Friday, June 29, 2012

EU Summit Implies Massive Money Printing on the Way


The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

Perhaps the EU is finally realizing that a debt crisis can't be solved by issuing more debt. The proposals emanating from their recent summit in Brussels will require massive money printing instead, especially if the EU doesn't wind up issuing eurobonds.

While EU leaders didn't state that they were going to start running the printing presses at full speed, it is the only way they can produce sufficient funds to actually implement their new policy initiatives. They may not be willing to do so however. Until there is an actual big increase in money printing, there is no reason to believe that the EU will implement any of the proposed fixes for its financial problems.

All the ideas that came out of the summit have been bandied about before. Some, such as direct recapitalization of banks (described as a "breakthrough"), had already been announced before (perhaps it should have been called a re-breakthrough). This was done in response to the EU's disastrous bailout of Spanish banks that went through the Spanish government causing significant downgrades to its credit rating and thereby raising its borrowing cost significantly. A joint banking supervisory board is now going to be added though. This seems sort of late in the game, considering the teetering insolvency of many EU banks.

As a summit attendee stated, lending money directly to banks means the loans won't have to be put on a government's books. He should have followed up with, "at least not immediately". The way Ireland got into serious trouble and required its first EU bailout was that its banking system failed and the debt had to be assumed by the government. The IMF now says it will need another major bailout soon. As long as the EU is willing to commit unlimited bank bailout funding this will not happen in other EU countries.

One new approach that did come out of the summit was a relaxation of conditions for receiving bailouts. This was not described as applying to all bailouts however. Only countries that are "well-behaving" will not have stringent conditions applied to them when they ask for a handout. This of course begs the question of why a "well-behaving" country would need a bailout in the first place. While this is an attempt to treat Spain and Italy better than Greece, Portugal and Ireland, it will not work in practice. All the previous bailout countries will demand that they be allowed to spend more money and run bigger budget deficits. Since they can't raise funds in the bond market, the EU will have to increase the amount of their bailouts. This will require a continual stream of additional payments from the EU. Where will the money come from?

The short answer is sharing debt through jointly issued Eurobonds. Not that this can happen in the near future. First a report on its feasibility will be issued in October. Then all the EU countries will have to agree to it. Whether Germany will be willing to do so remains to be seen (Angela Merkel supposedly said that this would take place over her dead body). Even if this eventually happens, and 2013 would be the earliest that it would, can bonds that mix subprime borrowers and prime borrowers be successful?  The history of this is not encouraging. This is what created the housing bubble and led to a massive financial system collapse in 2008. The issuing of eurobonds means the entire EU could default as a single entity as opposed to just the weaker members. That doesn't exactly sound like an improvement over the current state of affairs.

One interesting note from the summit was the declaration from Italian premier Mario Monti that Italy did not intend to apply for a bailout. Greek and Spanish leaders said the same thing just before their countries applied for a bailout. As the French say, "the more things change, the more they remain the same". Perhaps the EU should adopt this as their new motto. At least it sounds better than "bailouts are us".

Disclosure: None

Daryl Montgomery
Author: "Inflation Investing - A Guide for the 2010s"
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

1 comment:


I cannot understand how inflation remains so low for so long.