Category Archives: Currencies

You Should Fear the Emerging Market Debt Bubble, by Nomi Prins

Actually, you should fear all debt bubbles, especially in our current hyperindebted world. Any one bubble that pops can set off a chain reaction. From Nomi Prins at daily reckoning.com:

Global debt has ballooned since the financial crisis as central banks have distorted markets and fueled debt bubbles in particular.

A lot of the increase in global debt has come from emerging market (EM) economies, especially China. In fact, a record amount of EM debt has accumulated during the past decade, mostly in dollars. A large portion of that debt is therefore denominated in U.S. dollars.

That’s why I’ve long argued that the first shoe to drop in the next crisis would likely be EM debt.

Borrowing is not a problem when dollars are cheap. Low interest rates mean the cost of servicing that debt is low.

The problem starts when the Fed raises rates or the dollar strengthens, even temporarily. The more the dollar rises, the more EM currencies and related markets fall. Dollar-denominated debt then becomes too expensive to repay or service as the dollar rises relative to EM currencies. Before long default becomes the only viable option.

This situation becomes more dangerous than even asset bubbles because debt is required to be repaid on a set schedule. If a country misses a debt payment, it could set off a chain reaction of defaults.

That’s why an EM crisis could quickly become a global crisis. In today’s world of financial globalization, any remote crisis can become an international problem in seconds. That’s the reality of today’s markets. Obviously, it could also have major ramifications for your own finances and investments.

How did we get here?

Because of the Fed’s rate hike cycle and quantitative tightening (QT) stance, the dollar has become much stronger. The dollar has risen 6.8% since late January alone. And that’s put emerging markets under considerable pressure.

Dollars are fleeing emerging market economies as investors are pouring into dollar assets and U.S. Treasuries.

As the Fed itself has warned about such a scenario, “If these risks materialized, there could be an increase in the demand for safe assets, particularly U.S. Treasuries.”

That starts a vicious cycle that only strengthens the dollar and weakens EM currencies further. In other words, emerging markets are being deprived of dollars at a time when they need them most.

Enter Turkey.

To continue reading: You Should Fear the Emerging Market Debt Bubble

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Looks Like Italian Default is Back on the Menu, by Tom Luongo

Will southern European debt or emerging market debt kick off the next financial crisis? They’re both strong contenders, running neck-and-neck. From Tom Luongo at tomluongo.me:

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini was right to call out the EU over the failure of the bridge in Genoa this week.  It was an act of cheap political grandstanding but one that ultimately rings very true.

It’s a perfect moment to shake people out of their complacency as to the real costs of giving up one’s financial sovereignty to someone else, in this case the Troika — European Commission, ECB and IMF.

Italy is slowly strangling to death thanks to the euro.  There is no other way to describe what is happening.  It’s populist coalition government understands the fundamental problems but, politically, is hamstrung to address them head on.

The political will simply isn’t there to make the break needed to put Italy truly back on the right path, i.e. leave the euro.  But, as the government is set to clash with Brussels over their proposed budget the issues with the euro may come into sharper focus.

Looking at the budget it is two or three steps in the right direction — lower, flat income tax rate, not raising the VAT — but also a step or two in the wrong direction — universal income.

Opening up Italy’s markets and lowering taxpayers’ burdens is the path to sustainable, organic growth, but that is not the purpose of IMF-style austerity.  It’s purpose is to do exactly what it is doing, strangling Italy to death and extracting the wealth and spirit out of the local population, c.f. Greece and before that Russia in the 1990’s.

So, looking at the situation today as the spat between Turkey and the U.S. escalates, it is obvious that Italy is in the crosshairs of any contagion effects into Europe’s banking system.

To continue reading: Looks Like Italian Default is Back on the Menu

Vitalik’s Wrong, Cryptocurrency’s Real Problem, by Allan Stevo

Before there is mass public acceptance of cryptocurrencies, somebody is going to have to figure out something that will make cryptocurrencies useful to the masses. From Allan Stevo at lewrockwell.com:

Vitalik Buterin, a powerhouse in crypto, the mastermind behind the Ethereum network, effectively denounced those obsessed with the price of crypto and its possibility for breeding derivative financial instruments, tweeting recently “I think there’s too much emphasis on BTC/ETH/whatever ETFs, and not enough emphasis on making it easier for people to buy $5 to $100 in cryptocurrency via cards at corner stores. The former is better for pumping price, but the latter is much better for actual adoption.”

But this too misses the point.

Crypto provides no value to the average Westerner. Making crypto more accessible is not enough.

There’s no reason for the average Westerner – my aunt and uncle for example – to care, because crypto brings no additional functionality to their lives. They ask me about it practically every time we talk. When they ask me what to do with it, despite my five years of involvement in the industry, I have no answer.

All crypto, Bitcoin included, is a speculative play at this stage. Like any early stage technology, we have yet to figure out many uses in which Bitcoin beats the legacy competition in functionality.

As an example, for payments, credit cards are better than crypto. So is PayPal. Cash is better too, if only for the network effects, but in reality for far more. That’s why more people use those methods for payments than Bitcoin.

Cheering on or otherwise attempting to rush the price movements of Bitcoin is futile. Praying for its movements is futile. Pitching its potential with slick marketing is more than futile, such marketing is in fact most likely counterproductive as it will leave early adopters disillusioned.

A curse of Bitcoin is that it is a currency and it is unable to be far removed in people’s minds from its very volatile price. Of course, the beauty of Bitcoin as well is that it is a currency. Through it and similar technologies, we will come to know the folly of applying natural monopoly theory to currency.

To continue reading: Vitalik’s Wrong, Cryptocurrency’s Real Problem

Close Up and Long Shot, by James Howard Kunstler

The world is whirling centrifugally apart and it can only end badly. What if they held a “climactic bloodbath” and nobody came? From James Howard Kunstler at kunstler.com:

Be careful about what you see in the foreground of the news vis-à-vis what’s in the background. Sunday, the cable networks were on fire over the 30-or-so white nationalists marching across Washington DC — with much larger hordes of masked, black-clad Antifa street-fighters following them around, and an army of DC cops in fluorescent green riot vests following the Antifas and the white nationalist knuckleheads.

The event was a billed as an attempt to commemorate the clash that happened between the same contestants in Charlottesville, Virginia, a year ago in the uproar over Confederate statues. That fiasco ended in the death of a bystander named Heather Heyer. Not a whole lot has changed since then, except perhaps the Left has become more strident in its calls to penalize white people for their crimes of “privilege,” no doubt further inflaming the Unite-the-Right crew. (And the anti-statue campaign has dropped down the memory hole.)

There was plenty of “hate” to go around on both sides Sunday. But those who were waiting for a climactic bloodbath in Lafayette Park must have been disappointed after a long day of tension when a big blob of rain hunkered over the District at suppertime and the theatrics concluded. Both the Antifas and the Unite-the-Right marchers had to go home and get out of their wet clothes. At least they could agree on that.

The cable TV anchors had issued the usual calls for “national unity,” exhorting President Trump to emerge from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golfing bunker and “bring the country together,” a sadly fatuous proposition. There is nothing to come together within. There’s nothing left of an American common culture besides a few Disney movies and that’s not nearly enough. That’s what happens when you opt for multiculturalism as your number one political principle. It automatically negates shared values, so why even expect any agreement between groups contending for dominance?

To continue reading: Close Up and Long Shot

Talk Cold Turkey, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Will Turkey turn to Russia and China as a way out of its financial problems? From Raúl Ilargi Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003. His AKP party had won a major election victory in 2002, but Erdogan was banned from political office until his predecessor Gül annulled the ban. Which he had gotten in 1997 for reciting an old poem to which he had added the lines “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers….”

The Turkish courts of the time saw this as “an incitement to violence and religious or racial hatred..” and sentenced him to ten months in prison (of which he served four in 1999). The courts saw Erdogan as a threat to the secular Turkish state as defined by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey in the 1920’s. Erdogan is trying to both turn the nation towards Islam and at the same time not appearing to insult Ataturk.

The reality is that many Turks today lean towards a religion-based society, and no longer understand why Ataturk insisted on a secular(ist) state. Which he did after many years of wars and conflicts as a result of religious -and other- struggles. Seeing how Turkey lies in the middle between Christian Europe and the Muslim world, it is not difficult to fathom why the ‘father’ of the country saw secularism as the best if not only option. But that was 90 years ago.

And it doesn’t serve Erdogan’s purposes. If he can appeal to the ‘silent’ religious crowd and gather their support, he has the power. To wit. In 2003, one of his first acts as prime minister was to have Turkey enter George W.’s coalition of the willing to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As a reward for that, negotiations for Turkey to join the EU started. These are officially still happening, but unofficially they’re dead.

In 2014 Erdogan finally got his dream job: president. Ironically, in order to get the job, Erdogan depended heavily on the movement of scholar and imam Fethullah Gülen, who, despite moving to Pennsylvania in 1999, still had (has?) considerable influence in Turkish society. Two years after becoming president, Erdogan accused Gülen of being the mastermind behind a ‘failed coup’ in 2016, after which tens of thousands of alleged Gülenists were arrested, fired, etc.

To continue reading: Talk Cold Turkey

Lira Collapse To Jump the Mediterranean, by Tom Luongo

A number of European banks, some of which are not in such great shape, hold significant Turkish debt, which means they would be hurt if Turkey runs into funding and debt repayment problems. Their pain could spread. From Tom Luongo at tomluongo.me.com:

The Turkish Lira crisis is fundamentally different than the Russian Ruble crisis of 2014/15.  This one has contagion risk.

Back then no one was worried about the fall of the ruble having spillover effect.  If Sberbank failed, it wouldn’t jump to Europe.  Then again, there was little worry about that since the Russians had more than enough in reserves to cover the debts.

With Turkey, however, there is a real worry about this jumping into Europe. From Zerohedge:

Friday’s fall came after the Financial Times reported that supervisors at the European Central Bank are concerned about exposure of some of Europe’s biggest lenders to Turkey, including chiefly BBVA, UniCredit and BNP Paribas. The FT reported that along with the currency’s decline, the ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism has begun to look more closely at European lenders’ links with Turkey. The moves also came after the US showed no signs of lifting crippling sanctions despite the visit of a Turkish delegation to the US capital.

According to the FT, the ECB is concerned about the risk that Turkish borrowers might not be hedged against the lira’s weakness and begin to default on foreign currency loans, which make up about 40% of the Turkish banking sector’s assets.

And while it does not yet view the situation as critical, it sees Spain’s BBVA, Italy’s UniCredit and France’s BNP Paribas, which all have significant operations in Turkey, as particularly exposed, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Note the banks here.  Italian zombie-bank UniCredit.  Spain’s BBVa and France’s major zombie-bank BNP Paribas.   You can almost smell the desperation in the Financial Times’ reporting on this.

To continue reading: Lira Collapse To Jump the Mediterranean

Why the Boomers Are Going Broke, by Bill Bonner

It’s hard to accumulate wealth when the value of the supposed store of value is whatever central bankers and politicians say it is. From Bill Bonner at bonnerandpartners.com:

POITOU, FRANCE – We were taken aback on Friday by the ferocity of our dear readers’ comments. [Read more in today’s Mailbag.]

What were they so sore about? we wondered.

Son of Satan

Of course, we are frequently wrong about a great number of things. When connecting the dots, we are bound to draw a few stray lines. And we will no doubt be proven wrong in many of our opinions and predictions.

Will The Donald’s trade war pay off for Americans? We don’t think so.

Will the tax cut really boost the U.S. economy and reduce the deficit? There is no sign of it.

Will Mr. Trump really make America great again? The odds, based on what we’ve seen so far, seem very, very slim.

But what do we know? And we’d be happy to be proven wrong.

What was surprising – to us – was that readers did not write to correct us or help us get the lines in the right place.

Instead, they seemed to suggest that we were a son of Satan, sent to destroy all that the good patriots of the United States of America hold most dear.

In other words, the discussion seems to have hit a religious nerve… like setting fire to a cathedral; the faithful fear their most sacred relics will be incinerated.

We have no remedy for this condition, so we will cheerfully ignore it. Besides, cross readers may be right. And those who have a better idea of how the dots connect are invited to send their thoughts by clicking right here.

Goldilocks Report

So, what do we see today?

What we see is an economy staggering under the weight of phony wars and phony finances.

It took more than 200 years for the country to reach its first $1 trillion in debt; now, it adds that much every 12 months. In addition, the Fed increased the base money supply by roughly 400% over the past decade.

What do you get for that kind of money? The feds got the weakest recovery in history… with no real gains in per-hour wages… and GDP growth rates only half those of the 1950s and ‘60s.

In 1821, John Quincy Adams described American foreign policy: “She goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy…”

Here we are, nearly 200 years later, and U.S. troops are looking for monsters in every godforsaken sh*thole in the world. And where none can be found… they create one.

To continue reading: Why the Boomers Are Going Broke