The Telegraph, London
Sunday, June 20, 2010
We already know that the eurozone money markets seized up violently in early May as incipient bank runs spread from Greece to Portugal and Spain, threatening the first big sovereign default of our era. Jean-ClaudeTrichet, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), talked days later of "the most difficult situation since the Second World War, and perhaps the First."
The ECB's latest monthly bulletin gives us some startling details. It reveals that the bank's "systemic risk indicator" surged suddenly to an all-time high on May 7 as measured by EURIBOR derivatives and stress in the EONIA swaps market, exceeding the strains at the height of the Lehman Brothers crisis in September 2008. "The probability of a simultaneous default of two or more euro-area large and complex banking groups rose sharply," it said.
This is a unsettling admission. Which two "large and complex banking groups" were on the brink of collapse? We may find out in late July when the stress test results are published, a move described by Deutsche Bank chief Josef Ackermann as "very, very dangerous."
And are we any safer now that the EU has failed to restore full confidence with its E750 billion (L505 billion) "shock and awe" shield -- that is to say after throwing everything it can credibly muster under the political constraints of monetary union? This is the deep angst that lies behind last week's surge in gold to an all-time high of $1,258 an ounce.
The World Gold Council said on Friday that the central banks of Russia, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, and Venezuela have been buying gold, and Saudi Arabia's monetary authority has "restated" its reserves upwards from 143 to 323 tonnes. If there is any theme to the bullion rush, it is fear that the global currency system is unravelling. Or, put another way, gold itself is reclaiming its historic role as the ultimate safe haven and benchmark currency.
It is certainly not inflation as such that is worrying big investors, though inflation may be the default response before this is all over. Core CPI in the US has fallen to the lowest level since the mid-1960s. Unlike the blow-off gold spike of the Nixon-Carter era, this rally has echoes of the 1930s. It is a harbinger of deflation stress.
Capital Economics calculates that the M3 money supply in the US has been contracting over the past three months at an annual rate of 7.6 percent. The yield on two-year Treasury notes is 0.71 percent. This is an economy in the grip of debt destruction.
Albert Edwards from Societe Generale says the Atlantic region is one accident away from outright deflation -- that ninth Circle of Hell, "abandon all hope, ye who enter." Such an accident may be coming. The ECRI leading indicator for the US economy has fallen at the most precipitous rate for half a century, dropping to a 45-week low. The latest reading is -5.70, the level it reached in late-2007 just as Wall Street began to roll over and crash. Neither the Fed nor the US Treasury were then aware that the US economy was already in recession. The official growth models were wildly wrong.
David Rosenberg from Gluskin Sheff said analysts are once again "asleep at the wheel" as the Baltic Dry Index measuring freight rate for bulk goods breaks down after a classic triple top. The recovery in US railroad car loadings appears to have stalled, with volume still down 10.5 percent from June 2008.
The National Association of Home Builders' index of "future sales" fell in May to the lowest since the depths of slump in early 2009. RealtyTrac said home repossessions have reached a fresh record. A further 323,000 families were hit with foreclosure notices last month. "We’re nowhere near out of the woods," said the firm.
It is an academic question whether the US slips into a double-dip recession or merely grinds along for the next 12 months in a "growth slump." For Europe, nothing short of a sustained global boom can lift the eurozone out of the deflationary quicksand already swallowing up the South.
Spain had to pay a near-record spread of 220 basis points over German Bunds last week to clear away an auction of 10-year bonds, roughly what Greece was paying in March. Leaked transcripts of a closed-door briefing to the Cortes by a central bank official revealed that Spanish companies have been shut out of the capital markets since Easter. Given that the Spanish state, juntas, banks, and firms have together built up foreign debts of E1.5 trillion, or 147 percent of GDP, and must roll over E600 billion of these debts this year, this is a crisis unlikely to cure itself.
"The gold standard: generator and protector of jobs", Hugo Salinas Price, June 16, 2010