Today, I was asked what I thought about this year’s European economic outlook. It isn’t great!
One factor which I have consistently underestimated is the ability of politicians to “wheelbarrow” a tragic set of circumstances from one meeting to another without even aiming for a holistic solution. Plus, I have always been conscious of the symbiotic relationship between politicians and bankers but, like an illicit love affair, it has grown over the years. Not into a mature loving relationship but instead, it has acquired all the charming qualities of an incestuous shotgun marriage.
I have been feeling very pessimistic about the world’s banking system for years – even before the 2007/2008 crisis. HERE!
Today, the ENTIRE financial system remains in crisis with both bankers and politicians apparently reduced to the role of observer. Their well-timed occasional “good news” is both ritualistic, orchestrated and largely illusory.
The problem is most acute in Europe where all major banks are barely managing to contain gut-busting levels of very bad government bonds.
Asian banks are at risk as Japan has begun to print and we all owe them money. Plus, we been in the habit of paying for their goods with money which they’ve lent us.
As a result of the sharp decrease in world demand, Asian economic growth has slowed very sharply.
Meanwhile, the United States was becoming addicted to the easy “fix” of Quantitative Easing, but nevertheless, in spite of the supply of virtual money, many of its institutions remain on life support.
Now we have the frightening prospect of the Fed stopping its money printing and the U.S economy having to go “cold turkey”. That won’t be a pretty sight!
Because nothing has really been done post the 2008 banking system collapse, I fear that we may be soon heading for an action replay.
The so-called “stress tests” which various governments have been performing on the banks have been less than useless as an indicator of banking “health” because the entire banking industry has been dispensing the wrong information to those who dare to try and measure what they’re doing and what they’ve got.
Bankers have only ever told us what they feel we ought to hear.
We are all aware of how badly the Rating Agencies managed to mess things up prior to 2008 and guess what…………the likelihood is that they’re still doing it! It is clear that, for instance, the Eurozone is about to suffer Cardiac Arrest but the Agencies are still telling us that everything is (more-or-less) fine!
The Rating Agencies have a history:
In a landmark 1994 study of the rating agencies, the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that Standard & Poor’s didn’t issue a “vulnerable” rating for one of the biggest failed companies, Fidelity Banker’s Life, until SIX DAYS before the failure … and for another, Monarch Life, until 351 days AFTER the failure! Similar instances of outright neglect were true of Moody’s as well as A.M. Best .
The Enron Failure of 2001: The New York Times reported that ratings agencies saw signs of Enron’s deteriorating finances but did little to warn investors until at least five months later – long after more problems had emerged and Enron’s slide into bankruptcy had already accelerated. It wasn’t until four days before Enron filed for Chapter 11, that the major agencies first lowered their debt ratings below investment grade!
What about the U.S mortgage meltdown of 2007 and 2008? EVERYONE now agrees that triple-A ratings on mortgage-backed securities grossly overestimated the investments’ credit quality and that this played a pivotal role in the debt crisis and that the primary factor behind their inflated ratings were multiple conflicts of interest between them and the issuers.
In the United Kingdom, the collapses or near-collapses of Northern Rock, HBOS, RBS etc were also a surprise to everyone except a few impotent accountants and auditors.
Do you remember anyone commenting on the “ratings” of the companies which had been bankrupt for months or even years? Me neither.
Nearly all ratings issued by the major agencies are paid for by the issuers — in other words, by the companies that are supposedly being rated!
In addition, the ratings agencies have often earned substantial additional consulting fees to help structure the very Securities which they rate!
To add insult to injury, it’s been proved that the major ratings agencies have often revealed their ratings formulas to issuers, helping their clients to pre-manipulate their data and “adjust” reporting in order to achieve the highest rating.
During the first phase of the financial crisis (2008), and largely because of the inherent conflicts of interest, the major ratings agencies continued to feed investors disinformation. (b******t).
For example, on the day of Bear Stearns’ failure, Moody’s maintained a rating on the company of A2 — the same rating it had published from June 1995 through to June 2003.
S&P was equally generous, giving the firm an A rating until the day of failure.
And Fitch assigned Bear Stearns an A+ rating for 18 straight years all the way up until the day it imploded!
The same basic facts apply to Lehman Brothers and all the other companies that either went belly up or were acquired for pennies.
The major ratings agencies have failed time and again to provide adequate warnings on collapses in all kinds of stocks, bonds, and even entire companies.
The scariest thing today is that European banks are now on the verge of being decimated just like Lehman, Bear Stearns and other firms were back in 2008.
The world economy is slowing from one end of the globe to the other. With massive debts piling up, unemployment rates soaring and the world’s banks still HIGHLY leveraged (overborrowed), it’s only a matter of time before the entire system blows up.
Nowhere is the crisis more acute than in Europe — and nowhere are the risks so great.
The key reason is that European banks are so HUGE relative to their home economies.
The aggregated European economy is roughly equivalent to that of the USA. However, European banks have almost THREE TIMES the assets of our American cousins. Now THAT’s disproportionate power!
That makes it all but impossible for European countries to successfully bail out their banks without jeopardizing their own credit standing and crushing their citizens under the weight of massive tax increases.
Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and soon France, have been lined up like fairground ducks under the jackboot of austerity by tax-starved governments.
That’s why we’re seeing sovereign credit ratings fall, bank share prices decline, and policymakers scrambling from one end of the continent to the other in a desperate attempt to find some kind of workable solution!
The problem? THERE ISN’T ONE!
The perfect recipe for an epic, global financial collapse that will sweep up major banks around the world!