The Rise of the West

Throughout almost the entire span of human history, material privation and chronic insecurity were the norm. Not even those at the peaks of social status and political power could enjoy the creature comforts and consumer delights that “poor” people take for granted in the West today. At times, certain populations fared somewhat better – in ancient Greece and Rome, perhaps, and in China during the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1279) – but those cases were exceptional.
As late as the 14th century, the Chinese probably enjoyed the highest level of living of any large population. Recall the amazement with which Europeans greeted Marco Polo’s account of China in the latter part of the 13th century, even though, as Polo declared on his deathbed, he had not described the half of what he had seen.1
As the Middle Ages waned the Europeans began to make quicker economic progress, while the Chinese lapsed into economic stagnation. Even more remarkable, the economic energy of Europe began to shift away from the great commercial centers of northern Italy and toward the periphery of civilization in northwestern Europe. The barbarians, it seemed, had somehow stumbled onto the secret of economic progress. Henceforth, despite many setbacks, the western Europeans – and later their colonial cousins in North America as well – steadily pulled ahead of the human pack. By the 18th century they had far surpassed the Chinese, not to speak of the world’s more backward peoples, and until the late 20th century the gap continued to widen.
How did the West succeed in generating sustained economic progress? Historians and social scientists have offered various hypotheses, and so far no single explanation has gained general acceptance. Nevertheless, certain elements of an answer have received wide agreement. The growing individualism of Western culture, rooted in Christian doctrine, seems to have contributed significantly.2 In addition, the political fragmentation of the European peoples in the high Middle Ages and the early modern period – a political pluralism with hundreds of separate jurisdictions – fostered the institutional and technological experimentation by which entrepreneurs could discover how to make labor and capital more productive.

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on 2017/12/29.

The EU Bad Loan Crisis to Get Much Worse – The Solution = Financial Pandemic

The bad loan (‘non-performing loan’ (NPL)) crisis in Europe is well known and many have been calling for this issue to be addressed. In Italy, the bad loan crisis has reached 21% of GDP. While NPLs dropped to 4.8% of all loans in the EU as a whole during the first quarter of 2017, they remained well above 40% in Greece and Cyprus, at 18.5% in Portugal, and 14.8% in Italy according to the European Banking Authority.
Now comes the bureaucrats with zero experience to save the day – or is that to create a financial pandemic in the EU? The EU Commission (EUC) along with the European Central Bank (ECB), want to ensure that banks promptly sell real estate, stocks, bonds and other assets that serve to collateralize loans according to their Mid-term Review of the Capital Markets Union Action Plan. Member States are required to adopt laws that facilitate the central directive. At this time, any bank cannot just sell a property that secures a loan. The problem is, all loans, whether secured or not, are valued the same.

This post was published at Armstrong Economics on Dec 29, 2017.

Greece Is The Patsy For Europe’s Failure (And The Ordeal Is Far From Over)

Authored by Raul Ilargi Meijer via The Automatic Earth blog,
I feel kind of sorry this has become such a long essay. But I still left out so much. You know by now I care a lot about Greece, and it’s high time for another look, and another update, and another chance for people to understand what is happening to the country, and why. To understand that hardly any of it is because the Greeks had so much debt and all of that narrative.
The truth is, Greece was set up to be a patsy for the failure of Europe’s financial system, and is now being groomed simultaneously as a tourist attraction to benefit foreign investors who buy Greek assets for pennies on the dollar, and as an internment camp for refugees and migrants that Europe’s ‘leaders’ view as a threat to their political careers more than anything else.
I would almost say: here we go again, but in reality we never stopped going. It’s just that Greece’s 15 minutes of fame may be long gone, but its ordeal is far from over. If you read through this, you will understand why that is. The EU is deliberately, and without any economic justification, destroying one of its own member states, destroying its entire economy.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 18, 2017.

The Great Oil Swindle

When it comes to the story we’re being told about America’s rosy oil prospects, we’re being swindled.
At its core, the swindle is this: The shale industry’s oil production forecasts are vastly overstated.
Swindle: Noun – A fraudulent scheme or action.
And the swindle is not just affecting the US. It’s badly distorted everything from current geopolitics to future oil forecasts.
The false conclusions the world is drawing as a result of the self-deception and outright lies we’re being told is putting our future prosperity in major jeopardy. Policy makers and ordinary citizens alike have been misled, and everyone — everyone — is unprepared for the inevitable and massive coming oil price shock.
An Oil Price Spike Would Burst The ‘Everything Bubble’
Our thesis at Peak Prosperity is that the world’s equity and bond markets are enormous financial bubbles in search of a pin. Sadly, history shows there’s nothing quite as sharp and terminal to these sorts of bubbles as a rapid spike in the price of oil.
And we see a huge price spike on the way.
As a reminder, bubbles exist when asset prices rise beyond what incomes can sustain. Greece is a prime recent example. In 2008 when the price of oil spiked to $147/bbl, Greece could no longer afford imported oil. But oil is a necessity so it was bought anyway, their national balances of payments were stressed to the point that they were exposed as insolvent and then their debt bubble promptly and predictably popped. The rest is history. Greece is now a nation of ruins and their economy might as well be displayed alongside the Acropolis.

This post was published at PeakProsperity on Friday, December 15, 2017,.

How The U.S. Dictatorship Works

Authored by Eric Zuesse via The Strategic Culture Foundation,
A recent article in the Washington Post described how the current US tax-‘reform’ bill is being shaped; and it describes, basically (at least as far as tax-law changes are concerned), the operation of a US dictatorship by the super-rich.
***
First of all, however: there is no longer any realistic question as regards whether the US in recent decades has been a dictatorship, or instead a democracy. According to the only scientific analysis of the relevant data, that has been done in order to determine whether the US is a dictatorship or a democracy, the US is definitely a dictatorship that’s perpetrated by the extremely richest, against the public-at-large; in other words: the US Government functions as an aristocracy, otherwise referred-to as an oligarchy, or a plutocracy, or a kleptocracy; but, in any case, and by whatever name, it’s ruled by a tiny number of the extremely wealthiest and their agents, on behalf of those few super-rich, against the concerns and interests and needs of the public (everyone else). So: instead of being rule by the public (the ‘demos’ is the Greek term for it), it’s rule on behalf of a tiny dictatorial class, of extreme wealth – by whatever name we might happen to label this ruling class.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 5, 2017.

Pyrrhic Victory – Prosecutor Finds 36 Guilty For The Stock Exchange Crash In 1999

An Athens Appellate Court Prosecutor has found 36 people guilty for the infamous ‘Athens Stock Exchange Crash of 1999’ that caused thousands of small investors to have lost their life savings.
***
As KeepTalkingGreece.com reports, it has taken 18 years for an Athens Appellate Court Prosecutor, Athina Theodoropoulou, to find guilty 36 individuals implicated in the affair – including stockbrokers, investors, and shipowners.
The accused had been previously tried on fraud charges and money laundering, but at the time the three-member appellate court of Athens, with different members on the bench, had unanimously declared all of the accused innocent on all counts.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Nov 27, 2017.

Spain’s Pension System Hits Crisis Point (and Everyone Ignores it)

But how did things get this bad?
By most measures sun-blessed Spain is an idyllic place to grow old in. Life expectancy is among the highest in the world, and the national pension fund’s payout ratio (pension as percent of final salary) is the second highest in Europe after Greece. But if current trends are any indication, that may soon be about to change.
The country’s Social Security Reserve Fund, which was meant to serve as a nationwide nest egg to guarantee future pension payouts, given Spain’s burgeoning ranks of pensioners, has been bled virtually dry by the government. This started ever so quietly in 2012 when the government began withdrawing cash from the fund. Some of it was used to fill part of the government’s own fiscal gaps while billions more were tapped to cover the Social Security system’s growing deficits. As a result the pension pot has shrunk from over 66 billion in 2011 to just 15 billion in 2016.
To avoid wiping out the fund altogether this year, the Spanish government extended a 10.1 billion interest-free loan to Spain’s social security system, which enabled it to pay out the two extra pension payments due in June and December. That way, only 7-7.5 billion will be tapped from Spain’s public pension nest egg. Emptying the pot altogether this year would have been politically unpalatable, says El Pas. Instead, it will be emptied next year as the social security system racks up yet another massive annual shortfall.

This post was published at Wolf Street on Nov 18, 2017.

Kyle Bass Is Having A Bad Day – Greek Bank Stocks Crash To 16-Month Lows

Just over a month ago, Kyle Bass discussed why he was long effectively “long Greece.”
Bass penned a Bloomberg editorial in which the hedge fund founder and CIO called on the IMF to stop bullying Greece – publicizing the fact that he is now effectively long Greece. Greek government bonds have performed reasonably well so far this year: They’re up about 16%, and if Bass is right, they could have another 20% to 30% over the next 18 months if the IMF abandons its insistence on austerity and acknowledges that debt relief will need to be part of the long-term alleviation of debt. Bass added that, in the near future, voters will elect a more business-friendly government that will help reestablish the country’s creditworthiness, much like the government of Mauricio Macri did for Argentina.
I think you also have an interesting political situation in Greece where I think there’s going to be a handoff from the current Syriza government to kind of a more slightly-center-right but very economically independent new leadership in the next, call it, 18 months.
And so, I think you asked why now? And I think you’re starting to see green shoots. You’re starting to see the banks do the right things finally in Greece and you are about to have new leadership.
So, I think that you’re going to see – and if you remember Argentina as Kirschner was going to hand-off – hand the reins over to someone that was much more let’s say focused on business and economics than being a kleptocrat, I think you’re going to see something again slightly similar in Greece where you have leadership today that might not be the right leadership and the government-in-waiting, I believe, and I think you know Mr. (Mitsutakous) – I think you’re going to see something great happen to Greece in the and next, kind of, two years.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Nov 16, 2017.

Deutsche: The Swings In The Market Are About To Get Bigger And Bigger

Risk Parity not having a good day pic.twitter.com/GRdpB4NUOj
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) November 10, 2017

One week ago, on November 9 something snapped in the Nikkei, which in the span of just over an one hour (from 13:20 to 14:30) crashed more than 800 points (before closing almost unchanged) at the same time as it was revealed that foreigners had just bought a record amount of Japanese stocks the previous month.
As expected, numerous theories emerged shortly after the wild plunge, with explanation from the mundane, i.e., foreigners dumping as the upward momentum abruptly ended, to the “Greek”, as gamma and vega stops were hit by various vol-targeting (CTAs, systemic, variable annutities and risk parity) funds. One such explanation came from Deutsche Bank, which attributed the move to a volatility shock, as “heightened volatility appears to have triggered program trades to reduce risk”, and catalyzed by a rare swoon in both stocks and bonds, which led to a surge in Nikkei volatility…
… and forced highly leveraged risk parity funds and their peers to quickly delever. As DB’s Masao Muraki explained at the time:

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Nov 16, 2017.

EU Preparing for the Banking Crisis

Subtly, the EU is looking to establish preparations for the coming banking crisis and how to protect the banks from massive withdrawals. The solution? The EU wants to be able to temporarily free up credits for the banks and at the same time to freeze bank deposits, In other words, like Greece, you just won’t be able to withdraw funds. Obviously, everything will be frozen. The current EU plan envisages blocking account disbursements for five working days and with the authority to extend any suspension to up to 20 days. They may need longer!

This post was published at Armstrong Economics on Nov 16, 2017.

Cradles of Capitalism: the City-States of Greece and Italy

There long has been a persistent academic debate as to whether an “ancient economy,’ referring mainly to Greece, even existed at all. In a field dominated by Marx, Marxists, the 19th century sociologist Max Weber, and such scholars of renown as Sir Moses Finley, the lingering image of the economic world of the Greek polis is that of something very static. We imagine a leisure class lounging at the sandaled foot of an orator while slaves tended to the fields, flogging cows harnessed to ploughs stuck in the mud. It is the notion of a “primitive” economy: money made for status, not investment; credit extended for the purchase of slaves, war waged for the capture of booty, elites in control of craft guilds and tyrant-kings keeping the peace by randomly doling out the goods.
Then there is ancient epic itself, with the noble Odysseus disdaining seafaring for profit (though he did take all the pay-offs he could collect) and the great Achilles pondering a discovery of precious treasure only so far as it might estimate his aristocratic worth. From this rudimentary foundation, an entire field of Socialist-Keynesian views on the Greek economy has prevailed, with occasional libertarian scholars such as Murray Rothbard and Jess Huerta de Soto getting a word in edgewise. In recent time, however, academia has found much more evidence of technological advances and market-driven considerations on the part of the classical polis than previously thought.
Keeping in mind that in both ancient Greece (and Renaissance Italy) that democracy was not incompatible with aristocracy, and that oligarchies and tyrants were not necessarily illiberal, several points may be made in defense of the economic model of the city-state: 1) that the stronger the city-state, the greater the industrial and economic expansion; 2) that private property was considered a fundamental economic principle; 3) that banking standards were relatively conservative; 4) that the wealthiest city-states were of the most socially dynamic; 5) that city-state competition spearheaded the modern entrepreneurial Europe; and 6) that the visionary tyrant was almost always business-first in his rule.

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on 11/14/2017.

Claudio Grass Interviews Mark Thornton

Introduction
Mark Thornton of the Mises Institute and our good friend Claudio Grass recently discussed a number of key issues, sharing their perspectives on important economic and geopolitical developments that are currently on the minds of many US and European citizens.
A video of the interview can be found at the end of this post. Claudio provided us with a written summary of the interview which we present below – we have added a few remarks in brackets (we strongly recommend checking the podcast out in its entirety – there is a lot more than is covered by the summary).
Interview Highlights
We currently find ourselves in a historically and economically significant transition period. The already overstretched bubble in the markets is still expanding, but we now see bold moves by the Fed to reduce its balance sheet, at the same time the ECB plans to taper, overall presenting us with a fairly deflationary outlook. This reversal of the expansionary policies of the last decade can be seen as the first step toward a potentially ferocious correction in the not-too-distant future.
The ECB is trapped, as it already holds 40% of euro zone sovereign debt. At the same time, Spain, Italy and Greece continue to potentially present major challenges, as a banking crisis could easily reemerge in these countries [ed note: banks in Europe have managed to boost their capital ratios, but the amount of legacy non-performing loans in the system remains close to EUR 1 trn. Moreover, TARGET-2 imbalances have recently reached new record highs, a strong sign that the underlying systemic imbalances remain as pronounced as ever]. Mario Draghi intends to reduce the ECB’s asset purchases from EUR60 billion to EUR30 billion per month. He may soon realize that if the ECB does not buy euro zone bonds, no-one will.

This post was published at Acting-Man on November 14, 2017.

Draghi Knew About Hiding Losses by Italian Banks

The Bank of Italy, when it was headed at the time by Mario Draghi, knew Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA hid the loss of almost half a billion dollars using derivatives two years before prosecutors were alerted to the complex transactions, according to documents revealed in a Milan court.
Mario Draghi, now president of the European Central Bank, was fully aware of how derivatives were being used to hide losses. Goldman Sachs did that for Greece, which blew up in 2010. It is now showing that Draghi was aware of the problems stemming from a 2008 trade entered into with Deutsche Bank AG which was the mirror image of an earlier deal Monte Paschi had with the same bank. The Italian bank was losing about 370 million euros on the earlier transaction, internally they called ‘Santorini’ named after the island that blew up in a volcano. The new trade posted a gain of roughly the same amount and allowed losses to be spread out over a longer period. We use to call these tax straddles.

This post was published at Armstrong Economics on Nov 13, 2017.

Dijsselbloem Admits “We Used Taxpayers’ Money To Bailout The Banks”

‘We had a banking crisis, a fiscal crisis and we spent lot of the tax-payers’ money – in the wrong way, in my opinion – to save the banks’ outgoing Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem said adding ‘so that the people criticizing us and saying that everything was being done for the benefit of the banks were to some extent right.’
As KeepTalkingGreece.com reports, Dijsselbloem was responding to a question posed by leftist MEP Nikos Chountis during a session at the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee on Thursday.
‘This is valid for the banks of all our countries. Everywhere in Europe banks were saved at taxpayers’ cost,’ he underlined. ‘This was the reason for banking union and the introduction of higher standards, better supervision and a reform and rescue framework when banks have losses,’ he said stressing ‘precisely so that we don’t find ourselves in that situation again.’

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Nov 10, 2017.

Greece Is Planning a EU30 Billion Debt-Swap Exercise As Greek 10Y Yield Hits Lowest Level Since 2009 (Unemployment Still Over 20%)

This is a syndicated repost courtesy of Snake Hole Lounge. To view original, click here. Reposted with permission.
Now that the drama over The Fed Chair selection is over, we can focus of other earthly matters, like Greece sovereign debt restructuring.
(Bloomberg) – The Greek government is planning an unprecedented debt swap worth 29.7 billion euros ($34.5 billion) aimed at boosting the liquidity of its paper and easing the sale of new bonds in the future.
Under a project that could be launched in mid November, the government plans to swap 20 bonds issued after a restructuring of Greek debt held by private investors in 2012 with as many as five new fixed-coupon bonds, according to two senior bankers with knowledge of the swap plan. The bank officials requested anonymity as the plan has yet to be made public. The maturities of the new bonds may be the same as for the existing notes, which range from 2023 to 2042.
‘The move aims to address the current illiquidity of the Greek bond market,’ according to analysts at Pantelakis Securities SA in Athens. It will also ‘establish a decent yield curve, thus facilitating the country’s return to public debt markets.’

This post was published at Wall Street Examiner on November 2, 2017.

SWOT Analysis: What a Higher Budget Deficit Means For Gold

Strengths
The best performing precious metal for the week was palladium, down slightly by 0.42 percent. Germany’s BASF noted that the automotive industry appears to be responding to the price surge in palladium this year and are slowing down purchases. According to Bloomberg, gold traders and analysts are bearish for the first time in four weeks as the dollar strengthens. The passing of the U. S. budget by the Senate lifted hopes by boosting risk sentiment and pushing yields higher. Joni Teves of UBS says a large fiscal package is a key downside risk for gold as it would result in a higher policy rate path. Even though there has been a pullback in gold prices, large buy orders came into the market two times this week and spiked prices higher. On Monday, 18,1792 gold contracts were traded in a span of five minutes and on Wednesday another 21,129 contracts were traded. Tai Wong, head of base and precious metals trading at BMO Capital Markets, bets the dollar is going to retrace and it will be good for gold. Paul Wright, former CEO of Eldorado Gold Corp., will resign from his board position after 20 years at the company and just months after resigning as CEO. Although stock value tripled during his tenure, Wright’s late career was marked by a high-profile dispute with the Greek government after investing over $2 billion in the country. Following the results of the European Central Bank meeting, gold is seeing some selling pressure and trade surging after the dollar index rallied.

This post was published at GoldSeek on 30 October 2017.

Technical Scoop – Weekend Update Oct 29

Can stock markets fly? Or is it really different this time? As we outlined last week, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the 1987 October stock market crash, stock markets, it appears, can fly or soar as you may wish to call it. Just when you think the stock market couldn’t go any higher it does. Last week we noted the Dow Jones Industrials (DJI) had soared 30% since the US election on November 4, 2016. When compared with other stock market blow-offs such as the ‘Roaring Twenties,’ the dot.com bubble of the 1990s, or the Tokyo Nikkei Dow (TKN) of the 1980s it was a rather puny performance, so far.
A more appropriate start point might actually be the February 11, 2016 low. That low came following six months of stock market gyrations mostly to the downside because of the ending of quantitative easing (QE). The DJI only fell about 15% during that time but it was the steepest correction since the 2011 EU/Greece crisis and only the second time the DJI fell more than 10% since the financial crisis of 2007 – 2009. The DJI fell 6% during the Brexit mini-panic and was down just over 4% into the November election. Pullbacks since then have been even shallower. So, given no correction over 10% maybe we should be looking at this blow-off as having started with the February 2016 low.
Since then the DJI is up just under 52% over a period of 624 days. We noted last week the average of six blow-offs we examined had seen gains of 176% over a period of 658 days. Based on this we are doing well time-wise but not so well on the gains. The longest period seen for a blow-off was about 1,050 days. There is no denying the stock market could rise further and longer than many expect.

This post was published at GoldSeek on 29 October 2017.

Roman Republican Hoard for Sale of Victoriati

We have another hoard available of the early Roman coinage from the Second Punic War. These are the Greek denominations forming the first two-tier monetary system in the known world. Such hoards are rare today so the opportunities to obtain such specimens are becoming far and few between.
Prior to the introduction of the Roman denarius in about 211 BC, Rome’s silver coins were similar in weight and silver content to the staters (didrachmas) of Greece and Magna Grecia (southern Italy and Sicily). With the Second Punic War (218-200BC), the production of these silver coins greatly increased to cover the expenses as always with war. This demand for coinage was met with the extensive minting of didrachmas known as quadrigati named after the reverse picturing Jupiter driving a four-horse chariot known as the quadriga.

We have another hoard available of the early Roman coinage from the Second Punic War. These are the Greek denominations forming the first two-tier monetary system in the known world. Such hoards are rare today so the opportunities to obtain such specimens are becoming far and few between.
Prior to the introduction of the Roman denarius in about 211 BC, Rome’s silver coins were similar in weight and silver content to the staters (didrachmas) of Greece and Magna Grecia (southern Italy and Sicily). With the Second Punic War (218-200BC), the production of these silver coins greatly increased to cover the expenses as always with war. This demand for coinage was met with the extensive minting of didrachmas known as quadrigati named after the reverse picturing Jupiter driving a four-horse chariot known as the quadriga.

This post was published at Armstrong Economics on Oct 28, 2017.