Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

Financially Unsustainable

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Sustainability is a big deal. Large companies have hired chief sustainability officers whose job it is to ensure that the company minimizes its negative impact on the environment. They’ve found that it is often possible to increase profits while also reducing their companies’ impact on the environment.

In theory, a company must achieve environmental equilibrium to be sustainable. While that’s not achievable, a great deal of progress has been made. Economies throughout the world still rely on fossil fuels, but conservation efforts have made the air and water cleaner and safer in many countries.usgs_chartDp11f

This Can’t Go On Forever

But what about financial sustainability? That’s an area where we all have a long way to go, both in the U.S. and around the world. We can think of many examples of financial unsustainability that could lead to economic collapse or, at the least, a lowering of living standards. Here are a few:

Greece. Consider the ongoing saga of Greece. Greece has been in such sad shape for so long, the rest of Europe has agreed to bail it out—not once, not twice, but three times. And now, unsurprisingly, Greece may be going for a fourth.

As further proof that socialism is a nutty idea, Greece continues to resist more stringent austerity measures while allowing its debt to continue to build. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is hardly ever a voice of reason, is arguing that “Greece’s debts are unsustainable and on an ‘explosive’ path to reaching almost three times the country’s annual economic output by 2060.” (more…)

Worry About China, Not Greece

Monday, July 20th, 2015

When’s the last time markets reacted positively to anything happening in Greece?

Last week, just 10 days after Greek voters voted against a resolution that would have required stiffer austerity measures in return for a third Eurozone bailout, the Greek Parliament voted 229 to 64 with six abstentions in favor of harsher austerity measures than would have been required if voters approved the resolution.

As The Economist put it, “Grief, psychiatrists say, has many stages, from denial to acceptance; and Greece seems to have raced through them all.” Shanghai

So Greece needs psychiatric help.  That should have been clear years ago.  These are the folks who elected Alexis Tsipras of the wacky extreme-left Syriza Party as their prime minster.

Tsipras quickly found that his socialist machismo wasn’t very effective, given that his country needs billions of euros just to survive.  So maybe it’s not surprising that he and the Greek Parliament caved so quickly.

Not everyone was pleased. Fellow Syrizan Zoi Konstantopoulou, the parliamentary speaker, called it a “very black day for democracy in Europe.”  Since when does a socialist worry about democracy?

But enough about Greece.  Which country should we be worried about?  (more…)

Big Board Floored

Monday, July 13th, 2015

The Big Board is not so big anymore.

A decade ago, it accounted for 80% of stock trades.  Today, it accounts for 20%.  There are also far fewer publicly traded companies in the U.S. – 5,000+ today, compared with 8,000+ in the 1990s.  The NYSE lists about 2,800 of them.

To trade directly on the NYSE, you used to have to buy a “seat.”  In the 1990s, seats sold for as much as $4 million.  Today, you can buy a license to trade on the NYSE for $40,000.

Regardless, when “the leading stock exchange in the world“ shuts down, even for just a few hours, it’s big news.

The NYSE shut down for three-and-a-half hours on Wednesday, which was unprecedented.  Little information has been shared, but the NYSE has blamed the shutdown on a technical glitch.  Call us skeptical, but the odds of a computer glitch shutting down the NYSE, grounding United Continental Holdings planes and bringing down The Wall Street Journal’s website all on the same day are pretty small. Labor Force_1_0

Thanks to Edward Snowden and irresponsible practices by the U.S. Office of Personnel and Management, people who are not our friends now have access to a wealth of information about us.  We’d rather not think about what will happen if Chinese or Iranian hackers disrupt our electrical grid, but it’s something that should concern all of us.  Its impact not only on your investments, but on our national security, would be devastating.  (more…)

Bet You Can’t Count to a Quadrillion

Monday, May 18th, 2015

When someone uses “quadrillion” in a headline, you know you’re in for a bit of an alarmist rant. We’re talking 1,000,000,000,000,000, which, stated another way, is a thousand million million.  Or a million billion.  Or a thousand trillion.

Stated in dollars, that’s more than the debt racked up by the federal government since President Obama took office.  Way more.  It’s even way more than the Federal Reserve Board spent buying bonds when it was in QE mode. Chart 1

So when Bill Holter of Global Research wrote an article with the headline, “Derivatives are a $1 Quadrillion ‘Ticking Time Bomb,’ ” it caught our attention.

So did the series of charts he included, which showed movements in the government bond market that were double-black-diamond steep, even without moguls.

We’re talking government bonds here, not junk bonds, not commodities, not emerging market stocks.  Government bonds are Nebraska – flat and predictable.  During volatile times, they’re the bunny slope, not a double-black diamond.

So what’s up with the volatility?

(more…)

Alexis the Not-So-Great

Monday, February 16th, 2015

A lot can happen in 2,500 years.

Back in its day, Greece ruled the world – albeit, it was a much smaller world.  But that was a long, long time ago.  So long ago, we routinely refer to the Greece of those days as “ancient Greece;” the only thing it has in common with the Greece of today is its geography.

Greece has gone from Alexander the Great to Alexis the Not-So-Great.  That would be Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left, who was elected prime minister in January.  Tsipras’ plan for bringing his country back to solvency is to pretend its debts don’t exist and to keep on spending.  After all, that worked so well for Argentina.Greek debt

After being bailed out twice by Eurozone leaders, Greece is no closer to solving its economic problems.  The only difference now is that it has more debt.  If Greece were a person, you’d cross the street if you saw him approaching, because you know he’d bum money off of you and use it to bet on the ponies.

The Eurozone’s bailouts were contingent upon Greece following an austerity program.  But Greeks have had enough of austerity and elected Tsipras as the anti-austerity candidate.  So after two bailouts, Greece is still an economic failure – and it’s all Germany’s fault, since Germany actually wants Greece to stick to its austerity program and pay back its loans.

(more…)

The Good News: No More Election Ads

Friday, November 9th, 2012

In the wake of Tuesday’s re-election of President Obama, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 434 points in two days, a drop of 3.3%.

That’s better than when he was first elected.  After a 305-point rally on Election Day 2008, the DJIA fell 486 points, or more than 5%, on the day after, which was the largest post-election drop ever.

In 2008, the housing bubble had burst and we were dealing with the biggest financial crisis since The Great Depression.  Today, we still have not recovered from the financial crisis, but face a “fiscal cliff” and continuing troubles in Europe.

The fiscal cliff, which combines $800 billion in tax increases and government spending cuts, has investors spooked for many reasons.  Unless action is taken:

  • Corporate dividends will be taxed like earned income, increasing the tax from 15% to a top rate of 39.6%.
  • The Affordable Care Act adds a 3.8% on investments, so the tax on dividends could nearly triple overnight.
  • The top tax rate on capital gains will increase from 15% to 20%.
  • Income taxes and estate taxes would also increase, and many more Americans would be subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT).
  • The re-election of President Obama, who favors tax increases, makes it more likely that the increases will take place.
  • With Republicans controlling the House and Democrats controlling the Senate, Congress is divided and it will be difficult to reach an agreement that would avoid or reduce the impact of the fiscal cliff.

Of course, there’s plenty of time between now and the end of the year to deal with the issue.  But Congress will be on holiday for much of the time between now and the end of the year.

Meanwhile, in Europe

While Europe’s sovereign debt crisis received little attention during the busy election season, it’s not because the crisis has abated.

Once again, Greece is the little country that can’t, as it increasingly appears that “the Greek ‘austerity’ vote was merely theater,” as Zerohedge put it.  The resulting news in Europe this week is that European finance ministers may delay approval of the next bailout payment for Greece from November 16 to late November, when they will hear a full report on Greece’s compliance (or lack thereof) with the terms of the bailout.

The unveiling of the Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) program in September by the European Central Bank (ECB) boosted market confidence that Europe was doing something about its problems.  But, like America’s ongoing quantitative easing, Europe’s OMT won’t eliminate economic problems.  Lower interest rates just make it less expensive to keep borrowing more and more money.

Maybe that’s why economic confidence in Europe has sunk to a three-year low.

So the economic misery continues, but at least we won’t have to see or hear any more election ads.