Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fearless Prediction: On March 20, Greece Will Default

On March 20, Greece has to come up with €14.3 billion—or else it will be bankrupt.

Of course, Greece doesn’t have €14.3 billion—that’s why the Troika of the IMF, the EC and the ECB are trying to hammer out a deal to bail them out again: A bailout to the tune of €136 billion. They’ve had marathon-length negotiating sessions, one “crucial emergency meeting” after another—hell, they even called the Pope to send them a case of holy water and a truckload of wooden stakes. I’m serious!

Last Monday, a deal seemed to have emerged: That’s what the announcement sounded like. In fact, it looked so much like a done deal—it was spun so decisively as a done deal—that I was all set to write something snarky like, Greece Takes It Greek Style: “Thank You Troika, May I Have Another” Bailout On Its Way. (What can I say: I’m a vulgar bastard.)

But then . . . then we all started looking at the fine print of the deal. And that’s when everyone who follows this stuff started to realize that the deal wasn’t a deal—merely the illusion of a deal.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Deflationary Undertow Before The Inflationary Wave

Ride the wave, or drown. 

War between Israel and Iran now seems inevitable. Leon Panetta claimed that it would be this coming spring—and I see no reason to doubt him.

How an Israeli-Iranian war will play out—that is, whether it will draw in more geopolitical actors (such as the U.S.), or if it will be a series of limited attacks, counter-attacks, and then stalemate—is impossible to predict. War tends to take on a life of its own.

But we can predict how it will affect the global markets.

A very reasonable assumption is that oil supplies, especially to Europe, will be severely curtailed. Aside from the fact that one fifth of the world’s oil production passes through the Straight of Hormuz—ground zero of a war with Iran—the rest of the world and especially Europe depends on Iranian oil. As discussed in the SPG Scenario of this past June (“An Israeli-Iranian War?”), close to 10% of the eurozone’s oil comes from Iran—and the countries most particularly dependent on Iranian oil are precisely those most in trouble right now: The so-called PIIGS.

So oil prices will inevitably rise. And so—just like 1979, after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the subsequent Oil Shock—the world’s economies will experience another likely oil shock which will send up the price of oil, hurting the world economies rather badly—

—and driving up inflation.

Dollar inflation and euro inflation is in the offing, in the weeks and months following a war with Iran. The assets that will rise drastically in price will be precious metals, especially silver; agricultural commodities; and oil—obviously. The assets that will collapse in price will be sovereign bonds, corporate bonds, and equities, in that order. In the Scenario, I discussed which countries will hurt the most, so I won’t bother repeating what I wrote there.

However, notice I say that inflation will rise “in the weeks and month following a war with Iran”: A war with Iran which disrupts oil supplies will—inevitably—lead to an inflationary wave.

But before that inflationary wave hits—that is, in the days and hours following the beginning of the war—we will experience a deflationary undertow.

This deflationary undertow will present some interesting opportunities.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Tale of Two Settlements

So yesterday, there were two big settlements: Greece, and the Mortgage Mess.

Completely independent of each other, both settlements not only happened on the same day, they happen to highlight two issues which ought to be bugging us all like cockroaches crawling through our underwear.

Issue One is how in both cases, the Too Big To Fail banksters won—and they won big. Again. Insofar as the mortgage settlement goes, they got what amounted to a speeding ticket, while getting a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card on the worst of the robo-signing and illegal foreclosures scandal. And insofar as the Greek situation goes, the banksters have gotten the IMF, the ECB and the EC to essentially put the Greek people’s collective nuts in a vise and squeeze until they scream “θείος!” (“Uncle!”)

Issue Two is the mainstream media’s spin on these two settlements: How the completely cheerleadery, near-sycophancy of the MSM serves to both obscure how big the banksters won in both settlements, and to give us all a false sense of security. From the MSM, we hear that Greece has been “bailed out” and the Mortgage Mess has been “fixed”, and that the banksters are “getting their comeuppance”—so we get the false sense that the world is right as rain, and everything can slowly go back to normal.

But the world is not right. We will not be going back to normal any time soon. The banksters are not getting righteous justice.

Rather, the two settlements go to show how crony-corrupt our particular epoch’s Global Capitalism really is: The banksters rape the people of two countries, and the mainstream media cheers.

Let’s go over each of the two settlements, and pick apart their implications.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Perniciousness of ZIRP

Suppose that I promised to give you free chocolate for the next three years: How much chocolate would you eat today?

Mmm . . . money . . .
—er, I mean: Mmm, chocolate . . .
A pound? Half a pound? A few ounces? Or would you not eat any chocolate at all, once I made the announcement? After all, you’re going to have free chocolate for the next three years—seems silly to gorge on chocolate today, when you can have as much as you’d like tomorrow, or next week, or whenever you want over the next three years.

So free chocolate for the next three years? Great! . . . uh, only not right now, thanks very much: I’m kinda full.

But then what if I said to you, “Chocolate is free now—but I’m definitely going to raise the price in the near term. In a month, chocolate might be free—or then again, it might cost $1,000 an ounce. So get some while you can, because tomorrow, you never know!”

Well, obviously, to such an uncertain outlook, you’d go out and buy some chocolate now—because tomorrow, it might well be unaffordable.

In fact, it seems quite obvious that if you don’t know when I’m going to raise the price of chocolate, you’ll probably wind up buying—and eating—more chocolate than if it was free. A paradox? Sure—but true.

In point of fact, if the chocolate is free, you might not eat any chocolate at all. Every time you make the decision as to what to eat, you might well find yourself repeating the same mantra: “Chocolate is free—I can have it any time I want. So I won’t have any now.”

This is the problem Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve currently have—and it’s their own stupid fault: They have promised to maintain interest rates at effectively 0% until at least the end of 2014—they have in fact announced this zero interest-rate policy (ZIRP) as the hallmark of their strategy to reignite the economy—

—but then they’re surprised when businesses aren’t borrowing more. They’re surprised when lending is in fact contracting. They’re surprised when the American economy doesn’t start borrowing—and thus growing—like crazy.

So the American economy obviously doesn’t benefit from ZIRP. In fact, it stagnates because of ZIRP.