My Comments: Assertive headlines such as what you see here are usually outside my comfort zone. For one it implies a pathology that I’m not trained to comment on and two, Europe and European values are different from mine, given that I’ve lived here in the US for the past 65 years. (Warning: this post is LONG.)
That being said, what goes on in Europe does influence what happens to our markets, and since investing money is an expertise I have, then knowing and trying to understand this sort of thing is important to me. And perhaps to you.
The Mercenary Trader / Jan. 21, 2015
“It is as if it’s accepted that the euro area’s modus operandi is to clear things with Germany, and for the ECB to constrain its actions to what is best for Germany.” ~ Athanasios Orphanides, former member of the ECB governing council
Most of the eurozone is experiencing deflation. Even the countries who aren’t – Germany etc. – are well below the ECB’s official 2% inflation target.
This is dangerous because deflationary conditions can tip into recession… and depression… and political extremism born of civil unrest. Deflation – or rather the extreme results of such, in the aftermath of harsh slowdown – brought us the Nazis in the 1930s. Post-Weimar economic implosion, not currency erosion, enabled the political conditions for Hitler’s rise to power.
Need we say more?
Apart from political unrest, deflation is like having no fuel in the emergency flight tank.
A lot of people will say “what’s wrong with deflation,” e.g. why is it so bad?
It’s important to clarify there is a big difference between falling inflation levels (disinflation) and inflation falling below zero. Think of a plane that stalls out.
When an economy goes negative, the risk is that the plane fails to overcome the stall… and crashes before it can pull up. Deflation (as opposed to disinflation) can lead to compounding “downward spiral” impacts, not unlike gravity’s increasing pull on a nosediving airplane.
The German attitude toward inflation, and debt, is pathological (indicative of mental disorder).
Germany is paranoid of inflation on a pathological level. Germany is also pathologically allergic to debt. Consider, for example, that Germany as a country has serious infrastructure needs… and there is real risk that Germany’s economy will slow in future. Right now, German interest rates hover above zero (or even dip below it). This is a historic opportunity for “good” financing… for logical spending on real needs, financed by incredibly low-cost debt.
Yet Germany is so debt averse, they aren’t willing to borrow for the future – not even for themselves – even with rates in the zero to one percent range. That’s almost the equivalent of turning down free money, even when it is badly needed for repairs… even when it has obvious strategic use. That is not frugality as a virtue, it’s more like a miser complex worthy of therapy.
Worse still, Germany is delusional about its own economy and dangers.
Think about this: What happens to the German economy when China really and truly slows? And what happens to the German economy when Japan goes “next level” in its competitive devaluation plan?
China is slow-motion imploding. No matter what happens, China has to switch from an infrastructure led economy to a consumer led one. This is very bad news for Germany, one of the world’s largest exporters. As is the increasingly competitive currency stance of Japan. Bottom line: Germany’s present economic strength could easily evaporate… for strong reasons that make logical sense. And how much cushion would they have in that event? None…
Bottom line: Germany would rather slit its own throat, economically speaking, than allow for a rational approach to inflation and debt.
That is a deliberately harsh phrase, it’s true. But the writing is on the wall. Germany’s commitment to austerity is not just pathological, it is economically suicidal.
The entire eurozone is at risk… and Germany’s own economy is too… and the lessons of history speak loudly. Yet Germany continues to live in a bizarro dream world where saving money has been elevated to a fetish regardless of surrounding circumstances.
We don’t choose to pick on Germany. We have friends who are German… family members and loved ones with German roots. It simply “is what it is.” The pathologies of a country, to the degree they go separate ways from rationality, are leading to economic disaster (and who knows what in the aftermath).
There are questions as to whether German provisions will “neuter” euro QE.
Draghi and the European Central Bank will announce some kind of quantitative easing on Thursday (sic). There is no question of it now. If they tried for another stall – more “wait and see” – European equity markets would simply go into freefall. Investors would start betting on accelerated odds of euro break-up.
But it remains possible that the “shock and awe” of euro QE will be neutered by German demands. Via the FT: To appease QE’s German opponents, which include the chancellor Angela Merkel herself, Mr. Draghi is expected to say that bonds bought will remain with national central banks, so losses will not be spread among eurozone members. But other eurozone countries, as well as the International Monetary Fund, fear the concession could reduce QE’s effectiveness…
OF COURSE giving Germany what it wants would reduce euro QE effectiveness!
• Germany wants to reduce fiscal exposure to weaker eurozone members.
• But establishing a united support front is the whole idea in the first place!
• The house is on fire and liquidity crisis measures (firehoses) are needed…
• But Germany wants to avoid charges for the water…
• And make sure any fires are segregated away from itself…
• Thus increasing the odds the whole thing burns down.
The German justification for not wanting to participate is ridiculous.
The stance of Germany is essentially, “Why should we pay for these bums? Why should we create more risk exposure for ourselves? We are savers, they are spenders… why should we waste money on them?”
The answer is that Germany should have asked those questions SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO. Saying “Nein!” to an insanely stupid monetary union would have been very logical, and the best thing for all… circa 1998 before the euro actually launched! But now it is too late to avoid responsibility for actions.
What’s more, it is no longer a “moral” question… but a question of WHAT THE RISKS ARE.
This is the other amazing / maddening thing about the German stance. Germany still acts as if there is room to say “no” on moral grounds… when the final question is what will happen, not what is right or wrong. When a course of action is highly likely to invite DISASTER, the question of right or wrong has to be put aside…
Because of Germany, we don’t know how euro QE will come across… but we are willing to short more FEZ against our euro position. Our EURUSD position has a sort of partial absolute hedge in short European equities. If Germany throws a spanner in the QE works, and “Super Mario” disappoints, EURUSD could spike in a big short squeeze. But European Equities (NYSEARCA:FEZ) would fall hard in that instance. Conversely, if Draghi and the ECB come through in a big way, the reverse could occur – EURUSD goes into freefall, FEZ rockets higher. So they act as de facto hedges of each other…
Another scary thing… even if Draghi gets his “big bazooka” QE… what good will it do?
The other frightening thing to consider: It may be too little, too late for Europe no matter what size of QE they get. There is little point in lowering eurozone bond yields (already pressing zero). And there is little real hope in stimulating bank lending. So the true point of euro QE would be… what? Making the euro a hell of a lot weaker to stimulate exports one supposes. What else is QE supposed to do?
One argument is that, once euro QE starts, it never stops… until it goes nuclear…
Some argue it doesn’t really matter how much QE the ECB starts with… because QE just gets bigger from that point no matter what. We can’t be sure this is true. Germany might try to stop a “failed” QE program. Then again, if things get really ugly – e.g. if Germany falls into recession too – then maybe it keeps going and going…
And the ECB finally winds up going “nuclear,” taking a page from Japan. Understand this: There are plausible scenarios where the euro goes to 85 cents before all is said and done. That outcome would not be too hot for risk assets. (Hello understatement!)