a bailout of the banking community… especially in France but of course also in Germany.”

-  Questionable whether the French banking system could take the hit, estimated at 35 billion euros.  This would raise questions about their Spanish, Portuguese and Italian bonds. This is not the end, but the “end of the beginning.”


-  How does this help the Greek people? They will be “paupers in Europe.”


-  There is a remedy. The remedy is that Greece could leave the Euro. If it were to bring back the drachma, the currency would be very, very cheap. This would bolster tourism and exports. London is full of foreign shoppers now that the pound is down 25%.

-  Soveriegn bankruptcy is the normal and healthy procedure. Bankers take the hit they deserve.

-  Great political flaw in the euro, trying to join cultures that don’t want to join. Angela Merkel is not being generous. Spending taxpayers’ money is not generousity. She’s trying to salvage a bankrupt philosophy.


- Moral hazard issue is not being talked about. This gives a green light to Spain, Portugal, etc to spend away.


- The truth is unpalatable. Giving an over-indebted country more debt is not the solution. We need to restructure the debt and punish the irresponsible banks and investors.

- We should never compromise with bailouts, and certainly not on Greece, which is just 2% of the European economy.

Silly Greeks

Those government workers don’t seem to get it: they’re on the same side as their politicians and the foreign bankers. They should all support the bailout and austerity measures, since this is the only way to keep the racket going a little longer. It’s the taxpayers who should be storming parliament and demanding default (just like in the US, UK, Japan, etc)!

Also, it makes perfect sense for the euro to tank on this news — Europe just tipped its hand that it’s likely to print 100s of billions of euros to bail out all these GIPSI nations.

Greece defaulting would be good for the euro, deflationary — 200B in euro balances would go POOF! Even if all the GIPSIs dropped out of the euro, which they would NOT have to do even if they defaulted, the euro could strengthen. In the end, if everyone but Germany defaulted and dropped out of the eurozone, it would be a hard currency and they could just call it the Deutsche Mark again.

Max Keiser on Greece: No alternatives to higher taxes? How about insurrection?

Kaiser’s not one to hold back (he comes in about 3:20):


Best line in here is when he asks those Greek economists who favor higher taxes, “Why are you selling your countrymen down the road?”

“Get rid of the financial terrorists from your country.”

He could have done a better job here by keeping his cool and more clearly advocating repudiation, but maybe his approach is better suited for the state of Greek temperment at the moment.

Europe agrees to bail out Greece, sets precedent for euro’s destruction.

So we finally know the structure of the Greek bailout. 16 EU nations pledged to throw good money after bad and extend taxpayer-financed loans to Greece when the country starts to default. From Bloomberg:

March 16 (Bloomberg) — European finance ministers laid the groundwork for a financial lifeline to debt-stricken Greece, breaking a taboo against aid to cash-strapped governments in order to avert a crisis for the euro.

Officials from the 16 countries using the currency worked out a strategy for emergency loans in case Greece’s plan for 4.8 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in tax increases and wage cuts fails to stave off fiscal disaster.

“We clarified the technical arrangements that would enable us to take coordinated action which could be swiftly put into place in the event it is necessary,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters late yesterday after leading a meeting of euro-area finance officials in Brussels.

With the euro undergoing the harshest test in its 11-year history, the unprecedented pledge reflected concern that Greece’s budget woes could spread, poisoning investor confidence and aggravating the currency’s 10 percent decline against the dollar since November…

…“The objective would not be to provide financing at average euro-zone interest rates, but to safeguard financial stability in the euro area as a whole,” the ministers said in a statement.

Of course almost everyone has it wrong about the implications for the euro. Sovereign defaults would be good for the euro, even if those nations end up leaving the monetary union for their drachmae, lire and pesos. Defaults are by definition deflationary, since they reduce the amount of outstanding credit balances, thereby increasing the value of the remaining euros. If everyone but Germany defaulted and left the EMU, the euro would be stong and they’d call it the Deutschemark again.

This is the dynamic that has propped up the strong Yen for 20 years even as the government has run up huge debts, and it is the same reason the dollar finds a bid whenever panic enters the financial markets. In a credit crisis, the very condition of having piles of debt denominated in a currency creates demand for that currency by both debtors and creditors.

What these bailouts are going to do is reduce the relative demand for euros and likely result in an accommodative ECB printing up hundreds of billions more. The politicians are lying or ignorant or both when they say that their goal is to save the euro — this is nonsense. Their goal of course is to save the bankers who own them.

The Greek taxpayers of course, if they have half a brain and some guts, should refuse to service this debt and simply force an honest default. All of Europe is conspiring to make them debt slaves forever, and the only Greeks who benefit are the political gangsters and government unions.

2012-2014, the Maturity Wall

According to the NYTimes, $700 billion in high-yeild corporates mature from 2012 to 2014:












More from the Times article:

With huge bills about to hit corporations and the federal government around the same time, the worry is that some companies will have trouble getting new loans, spurring defaults and a wave of bankruptcies.

The United States government alone will need to borrow nearly $2 trillion in 2012, to bridge the projected budget deficit for that year and to refinance existing debt.

Indeed, worries about the growth of national, or sovereign, debt prompted Moody’s Investors Service to warn on Monday that the United States and other Western nations were moving “substantially” closer to losing their top-notch Aaa credit ratings…

Sovereign debt aside, the approaching scramble for corporate financing could strain the broader economy as jobs are cut, consumer spending is scaled back and credit is tightened for both consumers and businesses.

Private equity firms and many nonfinancial companies were able to borrow on easy terms until the credit crisis hit in 2007, but not until 2012 does the long-delayed reckoning begin for a series of leveraged buyouts and other deals that preceded the crisis.

That is because the record number of bonds and loans that were issued to finance those transactions typically come due in five to seven years, said Diane Vazza, head of global fixed-income research at Standard & Poor’s.

In addition, she said, many companies whose debt matured in 2009 and 2010 have been able to extend their loans, but the extra breathing room is only adding to the bill for 2012 and after.

The result is a potential financial doomsday, or what bond analysts call a maturity wall. From $21 billion due this year, junk bonds are set to mature at a rate of $155 billion in 2012, $212 billion in 2013 and $338 billion in 2014.

The credit markets have gradually returned to normal since the financial crisis, particularly in recent months, making more loans available to companies and signaling confidence in the pace of economic recovery. But the issue is whether they can absorb the coming surge in demand for credit.

“Returned to normal” apparently means lending money to people who can’t pay it back. And of course junk bonds are just part of the debt load:

TheTreasury Department estimates that the federal budget deficit in 2012 will total $974 billion, down from this year’s $1.8 trillion, but still huge by historical standards.

Next in line are companies with investment-grade credit ratings. They must refinance $1.2 trillion in loans between 2012 and 2014, including $526 billion in 2012. Finally, there is the looming rollover of commercial mortgage-backed securities, which will double in the next three years, hitting $59.7 billion in 2012.

Even if most of the debt does get refinanced, companies may have to pay more, if heavy government borrowing causes rates for all borrowers to rise.

“These are huge numbers,” said Tom Atteberry, who manages $5.6 billion in bonds for First Pacific Advisors, and is particularly alarmed by Washington’s borrowing. “Other players will get crowded out or have to pay significantly more, because the government is borrowing so much.”

Most critics of deficit spending have focused on the budget gap alone, but Washington will actually have to borrow $1.8 trillion in 2012, because $859 billion in old bonds will come due and have to be refinanced in addition to the deficit. By 2013 and 2014, $1.4 trillion will have to be raised annually.

In the late 1990s, the federal government ran a surplus and actually paid down a small portion of the national debt. But with the huge deficits of the last few years, the national debt has grown to more than $12 trillion.

All this debt is simply unpayable, and soon unserviceable. There is no solution but default. When the government bumps up against the limits of its credit, that will be the coup de grace.

Strikes and nonsense from Greek unions.

From Bloomberg:

Striking Greek workers shut down transport and tried to storm parliament as lawmakers passed 4.8 billion euros ($6.5 billion) in budget cuts, including wage reductions, needed to trim the region’s biggest budget deficit.

Police with riot shields fired tear gas at demonstrators outside parliament in Athens today as lawmakers approved the measures, which Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said will show European Union allies and investors that Greece is making good on its deficit pledges. Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou has a 10-seat majority in the legislature.

“We didn’t create this crisis but now we have to pay for it,” said Manthos Adamakis, who was protesting with other catering workers outside the five-star Grande Bretagne Hotel on Syntagma Square in downtown Athens.

Tram, rail, subway and bus services shut in Athens and other cities as employees rallied against cuts to bonuses and holiday payments. A walk out by air-traffic controllers forced the cancellation of all 58 flights to and from Athens International Airport between midday and 4 p.m. and the rescheduling of another 135, according to a spokeswoman.

“We didn’t create this crisis but now we have to pay for it,” the union member says! Of course they created it, by striking and threatening strikes to demand raise after raise with ever greater benefits. Unions are paying for none of it — their fellow citizens are. And how screwy is the Greek economy that the government sets the wages of hotel caterers, if that is indeed the case?

Most Greeks oppose plans to cut wages and increase value- added tax, according to the first opinion poll published since the austerity moves were announced on March 3.

Seventy-two percent of 530 people surveyed by Public Issue for Skai Television said they disagreed with a drop in bonus- vacation payments, while 68 percent opposed a value-added tax increase. Sixty-two percent said Greece will see social unrest in the next year, according to the poll broadcast yesterday.

The additional budget cuts aim to save 1.7 billion euros through a 30 percent reduction to three bonus-salary payments to civil servants, a 7 percent overall decrease in wages at wider public-sector companies and a pension freeze. The reductions are accompanied by an increase to 21 percent from 19 percent in the main VAT tax as well as in alcohol and tobacco duties.

Further Strikes

Teachers are also striking, closing some schools, and workers at the Public Power Corp SA, the country’s biggest electricity company and controlled by the state, have also called a 24-hour strike today.

ADEDY, which has already held two 24-hour strikes this year after the government backtracked on pledges to grant civil servants a wage increase, is considering holding another 24-hour strike next week.

It seems like everyone in Greece is on the dole, but I believe only 20% of employment is government work.

Where are the taxpayer protests telling these extortionists to go to hell and demanding that parliament repudiate the debt? Majority or minority, the victims in this racket sure are silent. It’s as if they think the money grows on trees (or as if Greece still can print Drachmas!).

The “austerity measures” and tax hikes are sure to fail. The debt is simply unpayable, so default is the only option if Germany is not willing to bail out Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and maybe even France. What are the odds of that? What happens in those volitile, socialist, economically ignorant countries if the government gravy train dries up? We haven’t seen anything yet.

Germans want Greeks to sell their islands!








This from CNBC.

Greece should consider selling some of its islands as one option to reduce debt, two members of the German parliament in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition said.

Josef Schlarmann, a senior member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, and Frank Schaeffler, a finance policy expert in the Free Democrats, were quoted on Thursday as saying that selling islands and other assets could help Greece out of its crisis.

“Those in insolvency have to sell everything they have to pay their creditors,” Schlarmann told Bild newspaper. “Greece owns buildings, companies and uninhabited islands, which could all be used for debt redemption.” …

… “The chancellor cannot promise Greece any help,” Schaeffler told Bild in a story under the headline: “Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks! And sell the Acropolis too!”

I suggest the Greeks reply by saying, “yeah, we’re sorry we owe you money, but that’s your problem now.” In a word, default.

It’s the ethical thing to do, and entirely precidented in history. Just get it over with and clean the slate. Why stay debt slaves to the Germans (who invaded Greece during the war, as I’m sure most Greeks do not forget), so that some overpaid union workers can stay fat and happy?

Some thoughts on government debt during deflation

A question of Keynes vs. Kondratieff

Until recently, the sovereign debt of nearly all governments would rally during panic episodes as stocks and commodities fell. This makes sense, as strong sovereign debt is cash for big boys, and investors are forced to reach further and further out for yield as short-rates are driven to zero or negative. However, starting with Greece, this pattern may change, as bonds are likely putting in a secular top in the 2008-2016 window. Their last bottom of course was the early 1980s, and their last top was 1946-47. The indebtedness and unabashed Keynesianism of all of the world’s governments seem to virtually guarantee higher interest rates in the coming years, even though US, German and Japanese bonds are still finding a bid during panics.

We have already seen the beginnings of this development in municipal bonds and the crappiest sovereign debt, but the market may slowly realize that it is all crap, beyond the short-term credit of the strongest governments.

Prechter makes the point in Conquer the Crash that higher rates on risky long-dated sovereign debt are part and parcel of deflation, an increased preference for the safest cash and cash alternatives. Steepening yield curves fit right into that trend. If the long bond sells off hard, this does not mean the end of the dollar, but the opposite. All else being equal, if T-bonds fell with stocks this year, it would just mean that the US government would finally feel the same pinch as everyone else.

Now for the tricky part. We have to keep in mind that interest rates are more than just a mechanical product of fiscal deficits, savings rates and politics. They are a kind of natural social phenomenon, a reflection of forces I can’t fully understand. They are not rational: why were short-term rates in the low single digits during the second world war when the US had just abandoned the gold standard, had a debt:GDP ratio of over 100% and inflation was running at 8-12%? Why were they still double-digit in the mid-1980s when the economy was good and inflation was 3-4%? (For some charts and discussion of the long-term rate cycle, see this post). The only answers that make any sense are that it was time for rates to bottom and then it was time for them to top.

We are certainly entering what *Kondratieff described as winter, when debts are called in and defaulted upon and cash is at a premium. This is associated with low interest rates, reflecting a low demand for credit, provided that the monetary unit retains value, which it tends to do since this unit is how debts are denominated and settled. And with deflation very much a reality, low rates can provide a high real yield so long as the credit is sound. With housing and wages falling by large percentages and every consumer good on sale, what is the real yield on a 10-year note priced at 3.6%?

There is no telling how long rates will stay low or how low they will go. See Japan, 1990-

Those are the market rates on the credit of a horribly indebted nation with terrible demographics that has been trying to spend its way out of recession for 20 years. Is there a better way to explain this than Kondratieff winter?

If social forces demand that governments start to shift towards frugality and default like the rest of society (and government is a reflection of social mood), this would be very supportive of the current fiat regimes. Think about it: what would happen to the Euro if Greece defaulted (which is what they should do)? Billions in euro-denominated balances would go “poof” and the remaining euros would be worth more.

What if younger generations of Americans, the ones who most enthusiastically support Ron Paul and even phonies like the new senator from Massachusetts, start to exert pressure for the rolling back of that $70+ trillion in retirement and health-care promises? Those are contracts that the government can’t honor, so by definition, it won’t. It will try to pretend otherwise, but it won’t. In effect, much of the debt will be repudiated.

There are huge caveats to the above, such as radical socialism or expanded warfare, but there are going to be real deflationary undertones to social mood that may effect policy and prolong the current paper regimes for longer than almost anyone suspects. Kondratieff winters are not short episodes, but generational, and if the last two turning points in the interest rate cycle are a guide, there could even be another ten years to the bottom.

That is hard to believe right now, but it is possible if social forces demand default. I can’t gauge the odds very well, but I have to consider this longer-term bull case for treasury bonds and a few strong currencies. Bottom line — history has not been kind to paper money and government bonds in times of crisis, but the nature of deflation may give them a longer life than we have assumed.

If you just can’t wait to short some sovereign debt, try Japan before America. They may be a generation ahead of the west in the rate cycle, and really, how much lower could they go?

*Kondratieff waves in the US (click image to expand):

[email protected], 1.23.09

One thing that strikes me in the above chart is how huge the latest wave is compared to the others. At 60 years and running, it is the longest, and prices, rates and stocks have gone up so much more than during any of the previous three. Just out of proportionality, it would be perfectly fitting if rates and prices fell for another 5-10 years.

Here’s a clearer view of the Aaa corporate bond rate from 1919 to 2010:


Also see Rothbard and then Mish on Kondratieff theory. As Rothbard makes clear, winter is not necessarily an awful time to be alive, judging from the strong economic growth of the 1830s-40s and 1880s-90s. This means that prolonged unemployment and war can’t be blamed merely on the credit cycle, but that fingers must be pointed at the socialists, Keynesians and fascists who’s actions directly brought about the nightmare of 1929-1945.

One more way to stick it to the bank

Patrick.net writes about a 2009 federal law allows renters to stay in foreclosed homes to the end of their lease so long as they are current on their rent and the new owner does not make it their primary residence. This means that in addition to a long period of rent- and mortgage-free living, people choosing to default can rent out their homes at very low prices, and the banks will be forced to honor those contracts. So, the logic goes, why not offer your cousin a sweet long-term lease on the home you’re about to lose?

Unethical? Maybe. Deserved? Probably.

Banks often employ shady lawyers and contractors to try to scare misinformed tenants into vacating, but the law is on renters’ side:

Before May 20, 2009, most renters lost their leases upon foreclosure. The rule in most states was that if the mortgage was recorded before the lease was signed, a foreclosure wiped out the lease (this rule is known as “first in time, first in right”). Because most leases last no longer than a year, it was all too common for the mortgage to predate the lease and destroy it upon foreclosure.

These rules changed dramatically on May 20, 2009, when President Obama signed the “Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009.” This legislation provided that leases would survive a foreclosure — meaning the tenant could stay at least until the end of the lease, and that month-to-month tenants would be entitled to 90 days’ notice before having to move out (this notice period is longer than any state’s non-foreclosure notice period, a real boon to tenants).

An exception was carved out for the buyer who intends to live on the property — this buyer may terminate a lease with 90 days’ notice.

Nolo further opines:

Does It Make Sense to Evict Tenants?

New owners may want to terminate existing tenants because they believe that vacant properties are easier to sell. Common sense suggests otherwise. In many situations a building full of stable, rent-paying tenants will be more valuable (and command a higher price) than an empty building. Emptied buildings are also prone to vandalism and other deterioration — after all, no one is on site to monitor their condition. When entire neighborhoods become a wasteland of empty foreclosed multifamily buildings, their value drops even further. It’s hard to understand why new owners choose to pay lawyers to start eviction procedures instead of paying a modest fee to a management company to collect rent and manage the property while they wait to sell.

Another point to note is that if a tenant is writing checks to his old landlord after foreclosure, the bank is probably not going to pay for maintenance, so it would be best to negotiate reduced rent as compensation.

Of course, anyone actually thinking about this or walking away from a mortgage should consult a real estate attorney in their state.