Landfall of a “Told You So” Moment…
Late last year and early this year, we wrote extensively about the problems we thought were coming down the pike for European banks. Very little attention was paid to the topic at the time, but we felt it was a typical example of a “gray swan” – a problem everybody knows about on some level, but naively thinks won’t erupt if only it is studiously ignored. This actually worked for a while, but as Clouseau would say: “Not anymeure!”
Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi, indicating how much capital is left in Italian banks…
Photo credit: Giacomo Morini / INFOPHOTO
A Whiff of Panic
Ahead of Thursday’s ECB meeting, there was a widespread consensus that Europe’s chief printing press supervisor would make up for the alleged “mistake” of under-delivering on monetary lunacy last time around. Therefore, a sizable dose of fresh absurdities had to be expected, with only small disagreements on the details. It is fair to say the man didn’t disappoint.
Draghobert the Terrible, trying to assault the euro again
Photo credit: Michael Probst / AP Photo
Greece vs. Austria: Non-Friendly Acts
Two days ago we came across a headline at Reuters, informing us that “Greece rages at neighbors as fears migrants could be halted”. Say what? What the hell is this supposed to mean? Is this even English? Possibly Reuters employs the same headline editor as Bloomberg….he or she is definitely equally bad.
Nikos Kotzias (νίκοσ κοτζιάσ), a former member of the Central Committee of the Greek Communist Party. Nowadays, oddly enough, he is Greece’s foreign minister. Here seen enraged.
Photo credit: Simela Pantzartzi
A Curious Collapse
Ever since the ECB has begun to implement its assorted money printing programs in recent years – lately culminating in an outright QE program involving government bonds, agency bonds, ABS and covered bonds – bank reserves and the euro area money supply have soared. Bank reserves deposited with the central bank can be seen as equivalent to the cash assets of banks. The greater the proportion of such reserves (plus vault cash) relative to their outstanding deposit liabilities, the more of the outstanding deposit money is in fact represented by “covered” money substitutes as opposed to fiduciary media.
Dovish Cooing from the Desolation of Draghi
As Reuters informs us, on the heels of Mr. Draghi’s somewhat “disappointing” attempt to assassinate the euro on occasion of the previous ECB meeting, the chief European printing press supervisor and certified monetary crank has decided to assure everyone of his ultra-dovish stance again on Thursday, by announcing that even more monetary insanity must be expected soon:
“Fading growth and inflation prospects will force the European Central Bank to review its policy stance in March, President Mario Draghi said on Thursday, a strong signal that more easing could be coming within months.”
The economy isn’t doing well? Let us set fire to the currency then, maybe that will help.
Portugal’s Rickety Banking System
After the unseemly bankruptcy of the Espirito Santo Group and the associated bank, then Portugal’s second biggest (likely a result of not praying enough, see: “Big Portuguese Bank Gets Into Trouble” and “Fears Over Banco Espirito Santo Escalate” for the gory details), Portugal’s state-run deposit insurance fund basically ran out of money.
It turns out that Europe’s new Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD for short) came just in time for Portugal. At the end of 2015, another Portuguese bank bit the dust, the country’s seventh largest lender by assets, Banif. Portugal’s government once again decided to bail the bank out, but with strings attached. Subordinated bondholders and shareholders were essentially wiped out, which is as it should be.
Banif SA, weekly. Although this is hard to see on this linear chart, the stock rose by 40% today, to €0.002. Shareholders are allegedly planning to throw a wild party in Lisbon over the weekend (we were unable to confirm this rumor) – click to enlarge.
A Historically Unique Event
We keep watching what is happening in Cyprus with morbid fascination. As a reminder, the unhappy island was the first major “haircut” victim in Europe. Its bankers, who had flagrantly over-traded their capital and won prizes for running “the best banks in Europe” along the way, erroneously believed the repeated promises of assorted EU commissars that Greece would never – never! – be allowed to go bankrupt. Consequently they stuffed their balance sheets to the gills with supposedly risk-free Greek government bonds, only to eventually see them get “haircut” twice in a row.
Desperate depositors queuing in front of Laiki Bank, the second largest Cypriot bank,
which was eventually wound up
Photo credit: Yorgos Karahalis / Reuters
A “Major Concern”
The European Banking Authority EBA, which (we guess) is fighting for its survival after the ECB has become the sole supervisor of Europe’s “systemically relevant” banks, has recently issued a comprehensive report on the European banking system (this included the unintended revelation that its employees have yet to master the intricacies of Exel).
As an aside, we have little doubt that this bureaucracy will survive. Has there ever been a case of an EU bureaucracy not surviving and thriving? We don’t recall one off the cuff, but perhaps we are mistaken. We’re sure some reason will be found to preserve this particular zombie sinecure as well.
Hey guys! We’re still issuing reports! See how important it is to keep us well-funded?
A Sharp Turn in Swedish Politics
When we recently discussed Europe’s refugee crisis, we mentioned that a sizable political backlash was to be expected and that unfortunately, extreme nationalist parties were likely to be among the main beneficiaries. We also mentioned the situation of Sweden, where the mainstream political parties in an ongoing fit of political correctness bordering on lunacy have apparently decided to transform Sweden into a province of Mesopotamia.
Leader of the nationalist Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Akesson
Photo credit: Frankie Fouganthin / CC
The Walking Dead
Now that Europe’s fractionally reserved banking system has been regulated into complete inertia, it is a good time to assess the current bottom line, so to speak. We should mention here that there are essentially two ways of dealing with the banking system. One is to introduce an unhampered free market banking system based on strong property rights and nothing else. Such a system would work best if it were based on sound money, i.e., a market-chosen medium of exchange. The regulations governing such a system would fit on a napkin.
Image credit: Warner Bros, processing fmh
Never let a Crisis go to Waste
As is well known, the EU’s socialist centralizers and “harmonizers” have always fully expected the adoption of the euro to lead to a crisis that would allow them to push through policies that would otherwise never have seen the light of day. Italian socialist and former EU Commission president (i.e., chief commissar) Romano Prodi told the Financial Times in 2001:
“I am sure the euro will oblige us to introduce a new set of economic policy instruments. It is politically impossible to propose that now. But some day there will be a crisis and new instruments will be created.”
Montgolfière – engraving by Claude-Louis Desrais, 1783
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