Category Archives: Europe

UK Election Results Capture Political Schism

In under two years since the country stunningly voted to leave the EU, the same electorate shifted yet again and leant away from the idea of a clean break with Europe and threw the whole thing now into chaos. The youngest of voters sided with Labour, who were selling polices in a throw-back to those last seen in the 70s that, if followed, would lead the country to financial ruin. Corbyn’s plan is not even realistic; yet the youngest among us just have no memory of such irresponsibility. Only the old do, and so they voted Conservative.  

Now hostage to a 10-seat minority of the DUP, Theresa May will be saddled with a back-seat driver at negotiations with the EU. Decision making responsibility will not fall to May; she will have to keep ‘calling home’ to get approval.

Worse of all, the result of this election shows how the entire political system is corrupted. We have the worst of both worlds: a disenfranchised and ignorant electorate (e.g. Most of the young) that falls for platitudes and made-up promises. Of course, the left calls such things as false truths or fake news if the right puts such things out.

Britain will now have a much riskier time with Brexit. All we can hope for is a bank run that requires a bail-out or for the IMF to drop Greece ‘in it’ and a run on the Euro. It’s a matter of time. But now we need it sooner rather than 

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The EU – Creaking at 60

The title of this blog is the title of the Economist Special Report last week. The title refers, of course, to the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the founding of the EU at its source, being celebrated by EU members, less the U.K., last week. Oddly the U.K. is still a member but since she wants out, political correctness prevents Albion from upstaging proceedings.

The Economist special report is really good. It is well balanced and actually concludes that Europe needs a multi-speed system to respect all the differing political and economic challenges across the EU. What is irksome though is that while a two-speed or multi-speed approach has been proposed before, why is it now that the Economist has finally woken up to reporting it and making it the basis of its views regarding the success of the EU?

It is as if the Economist has woken up just in time to see the final deck chair arrangement on the titanic. Correctly the special report calls out the weakness and fallacy of the EU’s monetary policies for all members and now current monetary union is flawed. We all knew this a while ago. If this had been addressed perhaps the U.K. vote for Brexit might never have happened!

But ignoring my cryptic criticism, the article is very up to date and very down to earth. It’s just a shame that it took Brexit and the near break up of the EU, and continuing mess in Greece and Italy to come to the conclusion we needed four years ago.

US Government Sets Up Next Financial Crisis & Brexit Not the Risk at All

Two articles came accross my desk this week – one caused consternation on my part and the other seemed to offer a sanity check.  The former concerned the US economy and specifically how there are signs that consumers, and lenders, are returning to the same behavior that led to the financial crisis at the source or our current economic challenges.  The latter concerned the hype and over blown concern with Brexit and its impact on Britain’s economy.

In the US print editions of the Wall Stree Journal (Wednesday January 11th) there was an article titled, “New Loans, Same Old Dangers“.  This front page article described a government-led initiative (Property Assessed Clean Energy) that provides subsidies loans to encourage homeowners to buy energy saving devices.  The article gives an example of a homeowner who is not able to afford the loan is still encouraged to take it out.  As is common practice this loan is then sliced up with other loans and sold on as a bond – what is called securitization in the financial industry.  This is analogous to the risky mortgage loans offered, and taken up by people who should have known better, and sold on to governments in Iceland as “AAA” opportunities.

The market is very small – the article suggests around $3.4bn of loans have been made so far – but the model is just damning.  FIrst you have big government trying to force its policies on a free market.  With the housing issues that triggered the financial crisis this was Government demanding ever greater home ownership among poor people and those that could not afford it.  Second you have the lowering of standard for the setting up of loans.  This is identical to what happened with dubious sales efforts of mortgage brokers during the 1990’s and early 2000s.  Finally you have the build up of risky loans and owners of the loans not knowing where the real risk is.

The popular uprising that has brought Trump to the White House would do well to heed these stories.  After all people will be people and when offered a bad apple that looks and smells sweet, many will take it.  Perhaps we should not fault those that do – or should we expect a stronger moral aptitude?  Either way we need to get big government out of the way.  It should not seek to foist its social or political wants on you and me – we should be free to do what we want, how we want, when we want, as long as it does not harm our fellow citizen.  Innovation and opportunity will drive improvement in the energy sector.  And perhaps tax credits would be a safer way to encourage small changes in behavior that do not create risky loans.  

The other article, a commentary piece in the US print edition of the Financial Times (Thursday Janary 12th) was titled, “The City has nothing to fear from Brexit“.  It was penned by Stanislas Yassukovich who is a former chief executive officer of European Banking Group.  The article is a breath of fresh air since it refutes many of the risks and issues that most other “specialists” report in the press.  For example we have heard a lot about “passporting” – the idea that a financial institution authorized to trade in one country of the EU can freely trade in another country.  It turns out that non-member states can use this capability quite easily – so it’s not even needed as a negotiation.  The article goes further.

Passporting was a means to try to level set the complexities of rules across what was meant to be a single market.  It turns out that even with passporting there remains complex and different rules that still need to accommodated when trading across the member-states.  As such, “core retail financial activities – residential mortgages, deposit and savings products and so on – remain almost entirely national, and highly protected.”   This whole think stinks to me.  

The recent news that PM Thresa May fired her senior most civil servant who worke with the EU was greeted in the press as bad news.  It seems he kept repeating to the PM that it was not going to be possible to complete all negotiations in time before the two year window closed for leaving the EU.  Why is this?  He may have had a practical view on things but he certainly did not have a positive view on what is possible.  I think we need clean out the cupboard and get a fresh new look at everything.  Good for PM May to do so.  If the author of this article is right, there is little we should fear from Brexit.   

New Cracks in the Euro

News today suggests that the central European economies are beginning to surge ahead with growth while at the same time the periphery continues to struggle terribly.

In today’s US print edition of the Wall Street Journal there is news that German GDP in December continues to grow. We only just read that house prices are surging too. As Germany starts to surge ahead, it will need to push interest rates up to help control growth and prevent overheating.  

See German Economy Accelerated Last Year and Eurozone Output Data Suggests Strong Upturn.  
But Greece, Spain, and even Italy, really don’t want and may not even be able to sustain an increase in interest rates. The Greek economy has not yet recovered. It needs persistent low rates and in fact additional help (or changes in policy) to help repair the damage.

As such the pressure-cooker-politics of the Euro is about to get a dose of heat. It won’t be another six months before the pressure becomes clear to all.
 

Italy’s ‘No’ to Renzi is Not Like Brexit or Trump – They are all Different

It suits the press, a machinery that is benefited by the establishment, to associate Sunday’s referendum results in Italy as a rejection of establishment and so a similar vote as Brexit and then Trump. This is incorrect and a disservice to Italy.
Look at Renzi’s polices:

  • Less regulation
  • Increased labor flexibility
  • Lower taxes

As such he is as much Trump as he is Cameron or a May. And Renzi is pro-Italy and not so keen to follow along with rules set by Brussles designed to favor the Euro at one’s own expense. So on paper the result is akin to what happened in the UK and US. But let’s look at the data in more detail.

Brexit was not even a fair vote. Maybe none are but it really was an extreme case of bait and switch. The politics excelled over economics; and yet even if you looked at the facts, a vote for Brexit didn’t lead to the imminent disaster sworn by leaders at the time.  In fact, if one understands the situation of the euro, it was a smart move.  

But all the rhetoric concerning immigration turned the vote into a sham. Thus the UK voted for the right outcome but for the wrong reason.
Trump was, to that point, the first and real anti-disestablishment vote, pure and simple. It so happens that it seemed to look like Brexit which happened to appear as a vote against orthodoxy. But Trump’s victory was no fluke whereas Brexit was. The Trump underpinnings to victory were seeded long ago by a mutual debasement of the political class by left, and right, in the US.

Renzi’s referendum is a vote by Italy to remain Italian and avoid changing the political class system. The very constraints that lead to a stagnant economy and political system with uneven distribution of wealth was maintained. This was therefore not a vote against the establishment at all. It was a successful defense of it. Yes, the right-wing anti-EU Beppa Grillo party gains, but that is a by-product of the actual referendum structure due to Renzi foolishly linking his position to the result and is subsequent decision to resign. Even the Economist questioned the whole structure of the referendum last week.  

In today’s US print edition of the Wall Street Journal someone from an Italian lobby and public affairs group Pedesta is quoted as saying that “The antiestablishment feeling is stronger than the desire to reform.” This is classic Italian as it is jargon. Antiestablishment is about reform, massive reform. So establishment was thus assured! He goes on, “There is a reluctance to change, an innate conservatism in Italy.” Italy is not conservative; such policies have just been rejected.  

The other thing that happened was that Renzi was marginally pro-EU and he suggested that his polices would help Italy and so help the EU. He also foolishly tied his position to Sunday’s results, as if his own popularity was enough to sway the establishment. It was not. So his announced resignation opens the door for disruption and even the comedian-cum-politician. But it is not as if Italian’s were voting against Renzi. They were voting to protect the status-quo.

France’s and Germany’s elections are different. They either may undo the EU at a strike. If either in-office party looses to an extreme left or right, we might end up with a whole new ball game. 2016 may have been the unscrewing of Pandora’s lid. 2017 could well be the opening up of it.
And don’t think Greece is out of the picture. More loans are coming/needed yet some counties have already said no more. See Greece, Creditors Get Back on a Collison Course.

   

Should Britain Now Write Its Constitution?

This week’s read of the economist was not overly happy for me. See previous blog: Worst Week Reading The Economist. But the newspaper still shines when it avoids writing about Trump.

In Baghot: The Machine Splitters; Unsexy as it may seem, Britain needs a big constitutional debate, the paper argues convincingly for a real written constitution.

Britain of course has no written constitution. It has many laws and documents but over the years a series of conditions emerged that resulted in no expect need for it. The article highlights the three conditions:

  • Consensus among the country’s rulers about certain enduring traditions
  • A population willing to defer to the elite’s application and interpretation of those traditions
  • A steady, incremental evolution of those traditions rather than sudden, violent shocks

The country has been lucky in that is has not experienced such shocks for a long time. However Brexit is a big one. The paper argues it is big enough to warrant the debate. I agree.  

The problem is that there is no president to call on to guide how Britain extricates itself from Europe. It certainly got its way into Europe with creeping incrementalism, launching the whole affair itself after World War II. But the effort to join was not painless, and its efforts (twice foiled by de Galle) coincided with the demise of empire and decoupling of commonwealth. Such a long-winded process resulted in tight links without the need for a constitution. Getting out of it, inside 2 years, is a whole different ball game. At least we don’t have de Gaulle snooping around.

The Two Faces of Europe on Trade

The left hand of Brussels is complaining that should the US focus on ‘America First’ it would harm global trade and therefore be bad for everyone. See ECB wants on risk posed by ‘American first’ policy.  The right hand of Brussels is contemplating stiffing China with tariffs on steel imports due to that country’s subsidized over-capacity. See The EU unwisely sides towards protectionism.

Yet the articles covering both stories appear in different parts of every newspaper. The EU is blatantly two-faced. Better yet the US won’t be insular; Trump has more business skill than all the politicians of the EU. He is using the hint of tariffs as a negotiation tactic. Trump will likely do more for global trade than any political group, period. It will take time for the world to catch up, I am sure.  I suspect the US and UK will fast-track a western union trade deal within the next 12 months.

Hopefully the EU will follow Britain and the US with some more rational, economicall liberal, free-trade leaders in the upcoming elections.  Left leaning, socially progressive types are too focused on short term personal gain and not focused on the bigger issues.