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Why’s France so Worried about Italy’s Showdown with Brussels?

Why’s France so Worried about Italy’s Showdown with Brussels?

The French megabanks are on the hook.

France was just served with a stark reminder of an inconvenient truth: €277 billion of Italian government debt — the equivalent of 14% of French GDP — is owed to French banks. Given that Italy’s government is currently locked in an existential blinking match with both the European Commission and the ECB over its budget plan for 2019, this could be a big problem for France.

On Friday, France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, urged the commission to “reach out to Italy” after rejecting the country’s draft 2019 budget for breaking EU rules on public spending. Le Maire also conceded that while contagion in the Eurozone was definitely contained, the Eurozone “is not sufficiently armed to face a new economic or financial crisis.” As Maire well knows, a full-blown financial crisis in Italy would eventually spread to France’s economy, with French banks serving as the main transmission mechanism.

France isn’t the only Eurozone nation with unhealthy levels of exposure to Italian debt, although it is far and away the most exposed. According to the Bank of International Settlements, German lenders have €79 billion worth of exposure to Italian debt and Spanish lenders, €69 billion. In other words, taken together, the financial sectors of the largest, second largest and fourth largest economies in the Eurozone — Germany, France and Spain — hold over €415 billion of Italian debt on their balance sheets.

While the exposure of German lenders to Italian debt has waned over the last few years, that of French lenders has actually grown, belying the ECB’s long-held claim that its QE program would help reduce the level of interdependence between European sovereigns and banks.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

French FinMin: The Euro Zone Is Not Prepared To Face A New Crisis

Europe finds itself at a troubling crossroads: while on one hand the official narrative emanating from Brussels and Berlin (and, of course, the ECB) is that there is no risk of contagion from Italy’s budget crisis in the European Union, on the other hand the euro zone is “not prepared enough to face a new economic crisis”, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told daily Le Parisien on Sunday.

“We do not see any contagion in Europe. The European Commission has reached out to Italy, I hope Italy will seize this hand,” he said in an interview.

“But is the eurozone sufficiently armed to face a new economic or financial crisis? My answer is no. It is urgent to do what we have proposed to our partners in order to have a solid banking union and a euro zone investment budget.”

Le Maire’s remarks come just days after the European Commission rejected Italy’s draft 2019 budget earlier this week for breaking EU rules on public spending, and asked Rome to submit a new one within three weeks or face disciplinary action. And while Brussels officials said that Rome’s “unprecedented” standoff with Brussels seems certain to delay the reform process and probably dilute it for good, Italy has remained defiant and has repeatedly said it would not budge on its target deficit at 2.4% of GDP.

The standoff between Italy and the EU, and concerns about who will buy Italian debt after the ECB ends its QE at the end of the year, has sent Italian yields soaring to the highest level in nearly 5 years.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Peak QE”: This Is What Share Of The Market Central Banks Now Own

After a decade of unprecedented liquidity injections by central banks to preserve the western financial system, global QE has peaked.

First, the aggregate balance sheet of major central banks started to shrink earlier in the year, a reversal that took investors many months to notice but judging by recent market volatility, it is finally being fully appreciated.

Second, beginning this month the Fed’s bond portfolio run-offs as part of its QT are roughly offsetting the combined tapered net QE purchases by the ECB and BoJ. Worse, QT is now set to dominate.

Some facts: between mid-2008 and early 2018, the “Big-6” central banks expanded their balance sheets by nearly $15tn, most of it due to explicit targeted purchases of domestic assets (QE) in addition to other forms of liquidity injections (collateralised lending such as the ECB’s TLTROs or FX interventions equivalent to foreign-asset QE).

According to Deutsche Bank estimates, the four major central banks involved in QE (Fed, ECB, BoJ and BoE) are now collectively holding $11.3tn of securities accumulated through their asset purchase programs.

Why is the above important? Because as Deutsche strategist Michal Jezek, now that liquidity is contracting makes for a timely moment for looking at the proportion of relevant asset classes owned by central banks and putting the ECB’s corporate bond holdings into a wider context.

To begin, as Jezek confirms what we have been saying since the start of 2009, “clearly, QE matters.” As central banks reduced the free float of some securities and QE has worked its magic on confidence and growth, asset valuations reached unprecedented levels while volatility became suppressed. A couple of years ago, a quarter of the global bond market was trading with a negative yield. With global QE fading, this proportion has now fallen by half but remains significant.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

ECB To End QE In December, Will Keep Rates Unchanged “As Long As Necessary”

In a statement that was a virtual replica from September, the ECB announced it was keeping its three key rates unchanged (main refinancing operations: 0.00%, marginal lending facility: 0.25%; deposit facility: -0.40%), that it will end its LSAP QE program at the end of December however “subject to incoming data confirming the medium-term inflation outlook”, that it will reinvest the principal payments from maturing securities purchased “for an extended period of time” and that in keeping with its prior forward guidance, “rates will remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.”

In short, no surprises, even though as Bloomberg notes, the ECB still says it “anticipates” to end new QE purchases in December, while some analysts had suggested the Governing Council might tweak the language to make the commitment stronger. Not yet.

Full statement below:

At today’s meeting the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) decided that the interest rate on the main refinancing operations and the interest rates on the marginal lending facility and the deposit facility will remain unchanged at 0.00%, 0.25% and -0.40% respectively. The Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019, and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure the continued sustained convergence of inflation to levels that are below, but close to, 2% over the medium term.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Italy Openly Defiant of Eurozone Stability Pact, Deliberately and Knowingly

Eurozone officials and the ECB are in a quandary over Italy’s deliberate defiance of budget rules.

There is a fundamental irony in Italy’s open defiance of Eurozone stability rules. Both France and Germany did the same in 2003.

It is hard to concoct a more fundamental challenge to the European Commission’s authority than a member state announcing, like Italy did yesterday, that it is going to break the rules deliberately and knowingly. Such purposeful disregard threatens the whole rules-based edifice of the Commission’s authority, and ultimately treaty-based European integration.

In the current face-off between Brussels and Rome over Italy’s budget, a look back at the years 2003-2005 is as amusing as it is instructive. Then it was France and Germany that smashed the stability pact.

France and Germany argued at the time that the breach was temporary and that growth would resume later. Thos are exactly the arguments Italy makes today.

Interested parties may wish to read the November 26, 2003 Telegraph article France and Germany Smash Euro Pact.

The lead paragraph is amusing as are some further down the line.

The eurozone’s Stability and Growth Pact was effectively killed off yesterday when EU finance ministers refused to enforce treaty law against France and Germany for persistently breaching the spending rules.

France and Germany won backing for their “flexible” interpretation of the pact after a stormy exchange with smaller states. In the formal show of hands later, only Holland, Austria, Finland and Spain voted to uphold treaty law, although Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Greece voted for a lesser condemnation.

If you seek further irony, it was Germany that demanded the pact in return for giving up the Deutsche Mark.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“ECB Is Worst-Run Central Bank In The World” – Felix Zulauf Sees 30% Plunge In US Stocks “Taking The World With It”

Felix Zulauf was a member of the Barron’s Roundtable for about 30 years, until relinquishing his seat at our annual investment gathering in 2017. While his predictions were more right than wrong, it was the breadth of his knowledge and the depth of his analysis of global markets that won him devoted fans among his Roundtable peers, the crew at Barron’s, and beyond. Simply put, Felix, president of Zulauf Asset Management in Baar, Switzerland, always knew—and still knows—better than most how to connect the dots among central bankers’ actions, fiscal policies, currency gyrations, geopolitics, and the price of assets, hard and soft.

With interest rates rising, governments in flux, and the world’s two biggest economies facing off over trade, it seemed the right time to ask him how today’s turmoil will impact investors in the year ahead. Ever gracious, he shared his thoughts and best investment bets in an interview this past week. Read on for the view from Baar.

Barron’s: Felix, how have you been keeping busy since you left the Roundtable?

Felix Zulauf: I’m still running money, but it’s my own money, and I’m still a consultant to investors and institutions. I’m in the market almost every day. I like analyzing the world; the tectonic shifts occurring make it too fascinating to quit.

Which shifts do you mean?

For one, we have left the world of free markets and entered the world of managed economies. This is a major change in my lifetime. Central banks took over the running of economic policy after the financial crisis and run the show to this day. Also, the globalization movie is starting to run backward.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The European financial establishment has just declared war on Italy

The European financial establishment has just declared war on Italy

This week in a CNBC interview Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the former Dutch minister of finance who served as the President of the Eurogroup, declared war on the Italian government. The European financial establishment is prepared to destroy the banking system and cause the Italian economy to implode. Like a Mafia boss, Dijsselbloem warned that Italy could run into trouble if it does not comply with Brussels’ directives. Of course, his statement was cloaked in diplomatic language:

“If the Italian crisis becomes a major crisis, it will mainly implode into the Italian economy … as opposed to spreading around Europe,” he said. “Because of the way that the Italian economy and the Italian banks are financed, it’s going to be an implosion rather than an explosion.”

For a man of this format it is unusual to publicly expose Italy as a state in a weak negotiating position or try to act as a scaremonger. We have never seen anything remotely like that, so we think that the utterance could only serve the purpose of giving the green light to the financial markets to orchestrate an attack on Italian bonds so as to drive Italian yield up.

“And there is gonna be a role for the markets, I mean if you look at what Italy needs in funding next year alone we are talking about over 250 billion Euro, refinancing part of the stock of their debt and also, of course, these new spending plans. So markets will really have to look at that very critically.”

Italy’s situation is ‘pretty worrisome’: Dijsselbloem from CNBC.

He reminded the Italian government that Italian banks are a sitting target for the European financial authorities. In order to destabilize a country’s economy, one must break its backbone i.e. banks.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Italy’s Debt Crisis Thickens

Italy’s Debt Crisis Thickens

But outside Italy, credit markets are sanguine, and no one says, “whatever it takes.”

Italy’s government bonds are sinking and their yields are spiking. There are plenty of reasons, including possible downgrades by Moody’s and/or Standard and Poor’s later this month. If it is a one-notch downgrade, Italy’s credit rating will be one notch above junk. If it is a two-notch down-grade, as some are fearing, Italy’s credit rating will be junk. That the Italian government remains stuck on its deficit-busting budget, which will almost certainly be rejected by the European Commission, is not helpful either. Today, the 10-year yield jumped nearly 20 basis points to 3.74%, the highest since February 2014. Note that the ECB’s policy rate is still negative -0.4%:

But the current crisis has shown little sign of infecting other large Euro Zone economies. Greek banks may be sinking in unison, their shares down well over 50% since August despite being given a clean bill of health just months earlier by the ECB, but Greece is no longer systemically important and its banks have been zombies for years.

Far more important are Germany, France and Spain — and their credit markets have resisted contagion. A good indicator of this is the spread between Spanish and Italian 10-year bonds, which climbed to 2.08 percentage points last week, its highest level since December 1997, before easing back to 1.88 percentage points this week.

Much to the dismay of Italy’s struggling banks, the Italian government has also unveiled plans to tighten tax rules on banks’ sales of bad loans in a bid to raise additional revenues. The proposed measures would further erode the banks’ already flimsy capital buffers and hurt their already scarce cash reserves. And ominous signs are piling up that a run on large bank deposits in Italy may have already begun.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Juncker Warns ‘The EU Cannot Survive Without Italy’

Ignoring warnings from the European Commission, the ECB and the European Commission (as well as practically every other supranational organization in Europe), the populist-led Italian government managed to submit their draft budget to the Commission before a midnight deadline – an outcome that was cheered by BTP traders, who bought back into Italian bonds, once again compressing the spread to bunds, which has blown out in recent months.

But rather than representing a deescalation of tensions between Italy and Brussels, the game of fiscal chicken in which both sides are presently engaged is instead entering its most acute phase, as Brussels now has two weeks to review the budget proposal before it can either accept the plan, or send it back with requests for revisions. And anybody who has been paying even passing attention to the populist government’s denigration of EU budgetary guidelines over the past few months should already understand that Brussels won’t just sit back and accept the budget for what it is.

Juncker

In fact, European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker hinted as much Tuesday morning when he told Italian reporters that accepting the budget would be tantamount to inviting an widespread revolt against the EU, per Italian newswire ANSA and the FT. Juncker also blasted Italy for abandoning the fiscal commitments it made when it joined the EU. However, though they have wavered from time to time, the Italians haven’t kept their intentions to press for a budget deficit equivalent to 2.4% of GDP a secret. Even Giovanni Tria, Italy’s economy minister, defended the draft budget, saying the deficit “would be considered normal in all Western democracies, not explosive.”

Undeterred by the fact that there’s absolutely no political will in the Italian government to back down from their budget stance, despite threats from the ECB to provoke a Greece-style banking crisis if the Italians don’t yield to EU rules.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

St Louis Fed Discloses More Free Money: A Carry Trade in Liquidity

Not only do banks earn free money on excess reserves, they can borrow money and make guaranteed free money on that.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis discusses the Carry Trade in Liquidity.

The IOER [interest on excess reserves] has been the effective ceiling of other short-term interest rates. The figure above compares the IOER with overnight rates on deposits and repos.

As we can see, the IOER has mostly remained above these two rates, implying that (at least some) banks have been able to borrow funds overnight, deposit them at the Fed and earn a spread, in essence engaging in carry trade in liquidity markets.

Interest Rate on Excess Reserves

How Much Free Money?

Fed vs ECB

While the Fed has been busy giving banks free money by paying interest on excess reserves, banks in the EU have suffered with negative interest rates, essentially taking money from banks and making them more insolvent.

If the goal was to bail out the banks at public expense (and it was), it’s clear Bernanke had a far better plan than the ECB.

The ECB on the Verge of Collapse?

 

The European Central Bank (ECB) will NOT aid Italy with an EU rescue program if the country or its banks are in financial turmoil. The Italian government is taking the view that Italy has become an “occupied” country and that Germany has conquered Europe imposing austerity and its view of inflation upon the whole of Europe without firing a shot. While the spin is that the ECB is making Italy a test case to demonstrate that Europe and its mechanisms work, in reality, it is a realization that the ECB cannot save Italy’s financial institutions because austerity has created the greatest economic depression perhaps in economic history.

The new five-star Movement in Rome and Lega have been on a confrontational course with the EU Commission, as they plan a higher level of new debt to fulfill election promises. The EU Commission, on the other hand, is calling for less spending and the implementation of austerity as demanded by Germany. Italy is already sitting on a debt of around 131% of GDP. The financial markets are nervous for they see a confrontation that could tear Europe apart at the seams. Italy now has to offer investors significantly higher interest rates when placing its government bonds in order to raise money. In addition, the gap to the yield of German government bonds widened. But in reality, stopping the ECB’s Quantitative Easing will result in interest rates rising by at least 300% very rapidly. Italy is getting ahead of the curve BEFORE everything comes crashing down.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

ECB Hands Italy An Ultimatum: ‘Obey EU Budget Rules Or We Won’t Save You’

With the Washington Post stepping up to put a floor under US stocks Thursday afternoon by reporting that President Trump would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at next month’s G-20 summit (while the headline soothed the market, it doesn’t change the fact that, as with everything involving the Trump administration, this too remains subject to change), investors have apparently overlooked the latest ominous headlines out of Italy. To wit, Reuters reported that the ECB won’t come to Italy’s rescue if its government or banks run out of cash unless the Italian government first secures a bailout from the European Union. Of course, this would almost certainly require that the populist coalition end its ongoing game of fiscal chicken with Brussels and abandon its  dreams of lowering the retirement age and extending a basic income to the Italian people – policies that would effectively secure a political future for M5S and the League.

In effect, the ECB’s latest trial balloon is tantamount to blackmail: Either the Italians agree to fall back in line and obey European budgetary guidelines, or the central bank will sit back and watch as bond yields surge, providing the ratings agencies even more ammunition to cut Italian debt to junk – effectively guaranteeing a Greece-style banking crisis as the liquidity taps are turned off.

ECB

And to eliminate any lingering doubts that this was a deliberate coordinated leak, Reuters cited “five senior sources familiar with the ECB’s thinking,” many of whom were “present at the economic summit in Indonesia.” Of course, the ECB sources explained that they are merely acting in the best interest of the monetary union. Because if Italy is allowed to shake off the yoke of European austerity and re-assert its sovereignty, then what would stop Spain or Portugal from doing the same?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Italy’s Debt Crisis Flares Up, Banks Get Hit, as Showdown with the EU Intensifies

Italy’s Debt Crisis Flares Up, Banks Get Hit, as Showdown with the EU Intensifies

Who will blink first?

A serious showdown is brewing in the Eurozone as Italy’s anti-establishment coalition government takes on the EU establishment in a struggle that could have major ramifications for Europe’s monetary union. The cause of the discord is the Italian government’s plan to expand Italy’s budget for 2019, in contravention of previous budget agreements with Brussels.

The government has set a public deficit target for next year of 2.4% of GDP, three times higher than the previous government’s pledge. It’s a big ask for a country that already boasts a debt-to-GDP ratio of 131%, the second highest in Europe behind Greece. To justify its ambitious “anti-poverty” spending plans, proposed tax cuts, and pension reforms, the government claims that Italy’s economic growth will outperform EU forecasts.

Brussels is having none of it. EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker urged Italy’s Economy Minister Giovanni Tria to desist. “After having really been able to cope with the Greek crisis, we’ll end up in the same crisis in Italy,” he said. “One such crisis has been enough… If Italy wants further special treatment, that would mean the end of the euro. So you have to be very strict.”

On Wednesday ECB President Mario Draghi held a private meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome, at which he reportedly raised concerns about Italy’s public finances, the upcoming budget bill, and related stock-exchange and bond-market turbulence.

The meeting evoked memories of the backroom machinations that Draghi, together with his predecessor, Jean Claude Trichet, undertook to engineer the downfall of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi in 2011 and his replacement with technocrat Mario Monte, after Berlusconi had posited pulling Italy out of the euro during Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Maybe a rethink from Brussels?

The entire fabric of the European Union is under threat while the hierarchy in Brussels sleepwalks into yet another crisis.

The UK is highly likely to walk away from further Brexit negotiations, Italy which once survived on a diet of high interest rates and high inflation is threatening to blow the whole fiscal responsibility demanded by the ECB apart and the rise in nationalism and demands for a curb on immigration, which was until recently actively encouraged by Germany, continues to be “kicked into the long grass”.

It may just be time for Messrs Juncker and Tusk to re-examine their roles in these crises and to consider the intransigence that has been born from trying to run on so many fronts before it can walk.

Ten years ago, I gave a radio interview in Dubai about my feelings for the longevity of the euro. I made a comment that lived with me for many years, saying that “I would live longer than the euro”. Those words dogged me for quite a while but now I firmly believe again that the state of my health far outweighs that of the common currency despite the Italian Prime Minister calling it “unrenounceable”.

The issues will continue to pile up since trying to govern 28 states (after Brexit) using treaties that become out of date in a modern world almost before the ink is dry and having 28 different points of view on every subject is unworkable.

Furthermore, the absolute basis of the EU, the four freedoms, have become a millstone around the neck of anyone trying to negotiate. If there was no freedom of movement, for example, it is almost certain there would be no Brexit. Even if the UK had still voted for Brexit how much easier would negotiations have been without the Irish border issue?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Greece Planning Bad Debt Bailout For Its Banks After Market Crash

It seems like it was just yesterday that Greek banks, which carry some €89BN of bad loans on their balance sheets, passed the ECB’s latest confidence building exercise, known as the “stress test.”

In retrospect that may have been premature, because as Bloomberg reports, over 8 years after its first bailout Greece is finally considering a plan to help its banks become viable, and speed up their bad-loan disposals in a bid to restore confidence in the crushed sector.

At its core, the Greek plan is the now familiar “bad bank” structure, in which banks get to spin off their NPLs into a separate, government-guaranteed SPV (although in the case of Greece, it is not clear if a government guarantee is all that valuable). The SPV would then be funded by selling bonds to the market.

While the details are still being worked out, an asset protection plan would see lenders unload some bad loans into special purpose vehicles, taking them off banks’ balance sheets. The SPVs would issue bonds, some guaranteed by the state, and sell them to investors, the people said, asking not to be named as the information isn’t public.

The move came after a furious selloff in Greek stocks, and especially banks, which was the culmination of a YTD plunge which has seen Greek banks lose more than 40% this year amid doubts they can clean up their balance sheets fast enough. The banks, which amusingly all cleared the ECB’s stress test earlier this year despite being saddled with tens of billions of NPLs, have been under mounting pressure from supervisors to cut their bad-debt holdings.

According to Bloomberg, the plan appears to have been borrowed from Italy, which conducted a similar exercise to stabilize its own banking sector.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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