Capitalism gets into deep trouble when the price of financial assets becomes completely disconnected from economic reality and common sense. What ensues is rampant speculation in which financial gamblers careen from one hot money play to the next, leaving the financial system distorted and unstable – a proverbial train wreck waiting to happen.
That’s where we are now. And nowhere is this more evident than in the absurd run-up in the price of European sovereign debt since the Euro-crisis peaked in mid-2012. In that regard, perhaps Portugal is the poster-boy. It’s fiscal, financial and economic indicators are still deep in the soup, yet its government bond prices have soared in a triumphal arc skyward.
Unfortunately, the recent crashing landing of its largest conglomerate and financial group (Espirito Santo Group) is a stark remainder that its cartel-ridden, import-addicted, debt-besotted economy is not even close to being fixed. Notwithstanding the false claims of Brussels and Lisbon that it has successfully ‘graduated’ from its EC bailout, the truth is that the risk of default embedded in its sovereign debt has not been reduced by an iota.
At the time of the 2011-2012 crisis, its central government was already sliding rapidly into a debt trap with a ratio of just under 100%. Self-evidently, the nation’s so-called EC bailout has only made its public debt burden dramatically worse. Today Portugal’s debt to GDP ratio is 129% and there is no sign of a turnaround.
But that has not deterred the rambunctious speculators in peripheral sovereign debt. Since mid-2012 and Draghi’s ‘whatever it takes’ ukase, the price of Portugal’s public debt has soared. This means that leveraged speculators – -and they are all leveraged on repo or similar forms of hypothecated borrowings – -have made a killing, harvesting triple-digit gains on the thin slice of non-borrowed capital they actually have at risk in these carry trades.
This post was published at David Stockmans Contra Corner on September 1, 2014.