Damp Weather in England, Crashing Markets in China

London, England – Over the weekend… it rained!

As we predicted, the Greeks voted against their creditors’ conditions for further aid. When you ask a debtor if he’d prefer not to pay, what else would you expect?

And imagine what would happen if he had never gotten the money in the first place. When government elites borrow, the money rarely gets to the voters. Small wonder they don’t want to pay the bills.

So, Europe holds its breath, waiting to see what will happen next. We are sitting in the lounge at the Hilton Hotel in London, having just flown over from the U.S. An airport TV tells us “Markets Fall.”

And in China, the stock market has lost nearly 30% in the last three weeks – wiping out $3 trillion in “wealth” that never really existed.

 

Chaos_LogistikPrediction patch, based on the logistic equation  Xn+1 = k*(Xn  – Xn2) with k = 3.57 … 4.00. We have been able to make amazing predictions with this one, such as inter alia  “there will be damp weather in England”. There was.

Capture by PT

 

Pulling Strings and Plotting Chicanery

Earlier in Baltimore …

A drum-and-fife group marched up Charles Street in the pouring rain. Dressed in 19th-century military uniforms, they made their way to the crowd waiting at the Washington Monument in the heart of Baltimore’s Mount Vernon district.

It was Independence Day. Young and old gathered under umbrellas. Banners proclaimed the bicentennial of the monument. The day before the celebration we had gotten a private tour. The monument is a marvel of masonry. A vaulted foundation of brick and stone supports the central shaft. There are 225 steps from bottom to top.

Recognizing the contributions of his trade, the head of the local Masonic lodge was handed the microphone to blab the usual felicitations. He was dressed in a black outfit, with medals aplenty and a top hat. Having no familiarity with the Freemasons, we weren’t sure whether his garb was current or antique.

“You’d never see anything like this in France,” whispered Elizabeth.

“You mean his uniform?”

“No … I mean a Freemason at a government event.”

 

scottish rite temple baltimoreScottish Rite Masonic Center in Baltimore – probably not exactly the center of evil in Maryland

Photo via howard101.org

 

The Freemasons are feared and despised in France. They are believed to be in league with the devil… or worse – the Anglo-Saxons! Like the Bilderberg Group or the Council on Foreign Relations, in France the Freemasons are thought to be pulling strings and plotting chicanery. How that distinguishes them from Democrats and Republicans, we don’t know.

But when the hidden danger stepped down, the obvious one took the podium: Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

 

MayorSRB2Feb2015Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlins-Blake, a.k.a. the more obvious danger …

Photo credit: P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

 

Mountains of Debt

“She so completely mishandled the riots,” said a friend. “She’s working hard to redeem herself.”

Politicians ensure reelection by giving away things that don’t belong to them. They dedicate a bridge, built with stolen money. They promise lavish pensions to firemen and policemen – and pay for them by squeezing the pensions of bakers and bricklayers.

But political redemption is based mostly on amnesia… and debt. After a few years of dedicating monuments and bribing public employees, most people will have forgotten the dirty dealing and civic disasters.

And heavy borrowing allows them to push the cost onto people with no memories at all – many of whom aren’t even born yet. By the time the bills come payable, most people have forgotten who contracted them or what they were for.

The renovation of the Washington Monument takes place once every 100 years. This was the first monument built to honor George Washington. Built in 1815, it was begun with private financing; later, the state of Maryland helped out. As far as we know, no debt was involved.

But today, debt is everywhere… mountains of it. And the more it rains bad news, the greater the danger of mudslides and avalanches.

 

102410638-puerto-rico.1910x1000Puerto Rico – generally a nice place, but not one to lend money to.

Photo credit: cnbc.com

 

“Governor pushes for bankruptcy as default could still be a reality,” USA Today informed us last week. It was not talking about Greece, but about another small economy – this one under the protection of the United States of America.

 

pr bonds

Puerto Rico’s long term bond prices collapse (source: Thomson-Reuters) – click to enlarge.

 

Puerto Rico has plenty of debt too. Here’s how colleague Chris Lowe described it last week:

“The situation in Puerto Rico is 100 times more worrying for U.S. investors than Greece. The governor of Puerto Rico says the island’s $73 billion in debt is “not payable”… and that it’s in a “death spiral” as a result.

That amount is more than 70% of Puerto Rico’s GDP. For perspective, there’s not a single state in the U.S. with debt of more than 20% of its GDP.

Also, Puerto Rico’s debt load is about half of the entire debt of the state of California… even though the population of Puerto Rico is only one-tenth the size.”

 

Small potatoes? So is Greece. But that’s the problem with a mudslide. You never know which drop of rain will set it off.

 

Puerto Rico CDS

Puerto Rico 5 – year CDS spread (lhs.) vs. the Markit MCDX Index (rhs.), a CDS Index of municipal single names. (source: Markit) – so far, Puerto Rico’s credit risk seems isolated, but when things start going sour in one corner of the credit markets, there is always a risk of contagion.

 

Image captions by PT

 

Charts by: Thomson-Reuters, Markit

 

The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.

 

 

 

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