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HAA HAA: Will Another Creditanstalt Be Revealed Once The Hypo Alpe Aldria “Black Box” Is Opened? | Zero Hedge
Recall that the bank which precipitated the first Great Depression was Austria’s Creditanstalt, which declared bankruptcy on May 11, 1931 and which resulted in a global financial crisis, after its failure waterfalled into the chain-reaction of bank failures that marked the first systemic financial collapse. As part of CA’s rescue, Chancellor Otto Ender distributed the share of bailout costs between the Republic, the National Bank of Austria and the Rothschild family (and as a bit of historic trivia, following the Austrian Anschluss to Nazi Germany in 1938, Creditanstalt-Bankverein was targeted for a variety of reasons, leading to the arrest of Louis Nathaniel Rothschild and his imprisonment for the losses suffered by the Austrian state when the bank collapsed. Aggrieved, he emigrated to the US in 1939 after more than one year in custody).
A little over 80 years later, while the world is knee deep in explaining how snow during the 4th warmest January on record is the culprit for an abrupt and dramatic slowdown in world growth, and is following the geopolitical developments out of Crimea with great attention, the real action may once again be taking place in the small, quaint and quiet central European country, where yet another bank may be sowing the seeds of further financial mayhem.
Presenting Hypo Alpe Aldria (or “HAA” although certainly not funny as in funny HAA HAA: more shortly), a bank which in reality has been in the news for years following its nationalization in 2009 by the Austrian government to prevent a bank collapse. In fact, just last week, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said the government is right to avert the collapse of Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank International AG, as he cited the precedent of Creditanstalt, whose crash helped trigger the 1930s depression. “The crash of Creditanstalt in 1931 caused economic meltdown,” Faymann told parliament’s lower house in Vienna today. “There was a consensus in 2009 to act where necessary, to avoid the mistakes of the 1930s, to avoid a collapse by nationalizing and by installing protection measures at the European level.”
As a follow up, as Bloomberg also reports, the fate of HAA – whatever it ends up being – may have significant political consequences for the Austrian government. Again Bloomberg reports that “support for Austria’s ruling coalition is slipping five months after it won a narrow majority as inaction over the nationalized Hypo Alpe-Adria Bank International AG lifts backing for protest parties. Latest polls suggest voters are losing trust in Social Democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann and People’s Party Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger and warming to the euro-skeptic Freedom Party before May’s European Parliament elections. The Green and Neos parties also stand to gain, said Hubert Sickinger, a political scientist at the University of Vienna.”
“The ruling parties have a problem,” Sickinger said in an interview. “They postponed the Hypo Alpe ‘dead bank’ problem hoping that the economy would change but they’ve known since early 2013 that this wouldn’t help.”
One party that has been quite vocal on the issue of HAA is the Austrian Freedom Party nationalists, who seek to restrict immigration, and which has the most to gain from detouring the status quo as they would finish first in the EU parliamentary election, according to a Feb. 14 Gallup poll commissioned by the Oesterreich newspaper. The Freedom Party under deceased leader Joerg Haider helped build Hypo Alpe from a regional lender into one of the biggest banks in the Balkans.
“The European elections will be payback day” over the government’s handling of Hypo Alpe, said Franz Schellhorn, director of Agenda Austria, a Vienna-based research group.
“Anger is growing,” Schellhorn said in an interview today. “This black box has to be opened to see what is going on inside.”
It is the “opening of this black box” that suddenly has the entire investment community on edge, even if most of them hope the story simply goes away as it has for the past five years. Only this time it may be impossible to once again kick the can, er, box.
And while the legacy story of the post-bail out HAA may be known, it is the recent developments that are largely unknown and where the risks lie. This can be seen in the recent dramatic drop in HAA bond prices.
So why should people care about HAA? Bank of America explains:
The real surprise of the Hypo Alpe Adria (HAA) situation is not that bondholders may lose money, but the sight of the third richest country in Europe by per capita income apparently looking for ways out of paying what are clearly guaranteed debts of a 100% nationalized bank, for HAA debt is guaranteed by the Austrian State of Carinthia under a deficiency guarantee. The Austrian Finance Minister may be targeting a contribution from bondholders, according to reports on Bloomberg on Friday, We would consider it an astonishing turn of events if this actually ever came to pass, with wide-ranging negative implications for investors in not just Austria but potentially Europe as a whole.
What are the other implications from a potential HAA fallout? Here are the cliff notes:
- Direct impacts: other Austrian banks?
Erste Bank and RBI will likely trade as proxies in any negative newsflow which could pressure their spreads. They aren’t really affected, though, in our view.
- Indirect: negative for marginal banks
The Carinthia guarantee is a throwback to a very different banking world – when banks enjoyed implicit and explicit institutional support. Those days are over. We underline
that we have moved to a bail-in regime where investors will contribute to the costs of bank clean-up. This has implications for other very marginal banks e.g. the Cooperative Bank in the UK which we think is struggling.
- Why the fuss? Who pays for HAA?
The European Commission in its decision on State Aid (dated 3rd Sept 2013) puts the capital need at €5.4bn in a stressed scenario. Liquidity needs are put at up to €3.3bn, meaning that the total outlay could be as high as an extra €8.7bn, in addition to the billions that have already been committed by the current and former shareholders. HAA’s total assets as of June 2013 were ‘only’ €31.3bn, recall.
- What kind of outcomes for HAA?
We struggle to see how those positing bondholder losses get around the guarantee from Carinthia and all that implies. However, with lower cash prices in many of the bonds, perhaps the way forward opens up for e.g. substitution (of Austria for Carinthia) at a discount. There may also be the time value of return of principal to factor in.
- Negative outcomes: maybe tough to do
If the Austrian Government decides to be tough, then the negative scenarios for HAA bondholders are potentially many. The Government may be somewhat hampered however by the fact that HAA bonds under the 2006 Prospectus are issued under German Law.
* * *
For the extended, and must read, notes on what Hypo may lead to, here is the full note from Bank of America’s Richard Thomas:
Funny HAA HAA or funny peculiar? Implications of Hypo Alpe Adria
HAA – the implications
The emerging crisis re: how to resolve Austria’s Hypo Alpe Adria (HAA) looks like it’s already one destined for the textbooks.
It has been rumbling around in our ‘bank peripheral vision’ for years as a problem child but now seems to be coming to a head because of what appears to be increased political pressure for a solution that potentially involves the imposition of senior bondholder losses in the mix. As such, we need to look at it to see what read-across, if any, there is to other European banks, as it seems to represent a hardening of attitudes to bank resolution amongst one of Europe’s richest countries.
We do not express an opinion or investment recommendation on the securities of HAA itself. Using conventional bank analysis, we believe that HAA is potentially uninvestable not only because of its evident non-viability and the lack of appetite to save it but also because of the allegations of past misconduct, as widely reported in the press, and what appears to be ongoing incompetence e.g. leasing invoicing ‘irregularities’ in Italy provided against as recently as in 1H13 numbers. The outcome for bondholders will ultimately be based on Austria’s view of its obligations and how it deals with the Carinthia guarantee, in our view. We expect that prices will therefore trade according to the last comment from someone important – highly unpredictable. For example, they were down on Friday following comments from the Austrian FinMin, but up this morning on comments over the weekend from the Head of the Austrian Central Bank. A final decision on what happens could be many months out.
For us, the shock of the current situation is not so much about bail-in being applied in the case of a failed bank – like most credit investors, we are used to this by now. The real surprise of the situation is the sight of the third richest country in Europe by per capita income apparently trying to manoeuvre out of paying what are clearly guaranteed debts (HAA debt is guaranteed by the State of Carinthia). We would consider it an astonishing turn of events if this actually ever came to pass, with wide ranging negative implications for investors in not just Austria but Europe as a whole.
The read across from HAA to other banks is weak, in our view. However, there are a few implications to highlight which may impact spreads.
- The most directly impacted bank would seem to be Bayerische Landesbank (BYLAN), former owner of the bank and where there is still some outstanding exposure. BofAML analyst Jeroen Julius talked about this in his note on BYLAN last week here. We remain Underweight-70% the BYLAN 5.75% T2 bonds. There is still an outstanding line of €2.3bn from BYLAN to HAA of which we understand €1.8bn was due at end 2013 – by March (if not sooner) then this will need to move to an impaired classification. HAA is saying that these monies are an equity substitute and are trying to claw back €2.3bn already repaid. Our view is that BYLAN may sacrifice some of the outstanding amount in any settlement but seem unlikely to have to pay back the repaid amount. In the meantime, it seems that they do have a say in some of the levers which Austria may want to use in resolving HAA, so their negotiating stance looks solid.
- Other widely traded banks where spreads could come under pressure are Erste Bank and RBI. We will likely see these banks trade as proxies in any negative newsflow which could pressure their spreads – their illiquid CDS is probably already trading some 10-15bps wider in senior and ~13bps wider in sub CDS. These banks should be much more sensitive to negative news from Central and Eastern Europe rather than Austria though, in our view, given their focus on emerging economies.
- RBI’s exposure to Austria reflects its domicile and the corporate ties between Austrian companies and the EE corporates where most of RBI’s operations are placed. It does not have direct exposure to the Austrian complex in the way that e.g. BAWAG or Erste Bank have. The RBIAV 6% is probably down a point from its highs in the last week or so. We see the impact on RBI as quite tangential: if Austria takes a tough stance with bondholders, it’s more negative for sentiment on the banks, given that it implies a reduced sovereign exposure – so hardly negative for the sovereign from e.g. higher debt levels, albeit lower contingent liabilities.
- About half of Erste Bank’s credit risk exposure is to Austria. It is therefore more of an ‘Austrian’ bank than RBI but that’s not really the problem here, in our view.
- We are still very comfortable with RBI at this point, especially given the recent capital increase. However, we recommend reducing risk by switching into lower cash priced bonds versus higher cash price bonds. That means out of e.g. the 6.625% bond with a cash price of about €113 into lower cash priced bonds like the 6% (€106.5) or the 5.163%, though this is a much more illiquid security. We downgrade the 6.625% bonds to Underweight-30%.
The wider implications of what happens in the HAA case include:
- If we do move to some kind of forced loss imposition from Austria on these bonds, then it probably isn’t a good moment for bank risk (or indeed European risk). However, as we explain, in this case loss imposition is rather tricky to do, given the existence of the guarantees from Carinthia.
- Whatever happens, we see the HAA situation as reflecting a growing impatience with marginal and near-failing banks and that a hard line is likely to be followed in resolving them. It underlines that we have moved to a bail-in regime where investors will contribute to the costs of bank clean-up. This has implications for other very marginal banks e.g. the Cooperative Bank in the UK which we think is struggling. Underweight-70% the 11% T2 bonds of the Coop Bank at £123.
- The Carinthia guarantee is a throwback to a very different banking world – when banks enjoyed implicit and explicit institutional support. Those days are over. Such support often allowed excessive expansion on the back of cheap funding – we can point to the continued need for adjustment in the Landesbank sector for evidence of that.
- One final point: in our view there would be a negative read-across to the German Landesbanken more generally if a way was found around the deficiency guarantee in this case. The Landesbanken heavily rely on State guarantees. For example, HSH Nordbank has a €10bn guarantee (that helps its capital position) form Hamburg and Schleswig- Holstein.
Funny HAA HAA or funny peculiar?
A special case?
We think there is a good argument for saying that HAA is a special case amongst European banks. One can read its downfall and subsequent full nationalization as a familiar juxtaposition of overexpansion (in the former Yugoslavia) without sufficient risk controls being in place as a result of too cheap funding, owing to its funding guarantee from the Austrian State of Carinthia (currently rated A2 by Moody’s). Yet the narrative is worsened by allegations of serious past misconduct involving money laundering, fraud and possibly murder. See for example The Economist, Sept 9th 2010 or the New York Times, October 20th 2010.
Whilst mismanagement may well have been a feature of some European banks before the crisis; we would hesitate to attribute this level of alleged misconduct, however, to even many of the most stressed European banks. The nature of the allegations, in our view, serves to underline Austrian public antipathy for taxpayers having to pay for the continuing losses at the bank. It also differentiates it sharply from other European, and of course Austrian, banks. HAA’s situation and alleged misconduct is simply too severe to have systemic implications for other Austrian banks, in our view.
Could there be a haircut? Wait!
Bloomberg reports that two thirds of the Austrian public is against the use of further public monies being used to prop up the bank. With such a powerful consensus against such a move and elections next year, it’s not surprising that recently the rhetoric has turned firmly towards finding solutions for HAA that involve imposing losses somewhere – anywhere – other than at the door of the Austrian taxpayer. Hence, the comments from the Finance Minister Spindelegger on Feb 21 that Austria was looking at ways to get bondholders to contribute.
So far, so straightforward: the only problem is that the bulk of HAA senior bonds enjoy a deficiency guarantee from the State of Carinthia. This complicates the burden sharing. We note, by the way, that the EC ruling on State Aid for HAA made no mention of senior bondholder losses at all. Is it really possible to get around the deficiency guarantee and impose losses?
Our understanding is that the deficiency guarantee is not quite like other guarantees. It’s this ‘gap’ that allowed Moody’s to downgrade HAA to Baa2 from A1 on Feb 14. It means that a creditor must have attempted in vain to satisfy his or her claims against (in this case) HAA first before he can use the guarantee, though not if bankruptcy proceedings were already started. Non-payment alone may not be sufficient to invoke the guarantee, absent due process. Even so, it still looks to us that it’s just a matter of time before creditors could ask Carinthia to satisfy their claims. It seems doubtful that the State could afford to perform on the guarantee however with the €12.3bn or more of bonds being many multiples of Carinthia’s income, according to Moody’s. It seems hardly credible that we could be looking at bankruptcy of a Federal State of one of the richest countries in Europe.
Hence, the dilemma. This really would be a new departure for a European country – we’ve had bondholder haircuts before, but not on instruments guaranteed by a governmental entity like Carinthia.
What’s the size of the hole at HAA?
The European Commission in its decision on State Aid (dated 3rd Sept 2013) puts the capital need at €5.4bn in its stressed, or worst case, scenario. Similarly, the liquidity needs are put at €3.3bn in the stressed scenario, assuming that the above capital is provided in cash, meaning that the total outlay could be as high as €8.7bn, in addition to the billions that have already been committed by the current and former shareholders. HAA’s total assets as of June 2013 were ‘only’ €31.3bn, remember, and of this, €3.5bn was already earmarked as for disposal – giving a pro forma number of €27.8bn. To put this in further context, existing capital resources at HAA (equity plus sub debt) are €3bn, and provisions existing already are €3.5bn. Loans net of provisions are ~€17bn.
The now former Chairman of the Bank, Mr. Liebscher, has previously commented that HAA could require up to €4bn of further capital (‘only €400mn a year over 10 years’). Capital needs could vary considerably if assets were transferred out of the regulatory capital environment e.g. to an asset management company, since these require much less capital. We note too that Weiner has reported that the loss for the year at HAA may have grown to €1.8bn (from the €0.8bn at half year 2013) – we think it’s likely that is already reflected in the EC’s numbers though we’re not completely sure.
The €5.4bn of capital needs calculated by the EC could be higher or lower therefore but let’s use it as a basis for thinking about outcomes. Are there any offsets? Certainly,
HAA believes so. It is claiming that €4.6bn of funds extended to the bank in 2008 by BayernLB is an equity substitution under Austrian Law. €2.3bn of this is still outstanding (it’s not being serviced by HAA) but HAA has applied to the Munich Regional Court for a return of amounts that they’ve already paid back. Our core case is that BayernLB will lose some of this money (if only to settle the case) but we have no real idea how much they and HAA would settle at, of course, or if they will settle at all.
How (much) could bondholders pay?
Is it conceivable that the senior bondholders could be expected to contribute a sizeable chunk of the €5.4bn? As of end-June 2013, issued bonds at HAA totaled €11.1bn (we exclude Pfandbriefe); we don’t have data for any redemptions in 2H13. We do however know that there is a very substantial redemption of senior debt on March 17th of €750m (the HAA 3.75% bond). Again, the interim financials showed a cash balance of €2.6bn at the bank which on its own should comfortably cover the repayment. We are more skeptical about HAA’s liquidity, given the continued deterioration of its financial position implied by the reported further €1bn loss in 2H13. Perhaps it is this that is focusing the attention of Austrian policymakers on bondholders.
Repaying this bond would be a substantial cash outflow from the bank and bondholders would be getting par – these bonds are currently quoted at a mid-cash price of ~€96 but the bid/offer is something like 5 points, underlining the huge uncertainty. But it would also probably be taken as a pointer towards future treatment of bonds and so, if repaid, would likely positively impact prices.
The €5.4bn additional capital need would imply a forced senior bondholder haircut of anything from 20% upwards in our view depending on what is considered the pool of bailin-able liabilities, though admittedly we find it quite hard to believe this will be the actual outcome at this point. This number could be kept down not least by any settlement with BayernLB – and we can’t really imagine that Austria will make a zero contribution here. Even the €5.4bn total capital needs number calculated by the EC is ‘only’ about 2% of Austrian GDP.
We also struggle to see how those positing bondholder losses get around the guarantee from Carinthia and all that implies. It’s this, we think, that is the really interesting part for European bank bondholders. We have seen headlines suggesting that the Republic of Austria would substitute itself as guarantor for the bonds, subject to bondholders agreeing to a substantial haircut.When the bonds were at par, that looked really unlikely, but with e.g. the 2016 and 2017 bonds having traded down so dramatically in the last few days (currently quoted with a cash price at around €85-86), perhaps the conditions are beginning to evolve for this type of liability management.
Ultimately, we think it’s unlikely that Carinthia could pay back bondholders and remain solvent itself – as Moody’s highlights in its downgrade of the State on Feb 14 2014, the debt outstanding is some six times Carinthia’s 2013 budgeted operating revenue. Recall that HAA is 100% owned by the Republic of Austria – it seems unlikely that the shareholder would enforce the insolvency of a regional State without acting itself.
We also wonder if there is some leeway in terms of the timing difference implied by the final payment under the deficiency guarantee – how prompt might this be? Months? Years? Longer? If it could be demonstrated that bondholders would have to wait many years before getting any of their principal back, then perhaps there is the basis for an offer that gives investors liquidity today, albeit at a discounted price.
What could induce bondholders to agree to any changes?
We suspect that this is currently under consideration – there likely is little limit to the scenarios that could be conceived, but it all depends on the view the Republic takes of itself in the markets and its concerns about any likely fallout from its actions. Freezing the liabilities of the bank and the guarantee? Rescission of the guarantee? Anything is possible but perhaps some of these worst scenarios are not the most probable. However, what is clear is that the outcome for bondholders, as we have seen before in these haircut scenarios, is highly unpredictable and politicized.
In spite of the Austrian Finance Minister’s comments to the contrary, we are of the view that most HAA bonds are still with the original, investment grade, investor base. We believe that the rotation into ‘trader’ or ‘hot money’ hands is probably only still at the beginning – only recently have we heard that blocks of bonds have been coming out, rather than the trading of very small amounts. This could change rapidly in the coming weeks if Austria decides to step up the bondholder loss rhetoric of course but at this point, it would be ordinary money managers, we think, who would be absorbing most of the losses, not hot money or speculators.
As an added twist, we note that HAA bonds issued under the August 2006 Prospectus are under German Law (rather than Austrian). Again, this points in the direction of either repayment of the bonds under the guarantee, or a negotiated settlement with bondholders, rather than the imposition of an arrangement by the Austrian Government, since legally they may not have the flexibility to do much else.
* * *
In conclusion all we have to add is that it would indeed be supremely ironic if the “strong” foreign law bond indenture would be tested, and breached, not by Greek bonds, as so many expected in late 2011 and early 2012, but by one of the last contries in Europe which is still AAA-rated. We would find it less ironic if the next leg of the global financial crisis was once again unleashed by an Austrian bank: after all history does rhyme…
The bad feelings concerning Russia run deep in the Western parts of Ukraine (as they topple statues of Lenin in growing numbers) while in the East they see themselves much more as Russians. These feelings run very deep in the region and memories do not fade so easily as the mayor and police chief of Kerch vigorously defend the Ukrainian flag in the clip below – deep in the eastern Crimea region (that Russia has already suggested it is willing to go to war over). Russian President Vladimir Putin has now been placed in a very difficult position, as Martin Armstrong notes, the entire set of circumstances creates the image of events in Ukraine that have diminished the power of Russia, which is a matter of pride and the only stable resolution remains a split along the language faultline. The critical question then is – will Putin let it go?
In the west they are toppling Lenin statues en masse
But in the East, the mayor and city officials in Kerch, Crimea defend the Ukrainian flag…
The big question- of course – will Putin let it go? (via Martin Armstrong),
Russian President Vladimir Putin has now been placed in a very difficult position. As the protesters in Ukraine gathered the support of the police against the mercenaries, they turned the tide of politics for the moment. Putin’s Sochi Olympic moment has been overshadowed by the bloody mess in neighboring Ukraine thanks to the insanity of Yanukovich trying to oppress the people as in the old days. Yanukovich has demonstrated that ultimate power always corrupts ultimately. There must be checks and balances.
The entire set of circumstances creates the image of events in Ukraine that have diminished the power of Russia, which is a matter of pride. The situation may appear that it is slipping out of control and Russia will just walk away. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that Putin will just walk away and leave Ukraine to its own devices. There is political pride that is at stake here and Putin said in 2005 that the fall of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. Putin’s view of this is not economic, but only political. From that perspective, we must understand that if the USA split apart as was the case with the Civil War, there is a sense that a loss of prestige and power will engulf the nation unless the lost portion is regained.
There are lessons from history on this point to demonstrate this is not my personal opinion. Take the Roman Emperor Aurelian (270–275 AD) who fought to regain the European portion that separated from Rome known as the Gallic Empire and in the East defeated Zenobia who established the Empire of Palmyra. Putin’s desire to retake the former nations that were part of the Soviet Union is in accordance with history and would be an exception if it were not true. Therefore, to allow Ukraine to slip out of Russia’s orbit would make Putin no better than Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over the Soviet empire’s dissolution in 1991 and allowed the very thing he sees as a great geopolitical catastrophe.
There can be no question that Putin wants Ukraine to join Russia’s economic attempt to create the offset to the EU with his Customs Union that includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, and soon, Armenia. The Customs Union is his counter economic response to the European Union’s much larger trading bloc. On this score, economics is the battleground.
It is true that only after Yanukovych broke off with the EU moving away from a European Union integration accord last November and chose Russia instead that the protests began in Ukraine. Putin applied pressure and Yanukovych responded taking the nation toward the Customs Union rather than the EU that would have no doubt curtailed trade to a large extent and reduced the prospect for greater entrepreneurship in Ukraine. The emergence of small business in Ukraine does not match the oligarchy monopolies inside the Russian economic model. However, this was more the straw that broke the camel’s back than the spark that ignited the revolution.
I have explained in the Cycles of War that Russia and Ukraine have deep historical links dating back to the Kievan Rus, from whom the very word “Russia” emerges. They were the days of the 11th and 12th centuries and they are traditionally seen as the beginning of Russia and the ancestor of Belarus and Ukraine. Kiev was the first real capital of Russia before Moscow. Therefore, we have a mother-country complex involved as well.
According to the Russian business daily Kommersant, they cited a source in a NATO country’s delegation back in 2008 that reported Putin had told President George W. Bush: “You understand, George, that Ukraine isn’t even a state.” Indeed, Ukraine has been the real mother-country to Russia for most of the last 900 years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Certainly, parts of what is now called Ukraine have been controlled by many various countries as the borders have constantly change including Poland, Lithuania, the Khanate of Crimea, Austria-Hungary, Germany, in addition to Russia. Putin has often referred to Ukraine as “little Russia.” So clearly, there are serious issues here that warn that the immediate result in Ukraine may not yet be permanent independence. I have suggested that Ukraine split along the language faultline BECAUSE history warns that Russia is not likely to simply fade into the night. This is the ONLY solution that may allow Ukrainian independence and Russia to maintain its pride.
Strategically, Crimea, the southern part of Ukraine on the Black Sea, was part of Russia until 1954. At that time, Crimea was given to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, supposedly to strengthen brotherly ties. However, the majority of the population were Russian – not Ukrainian! Therein lies part of the problem. This “gift” of Crimea to Ukraine would be like the USA giving Texas to Mexico and Texans would suddenly all be Mexican. Would they “feel” Mexican or American?
There is also Russia’s Black Sea Fleet that is headquartered in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, which is less than 200 miles northwest of Sochi where the Olympic Games are being held. It is hard to imagine that the Ukrainian government could even end that lease without major consequences. Russia would no doubt be forced to move its headquarters east to Novorossiysk, yet this will have a serious geopolitical loss of face. Just last December, Russia proposed a deal of providing cheaper natural gas to Ukraine in exchange for better terms on its lease in Sevastopol. This is another reason there should be serious consideration of a split handing back the Crimea to Russia.
With the crisis over Syria that is the Saudi attempt to get a pipeline through Syria to compete with Russia on natural gas sales to Europe, Ukraine also presents a very serious problem for Russia. Natural gas sales to Europe are a key source of foreign exchange for Russia, yet a large portion of that gas actually passes through Ukraine. An independent Ukraine may present an economic threat to Russia if those pipelines were to be shut off. Nevertheless, Gazprom is also hedging its bets by building a new South Stream pipeline that crosses the Black Sea on the seabed from Russia to Bulgaria, bypassing Ukraine. This could relieve that geopolitical-economic threat, but it is not immediate. Clearly, this comes at a time that is serious in light of what the USA and Saudi’s are trying to pull off with the overthrow of Syria pretending they care about human rights when in fact it is all about that pipeline.
The Ukrainians really do not “feel“ that they are Russian and they have toppled statues of Lenin everywhere. Why? Historically, Josef Stalin brutally subjugated Ukraine back in the 1930s. He confiscated all the wealth liquidating the farmers that were known as kulaks. The bad feelings concerning Russia run deep in the Western parts while in the East they see themselves as Russians.These feelings run very deep in the region and memories do not fade so easily. We still have the word “vandalize” that comes from the North African Vandals sacking Rome back in 455AD. China still hates Japan for their brutal invasion. These feelings and memories do not really exist in the USA most likely because of the very diverse ethnic backgrounds creating a melting pot rather than one group that remembers another.
Russia Angered At Ukraine Government Vote To Remove President After “I Won’t Resign” Comments | Zero Hedge
Remember that (laughable) agreement that was signed less than 24 hours ago and was grandly endorsed by all European nations, and which delineated the next legal presidential election sometime between September and December? Good times.
With 328 (of the 450 seats) voting in favor, the Ukraine parliament has agreed to removed President Viktor Yanukovych:
- *UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO REMOVE PRESIDENT YANUKOVYCH
- *UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO HOLD EARLY ELECTIONS ON MAY 25
“Yanukovych, in an illegal manner, removed himself from his constitutional duties,” Turchynov says in chamber before vote. The Russians are not at all happy with Siluanov exclaiming these actions “pose a direct threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and constitutional order.”
As Martin Armstrong warns:
I believe the nation will survive divided for there is far too much resentment to simply put this all behind and walk forward. Divide Ukraine along the historical language faultline and there is a chance to calm things down. Otherwise, this will flare up and take others with it.
My position is consistent – ALL governments are only a necessary evil. They should never be allowed to have such power over the people for it will also be abused to sustain that same power. It does not matter what form of government – they are all the same.
It would appear we are getting closer to a divided/split nation…
In the minds of so many western journalists, yesterday’s “deal” to reform the constitution, hold new elections in 10 months or so, and generally all ‘just get along’ was a victory but this morning it is clear that very little has changed.
- *YANUKOVYCH SAYS HE WON’T LEAVE UKRAINE OR RESIGN: INTERFAX
Late last night Ukraine time, President Yanukovych (and some of his key advisers) fled Kiev (amid so-called threats) and headed to the eastern part of the country. Then following rumors he would resign, he stated in a TV address that he would not and that pro-EU forces had staged a “coup d’etat”. This has left a troubled nation with just as divided a future as protesters have taken back control of Kiev.
Russia is not happy; blaming extremists for threatening order.
- *RUSSIA URGES GERMANY, POLAND FRANCE TO INFLUENCE UKRAINE OPPOS.
- *RUSSIA SAYS UKRAINE OPPOSITION FAILED TO FULFILL OBLIGATIONS
- *RUSSIA SAYS UKRAINE OPPOSITION THREATENS SOVEREIGNTY, ORDER
- *RUSSIA SAYS UKRAINE OPPOSITION `FOLLOWING LEAD OF EXTREMISTS’
The government has moved in his absence:
- *UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER TURCHYNOV SPEAKS IN ASSEMBLY
- *UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO REMOVE PRESIDENT YANUKOVYCH
- *UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO HOLD EARLY ELECTIONS ON MAY 25
- *UKRAINE PARLT VOTES TO REMOVE PRESIDENT WITH 328 OF 450 SEATS
Putin will not be happy:
Russia’s foreign minister on Saturday accused Ukraine’s opposition of failing to fulfill its side of a peace deal intended to end the nation’s political crisis and urged Western mediators to intervene.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called his German, French and Polish counterparts, who helped broker Friday’s agreement between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. Yanukovych agreed to hold early elections this fall and surrender much of his powers, but opposition supporters have kept pushing for his immediate dismissal.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov urged his counterparts to use their influence with the Ukrainian opposition, which he said “not only has failed to fulfill any of its obligations, but keeps making new demands under the influence of armed extremists and rioters.”
Their actions “pose a direct threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and constitutional order,” he said.
From Deal to Defection…
*YANUKOVYCH SAYS SOME PARTY MEMBERS DEFECT IN BETRAYAL: UBR TV
Government authority appeared to melt away Saturday, leaving protesters in control of the capital’s center. President Viktor Yanukovych left the capital for a city in the country’s Russian-speaking east and said he would work to prevent the country from splitting up.
In a television interview Saturday afternoon in Kharkiv, where Russian-speaking supporters had gathered, Mr. Yanukovych denounced the events in Kiev as a “coup d’etat” that he blamed on “bandits.” He said he wasn’t stepping down and vowed to remain inside the country. He said parliament’s decisions today are “illegal” and that he would refuse to sign them. Asked about his plans, he said he will travel in the Russian-speaking south and east of the country, “where for the moment it’s less dangerous.”
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko earlier had called on parliament to vote to oust Mr. Yanukovych and announce presidential elections in May, as police withdrew from the center of the capital Saturday.
Ukraine opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was expected to be released from prison within hours, according to a spokeswoman for the opposition.
The army has said it will not get involved…
*UKRAINE MILITARY, DEFENSE MINISTRY `REMAIN FAITHFUL TO PEOPLE’
*UKRAINE DEFENSE MIN: ARMY WON’T BE INVOLVED IN GOVT CONFLICT
Opposition leaders signed a peace deal with Mr. Yanukovych Friday after dozens were killed in clashes between protesters and police. The deal proposed power sharing and presidential elections by the end of the year. But protesters weren’t satisfied and called for his immediate ouster.
In Kiev on Saturday, volunteer security brigades from among the protesters took over security at government buildings, and journalists reported around 300 people had entered Mr. Yanukovych’s opulent suburban residence without resistance.
Oleh Tyahnybok, an opposition leader, called on parliament to adopt a resolution calling on police and protesters’ “self-defense” forces to work to prevent looting in Kiev and other cities.
Outside the Kiev headquarters of Ukraine’s security service, plain-clothed men wearing earpieces stood at the street corners, eying those who passed. They wouldn’t say who they worked for.
With truckloads of activists armed with baseball bats driving the streets of Kiev, the security service appeared to be taking no chances. In the interior lobby and parking lot of the building, fire hoses and fire extinguishers were piled in the corners.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that “it serves only the Ukrainian people and fully shares the desire of citizens for immediate change.” It called for cooperation from all sides to ensure public order.
A power vaccum has developed…
Opposition lawmakers in parliament called for calm amid concerns over a power vacuum, calling on state officials and religious and civic leaders to work together to ensure order.
Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Rybak, a close ally of Mr. Yanukovych, handed in his resignation Saturday. Lawmakers elected opposition leader Olexander Turchinov to replace him. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the opposition could muster sufficient support to vote Mr. Yanukovych out.
The European Union is prepared to offer Ukraine financial support, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said on Saturday.
“If there is a reform-minded government in Ukraine, we will work with the international community and international financial institutions to support Ukraine,” Mr. Barroso told German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag.”
Ukraine President Flees Kiev After “Coup D’Etat” As Protesters Storm Presidential Palace, Plunder Gold; Army On Hold | Zero Hedge
It has been a busy night in the Ukraine.
First, the newly-installed interior minister declared that the police were now behind the protesters they had fought for days, giving central Kiev the look of a war zone with 77 people killed, while central authority crumbled in western Ukraine. Then despite yesterday’s latest anti-crisis “agreement” which we said would last at best hours, the protesters continued their pressure against embattled president Yanukovich, demanding his outright and unconditional resignation, leading to his fleeing Kiev by airplane overnight to the far more pro-Russian city of Kharkiv located in the Eastern Ukraine, even as his arch rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is held in prison in the same city, was rumored to have been released on her way to the far more anti-Russian city of Kiev – it turns out those rumors have so far been incorrect.
Then there was a plethora of rumors that he has or is about to either escape the country and/or resign, sparking celebrations in Kiev, only for him to appear on TV subsequently and not only deny a resignation is coming, but that he accused the current leaders in Kiev of staging a coup d’etat and that all parliamentary decisions today have been illegitimate, saying “I did all I could to avoid bloodshed” while comparing recent events in the Ukraine to the “Fascist Revolution” in Germany. This was promptly rebutted by the Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski who tweeted there is no coup in Kiev and President Viktor Yanukovych has 24 hours to sign re-adopted 2004 constitution into law.
The just released interview is below:
Most importantly, all of this is happening as governors, and regional legislators in eastern Ukraine question authority of national parliament. Meanwhile over in the “western” Kiev, Parliament members of the opposition began laying the groundwork for a change in leadership, electing Oleksander Turchynov, an ally of the imprisoned opposition leader and former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, as speaker. And Mr. Klitschko called for new elections to replace Mr. Yanukovych by May 25. “Millions of Ukrainians see only one choice — early presidential and parliamentary elections,” he tweeted.
The NYT reports:
Members of an opposition group from Lviv called the 31st Hundred — carrying clubs and some of them wearing masks — were in control of the entryways to the palace Saturday morning. And Vitali Klitschko, one of three opposition leaders who signed the deal to end the violence, said that Mr. Yanukovych had “left the capital” but his whereabouts were unknown, with members of the opposition speculating that he had gone to Kharkiv, in the northeast part of Ukraine.
Protesters claimed to have established control over Kiev. By Saturday morning they had secured key intersections of the city and the government district of the capital, which police officers had fled, leaving behind burned military trucks, mattresses and heaps of garbage at the positions they had occupied for months.
All of this is pointing to a national schism between the pro-Russian east, and its new de facto capital, Kharkiv, and the western part of the nation, where the EU (and CIA) influences are strongest. Luckily, for now there won’t be a military involvement:
- UKRAINE DEFENSE MIN: ARMY WON’T BE INVOLVED IN GOVT CONFLICT
… for now.This will likely change: moments ago Russia’s Foreign Minister said Ukraine’s opposition is led by “armed extremists” and their actions pose direct threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty, which means a Russian involvement in some capacity is imminent.
Perhaps more important was the following statement:
- UKRAINE TO ENSURE SMOOTH NATGAS TRANSIT TO EU, DEP PREMIER SAYS
That would the Russian gas which traverses the country, which can be halted with the turn of a spigot.
Bottom line, the situation is fluid, and is increasingly bordering on an all too real threat of civil war between the country’s linguistically and affiliation-divided west and east.
The one thing that is clear is that the former presidential compound is now in the power of the people. From CBS.
The protesters, who are angry over corruption and want Ukraine to move toward Europe rather than Russia, claimed full control of Kiev and took up positions around the president’s office and a grandiose residential compound believed to be his, though he never acknowledged it.
At the sprawling suburban Kiev compound, protesters stood guard and blocked more radical elements among them from entering the building, fearing unrest. Moderate protesters have sought to prevent their comrades from looting or taking up the weapons that have filled Kiev in recent weeks.
The compound became an emblem of the secrecy and arrogance that defines Yanukovych’s presidency, painting him as a leader who basks in splendor while his country’s economy suffers and his opponents are jailed. An AP journalist visiting the grounds Saturday saw manicured lawns, a pond, several luxurious houses and the big mansion itself, an elaborate confection of five stories with marble columns.
Protesters attached a Ukrainian flag to a lamppost at the compound, shouting: “Glory to Ukraine!”
A group of protesters in helmets and shields stood guard at the president’s office Saturday. No police were in sight.
Which brings us to the most interesting finding of the day: what has so far been plundered from the palace:
Inside Yanukovych’s private residence
Pictures emerging from the president’s private residence in the outskirts of Kyiv after protesters stormed the building.
“It’s just like being in Monaco” – man on phone next to me at Yanukovich’s residence outside Kiev pic.twitter.com/FZfU6xNHIp
— Emma Wells (@Emmawells1) February 22, 2014
— Vitalii Sediuk (@VitaliiSediuk) February 22, 2014
Protesters with an “euromaidan” flag at Yanukovych’s balcony.
— ?????????? (@euromaidan) February 22, 2014
???????’?. ?????. ????? ?? ????????. ????????????? ??????? pic.twitter.com/yFdq9BpYJx
— ????? ??? (@MichaelShchur) February 22, 2014
And as usually happens, the plundering has revealed numerous golden coins discovered in Yanukovych’s garage and a 1 kg gold coin with the president’s portrait.
?? ? ?? (?? ?? ?????????) ?????? ? ????????? ?????? ? ?????? ? ???????’? pic.twitter.com/KExRR96pOR
— ????? ??? (@MichaelShchur) February 22, 2014
?? ?? ??????? ? ?????? ? ???????’?. ??????? ?????????. 1 ?? ?????? pic.twitter.com/iQ9hwFxYtf
— ????? ??? (@MichaelShchur) February 22, 2014
Finally, for the blow by blow, or rather tweet by tweet of events in the past 24 hours, we go to Euronews which has done the best job of summairizing the constatntly changing situation:
Yanukovych on TV: “I’m not leaving the country”
On an interview broadcast minutes ago on ukrainian TV UBR, and recorded at 12h30, president Yanukovych refuses to resign saying “we’ve taken all the steps to stabilize the country, we voted an amnesty law and organised early elections”. The president that fled Kyiv to go to Kharkiv also says, “I’m trying to protect people from bandits”. Yanukovitch compares also Ukraine now to Nazi Germany in the 30s. In the interview, the president assures that he’s not leaving the country. He also denounced on Saturday what he described as a “coup d’etat”. “The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d’etat,” he was quoted as saying.
Opposition leader Petro Poroshenko says Yanukovych has changed his mind about his earlier decision to resign http://t.co/wFQdXhHY4G
— KyivPost (@KyivPost) February 22, 2014
Yatseniuk says he spoke with Yanik and confirms he has resigned #euromaidan
— bruce springnote (@BSpringnote) February 22, 2014
Yanukovych resignation to be read soon at the parliament
Euronews’ correspondents in Kyiv report that the statement should be read at the parliament in the next minutes.
— Paul Waldie (@pwaldieGLOBE) February 22, 2014
Waiting for the release of jailed former Prime-Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Conflicting reports that she was already freed from Kharkiv jail.
— MareikeAden (@MareikeAden) February 22, 2014
Tymoshenko daughter speaks to Kyiv Post at parliament, says releasing her mom won’t be easy
An agreement in the Ukraine has just been signed, which sees early presidential elections. Europe is delighted by this development as confirmed by the following statement by the unelected Herman Van Rompuy:
Statement by the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, on Ukraine
I welcome the agreement reached between the government and the opposition in Ukraine. The agreement is a necessary compromise in order to launch an indispensable political dialogue that offers the only democratic and peaceful way out of the crisis that has already caused too much suffering and bloodshed on all sides. It is now the responsibility of all parties to be courageous and turn words into deeds for the sake of Ukraine’s future. This agreement was facilitated by important work by the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, Poland and the Special Representative of the President of Russia and based on the persistent efforts during the last two months by High Representative Ashton and Commissioner Füle. The EU continues to stand ready to support Ukraine.
The Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, and Poland said the following:
The Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Poland welcome the signing of the agreement on the Settlement of the crisis in Ukraine, commend the parties for their courage and commitment to the agreement and call for an immediate end to all violence and confrontation in Ukraine.
And the full agreement is below (link):
Agreement on the Settlement of Crisis in Ukraine
Concerned with the tragic loss of life in Ukraine, seeking an immediate end of bloodshed and determined to pave the way for a political resolution of the crisis,
We, the signing parties, have agreed upon the following:
1. Within 48 hours of the signing of this agreement, a special law will be adopted, signed and promulgated, which will restore the Constitution of 2004 including amendments passed until now. Signatories declare their intention to create a coalition and form a national unity government within 10 days thereafter.
2. Constitutional reform, balancing the powers of the President, the government and parliament, will start immediately and be completed in September 2014.
3. Presidential elections will be held as soon as the new Constitution is adopted but no later than December 2014. New electoral laws will be passed and a new Central Election Commission will be formed on the basis of proportionality and in accordance with the OSCE & Venice commission rules.
4. Investigation into recent acts of violence will be conducted under joint monitoring from the authorities, the opposition and the Council of Europe.
5. The authorities will not impose a state of emergency. The authorities and the opposition will refrain from the use of violence. The Parliament will adopt the 3rd amnesty, covering the same range of illegal actions as the 17th February 2014 law.
Both parties will undertake serious efforts for the normalisation of life in the cities and villages by withdrawing from administrative and public buildings and unblocking streets, city parks and squares.
Illegal weapons should be handed over to the Ministry of Interior bodies within 24 hours of the special law, referred to in point 1 hereof, coming into force. After the aforementioned period, all cases of illegal carrying and storage of weapons will fall under the law of Ukraine. The forces of authorities and of the opposition will step back from confrontational posture. The Government will use law enforcement forces exclusively for the physical protection of public buildings.
6. The Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, Poland and the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation call for an immediate end to all violence and confrontation.
Kyiv, 21 February 2014
As a reminder, this won’t be the first “crisis settlement” agreement that will be promptly violated.
Days after Kazakhstan broke out is tanks post-devaluation, the promise to “Restore order by all means envisaged” is under way in Ukraine as military vehicles are being mobilized into the city center (andfighter jets are being reported overhead). As Martin Armstrong so eloquently noted recently, “the Western powers represented by the EU and the US have nothing to stand on to protect Ukraine and can only offer lip-service at best. So once again, it appears that Ukraine is doomed and the best one can hope for there, is that Russia will allow the West to leave. The countdown goes forward and the political and economic crisis is indicative of what we see with the first shot across the bow in the rising trend of the Cycle of War.” The US has ‘demanded’ an end to the violence…
Two jet aircrafts, presumably military, have appeared over Maidan in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the mass media report.
The economy is collapsing:
- *UKRAINE JAN. INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT FALLS 16.0% IN MONTH (largest on record)
Things are rapidly deteriorating…
- *KLITSCHKO URGES UKRAINIANS TO FLOCK TO INDEPENDENCE SQUARE
- *KLITSCHKO SAYS MAIN TASK TO AVOID BLOODSHED
- *KLITSCHKO SAYS UKRAINE FORCES MAY STORM INDEPENDENCE SQUARE
- *KLITSCHKO URGES WOMEN, CHILDREN TO LEAVE INDEPENDENCE SQUARE
- *UKRAINE RIOT POLICE AMASS ON PERIMETER OF INDEPENDENCE SQUARE
The death toll is rising (and hundreds are injured)
- *UKRAINE INTERIOR MINISTRY SAYS ONE POLICEMAN SHOT DEAD TODAY
- *UKRAINE SAYS 37 POLICEMAN INJURED IN CLASHES WITH PROTESTERS
- *UKRAINE OPPOSITION SAYS 3 KILLED IN CLASHES, 7 CRITICAL
- *TWO MORE DEAD BODIES DISCOVERED AMID KIEV PROTESTS: INTERFAX
The world condemns…
- *EU’S ASHTON `DEEPLY WORRIED’ ABOUT RENEWED UKRAINE VIOLENCE
- *GERMANY TO MAKE ALL EFFORTS TO RESOLVE CONFLICT: STEINMEIER
- FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER FABIUS CONDEMNS VIOLENCE IN KIEV (FR)
- *SIKORSKI SAYS UKRAINE URGENTLY NEEDS POLITICAL COMPROMISE
- *US DEMANDS YANUKOVYCH END VIOLENCE IN KIEV, AFP SAYS
And now the military vehicles are rolling:
When a country destroys its debts by inflation, it ruins its creditors. The proper progressive approach is to ruin them all equally–thus it is imperative that there be no avenue by which creditors might protect themselves. At the same time, the government wishes no doubt to have its citizens continue to honour its currency, worthless though it might be.
During the Wiemar hyperinflation, despite the frenzied printing, the sum total of foreign currency that could be purchased by all the marks in circulation fell precipitously. There is a Keynesian argument to be made that the Germans didn’t print quickly enough! Of course, having Germans individually destroying the currency in great amounts by putting it to such uses as cigarette rolling papers and firewood didn’t help either.
And consider this–using the currency in lieu of hard-to-locate toilet paper may clog pipes.
Canada recently unveiled polymer bills. Just the perfect cross between plastic and paper money. And the brilliant part is, they are perfect in a hyperinflationary environment.
Plastic. Not really suitable for use as cigarette wrappers or firewood. You wouldn’t want to be burning it indoors, anyway.
And as far as toilet paper–although it is a little uncomfortable, the microtexture on the bills does seem to be helpful for cleaning up the really tough spots. And although the bills have not been field-tested for flushability, the beauty of the polymer bills is that you can just wash them and reuse! Or spend, if you prefer.
The only problem the beta testers have reported is that the bills are a little small to be used comfortably.
Another Conspiracy Theory Becomes Fact: Meet The Men With The Plan Behind Italy’s Bloodless Coup | Zero Hedge
The chart below is very familiar to anyone who was observing the hourly turmoil in the European bond market in November of 2011, when Italian bonds crashed, when yields soared to record levels, and every downtick of the Euro could have been its last.
What the chart may not show are the dramatic transformations in Italy’s government that took place just as the Italian bond spread exploded, which saw the resignation of career-politician Sylvio Berlusconi literally days after yields soared, and the instatement of Goldman technocrat Mario Monti as Italy’s next Prime Minister.
In fact as some, and certainly this website, had suggested the blow out in Italian yields was merely a grand plan orchestrated to usher in a new Italian government that would, with the support of yet another Goldman alum, the ECB’s then brand new head Mario Draghi, unleash a new era in Italian life, supposedly one of austerity (ignoring that two years after Berlusconi, Italy’s debt to GDP ratio has never been higher), and which would give the impression that Europe is being fixed all the while preserving the broken European monetary system for at least another year or two. In other words a grand conspiracy theory of a pre-planned bloodless coup. That all this would take place under the auspices and with the blessing of Italy’s president Napolitano, only made things worse since Italy is not a parliamentary republic but a parliamentary democracy, where such cloak and dagger arrangements are certainly not permitted under the constitution.
And so, as lately so often happens, courtesy of the narrative by Alan Friedman of what really happened that summer, this too conspiracy theory has just become conspiracy fact. Thanks to the FT’s “Monti’s secret summer“, we learn with painful detail (especially for those of our readers who may be Italian), just how the grand conspiracy to out Berlusconi took shape, and how it was deviously executed with the assistance of none other than the European Central Bank.
It all started on In the summer of 2011 when Carlo De Benedetti, the Italian industrial tycoon, hosted Mario Monti, Italy’s then former prime minister and an old friend of De Benedetti’s in the St Moritz-based alpine retreat of the industrialist for dinner, and a private chat to discuss “a development that was to have profound public consequences.” We go to the FT for the full details:
“Mario asked if we could get together, and I chose a typical little Swiss trattoria for dinner, just outside of St Moritz. But at the last minute he said he wanted to talk in private and so I said ‘Sure, stop by my house before dinner’ and so he came by,” Mr De Benedetti says. “And it was then he told me that it was possible that the president of the republic, Napolitano, would ask him to become prime minister, and he asked my advice.”
Mr De Benedetti says the two men “discussed whether he should accept the offer, and when would be the right moment to do so. This happened at my house in August, so in fact he had already spoken with President Napolitano.”
The offer from Giorgio Napolitano, the Italian president, to Mr Monti of the job of prime minister – a post that was still very much occupied by Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire centre-right politician – is at the core of serious questions of legitimacy in Italy. What happened in Italy that summer and autumn as policy makers battled the crisis gripping the eurozone is still a subject of intense debate.
Here, the story takes a detour to a glimpse of the denouement, by advising readers that the president’s “planning the replacement of the elected Mr Berlusconi by the unelected technocrat Mr Monti – months ahead of the eventual transfer of power in November – reinforces concerns about Mr Napolitano’s repeated and forceful interventions in politics. His outsized role since the crisis has led many to question whether he stretched his constitutional powers to their limits – or even beyond.” Of course, he did – and so did all other European bankers and business tycoons who knew they had to perpetuate the legacy status quo as long as possible or else their fortunes would come crumbling down before their eyes. But we already knew that. What we did not know were the explicit details of how the immaculate plan to wrest control of Italy from the playboy billionaire and hand it over to what essentially were Goldman’s key European tentacles, were conceived. So we read on:
Outside the calm of St Moritz that summer, the eurozone crisis was raging. Market speculation against Italian and Spanish sovereign debt was rampant and the spread between Italian Treasury bonds and German Bunds was rocketing. As its borrowing costs rose there was talk that Italy could default. Italy was in crisis – politically as well as economically.
In Rome, Mr Berlusconi was presiding over a rancorous, unstable coalition and increasingly distracted by allegations over sexual relations with Karim el-Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer. All of Europe seemed to be lambasting him.
Yet despite the controversy engulfing Mr Berlusconi, he was still the sitting prime minister and his government was legitimate under the rules of Italy’s parliamentary democracy.
How long that might last was a subject of conversation between Mr De Benedetti and Mr Monti that August.
“I told Mario that he should take the job but that it was all a question of timing. If Napolitano formalised the offer in September then that was fine, but if he left it until December then it would be too late,” recounts Mr De Benedetti.
So now we know the timeframe for the upcoming coup: ideally sometime, in October or November of 2011. But before that, it was the turn of another element – this time the European connection Romano Prodi – to give his blessing and to explain to Monti why he would soon be the “happiest man alive:”
Romano Prodi, a former president of the European Commission and another old friend of Mr Monti’s, recalls a similar conversation, but even earlier, towards the end of June 2011. “We had a long and friendly conversation,” Mr Prodi says, “and he asked for my thoughts, and I told him, ‘look here Mario, there is nothing you can do to become prime minister but if the job is offered to you then you cannot say no. So you should be the happiest man alive’.”
Finally, the only missing link was the codification of the “reforms” that Italy would undergo the second Berlusconi was booted out.
Corrado Passera, a leading banker who was to become Mr Monti’s minister for economic development, infrastructure and transport, was meanwhile given the green light that summer by Mr Napolitano to prepare a confidential 196-page document containing his own proposals for a wide-ranging “shock therapy” for the Italian economy. It was a programme of proposed government policies and reforms that went through four successive drafts as Mr Napolitano and Mr Passera discussed it back and forth that summer and into the autumn.
With all that in place, it was time to put the plan into effect.
Italy’s crisis intensified throughout the autumn of 2011. All Italians still remember the smirk of scepticism on the faces of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, when they were asked at a press conference in October if they had confidence in Mr Berlusconi’s ability to cut the deficit or reduce the debt, which was then at 120 per cent of gross domestic product. (The latest figure is 133 per cent.)
So yes, for anyone still confused – since total debt/GDP has risen by 13% in the past two years, the last thing Italy engaged in was austerity designed to moderate its out of control public spending. What it did engage in, was epic capital misallocation, even greater corruption, and gross incompetence. All of these, however, were conveniently scapegoated on the only well-known traditional fallback.
At this point, we should remind readers of a concurrent story, one involving Italy’s then-member of the ECB executive council, Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, who revealed in a recent book that at just around this time Berlusconi was realizing that the trap was closing. Bini-Smaghi revealed that Berlusconi had “discussed (threatened?) Italian withdrawal from the euro in private meetings with other EMU governments, presumably with Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, since he does not negotiate with underlings.”
And so the ECB went to task, and under its new boss, yet another Italian, former Goldmanite Mario Draghi, allowed Italian bond yields to crater and take the country, and the Eurozone, and thus the entire developed world, to the edge of collapse. Just so Italy’s president had a pretext to accelerate the demise of Berlusconi and catalyze his replacement with a technocrat crony of the financial establishment. Once again, as a reminder, here is the dynamic of bond yields soaring just as Berlusconi was threatening to end the European dream in which “so much political capital is invested”:
What happened after that moment is part of the public record:
On November 9 2011 Mr Napolitano appointed Mr Monti a senator for life, thus making him a member of parliament. On November 12, at a meeting with the president, Mr Berlusconi resigned, ending his third stint as prime minister. Within 24 hours – rather than call for fresh elections – Mr Napolitano named Mr Monti, the economics professor and former European commissioner who had never held elected office, as prime minister. The full cabinet was sworn in three days later.
Mr Berlusconi’s supporters cried foul and made noisy claims that there had been a “coup”.
They were right, and now – from the horse’s mouth – we know the facts.
In a lengthy videotaped interview with Mr Monti, he confirmed the conversation with Mr De Benedetti in St Moritz. He also acknowledged the conversation with Mr Prodi in June 2011, though at first he played down these talks, saying that the idea of him becoming prime minister “was sort of in the air”.
He recalled with a giggle that “Yes, Prodi came to see me at the end of June and the spread [between Italian and German government bond yields] was then about 220 or 250 basis points, and he told me: ‘Get ready, because when the spread hits 300 you will be called in’. And then the spread hit 550!”
… as if by magic. Supposedly Draghi wasn’t quite willing to do “whatever it takes” just yet.
Mr Monti confirmed that he knew all about the Passera document being prepared for the president. “Corrado Passera told me he was working on this and he said he would show it to me, and he did, and he told me he had given it to Napolitano and would give it to me,” Mr Monti said. “And on one occasion I discussed the Passera document with Napolitano, and then later on, months later, when I was named prime minister, I immediately asked Passera to join the Cabinet.”
But when asked if it was made clear to him in the summer of 2011 in his talks with Mr Napolitano that the president was asking him to be ready to take over from Mr Berlusconi, Mr Monti hesitated. “Well, President Napolitano and I had been talking for a long time, for years, not about this, but then things sort of came to a head.”
When pressed further to explain if Mr Napolitano had explicitly asked him to be on standby during their talks back in June and July 2011 – four to five months before he replaced Mr Berlusconi as prime minister – Mr Monti demurred: “Look here: I will not reveal details of conversations that I had with the president of the republic.”
Pressed again, and asked if he wished to deny on the record that in June and July of 2011 President Napolitano had either asked him explicitly or had made it clear that he wanted him to be available to become the new prime minister, Mr Monti replied falteringly, in a voice that became almost a whisper: “Yes. He, uh, he gave me a signal in that direction.” After this revelation a look of extreme discomfort spread across Mr Monti’s face and he stared off to one side.
Perhaps because Monti had just realized he admitted that Italy had undergone presidentially-blessed government coup – one whose execution stretched far beyond any constitutional powers awarded to the president, and one which involved numerous foreign (and financial) interests (and conflicts thereof).
At this point attention turns to Italy’s president, 89-year old Giorgio Napolitan0, whose direct intervention was instrumental in allowing this carefully laid “bloodless coup” plan of bankers and technocrats to proceed:
Mr Napolitano did not agree to an interview despite repeated requests. His spokesman had no comment on a series of written questions, including one about which month in 2011 Mr Napolitano had first sounded out Mr Monti to become prime minister.
But last week Mr Napolitano commented for the first time on the controversy over his naming of Mr Monti. During a visit to the European parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Napolitano said that while some had described his naming of Mr Monti “as almost invented by me as a personal whim”, in fact he had done so on the basis of indications given to him by parliamentary and political leaders “in the course of consultations as is required”.
This explanation could raise further questions in Italy, where such “consultations as is required” would typically have begun only upon the resignation of the prime minister. In Mr Berlusconi’s case, these would have begun upon his November 12 resignation.
We now know that all such consultations took place well before said resignation. But where it gets better is just how grand the chess game truly was:
The Monti government acted swiftly to introduce harsh austerity measures, spending cuts, a value added tax rise and new property duties as well as reform of the pensions system. Praise was duly heaped on him by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and financial markets.
Many Italians still despise Mr Monti for the austerity programme and see him as a pawn of the European Commission or of Ms Merkel. In retrospect he lacked a political touch but was a useful transition figure at a time of crisis.
Mr Monti says his greatest achievement was to jump into electoral politics during the election of February 2013 at the expense of Berlusconi’s party. “Had it not been for my taking votes away from the centre-right,” Mr Monti said in the interview, “Berlusconi today would be either the president of the republic or the prime minister, so I did achieve a concrete result in blocking that.”
Of course, Berlusconi’s star has now faded, and with it the danger that the supposedly irrational politician, who once had threatened to dissolve the Eurozone and thus saddle Germany with a TARGET2 bill amounting to almost $1 trillion. Which meant that the status quo of the “equity tranche” (read – the global banker aristocracy) had been preserved. In this way, Napolitano, Prodi and Monti, assisted by their fourth Italian friend – ECB’s Mario Draghi – effectively subjugated the Italian population to call it austerity, call it gross and premeditated capital misallocation, but certainly call it the will of the bankers. And all without firing a shot.
Which brings up the question of just how constitutional, if at all, was the overthrow of Berlusconi.
Adopted in 1948 after more than 20 years of chaos and brutal fascist rule, Italy’s constitution is one of the few documents universally respected by Italians. It guarantees their most basic rights. It is sacrosanct.
Planning in secret, even as a contingency measure, to appoint a new prime minister when a parliamentary majority is in place may be a prudent and responsible action for a president but it is not an explicit power assigned by the constitution, even if there is a financial crisis under way in half of Europe as was the case in the summer of 2011.
Most ironic, however, is that the only person who seems to care about the trampling of the constitution is… a former comedian.
Whatever one thinks of Mr Berlusconi, serious constitutional questions are raised by the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that resulted in the appointment of his successor. Perhaps the loudest voice to raise these questions is that of Beppe Grillo, the comedian-turned-politician who garnered 25 per cent of the national vote last year.
Mr Napolitano, an 89-year-old former communist, has reacted with anger at Mr Grillo’s incessant accusations of the subversion of democracy. Mr Grillo has frequently called for Mr Napolitano’s impeachment.
Today, Italy is emerging from recession slowly, with an exceedingly weak and uneven economic recovery. This year is expected to bring less than 1 per cent growth in GDP.
Italy remains sharply divided over the events of 2011 and Mr Napolitano’s role in them. The issue of whether Mr Napolitano went beyond his constitutional powers during the summer and autumn of 2011 can be left to future historians. But what is clear now – thanks to Mr Monti’s own admission – is that he and the president had been discussing the prospect of his taking over from Mr Berlusconi long before his official appointment in November of 2011. For Mario Monti it had been a long and secret summer.
Indeed it had. And now we know that in order to effectuate the banker plan of preserving Europe’s “political capital” which is simply another name of trillions in wealth on paper (and on funny-colored pieces of European currency) that would evaporate if and when the Eurozone inevitably dissolves, it took just four Italians – Monti, Prodi, Napolitano and, of course, Draghi – willing to trample their constitution in order to achieve the goal of perpetuating the status quo no matter the cost.
As for the fallout, namely “youth unemployment is at a record high of 41.6 per cent, nationwide joblessness is 12.7 per cent and almost a third of families are near the poverty line. Productivity and competitiveness have dropped sharply in recent years. Mr Monti’s successor, Enrico Letta, another leader championed by Mr Napolitano, is under fire for his handling of the economy”… well, all those are problems of the “99%”. And as everyone knows by know, the 99% is the last thing on the mind of the global ruling class.
A few short months after Putin cornered the US state department into a disastrous foreign relations dead end with the false flag Syrian escalation which achieved none of the predetermined nat-gas-to-Europe pipeline ambitions, instead alieanting the US from both staunch allies Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Russian president has just managed to inflict yet more pain on US foreign policy this time by infuriating (even more) a core US ally in Europe – Angela Merkel. Just two days after the phone recording of Victoria Nuland emerged in which she not only made it explicitly clear it was the US who was the puppetmaster behind the Ukranian opposition with the traditional CIA tractics as was expected all along, but also explained just how the US freels toward the EU with the now infamous “Fuck the EU” comment, Angela Merkel called the obscene remark “absolutely unacceptable.”
And then, Nuland not knowing when to stop, proceeded to insert foot in mouth just a little deeper: “”I am not going to comment on private diplomatic conversations. But it was pretty impressive tradecraft. The audio was extremely clear,” she told reporters during a visit to Kiev.”
At least she indirectly complemented Putin on being smart enough to not only intercept what appears to have been an unencrypted phone call, but to release it at just the right time as the entire world’s attention turns to Russia and by extension, the Ukraine.
Because in retrospect Putin does deserve praise: having won the Ukraine over Europe’s cries of horror, he has also managed, in the past year, to alienate the US from Israel, Saudi Arabia and now, Germany. And all this without saying a single word, let along firing a shot.
So now that we know the apriori winner, the loser has no choice but to engage major damage control, which is borderline delusional. From Reuters:
[Nuland] said she did not foresee damage to relations with opposition leaders, saying they “know exactly where we stand in respect of a non-violent solution to the problem.”
Of relations with Russia, she said Washington and Moscow had “very deep, very broad and complex” discussions on a range of international issues including Iran and “frank and comradely discussions” on Ukraine.
U.S. officials did not deny the authenticity of the recording and said Nuland apologized to EU colleagues for the comment.
Angela Merkel, already furious with Washington for several months over reports that U.S. officials bugged her own phone, found Nuland’s remarks “totally unacceptable”, a spokeswoman for the German chancellor said.
Yet, it’s one thing to delude oneself that the US is still the undisputed world’s superpower, it is far worse to express the kind of hubris that Nuland did, when she communicated and discussedconfidential US geopolitical strategy on an unencrypted phone line – traditionally a fireable offense, if not worse.
In Washington, U.S. officials said Nuland and Pyatt apparently used unencrypted cellphones, which are easy to monitor. The officials said smart phones issued to State Department officials had data encryption but not voice encryption.
In Nuland’s call, apparently recorded about 12 days ago when Ukrainian opposition leaders were considering an offer from Yanukovich to join his cabinet, she suggested that one of three leading figures might accept a post but two others should stay out. In the end, all three rejected the offer.
The biggest loser here, however, continues to be the Ukraine, whose people are facing a cold winter without assurances they will have Russian nat gas, and a government that is a chess piece in an ongoing power play between Europe and Russia, now that the CIA has taken a back seat. Incidentally, Russia made it quite clear that it demands Ukraine’s full allegiance and as Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov told reporters overnight, Russia would withold its second loan payment to the troubled nation unless the Ukraine, which owes a “not insignificant” sum for natgas, makes the payment.
In other words, just like Greece has become a money “tolling” intermediary for the ECB and German banks, in which Europe pretends to bail out the crushed country when in reality it is just funding debt payments to its own banks, so the Ukraine has now become an intermediary, in which loan payments from Russia go to pay… Russia’s Gazprom. And in the process Russia pulls the Ukraine from the European sphere of influence and back into that of the New Normal USSR.
Game, set, match Putin. Again.
But wait, there’s more. Because Putin, unsatisfied with simple making a mockery of the US State Department, decided to rub it in some more. The Hill reports:
Rising animosity between the former Cold War powers was on full display Friday when Russia chose a former figure skater who tweeted out a racially charged picture of President Obama for the symbolic lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hoped hosting the first Games since the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which the U.S. boycotted, would showcase a “new Russia” emerging from the ashes of the Soviet Union as he enters his 15th year in power.
Instead the U.S. and its western allies have consistently painted the picture of a corrupt autocracy.
The media’s focus on the persecution of gays in Russia, terrorism and Russia’s lackluster infrastructure – many hotels don’t have potable water even though the Games are estimated to have cost more than $50 billion, the most ever – have further infuriated the Kremlin.
“I understand how the press here works. They need hot issues in order to be read, to have high circulation,” Sergey Kislyak, Putin’s envoy to Washington, told The Washington Diplomat last month.
That’s ok – as long as the US population can keep itself distracted from the sheer implosion of US standing internationally by looking at tweeted images of decrepit toilets and busted Sochi plumbing from a self-indulgent US press corps, and continue feeling good about itself, then all is well. After all, that’s just what Putin wants.
A classicial economist… and Harvard professor… preaching to the world that one’s money is not safe in the US banking system due to Ben Bernanke’s actions? And putting his withdrawal slip where his mouth is and pulling $1 million out of Bank America? Say it isn’t so…
From Terry Burnham, former Harvard economics professor, author of “Mean Genes” and “Mean Markets and Lizard Brains,” provocative poster on this page and long-time critic of the Federal Reserve, argues that the Fed’s efforts to strengthen America’s banks have perversely weakened them. First posted in PBS.
Is your money safe at the bank? An economist says ‘no’ and withdraws his
Last week I had over $1,000,000 in a checking account at Bank of America. Next week, I will have $10,000.
Why am I getting in line to take my money out of Bank of America? Because of Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, who officially begins her term as chairwoman on Feb. 1.
Before I explain, let me disclose that I have been a stopped clock of criticism of the Federal Reserve for half a decade. That’s because I believe that when the Fed intervenes in markets, it has two effects — both negative. First, it decreases overall wealth by distorting markets and causing bad investment decisions. Second, the members of the Fed become reverse Robin Hoods as they take from the poor (and unsophisticated) investors and give to the rich (and politically connected). These effects have been noticed; a Gallup poll taken in the last few days reports that only the richest Americans support the Fed. (See the table.)
Why do I risk starting a run on Bank of America by withdrawing my money and presuming that many fellow depositors will read this and rush to withdraw too? Because they pay me zero interest. Thus, even an infinitesimal chance Bank of America will not repay me in full, whenever I ask, switches the cost-benefit conclusion from stay to flee.
Let me explain: Currently, I receive zero dollars in interest on my $1,000,000. The reason I had the money in Bank of America was to keep it safe. However, the potential cost to keeping my money in Bank of America is that the bank may be unwilling or unable to return my money.
They will not be able to return my money if:
- Many other depositors like you get in line before me. Banks today promise everyone that they can have their money back instantaneously, but the bank does not actually have enough money to pay everyone at once because they have lent most of it out to other people — 90 percent or more. Thus, banks are always at risk for runs where the depositors at the front of the line get their money back, but the depositors at the back of the line do not. Consider this image from a fully insured U.S. bank, IndyMac in California, just five years ago.
- Some of the investments of Bank of America go bust. Because Bank of America has loaned out the vast majority of depositors’ money, if even a small percentage of its loans go bust, the firm is at risk for bankruptcy. Leverage, combined with some bad investments, caused the failure of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and would have caused the failure of Bank of America, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, and many more institutions in 2008 had the government not bailed them out.
In recent days, the chances for trouble at Bank of America have become more salient because of woes in the emerging markets, particularly Argentina, Turkey, Russia and China. The emerging market fears caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to lose more than 500 points over the last week.
Returning to my money now entrusted to Bank of America, market turmoil reminded me that this particular trustee is simply not safe. Or not safe enough, given the fact that safety is the reason I put the money there at all. The market turmoil could threaten “BofA” with bankruptcy today as it did in 2008, and as banks have experienced again and again over time.
If the chance that Bank of America will not return my money is, say, a mere 1 percent, then the expected cost to me is 1 percent of my million, or $10,000. That far exceeds the interest I receive, which, I hardly need remind depositors out there, is a cool $0. Even a 0.1 percent chance of loss has an expected cost to me of $1,000. Bank of America pays me the zero interest rate because the Federal Reserve has set interest rates to zero. Thus my incentive to leave at the first whiff of instability.
Surely, you say, the federal government is going to keep its promises, at least on insured deposits. Yes, the Federal Government (via the FDIC) insures deposits in most institutions up to $250,000. But there is a problem with this insurance. The FDIC currently has far less money in its fund than it has insured deposits: as of Sept. 1, about $41 billion in reserve against $6 trillion in insured deposits. (There are over $9 trillion on deposit at U.S. banks, by the way, so more than $3 trillion in deposits is completely uninsured.)
It’s true, of course, that when the FDIC fund risks running dry, as it did in 2009, it can go back to other parts of the federal government for help. I expect those other parts will make the utmost efforts to oblige. But consider the possibility that they may be in crisis at the very same time, for the very same reasons, or that it might take some time to get approval. Remember that Congress voted against the TARP bailout in 2008 before it relented and finally voted for the bailout.
Thus, even insured depositors risk loss and/or delay in recovering their funds. In most time periods, these risks are balanced against the reward of getting interest. Not so long ago, Bank of America would have paid me $1,000 a week in interest on my million dollars. If I were getting $1,000 a week, I might bear the risks of delay and default. However, today I am receiving $0.
So my cash is leaving Bank of America.
But if Bank of America is not safe, you must be wondering, where can you and I put our money? No path is without risk, but here are a few options.
- Keep some cash at home, though admittedly this runs the risk of loss or setting yourself up as a target for criminals.
- Put some cash in a safety box. There is an urban myth that this is illegal; my understanding is that cash in a safety box is legal. However, I can imagine scenarios where capital controls are placed on safety deposit box withdrawals. And suppose the bank is shut down and you can’t get to the box?
- Pay your debts. You don’t need to be Suze Orman to know that you need liquidity, so do not use all your cash to pay debts. However, you can use some surplus, should you have any.
- Prepay your taxes and some other obligations. Subject to the same caveat about liquidity, pay ahead. Make sure you only pay safe entities. Your local government is not going away, even in a depression, so, for example, you can prepay property taxes. (I would check with a tax accountant on the implications, however.)
- Find a safer bank. Some local, smaller banks are much safer than the “too-big-to-fail banks.” After its mistake of letting Lehman fail, the government has learned that it must try to save giant institutions. However, the government may not be able to save all failing institutions immediately and simultaneously in a crisis. Thus, depositors in big banks face delays and defaults in the event of a true crisis. (It is important to find the right small bank; I believe all big banks are fragile, while some small banks are robust.)
Someone should start a bank (or maybe someone has) that charges (rather than pays) interest and does not make loans. Such a bank would be a good example of how Fed actions create unintended outcomes that defeat their goals. The Fed wants to stimulate lending, but an anti-lending bank could be quite successful. I would be a customer.
(Interestingly, there was a famous anti-lending bank and it was also a “BofA” — the Bank of Amsterdam, founded in 1609. The Dutch BofA charged customers for safe-keeping, did not make loans and did not allow depositors to get their money out immediately. Adam Smith discusses this BofA favorably in his “Wealth of Nations,” published in 1776. Unfortunately — and unbeknownst to Smith — the Bank of Amsterdam had starting secretly making risky loans to ventures in the East Indies and other areas, just like any other bank. When these risky ventures failed, so did the BofA.)
My point is that the Federal Reserve’s actions have myriad, unanticipated, negative consequences. Over the last week, we saw the impact on the emerging markets. The Fed had created $3 trillion of new money in the last five-plus years — three times more than in its entire prior history. A big chunk of that $3 trillion found its way, via private investors and institutions, into risky, emerging markets.
Now that the Fed is reducing (“tapering”) its new money creation (now down to $65 billion a month, or $780 billion a year, as of Wednesday’s announcement), investments are flowing out of risky areas. Some of these countries are facing absolute crises, with Argentina’s currency plummeting by more than 20 percent in under one month. That means investments in Argentina are worth 20 percent less in dollar terms than they were a month ago, even if they held their price in Pesos.
The Fed did not plan to impoverish investors by inducing them to buy overpriced Argentinian investments, of course, but that is one of the costly consequences of its actions. If you lost money in emerging markets over the last week, at one level, it is your responsibility. However, it is not crazy for you to blame the Fed for creating volatile prices that made investing more difficult.
Similarly, if you bought gold at the peak of almost $2,000 per ounce, you have lost one-third of your money; you share the blame for your golden losses with Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen. They removed the opportunities for safe investments and forced those with liquid assets to scramble for what safety they thought they could find. Furthermore, the uncertainty caused by the Fed has caused many assets to swing wildly in value, creating winners and losers.
The Fed played a role in the recent emerging markets turmoil. Next week, they will cause another crisis somewhere else. Eventually, the absurd effort to create wealth through monetary policy will unravel in the U.S. as it has every other time it has been tried from Weimar Germany to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
Even after the Fed created the housing problems, we would have been better of with a small 2009 depression rather than the larger depression that lies ahead. See my Making Sen$e posts “The Stockholm Syndrome and Printing Money” and “Ben Bernanke as Easter Bunny: Why the Fed Can’t Prevent the Coming Crash” for the details of my argument.
Ever since Alan Greenspan intervened to save the stock market on Oct. 20, 1987, the Fed has sought to cushion every financial blow by adding liquidity. The trouble with trying to make the world safe for stupidity is that it creates fragility.
Bank of America and other big banks are fragile — and vulnerable to bank runs — because the Fed has set interest rates to zero. If a run gathers momentum, the government will take steps to stem it. But I am convinced they have limited ammunition and unlimited problems.
What is the solution? For you, save yourself and your family. For the system, revamp the Federal Reserve. The simplest first step would be to end the dual mandate of price stability and full employment. Price stability is enough. I favor rules over intervention. We don’t need a maestro conducting monetary policy; we need a system that promotes stability and allows people (not printing presses) to make us richer.