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The FT Goes There: “Demand Physical Gold” As One Day Paper Price Manipulation Will End “Catastrophically” | Zero Hedge

The FT Goes There: “Demand Physical Gold” As One Day Paper Price Manipulation Will End “Catastrophically” | Zero Hedge.

What have we done: after a series of reports in late 2012 in which we showed, with no ambiguity, that not only might the Bundesbank’s offshore held gold be severely “diluted” (follow our 2012 exposes on German gold hereherehere, and here), but that on at least one occassion, the Fed and the Bank of England conspired against the Buba in returning subpar quality gold, the Bundesbank shocked everyone in early January 2013 when it announced it would repatriate 300 tons of gold helt in New York and all of its 374 tons of gold held in Paris. But convincing the Bundebsbank to demand delivery was peanuts compared to changing the tune of the Financial Times – that bastion of fiat “money”, and where the word gold is mocked and ridiculed, and those who see the daily improprieties in the gold market as nothing but “conspiracy theorists” – to say the magic words: “Learn from Buba and demand delivery for true price of gold”, adding that “one day the ties that bind this pixelated gold may break, with potentially catastrophic results.

In other words, precisely what we have been saying since the beginning.

Welcome to the ‘conspiracy theorist’ club, boys.

From the FT’s Neil Collins: “Learn from Buba and demand delivery for true price of gold: One day the ties that bind the actual and the traded commodity will snap:

A year ago the Bundesbank announced that it intended to repatriate 700 tons of Germany’s gold from Paris and New York. Although a couple of jumbo jets could have managed the transatlantic removal, it made security sense to ship the load in smaller consignments. Just how small, and over how long, has only just become apparent.

Last month Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president, admitted that just 37 tons had arrived in Frankfurt. The original timescale, to complete the transfer by 2020, was leisurely enough, but at this rate it would take 20 years for a simple operation. Well, perhaps not so simple. While he awaits delivery, Herr Weidmann is welcome to come and look through the bars in the Federal Reserve’s vaults, but the question is: whose bars are they?

In the “armchair farmer” fraud you are told: “Look, this is your pig, in the sty.” It works until everyone wants physical delivery of their pig, which is why Buba’s move last year caused such a stir. After all nobody knows whether there are really 260m ounces of gold in Fort Knox, because the US government won’t let auditors inside.

The delivery problem for the Fed is a different breed of pig. The gold market is far more than exchanging paper money for precious metal. Indeed the metal seems something of a sideshow. In June last year the average volume of gold cleared in London hit 29m ounces per day. The world’s mines are producing 90m ounces per year. The traded volume was many times the cleared volume.

The paper gold in the London Bullion Market takes the familiar forms that bankers have turned into profit machines: futures, options, leveraged trades, collateralised obligations, ETFs . . . a storm of exotic instruments, each of which is carefully logged, cross-checked and audited.

Or perhaps not. High-flying traders find such backroom work tedious, and prefer to let some drone do it, just as they did with those money-market instruments that fuelled the banking crisis. Thedrones will have full control of the paper trail, won’t they? There’s surely no chance that the Fed’s little delivery difficulty has anything to do with the cat’s-cradle of pledges based on the gold in its vaults?

John Hathaway suspects there is. He worries about all the paper (and pixels) linked to gold. He runs the Tocqueville gold fund (the clue is in the name) and doesn’t share the near-universal gloom of London’s gold analysts, who a year ago forecast an average $1700 for 2013. It is currently $1,260.

As has been remarked here before, forecasting the price is for mugs and bugs. But one day the ties that bind this pixelated gold may break, with potentially catastrophic results. So if you fancy gold at today’s depressed price, learn from Buba and demand delivery.

What Blows Up First? Part 1: Europe

What Blows Up First? Part 1: Europe.

2013 was a year in which lots of imbalances built up but none blew up. The US and Japan continued to monetize their debt, in the process cheapening the dollar and sending the yen to five-year lows versus the euro. China allowed its debt to soar with only the hint of a (quickly-addressed) credit crunch at year-end. The big banks got even bigger, while reporting record profits and paying record fines for the crimes that produced those profits. And asset markets ranging from equities to high-end real estate to rare art took off into the stratosphere.

Virtually all of this felt great for the participants and led many to conclude that the world’s problems were being solved. Instead, 2014 is likely to be a year in which at least some – and maybe all – of the above trends hit a wall. It’s hard to know which will hit first, but a pretty good bet is that the strong euro (the flip side of a weakening dollar and yen) sends mismanaged countries like France and Italy back into crisis. So let’s start there.

The basic premise of the currency war theme is that when a country takes on too much debt it eventually realizes that the only way out of its dilemma is to cheapen its currency to gain a trade advantage and make its debts less burdensome. This works for a while but since the cheap-currency benefits come at the expense of trading partners, the latter eventually retaliate with inflation of their own, putting the first country back in its original box.

In 2013 the US and especially Japan cheapened their currencies versus the euro, which was supported by the European Central Bank’s relative reluctance to monetize the eurozone’s debt. The following chart shows the euro over the past six months:

Euro dec 2013

For more details:

Euro rises to more than 2-year high vs. dollar; yen falls 
The euro jumped to its strongest level against the dollar in more than two years on Friday as banks adjusted positions for the year end, while the yen hit five-year lows for a second straight session.

The dollar was broadly weaker against European currencies, including sterling and the Swiss franc. Thin liquidity likely helped exaggerate market moves.

The European Central Bank will take a snapshot of the capital positions of the region’s banks at the end of 2013 for an asset-quality review (AQR) next year to work out which of them will need fresh funds. The upcoming review has created some demand for euros to help shore up banks’ balance sheets, traders said.

“There’s a lot of attention on the AQR, and there’s some positioning ahead of the end of the calendar year,” said John Hardy, FX strategist at Danske Bank in Copenhagen.

Comments from Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank chief and a member of the European Central Bank Governing Council, also helped the euro. He warned that although the euro zone’s current low interest rate is justified, weak inflation does not give a license for “arbitrary monetary easing.

The euro rose as high as $1.3892, according to Reuters data, the highest since October 2011. It was last up 0.3 percent at $1.3738.

The currency has risen more than 10 cents from a low hit in July below $1.28, as the euro zone economy came out of a recession triggered by its debt crisis.

Unlike the U.S. and Japanese central banks, the European Central Bank has not been actively expanding its balance sheet, giving an additional boost to the euro.

Here’s what a stronger euro means for France, the second-largest and arguably worst-managed eurozone country:

French Economy Contracts 0.1% In Third Quarter
The final estimate of France’s gross domestic product, or GDP, in the third quarter remained unchanged at the previous estimation of a contraction of 0.1 percent, indicating that the euro zone’s second-largest economy is struggling to sustain the rebound it witnessed in the second quarter with a growth of 0.6 percent.

The third-quarter GDP growth was in line with analysts’ estimates. According to data released on Tuesday by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, the deficit in foreign-trade balance contributed (-0.6 points) to the contraction in the third quarter, compared to the positive (0.1 percent) contribution made in the preceding quarter.

Some thoughts
At the beginning of 2013, most of the eurozone was either still in recession or just barely climbing out. Then the euro started rising, making European products more expensive and therefore harder to sell, which depressed those countries’ export sectors and made debts more burdensome. So now, under the forced austerity of an appreciating currency, countries like France that were barely growing are back in contraction. And countries likeGreece that were flat on their back are now flirting with dissolution.

Recessions – especially never-ending recessions – are fatal for incumbent politicians, so pressure is building for a European version of Japan’s “Abenomics,” in which the European Central Bank is bullied into setting explicit inflation targets and monetizing as much debt as necessary to get there. The question is, will it happen before the downward momentum spawns political chaos that spreads to the rest of the world. See Italian President Warns of Violent Unrest in 2014.

A Year Later, The Bundesbank Has Repatriated Only 37 Tons Of Gold (Of 700 Total) | Zero Hedge

A Year Later, The Bundesbank Has Repatriated Only 37 Tons Of Gold (Of 700 Total) | Zero Hedge.

The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser,courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.
The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser, courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.

This week, more evidence came in that hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) poses potentially serious risks to drinking water quality and human health.
A team of researchers from the University of Missouri found evidence of hormone-disrupting activity in water located near fracking sites – including samples taken from the Colorado River near a dense drilling region of western Colorado.
The Colorado River is a source of drinking water for more than 30 million people.
The peer-reviewed study was published this week in the journal Endocrinology.
Fracking is the controversial process of blasting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure so as to fracture rock and release the oil and gas it holds. It has made previously inaccessible fossil fuel reserves economical to tap, and drilling operations have spread rapidly across the country.
The University of Missouri team found that 11 chemicals commonly used in the fracking process are “endocrine disrupters” – compounds that can affect the human hormonal system and have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and infertility.
“More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said Dr. Susan Nagel, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and women’s health at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and a co-author of the study, in a news release.
“With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.”
The research team collected samples from ground water and surface water from sites in Garfield County, Colorado, where fracking fluids had accidentally spilled, as well as from the nearby Colorado River, into which local streams and groundwater drain. They also took samples from other areas of Garfield County where little drilling has taken place, as well as from a county in Missouri where there had been no drilling at all.
They found that the samples from the spill site had moderate-to-high levels of endocrine-disrupting activity, and the Colorado River samples had moderate levels.  The other two samples, taken from areas with little or no drilling activity, showed low levels of endocrine-disrupting activity.
The new findings add urgency to calls for moratoriums on fracking until the risks have been fully assessed and regulations and monitoring put in place to safeguard water supplies and public health.
Due to the so-called “Halliburton loophole,” the oil and gas industry is exempt from important requirements under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, and states have been slow to fill the regulatory gap.
Colorado, in particular, should exercise the utmost caution.
According to a report by Ceres, a Boston-based non-profit organization that educates investors about corporate environmental risks, 92 percent of Colorado’s shale gas and oil wells are located in “extremely high” water stress regions, defined as areas in which cities, industries and farms are already using 80 percent or more of available water.
Adding contamination risks to the high volume of water fracking wells require – typically 4-6 million gallons per well – argues strongly for a precautionary approach to future development and a pause in existing production until the full range of environmental health risks can be assessed.
But Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has said the state will sue any city that bans fracking within its borders.  Indeed, in July 2012, the state sued the front-range town of Longmont, which had issued such a ban.
A statement about the new findings of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in waters near fracking sites issued by Concerned Health Professionals of New York, and posted here, concludes with this warning:
“These results, which are based on validated cell cultures, demonstrate that public health concerns about fracking are well-founded and extend to our hormone systems. The stakes could not be higher. Exposure to EDCs has been variously linked to breast cancer, infertility, birth defects, and learning disabilities. Scientists have identified no safe threshold of exposure for EDCs, especially for pregnant women, infants, and children.”
And environmental health expert Sandra Steingraber writes in a letter posted at the same site:
“[I]t seems to me, the ethical response on the part of the environmental health community is to reissue a call that many have made already:  hit the pause button via a national moratorium on high volume, horizontal drilling and fracking and commence a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with full public participation.”

 

ECB Admits Sovereign Bonds Are Not Riskless | Zero Hedge

ECB Admits Sovereign Bonds Are Not Riskless | Zero Hedge.

For the last year or two, European banks have engaged in the ultimate of self-referential M.A.D. trades – buying the sovereign debt of their own nation in inordinate size to maintain the ECB’s illusion of control (even as their economies collapse and stagnate) while referentially obtaining the funding for said purchase from the ECB by repoing the purchase back to the central bank, usually with no haircut to mention. Today though, as The FT reports, a top official at the European Central Bank has signalled it will try to force eurozone banks to hold capital against sovereign bonds, in an attempt to stop weak lenders using its cash to hoover up the debts of crisis-hit countries.

This is a problem as banks assume zero risk-weights (under BIS III) to these “assets” as they swap them for cash with the ECB and, as Praet notes, if sovereign bonds were treated “according to the risk that they pose to banks’ capital” during the health check, then lenders would be less likely to use central bank liquidity to buy yet more government debt.

Via The FT,

A top official at the European Central Bank has signalled it will try to force eurozone banks to hold capital against sovereign bonds, in an attempt to stop weak lenders using its cash to hoover up the debts of crisis-hit countries.

 

 

the central bank could combine its new powers as chief banking regulator with its existing role as currency issuer to toughen up the requirements on sovereign bonds, which have been traditionally classed as risk-free.

 

 

Mr Praet said if sovereign bonds were treated “according to the risk that they pose to banks’ capital” during the health check, then lenders would be less likely to use central bank liquidity to buy yet more government debt.

 

The vicious cycle that has seen banks use central bank cash to buy government bonds has been partly blamed for prolonging the eurozone financial crisis.

But do not worry – should this decision to force banks to hold more capital against their massive sovereign bond books backfire (though credit creation is already dismal), the ECB will save the day…

If the health check were to choke off lending to eurozone households and businesses then the ECB would provide another round of cheap loans, Mr Praet said.

 

He said monetary policy would be used “without hesitation” if the ECB’s data on money and credit showed banks were continuing to shrink their loan books. The ECB would ensure any liquidity was used to spur lending to the real economy by attaching tougher requirements to banks’ holdings of sovereign debt.

And ever the optimist,

“Perhaps paradoxically, a rigorous AQR and stress test helps monetary policy [function],” Mr Praet said.

but the kicker is…

Should the procyclical impact of the AQR be significant, then monetary policy would be able to act – without hesitation and being reassured that the side effects of a liquidity injection that we have seen for the 2011-2012 [three-year long term refinancing operations] would be minimised.”

Though it appears to us that the “side effects” of massive liquidity-driven demand for the bonds of the distressed nations smashing their risk to record lows while the economies of those nations languishes – is exactly what they wanted…

So again – it comes back to their reliance on the ECB’s “we’ll collateralize any-old-shit at Par” programs, its unintended consequence of driving the banks and the sovereigns even more symbiotically intertwined, and its inept belief that the stress tests to be undertaken next year will solve all the problems…

And Italy may be screwed…

Wondering why the Italian bond market has been stable and “improving” in recent months, with yields relentlessly dropping as a mysterious bidder keeps waving it all in despite the complete political void in the government and what may be months of uncertainty for the country, and despite both PIMCO and BlackRock recently announcing they are taking a pass on the blue light special offered by BTPs? Simple. As the Bank of Italy reported earlier today, total holdings of Italian bonds by Italian banks hit an all time record of €351.6 billion in February.

 

 

Why are local banks loaded to the gills in the very security that may and will blow up their balance sheets when the ECB loses control of the European sovereign risk scene as it tends to do every year? Because courtesy of ECB generosity, Italian debt continues to be “cash good collateral” with the ECB, and as a result Italian banks can’t wait to pledge and repo it with Mario Draghi in exchange for virtually full cash allottment.

In other words, the more debt the Italian Tesoro issues, the more fungible cash the Italian banks have to spend on such things as padding up their cap ratios and making their balance sheets appear like medieval (any refernce to Feudal Europe is purely accidental) fortresses.

Until – the ECB changes the rules…

 

Central Banker Admits Faith In “Monetary Policy ‘Safeguard'” Leads To “Even Less Stable World” | Zero Hedge

Central Banker Admits Faith In “Monetary Policy ‘Safeguard'” Leads To “Even Less Stable World” | Zero Hedge.

While the idea of the interventionist suppression of short-term ‘normal’ volatility leading to extreme volatility scenarios is not new, hearing it explained so transparently by a current (and practicing) central banker is still somewhat shocking. As Buba’s Jens Weidmann recent speech at Harvard attests, “The idea of monetary policy safeguarding stability on multiple fronts is alluring. But by giving in to that allure, we would likely end up in a world even less stable than before.”

 

Excerpts from Jens Weidmann – Europe’s Monetary Union

Harvard, 11/25/13 (Full speech here)

In the eyes of many politicians, economists, at least if they are central bankers, cannot have enough arms now – arms with which they are to pull all the levers to simultaneously deliver price stability, lower unemployment, supervise banks, deal with sovereign credit troubles, shape the yield curve, resolve balance sheet problems, and manage exchange rates.

 

It is probably safe to say that this change in attitude is not just due to a sudden surge in the popularity of economists and central bankers. Rather, it reflects the widespread view that central banking has come to be the only game in town. And quite a few economists seem to agree with this notion.

 

To some, the notion that the primary goal of central banks is to keep prices stable has become old-fashioned. Against the backdrop of the financial crisis, they argue that financial stability has become just as important, if not more so, than price stability.

 

 

By tearing down the walls between monetary, fiscal and financial policy, the freedom of central banks to achieve different ends will diminish rather than flourish. Put in economic terms:Monetary policy runs the risk of becoming subject to financial and fiscal dominance.

 

Let me explain these mechanisms a bit more in detail, starting with financial dominance.

 

The financial crisis has provided a vivid example of how financial instability can force the hand of monetary policy. When the burst of an asset bubble threatens a collapse of the financial system, the meltdown will in all likelihood have severe consequences for the real economy, with corresponding downside risks to price stability.

 

In that case, monetary policy is forced to mop up the damage after a bubble has burst. And, confronted with a financial system that is still in a fragile state, monetary policy might be reluctant to embrace policies that could aggravate financial instability.

 

 

Public debt and inflation are related on account of monetary policy’s power to accommodate high levels of public debt. Thus, the higher public debt becomes, the greater the pressure that might be applied to monetary policy to respond accordingly.

 

Suddenly it might be fiscal policy that calls the shots – monetary policy no longer follows the objective of price stability but rather the concerns of fiscal policy. A state of fiscal dominance has been reached.

 

Technically, fiscal dominance refers to a regime where monetary policy ensures the solvency of the government. Practically, this could take the form of central banks buying government debt or keeping interest rates low for a longer period of time than it would be necessary to ensure price stability. Then, traditional roles are reversed: monetary policy stabilises real government debt while inflation is determined by the needs of fiscal policy.

 

 

A lender-of-last-resort role would violate this principle of self-responsibility – in that same way as Eurobonds in this setting are at odds with it. Therefore, it would aggravate, rather than alleviate, the problems besetting the euro area.

 

 

The idea of monetary policy safeguarding stability on multiple fronts is alluring. But by giving in to that allure, we would likely end up in a world even less stable than before.This holds true especially for the euro area, where a Eurosystem acting as a lender-of-last-resort role for governments would upend the delicate institutional balance.

 

To disentangle the euro area’s fiscal and financial conundrums, we should practice the art of separation – especially with regard to the sovereign-bank doom loop. Or let me put it this way: Rather than for monetary policy to waltz with fiscal and financial policy, we need to erect walls between banks and sovereigns.

 

Of course, Taleb’s somewhat seminal piece on vol suppression remains a concerning glimpse of the inevitable.

ForeignAffairs

 

Document Sample: Click To View Full Document
ForeignAffairs

 

ECB Case Pits Market Stability Against Democracy, Court Told – Bloomberg

ECB Case Pits Market Stability Against Democracy, Court Told – Bloomberg.

 

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