This post was published at Silver Bullion TV
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.
In an otherwise calm market, Italian bonds have been sold off today, breaking away from the broader bullish sentiment amid the European bond market, with the yield on 10Y BTPs rising as much as 5bps, above 2% for the first time since October 26.
While there has been no specific catalyst, some traders are starting to factor in the potential political confusion that could result after the Italian elections due in just over 2 months. As a reminder, on March 4, voters in eurozone’s third-largest economy will head to the polls amid dwindling support for the ruling pro-EU centre-left Democratic party and rising support for the Eurosceptic opposition.
According to the FT, the likely scenarios after the vote range include a hung parliament, a grand coalition or a populist government with a much more confrontational attitude towards Brussels, including the most troubling outcome: plans to question Italy’s membership of the single currency.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Fri, 12/29/2017 –.
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.
My recent meetings in Brussels reveals some concern what happens when Merkel loses power? Schultz is calling for the complete federalization of Europe – the United States of Europe as he puts it. The power is starting to slip between their fingers and as Italy approaches its confrontation with the EU in the next elections, there too we see the Social Democratic ruling party PD is losing its support in the same manner as the SPD in Germany.
Now with only a few weeks before the expected dissolution of the Italian parliament before the new elections, the PD is already down to only a 23.4% approval rating. The Socialist agenda is losing around the world just as Hillary lost in the States as did Schultz in Germany.
This post was published at Armstrong Economics on Dec 21, 2017.
Two days after Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s one-year anniversary of taking the country’s top job, Italy’s political parties have reached an agreement on when next year’s election will be held, according to Italian media reports, with the news prompting a selloff across Italian assets. According to local press, President Sergio Mattarella will dissolve parliament this month and set a March 4 election date.
The date has not yet been formally confirmed, but according to Repubblica, Italian President Sergio Mattarella – the only person who can call an election – and Italy’s main political parties have agreed on the date for Italy’s next general election. The vote has to be held before May 20th, 2018, The Local notes.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 13, 2017.
First it was the Chinese, now it’s the Europeans, as the rest of the world is suddenly very unhappy with the prospect of US tax reform (or maybe it is an unexpectedly strong US economy). As we discussed yesterday, with the historic Trump tax reforms on the verge of passage and the Fed’s dot plot signalling another 7-8 rate hikes (soon to be revised much lower), China is nervous that the capital outflows, which it thought it had bottled up, might be about to return. China is preparing a contingency plan which includes ‘higher interest rates, tighter capital controls and more-frequent currency intervention to keep money at home and support the yuan’.
Amusingly, the Wall Street Journal quoted a Chinese official who described Washington’s tax plan as a ‘gray rhino’. The latter is a combination of an ‘elephant in the room’ and a ‘black swan’, i.e. a high probability threat which people should see coming, but don’t. The focal point of China’s fears is the Yuan, which the authorities have spent so much time and effort stabilising during the last two years. Speaking to the WSJ, the Chinese official sounded a warning: ‘We’ll likely have some tough battles in the first quarter.’
Switching to Europe and five European finance ministers have sent a letter criticising the US for undermining the ‘rules of the game’ and international trade. Notwithstanding Brexit, the signatories included the UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, as well as his counterparts in Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Essentially, the European nations are warning the US that it risks starting a trade dispute.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 12, 2017.
‘In the face of a shock, investors may be surprised to find themselves jammed running for the exit.’ That quote is from Paul Tudor Jones, who was one of the pioneers of the modern hedge fund and is considered a brilliant investor and trader. He went on to say that things are ‘on the verge of a significant change’ and that the current market reminds him of 1999.
The current market reminds me of the demise of Pompeii, which was destroyed by the massive volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD. Pompeii was a prosperous city of the Roman Empire on the coast of southwest Italy. It sits at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, a volcano that had been dormant for a long time. Earthquakes and seismic activity, scientists believe, began to ‘warn’ the population of Pompeii roughly 17 years before the big eruption, when a massive earthquake largely leveled Pompeii. Shortly before the eruption more signs began occurring, hinting that something wasn’t right. Though some people evacuated the area, most of Pompeii’s populace was not worried. The rest is history.
Though there are many warning signs, similar to the citizens of Pompeii living at the base of an active volcano, the American public does not seem the least worried
about having their money in the stock market. Retail margin debt, at 100% of market capitalization, is at its highest ever. The percentage of U. S. household wealth (not including home equity) invested in stocks in some form is in its 94th percentile. This is the highest allocation to equities since just before the tech bubble popped in 2000. In other words, despite the numerous warnings for those paying attention, investors have piled most of their savings/wealth into the stock market with complete disregard to the growing probability of a down-side accident.
This post was published at Investment Research Dynamics on December 7, 2017.
Bailins Coming In EU – 114 Italian Banks Have NP Loans Exceeding Tangible Assets
– Italy opposes ECB proposal that holds banks to firm deadlines for writing down bad loans
– Italy’s banks weighed down under 318bn of bad loans
– New ECB rules could ‘derail’ any recovery in Italy’s financial system
– Draft proposal requires banks to provision fully for loans that turn sour from 2018
– ECB insists banks have better access to collateral on delinquent debt to solve problem
– Investors should secure assets as proposal suggests more bailins on horizon and banks remain at risk
Another week and another unjustifiable move by the ECB to ‘protect’ the EU’s banking system. This time it is the decision to toughen bad-loan rules for euro-area banks.
The rules state that banks must be held to firm deadlines for writing down loans that turn sour. Banks will be required to provision fully for loans that turn sour from the start 2018.
This post was published at Gold Core on December 5, 2017.
The EU Commission is deeply concerned that Italy is under pressure to spend frivolously because of the upcoming elections. The EU is apply more scrutiny for Italy’s huge sovereign debt. Because of the vast size of the Italian economy, the high level of total debt is a major cause for the Eurozone as a whole. The EU Commission sent a letter to the Italian government warning them not to deviate from the course of fiscal consolidation before the parliamentary elections in the spring.
This post was published at Armstrong Economics on Nov 24, 2017.
Just don’t mention ‘Antonveneta.’ By Don Quijones, Spain, UK, & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET. A blame game has begun in Italy that risks casting a bright light on the leadership of both the Bank of Italy and Italy’s financial markets regulator Consob. The controversial decision to award the central bank’s current Chairman Ignazio Visco a fresh six-year mandate despite presiding over one of the worst banking crises in living memory has ignited a tug-of-war between political parties and the president, who makes the ultimate decision on who to appoint as central bank chief.
The first to cast aspersions was Italy’s former premier Matteo Renzi, who, no doubt in an effort to distract from his own party’s part in the collapse of Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), called into question the supervisory role of both the Bank of Italy and Consob during Italy’s banking crisis.
Silvio Berlusconi, a key player in the center-right coalition whose party came out on top in recent elections in Sicily, was next to join the fray. ‘The Bank of Italy did not exercise the control that was expected of it,’ he told reporters in Brussels in response to a pointed question about Visco.
This post was published at Wolf Street on Nov 22, 2017.
Blain’s Morning Porridge, Submitted by Bill Blain of Mint Partners
The Great Crash of 2018? Look to the bond markets to trigger Mayhem!
I had the impression the markets had pretty much battened down for rest of 2017 – keen to protect this year’s gains. Wrong again. It seems there is another up-step. After the People’s Bank of China dropped $47 bln of money into its financial system (where bond yields have risen dramatically amid growing signs of wobble), the game’s afoot once more. The result is global stocks bound upwards. Again. It suggest Central Banks have little to worry about in 2018 – if markets get fraxious, just bung a load of money at them.
Personally, I’m not convinced how the tau of monetary market distortion is a good thing? Markets have become like Pavlov’s dog: ring the easy money bell, and markets salivate to the upside.
Of course, stock markets don’t matter.
The truth is in bond markets. And that’s where I’m looking for the dam to break. The great crash of 2018 is going to start in the deeper, darker depths of the Credit Market.
I’ve already expressed my doubts about the long-term stability of certain sectors – like how covenants have been compromised in high-yield even as spreads have compressed to record tights over Treasuries, about busted European regions trying to pass themselves off as Sovereign States (no I don’t mean the Catalans, I mean Italy!), and how the bond market became increasingly less discerning on risk in its insatiable hunt for yield. Chuck all of these in a mixing bowl and the result is a massive Kerrang as the gears of finance explode!
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Nov 17, 2017.
The recovery in Eurozone growth has become part of the synchronised global growth narrative that most investors are relying on to deliver further gains in equities as we head into 2018. However, the ‘Zombification’ of a chunk of the Eurozone’s corporate sector is not only a major unaddressed structural problem, but it’s getting worse, especially in…you guessed it… Italy and Spain. According to the WSJ.
The Bank for International Settlements, the Basel-based central bank for central banks, defines a zombie as any firm which is at least 10 years old, publicly traded and has interest expenses that exceed the company’s earnings before interest and taxes. Other organizations use different criteria. About 10% of the companies in six eurozone countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain are zombies, according to the central bank’s latest data. The percentage is up sharply from 5.5% in 2007. In Italy and Spain, the percentage of zombie companies has tripled since 2007, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated in January. Italy’s zombies employed about 10% of all workers and gobbled up nearly 20% of all the capital invested in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available. The WSJ explains how the ECB’s negative interest rate policy and corporate bond buying are keeping a chunk of the corporate sector, especially in southern Europe on life support. In some cases, even the life support of low rates and debt restructuring is not preventing further deterioration in their metrics. These are the true ‘Zombie’ companies who will probably never come back from being ‘undead’, i.e. technically dead but still animate. Belatedly, there is some realisation of the risks.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Nov 17, 2017.
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.
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).
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.
Authored by Jeff Thomas via InternationalMan.com,
Recently, the people of two of Italy’s most prosperous regions voted in a referendum, on whether they wished to have greater autonomy from Rome.
The referendum is non-binding, but that’s not what’s most significant in the results.
What is significant is that over 95% of those who voted in Lombardy did so in favour of greater autonomy. In Veneto, the number in favour of greater autonomy was even higher, at 98%.
Roberto Maroni, president of Lombardy, said, ‘I now have a commitment… to go to Rome and give concrete actualization to the mandate that millions of Lombards have given me.’
It may appear on the surface that Mister Maroni intends to make an appeal for independence, but this is not what will occur. He’s a politician and won’t invite Rome to jail him for sedition. His goal will instead be to demand that a greater amount of the national income that’s generated by Lombardy and Veneto (about 20% of the total) remains within those regions.
This will not mean that he wants his people to be taxed less; his goal will be to retain a larger portion to be absorbed by the regional governments – to be in his own hands.
So much for the politicians’ agenda. But what does the referendum say about the people of the regions? Well, the extraordinarily high numbers in favour of greater self-determination demonstrate that virtually all the people in the regions have figured out that Rome is bilking them of their earnings and they’re getting pretty cheesed off.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Nov 14, 2017.
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.