SOVEREIGN ALCHEMY WILL FAIL : THE PIIGSJUKUS SALAMI
SOVEREIGN ALCHEMY WILL FAIL
by Egon von Greyerz
Matterhorn Asset Management
When we look at the world economy today, wherever we turn we see a wall of risk. And sadly this is an insurmountable wall with risks that are totally unprecedented in history.
There has never before been a potentially catastrophic combination of so many virtually bankrupt major sovereign states (US, UK, Spain, Italy Greece, Japan and many more) and a financial system which is bankrupt but is temporarily kept alive with phoney valuations and unlimited money printing. But governments will soon realise that they are not alchemists who can turn printed paper into gold. The consequences of the global financial crisis are potentially catastrophic.
As the Austrian economist von Mises said: “There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency involved.”
In our view, governments like the US and the UK and many others will not abandon further credit expansion. They are committed to printing increasing amounts of worthless paper money in order to finance the growing deficits and the rotten financial system. Therefore there is no chance of Quantitative Easing ending but instead it will accelerate in 2010 and after. The consequence of this will be a hyperinflationary depression in many countries due to many currencies becoming worthless.
No economy in the world, including China, will avoid this severe economic downturn which is likely to have a major impact on the world economy for many, many years to come…..
All the so called experts have declared that it is impossible to identify the problems in the financial system in advance. For example, Greenspan, Bernanke, Geithner, other central bankers and government officials as well as Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and many bank heads have all stated that they couldn’t see it coming. Either they are lying or they are stupid. Sadly, it is most likely the former.
It is virtually impossible to find an honest politician. They have one major objective – Power. To attain power they have to buy votes. But to buy votes they cannot tell the truth. No politician ever forecasts bad news because bad news does not buy votes. (Yes, there are exceptions like Ron Paul in the US). And as regards the bankers, it is definitely not in their interest to worry about risks to the financial system. For every year that they issue additional toxic debt and derivatives they earn more in that single year than most normal people earn in a lifetime…
The list of countries at risk of bankruptcy is increasing by the day. The acronym used to be PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain). It is now PIIGSJUKUS and growing. The main contenders are currently: USA, UK, Japan, Spain, Italy, Greece, Ireland, France, Portugal, Baltic States, Eastern Europe and many more. On a proper accounting basis all of these countries are already bankrupt, but since many nations can either print money like the US and the UK or increase their already high borrowings, like Greece or the Baltic States, they have technically avoided bankruptcy although in reality all the countries in the list above are basket cases with very little chance of a return to normality. Shown below is what we call the Sovereign Time Bomb. The bomb consists of countries that have a combination of budget deficit and borrowings relative to GDP which puts them into the category “Time Bomb” or high risk of default. These countries have budget deficits from 6% (Italy) to 12.5% (UK, Greece) of GDP and their Public Sector Debts are ranging from 60% (Spain) to almost 200% (Japan) of GDP.
The Sovereign Time Bomb
The problem is not just the current debt levels of these nations, because the deficits in all the countries are rising. Tax revenues are collapsing and with rapidly rising unemployment, the governments’ expenses for social charges are soaring.
In the US for example the federal deficit in 2009 was $1.5 trillion (10.7% of GDP) and is forecast to stay around that level for many years. The plight of the US states is just as bad. Out of 50 states only 4 are expected to have a balanced budget in 2010. Up to 40 states, including California, New York, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and New Jersey, are virtually bankrupt.
It took almost 200 years for US Federal debt to reach $ 1 trillion which it did in 1981. In 2009 the debt increased by $ 1.9 trillion in just that year to $ 12.4 trillion. In the next ten years the US debt is forecast to reach $ 25 trillion. And this doubling of the debt does not include any funds to prop up a bankrupt financial system or the spending of tens or maybe hundreds of trillions of dollars on worthless OTC derivatives. The forecast also assumes growth in GDP which is extremely unlikely especially for the next 2-5 years. Currently US Federal debt is six times what it collects in tax revenue every year…
…With these levels of deficits for the next ten years on top of an already massive debt, there is no possibility whatsoever that the US economy can avoid bankruptcy. No country has ever abolished debts of this magnitude by printing paper and the US will not be the first one to succeed either.
Only Lose – Lose Options
Governments have two choices – continue to borrow and print money or reduce government spending. This is a lose – lose situation and whatever choice they make it will end in disaster. Countries within the EMU like Greece or Spain are introducing austerity programmes that forecast their deficits to come down to 3% of GDP which is the EU maximum deficit limit. These are totally unrealistic targets that are mainly based on an improvement in the economy which is total fantasy. The dilemma is that not one single country within the EU is below the 3% limit, not even Germany. And the effect of the austerity programmes will lead to such a major contraction of the economies that tax revenues will collapse, further exacerbating the plight of these countries.