13 December 2011

GEAB N°59 is available! Global systemic crisis: 30,000 billion US dollars in ghost assets will disappear by early 2013 / The crisis enters a phase of

As we come to the end of the second half of 2011, it is evident that 15,000 billion in ghost assets have gone up in smoke since last July, just as was anticipated by LEAP/E2020 (GEAB N°56 ). And, according to our team, this process figures to continue at the same rate throughout the year to come. Indeed we estimate that, with the introduction of a 50% discount on Greek government debt, the global systemic crisis has entered a new phase: that of the generalized discount on Western public debt and its corollary, the fragmentation of the global financial markets. Our team believes that 2012 will bring an average discount of 30% of total Western public debt (1), plus an equivalent amount in loss of assets from the balance sheets of worldwide financial institutions. Specifically, LEAP/E2020 anticipates the loss of 30,000 billion ghost assets by early 2013 (2), with an acceleration in 2012 of the partitioning process of the global financial market (3) into three increasingly disconnected currency areas: Dollar, Euro, and Yuan. These two phenomena feed into each other. They will also be the cause of a sharp decline of 30% on the part of US currency in 2012 (4), as we announced last April (GEAB N°54 ), which will occur amidst a sharp reduction in demand for the US dollar and the worsening of the US governmental debt crisis. The end of 2011 will therefore see, as anticipated, the trigger of the European debt crisis detonating a US bomb.

In this GEAB N°59 we will analyze in detail this new phase of the crisis as well as the deepening US debt crisis. Moreover, we will begin to present, as indicated in previous GEABs, our forecasts about the future of the United States between 2012 and 2016 (5) starting with a fundamental aspect of Euro-US relations (and more generally the global system that has been in place since 1945), namely the strategic and military relations between the US and Europe. We have estimated that by 2017 the last US soldier will have left European continental soil. Finally, LEAP/E2020 will present its recommendations, dealing this month with currency, gold, capital-based pensions, the financial sector, and commodities.

In this public announcement we have chosen to present the various elements that will determine the next escalation of the US debt crisis, while taking stock of the October EU summit and the Cannes G20 summit.

As anticipated by LEAP/E2020 for several months, the G20 summit in Cannes turned out to be a resounding failure, resulting in no significant measures, and demonstrating an incapability of addressing the issues of change in the international financial system, global economic recovery, or reform of global governance. If the Greek question took center stage during the summit, it is partly because the latter was lacking in content to begin with. George Papandreou enabled the G20 leaders to carry on “as if” Greek affairs had interrupted their work (6), when in fact the Greek crisis allowed them to disguise their inability to craft a common agenda.

Meanwhile, the decisions of the EU summit in the week before the Cannes summit have pointed to the official emergence of Euroland (with now two fixed summits each year) (7), the primacy of which will confer de facto decision-making authority within the EU (8). The pressure from this crisis has, in the last few days, helped to build the capacities of Euroland policies, putting it on the path to greater integration (9), a prerequisite to any positive developments towards a post-crisis world (10).

Comparison of national Italian (red), German (blue), and French (gray) budgets and debts, as percentage of GDP (2002-2011) - Source: Spiegel, 10/2011
With a government of national unity finally in place in Greece (11), a modern state must literally be built from the ground up, with a proper land registry and an effective administration enabling the Greeks to become “normal” members of Euroland, not subjects of a feudal system where prominent families and the church share the wealth and power. Thirty years after its unconditional integration into the European Community, Greece must go through a five or ten year transitional phase similar to that of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe before their EU accession: painful, but inevitable.

Italy, meanwhile, has managed to rid itself of a leader altogether typical of the world before the crisis, characterized by his “bling”, his racketeering, his unscrupulous acquisition of money, his unfounded self-satisfaction, his hold on the media, his constant Euro-criticism and junk nationalism (12), not to mention his overflowing libido. The scenes of joy in the streets of Italy show not all is wrong with this global systemic crisis! As we indicated in the previous GEAB, we believe that 2012 will for Euroland be a year of transition on the road to building the world after the crisis, instead of just suffering the woes of the collapsing system.

At the same time the United Kingdom has basically been kicked out of the Euroland meetings (13). EU members outside the Eurozone have backed Euroland in refusing to support the British proposal concerning the right of the 27 to veto Euroland decisions. The United Kingdom’s drift has been boosted by the efforts of British Eurosceptics (generally the foot soldiers of the City) (14) to try to sever as quickly as possible the strongest ties with continental Europe (15). Far from being proof of their policy’s success, it is rather an admission of complete failure (16). After twenty years of continuous efforts, they failed to disrupt the European integration process, which has been revived by the pressures of the crisis. So they are now “dropping hawsers” out of a fear – well founded, by the way (17) – of seeing the UK absorbed into Euroland by the end of this decade (18).

All told, it is a desperate march forward which, as pointed out by Will Hutton in a remarkably lucid article in the Guardian on 30/10/2011, can only lead the UK towards a break with a Scotland seeking to recover not only its independence (19) but also its European anchorage, and towards the socio-economic condition of an off-shore financial market without social protection (20) or an industrial base (21): in sum, a Dis-United Kingdom adrift (22).

And with its US ally in dire straits itself, that drift may drag on for years, to the great misfortune of a British people growing increasingly discontented with the City. Even veterans are beginning to join the Occupy the City movement (23); obviously, on this point, there is a convergence between the views of the British people and those of Euroland!

For consolation, British financiers can say that they hold the largest proportion of Japanese state assets outside of Japan, but when the IMF warns Japan of the systemic risk of maintaining public debt above 200% of GDP (24), is that such a consolation?

Japanese asset allocation (United States, United Kingdom, Euroland, China, Asia), in (1) percentage of countries’ GDP and (2) percentage of total foreign assets - Source: European Central Bank, 06/2011
Speaking of public debt, it is time to turn to the United States. The coming weeks figure to remind the world that it is this country, not Greece, that is at the epicenter of the global systemic crisis. In one week’s time, on November 23, the Congressional “Supercommittee” in charge of reducing the US federal deficit will admit its failure to find 1,500 billion US dollars in savings over ten years. Each side is already crafting arguments that will blame the other side (25). As for Barack Obama, apart from his televised simpering with Nicolas Sarkozy, he now contemplates the situation passively, while noting that Congress has torn into pieces his grand jobs project introduced only 2 months ago (26). And it is not the utterly unrealistic announcement of a new Pacific Customs Union (excluding China) (27) on the eve of an APEC summit where Chinese and Americans are expected to confront one another harshly, which will enhance his stature as head of state, let alone his chances for reelection.

The predictable failure of the “Supercommittee”, which reflects the overall paralysis of the US federal political system, will have an immediate and drastic consequence: a new series of credit ratings deteriorations. The Chinese agency Dagon has opened fire, confirming that it would once again lower the rating upon the failure of the “Supercommittee” (28). S&P will probably lower one more time the US rating, and Moody’s and Fitch will have then no other choice but to get on board, having given the US a reprieve until the end of the year under condition of effective results in terms of public deficit reduction. Incidentally, in order to dilute the flow of negative information in this regard, it is likely that there will be an attempt to reinforce the public debt crisis in Europe (29) by lowering France’s rating in order to weaken the European Financial Stability Fund (30).

All of this makes for an eventful season for the financial and monetary markets, casting severe blows on Western banking systems and, beyond that, on all US T-Bond holders. But beyond the failure of the “Supercommittee” to reduce the federal deficit, the entire US pyramid of debt will be thoroughly examined, in a context of global – and of course US – recession : falling tax revenues, unemployment increases, increases in the number of unemployed no longer receiving benefits (31), further drops in home values, etc.

US (in red) and Greek (in blue) private sector as a percentage of GDP (2000-2010) - Source: SuddenDebt, 03/2011
Let’s keep in mind that the state of US private debt is far worse than in Greece! In this context, we are not far from a panic-inducing situation abount the United States’s capacity to repay its debt other than with a devalued currency. The end of 2011, then, will see many US debt-holders seriously considering this ability and of the precise moment when it might suddenly be called into question by all financial players (32).

What could the United States offer after the failure of its “Supercommittee”? Not much, particularly in an election year! On the one hand it was created because other actions were not working, and on the other the issue is not so much one of amount but of the very ability to undertake a significant and sustained reduction. The failure of the “Supercommittee” will rightly be seen as evidence of this inability of the US in tacking the deficit problem.

In terms of the amounts at stake, a quick calculation by a USreader of GEAB gives some sense of how much the “efforts” undertaken to reduce the budget deficit are ridiculous in relation to the needs : Treating the US federal budget as that of a household, things become abundantly clear. Simply remove 8 zeros for budget that comes to mean something for the average citizen:

Annual household income (income tax): + 21,700
Family expenses (federal budget): + 38,200
New credit card debt (new debt): + 16,500
Past credit card debt (federal debt): + 142,710
Budget cuts already made: - 385
Budget reduction targets of the Supercommittee (for one year): - 1,500

As can easily be seen, the Supercommitte (like Congress last August) cannot even agree to a 10% reduction … of the annual increase in federal debt. This is how it is: unlike in Europe, which, over the months, has introduced new mechanisms and takes steps to reduce expenditures and debts (33), the US continues to run full speed into increasing debt. As a matter of fact, ni the next semester, Washington plans to issue 846 billion US dollars worth of Treasury bonds, 35% more than this time last year (34).

September 2011: Beginning of the loss of confidence by foreign central banks with respect to US Treasury – Trends in foreign central bank transactions concerning US Treasury and agency holdings (2000-2011) (in brown: monthly increases / green line: above, central banks are buying; below, they are selling Treasury bonds) - Source: CaseyResearch, 10/2011
With the failure of the MF Global investment fund, we have seen that Wall Street titans can crumble at once due to errors made regarding public debt trends in Europe. Jon Corzine is no Bernard Madoff. In moral terms, he is perhaps close, but as for the rest, there is no comparison. Madoff was a Wall Street maverick, but Corzine was a member of the aristocracy: former CEO of Goldman Sachs, former governor of New Jersey, main donor to the Obama 2012 presidential campaign, sensed to replace Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary last August (35), and one of the “creators” of Obama back in 2004 (36). This affair goes to the heart of the incestuous relationship between Wall Street Washington, one which is now being denounced by a majority of Americans (37).

In August, it appeared as if he was untouchable, on top of Wall Street; nevertheless he was completely mistaken about the course of events. He believed that the world had not changed, and that private creditors would continue to be paid “cash on the barrelhead”. The result: huge losses, bankruptcy, innumerable customers bilked, and 1,600 employers out on the street (38).

We announced in the previous GEAB that we have entered a phase involving the decimation of Western banks. This phase is truly in swing, and customers of all financial operators (banks, insurance companies, investment funds, pension funds) (39) are now questioning the soundness of these institutions. As is evident from the Corzine affair, they should not assume that these institutions are a priori stronger than others just because they or their leaders are famous or enjoying a strong reputation (40). It is not knowledge of the rules of the financial game of yesterday, which formed those reputations, that now counts; but rather it is the understanding that the rules have changed that has become crucial.


29 September 2011

China's 'resource imperialism' a risk for Australia: James Dines

Leading American investment analyst James Dines has criticised Australia for allowing China to buy large swathes of its natural resources in what he calls "resource imperialism".

Australia was in danger of squandering it's "irreplaceable inheritance ... traded for easily printed paper", Mr Dines said.

Mr Dines, the keynote speaker this week at the RIU Victorian Resources Roundup conference, told an audience of mining executives, brokers and investors that the end of capitalism as we knew it had arrived and that we were in the second great economic depression.
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His entertaining, if alarming, speech would have prompted mixed feelings among a crowd that included executives with a strong Chinese presence on their share registries.

State-owned Chinese companies are also becoming a major foreign investor in Australia.

Mr Dines, editor of the Dines Letter and author of numerous books, described natural resources, including farmland, as a source of real wealth that should be kept for "your descendants".

By pursuing resource imperialism, China was building stockpiles of commodities well above its immediate needs, such as rare earths - it already produces 97 per cent of the world total - and copper.

The Australian Foreign Investment Review Board blocked a $252 million bid by state-owned China Nonferrous Metal Mining to acquire Australian rare earth miner Lynas in 2009.

China's motivation

The world's most populous country wants to secure its resource needs for centuries to come.

Instead of seizing the means of production, as Karl Marx advocated, the Chinese Communist Party was legally buying it in what Mr Dines believes is the end of capitalism as we know it.

"They are not buying a copper mine to re-sell at a higher price. They are buying it to use all that copper for China," he said.

"China are storing (commodities) as a form of hard money for next century and beyond."

Mr Dines said he was not being anti-China.

"What they're doing is legal and far-sighted thinking."

He contrasted that with the US, where investors were fixated on quarter to quarter earnings.

Currency collapse

In contrast, the US and Europe had not learnt from history and had brought about a second economic depression by incurring massive debts and trying to make repayments by printing more money, he said.

He believes it will ultimately lead to the currency system collapsing.

The doubling of the money supply to pay for World War I led to inflation in the 1920s and the Depression of the 1930s, he said.

Mr Dines says what's needed is a currency linked to gold stores to limit printing.

America's government debt will swell to an estimated $US20 trillion in the next nine years was, something it will never repay, he says.

China currently holds $US3 trillion in foreign exchange assets and could "buy the whole world".

So, how should Australia and the world respond to this new world order?

The prevailing view here is that the mining boom is a great thing and will last indefinitely, with a rapidly urbanising China and India buying our resources.

But Mr Dines points out that heavy demand from the developing countries of the world will put a strain on finite resources, with oil certain to run out this century.

He says Australia should ensure that a percentage of all mines and farmland is kept in Australian hands, to protect the country's food and resource security.

High food prices prompted violent social unrest in the Middle East this year.

He also recommends relying less on mining and more on renewable industries such as tourism, crops and seafood.

"Sooner or later, Australia is going to need those rare earths for its own (hi-tech) manufacturing, or else your kids will be buying your own rare earths back from China, with a significant mark-up," Mr Dines said.

If he did have a positive message, it was to invest in gold and silver, which, he says, are the ultimate monetary metals, with gold having risen in value every one of the last 11 years.