21 December 2010

GEAB N°50 is available! Global systemic crisis: Second half of 2011 - European context and US catalyst - Explosion of the Western public debt bubble

The second half of 2011 will mark the point in time when all the world’s financial operators will finally understand that the West will not repay in full a significant portion of the loans advanced over the last two decades. For LEAP/E2020 it is, in effect, around October 2011, due to the plunge of a large number of US cities and states into an inextricable financial situation following the end of the federal funding of their deficits, whilst Europe will face a very significant debt refinancing requirement (1), that this explosive situation will be fully revealed. Media escalation of the European crisis regarding sovereign debt of Euroland’s peripheral countries will have created the favourable context for such an explosion, of which the US “Muni” (2) market incidentally has just given a foretaste in November 2010 (as our team anticipated last June in GEAB No. 46 ) with a mini-crash that saw all the year’s gains go up in smoke in a few days. This time this crash (including the failure of the monoline reinsurer Ambac (3)) took place discreetly (4) since the Anglo-Saxon media machine (5) succeeded in focusing world attention on a further episode of the fantasy sitcom "The end of the Euro, or the financial remake of Swine fever" (6). Yet the contemporaneous shocks in the United States and Europe make for a very disturbing set-up comparable, according to our team, to the "Bear Stearn " crash which preceded Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy and the collapse of Wall Street in September 2008 by eight months. But the GEAB readers know very well that major crashes rarely make headlines in the media several months in advance, so false alarms are customary (7)!

Net cash outflows from Mutual Funds investing in « Munis » (2007-11/2010) (in USD billions) - Withdrawals were higher than in October 2008 - Source: New York Times, 11/2010
In this GEAB issue, we therefore anticipate the progression of the terminal crash of Western public debt (in particular US and European debt) as well as ways to protect oneself. Furthermore, we analyze the very important structural consequences of the Wikileaks revelations on the United States’ international influence as well as their interaction with the global consequences of the US Federal Reserve’s QE II programme. This GEAB December issue is, of course, the opportunity to assess the validity of our anticipations for 2010, with a of 78% success rate for the year. We also develop strategic advice for Euroland (8) and the United States. And we publish the GEAB-$ index that will now allow us to synthetically follow the progress of US Dollar against major world currencies every month (9).

In this issue, we have chosen to present an excerpt of the forecast on the explosion of the Western public debt bubble.

Thus, the Western public debt crisis is growing very rapidly under the pressure of four increasingly strong limitations:

. the absence of economic recovery in the United States which strangles all public bodies (including the federal state (10)) accustomed to an easy flow of debt and significant tax revenues in recent decades (11)

. the accelerated structural weakening of the United States in monetary, financial as well as diplomatic (12) affairs which reduces their ability to attract world savings (13)

. the global drying up of sources of cheap finance, which precipitates the crisis of excessive debt in Europe’s peripheral countries (in Euroland like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, ... and the United Kingdom as well (14)) and is starting to touch key countries (USA, Germany, Japan) (15) in a context of very large European debt refinancing in 2011

. the transformation of Euroland into a new "sovereign" that gradually develops new rules for the continent’s public debts.

These four constraints generate varying phenomena and reactions in different regions / countries.

The European context: the price of the path from laxity to austerity will be partly paid for by investors
From the European side, we have thus witnessed the difficult, but ultimately incredibly fast, transformation of the Eurozone into a sort of semi-state entity, Euroland. The delays in the process weren’t only due to the poor quality of the political individuals concerned (16) as the interviews of the "forerunners" such as Helmut Schmidt, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing or Jacques Delors hammered on at length. They themselves never having had to face a historic crisis of this magnitude, a little modesty would have done them good.

These delays are equally due to the fact that current developments in the Eurozone are on a huge political scale (17) and conducted without any democratic political mandate: this situation paralyzes the European leaders who consequently spend their time denying that they are really doing what they do, i.e. namely, building a kind of political entity with its own economic, social and fiscal constituent parts, .... (18) Elected before the crisis erupted, they do not know that their voters (and the economic and financial players at the same time) would be largely satisfied with an explanation about the decisions being planned (19). Because most of major decisions to come are already identifiable, as we analyze in this issue.

Finally, it is a fact that the actions of these same leaders are dissected and manipulated by the main media specializing in economic and financial issues, none of which belong to the Eurozone, and all of which are, on the contrary, entrenched in the $ / £ zone where the strengthening of the euro is considered a disaster. This same media very directly contributes to blur the process underway in Euroland (20) even more.

However, we can see that this adverse effect decreases because between the "Greek crisis" and the "Irish crisis", the resulting Euro exchange rate volatility has weakened. For our team, in spring 2011, it will become an insignificant event. This only leaves, therefore, the issue of the quality of Euroland’s political personnel which will be profoundly changed beginning in 2012 (21) and, more fundamentally, the significant problem of the democratic legitimacy of the tremendous advances in European integration (22). But in a certain fashion, we can say that by 2012/2013, Euroland will have really established mechanisms which will have allowed it to withstand the shock of the crisis, even if it’s necessary to legitimize their existence retrospectively (23).

Comparison of yields on Euroland 10 year government bonds - Source: Thomson Reuters Datastream, 11/16/2010
In this regard, what will help accelerate the bursting of the Western public debt bubble, and what will occur concomitantly for its US catalyst, is the understanding by financial operators of what lies behind the "Eurobligations” (or E-Bonds) (24) debate which has begun to be talked about in recent weeks (25). It is from late 2011 (at the latest) that the merits of this debate will begin to be unveiled within the framework of the preparation for the permanent European Financial Stabilisation Fund (26). Although, what will suddenly appear for the majority of investors who currently speculate on the exorbitant rates of Greek, Irish,... debt is that Euroland solidarity will not extend to them, especially when the case of Spain, Italy or Belgium will start being posed, whatever European leaders say today (27).

In short, according to LEAP/E2020, we should expect a huge operation of sovereign debt transactions (amid a government debt global crisis) which will offer Euroland guaranteed Eurobligations at very low rates in exchange of national securities at high interest rates with a 30% to 50% discount since, in the meantime, the situation of the entire Western public debt market will have deteriorated. Democratically speaking, the newly elected Euroland leaders (28) (after 2012) will be fully authorized to effect such an operation, of which the major banks (including European ones (29)) will be the first victims. It is highly likely that some privileged sovereign creditors like China, Russia, the oil producing countries,... will be offered preferential treatment. They will not complain since the undertaking will result in their sizeable assets in Euros being guaranteed.

Charts at link

11 December 2010

GEAB N°49 is available! Warning Global systemic crisis – First quarter 2011: Breach of the critical threshold of global geopolitical dislocation

As the LEAP/E2020 team anticipated in its open letter to the G20 leaders published in the international edition of the Financial Times of 24 March 2009, on the eve of the London Summit, the question of a fundamental reform of the international monetary system is central to any attempt to solve the current crisis. But sadly, as was demonstrated again at the failure of the G20 summit in Seoul, the window of opportunity for achieving such a reform peaceably closed at the end of summer 2009 and will not open again before 2012/2013 (1). The world is indeed in the throes of the global geopolitical dislocation that we had announced as beginning at the end of 2009 and which can be seen, less than a year later, in the proliferation of movements, the economic woes, the fiscal deficits, the monetary disagreements, all setting the scene for major geopolitical shocks. With the G20 summit in Seoul, which signalled to the planet in its entirety the end of US domination of the international agenda and its replacement by a generalised mood of “every man for himself”, a new phase of the crisis has begun, prompting the LEAP/E2020 team to issue a new warning. The world is about to breach a critical threshold in this phase of global geopolitical dislocation. And as with every breach of threshold in a complex system, this will generate, as from the first quarter of 2011, a suite of non-linear phenomena: developments that do not conform to the usual rules and the traditional projections, be they economic, monetary, financial, social or political.

In this GEAB N°49, in addition to the analysis of the six main steps marking the breach of this critical threshold of the global geopolitical, our team presents numerous recommendations to help cope with the consequences of this new phase of the crisis. They address, for example the currency/interest rates/gold and precious metals group; wealth preservation and the replacement of the US dollar by another measure of net worth; the bubbles in asset classes denominated in US dollars; and the stock markets and the most vulnerable corporate categories in this phase of the crisis. The LEAP/E2020 team also presents the “three simple reflexes” to adopt to understand and anticipate better the new world taking shape. Also in this issue, our team describes the double Franco-German electoral shock in store for 2012/2013. And we also present an excerpt from the Manual of Political Anticipation, written by the president of LEAP, Marie-Hélène Caillol, and published by Anticipolis in French, English, German and Spanish.

Trade balances of the G20 countries (forecast for 2010) - Source: Spiegel, 11/2010
In this press release for the GEAB N°49, our team chose to present three of the six steps that characterise the critical threshold that the world is about to breach.

The crisis that we are experiencing is characterised by developments on a planetary scale, taking place at two levels that, while correlated, are different in nature. On the one hand, the crisis is symptomatic of the profound changes to our world’s economic, financial and geopolitical reality. It accelerates and amplifies the underlying trends that have been at work for several decades, trends that we have described regularly in the GEAB since its launch at the beginning of 2006. On the other hand it reflects the steadily increasing collective awareness of those changes. This growing awareness is in itself a phenomenon of collective psychology on a global level and it influences the way the crisis develops and triggers sharp bursts of speed in its evolution. Several times in recent years, we have anticipated “inflexion points” in the crisis, corresponding to “sudden leaps” in this collective awareness of the changes under way. And we consider that all the pre-requisites for “rupture” crystallised around the G20 summit in Seoul, enabling a crucial advance in collective awareness of the global geopolitical dislocation. It is that phenomenon that led LEAP/E2020 to identify the breach of a critical threshold and to issue a warning about the consequences of that breach as from the first quarter of 2011.

Around the date of the G20 summit in Seoul, LEAP/E2020 identified a build-up of events likely to lead to “rupture”. Let us examine the main events concerned (2) and their chaotic consequences.

Concluding the quantitative easing: the Fed placed under “house arrest”

The Federal Reserve’s decision to launch “QE2” (by purchasing USD 600 billion of US Treasuries from now to 2011), triggered an outcry, for the first time since 1945, amongst almost all the other global powers: Japan, Brazil, China (3), India, Germany, the ASEAN countries (4), …(5) It is not the Fed’s decision that marks a rupture: it is the fact that for the first time, America’s central bank had its ears boxed by the rest of the world (6), and in a very public and determined manner (7). This is certainly not the cosy atmosphere of Jackson Hole and the central bankers’ meetings. It seems that Ben Bernanke’s threats to his colleagues, conveyed to our readers in GEAB No. 47, did not have the effect that the Fed’s chairman had hoped. The rest of the world made it clear in November 2010 that it had no intention of letting the US central bank continue printing US dollars at will in an attempt to solve America’s problems at the expense of every other country on the globe (8). The dollar is now getting back to being what every national currency is supposed to be: the currency and thus the problem of the country that prints it. In fact, in these last weeks of 2010, we have witnessed the end of an era where the dollar was the currency of the US and the problem of the rest of the world, as John Connally put it so neatly in 1971, when the US unilaterally terminated the convertibility of the dollar into gold. Why? Simply because from now on the Fed must take into account the opinion of the outside world (9). It is not yet under guardianship, but it is under “house arrest” (10). According to LEAP/E2020, we can already anticipate that there will be no QE3 (11) regardless of the US leaders’ opinions on the subject (12); or it will take place at the end of 2011 to the tune of major geopolitical conflict and the collapse of the US dollar (13).

U.S. Federal Reserve’s Assets (2008-2010) – Sources: Federal Reserve of Cleveland / New York Times, 10/2010
European austerity: spread of social resistance movements; mounting populism; risk of fostering radicalism in rising generations; higher taxes

From Paris to Berlin (14), Lisbon to Dublin, Vilnius to Bucharest, London to Rome,… the protest marches and strikes are spreading. The social dimension of the global geopolitical dislocation is clearly visible in the Europe of end-2010. While these events have not yet managed to disrupt the austerity programmes planned by the European governments, they point to a significant collective development: public opinions are emerging from their torpor at the beginning of the crisis, suddenly aware of its duration and cost (social and financial) (15). So the next elections should prove costly for all the current political teams who have forgotten that without fair treatment, austerity will never win popular support (16). In the meantime, the teams in office are still applying the recipes of the pre-crisis period (i.e. neo-liberal solutions based on tax cuts for the richest households and an assortment of higher indirect taxes). But the rise in social disputes (inevitable according to LEAP/E2020) and the policy changes that will emerge in the next national elections, country by country, will lead to a questioning of those solutions; and a dramatic strengthening of the populist and extremist parties (17): Europe is going to get politically “tougher”. In parallel, in view of what looks increasingly like an unconscious desire on the part of the baby-boomers to have younger citizens shoulder their costs, we can expect to see an increase in violent reactions from the rising generations (18). According to our team, they will probably become more radical if they feel that the situation is hopeless, unless a compromise can be reached. But without an improvement in tax receipts, the only compromise credible in their eyes would be cuts in existing pensions, rather than higher education costs. Today is always a compromise between yesterday and tomorrow, particularly when it comes to taxes. And the most likely fiscal consequences of these developments are higher taxes on high earnings and capital gains, a new bank tax and a new, community-wide drive to protect the borders (19). The EU’s trade partners should take rapid note (20).

Selected governments’ borrowing needs (2010-2011) - Sources: FMI / Wall Street Journal, 10/2010
Japan: the latest efforts to resist China’s power

For several weeks now Tokyo and Beijing have been locked in a diplomatic dispute of rare intensity. Under various pretexts (a Chinese trawler about to enter Japanese territorial waters (21), massive Chinese purchases of Japanese assets, causing the yen to appreciate) the two powers exchanged harsh words, suspended their high-level talks and appealed to international public opinion. To the countries in the region, the international visibility of this Sino-Japanese spat is especially revealing because of a glaring absence –that of the US. While these quarrels clearly illustrate Beijing’s growing determination to be recognised as the dominant power in East and South-East Asia and Japan’s bid to oppose that regional Chinese hegemony, there is no denying that the power supposed to dominate in this region of the world since 1945, namely the US, is strangely absent from table. We can therefore assume that what we are witnessing is a real-life test on China’s part to measure its new influence on Japan; and on Japan’s part to evaluate how much scope for action the US still has in Asia, faced with China. The events of recent weeks have shown that, hampered by political paralysis and its economic and financial dependence regarding China, Washington prefers not to get involved. No doubt throughout Asia this spectacle serves to accelerate the awareness that a new milestone has been passed in terms of regional order (22); and that in Japan, mired in an endless recession (23) the economic interests linked to the Chinese market have not been strengthened by the experience.

Global changes under way – massive growth in world port traffic, benefiting Asia (1994-2009) - Sources : Transport Trackers / Clusterstock, 10/2010
In conclusion, this accumulation of events, centred round a G20 summit that was patently incapable of resolving the sources of economic, financial and monetary tension between its principal members, contributed to a decisive advance in the world’s collective awareness of the process of global geographic dislocation under way. And in its turn, this increased awareness will, as from the beginning of 2011, accelerate and amplify the changes affecting the international system and our various societies, generating non-linear, chaotic phenomena such as those described in this issue of GEAB and previous issues. As we emphasised in September 2010, we focus on the fact that chief among those phenomena will be the entry of the US into an austerity phase, beginning in spring 2011. But we also bear in mind that one of the surprises of the next eighteen months could simply be the announcement that the Chinese economy had overtaken the US economy as from 2012 as the Wall Street Journal of 10/11/2010 indicates in its report of the Conference Board’s analysis.


- Public announcement GEAB N°49 (November 16, 2010) -