Eurozone Debt Crisis Won't Be Fixed by "Bailout Lite"
The market red ink this morning (Monday) around the globe is the result of a usual suspect – Spain.
These days, if someone even sneezes in Madrid, Barcelona, or Córdoba (one of my favorite places, actually), investors go into intensive care all over the world.
This new Spanish influenza has been wiping out paper value from one end of Europe to the other. This morning came word that many of the regions in the country will need help. Attention is now directed from focused support for banks to wider calls for a sovereign bailout.
And that is where the whole matter can turn nasty. Word is that we should now expect some Italian cities to be requesting money in the near future. Seems California and Pennsylvania are not the only locations where cities can go bankrupt.
The accord reached at the end of June by the Council of Europe (the EU member heads of government) to bail out Spanish banks is already derisively referred to as "bailout lite." As the beer commercials attest, this is going to be "less filling."
Unfortunately, it is the heavier version that Europe now needs.
Soaring Spanish Bond Yields Another Hit to Growing Eurozone Debt Crisis
Investors today (Monday) have been selling on news that Spain might need more bailouts as its 10-year yield reached a record high.
Spanish bond yields reached a record high of 7.56% and the latest unemployment rate sits at a miserable 24.6%.
Global stock markets plummeted Monday after Spain's borrowing costs soared on a third consecutive day amid concerns that an intensifying recession in the region would require Spain's government to request a full-fledged bailout.
The fresh worries come on the heels of a report Friday from the Valencia region, revealing that its economy would contract by 0.5% in 2013 instead of 0.2%, as had been forecast.
Spanish bond yields broke the critical 7%-mark last Thursday, a level many analysts worry could eventually alienate Spain from public markets and force it to seek a bailout similar to its ailing neighbor Greece.
"Those levels indicate that Spain may soon struggle to fund itself in the market and therefore unless some positive action is taken, the country will need a full bailout," Gary Jenkins, managing director of Swordfish Research told the Associated Press.
The deeper worry rattling markets worldwide is that with so many of its 17-member nations needing bailouts, European finance ministers will have a tough time finding funds to rescue an economy as large as Spain. Spain is the region's fourth-largest economy after Germany, France and Italy.
Alcoa Earnings Report Uneasy Start to Second Quarter (NYSE: AA)
Investors already have a cautious stance in the market amid growing fears about the world's biggest economies, and Monday's Alcoa (NYSE: AA) earnings report didn't help.
The aluminum producer, which always kicks off the earnings season, delivered more of a punt than a kickoff. The Dow bellwether reported an 81.3% drop in profits, as the global slowdown and production cuts weighed on profits.
Reporting after Monday's market close, Alcoa said income from continuing operations came in at $61 million, or 6 cents a share, on revenue just a hair under $6 billion. While significantly lower than the same period a year ago, the lackluster results still managed to beat Wall Street's tepid expectations (analysts were looking for 5 cents on revenue of $5.8 billion).
Chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said in a statement following the earnings release, "Alcoa maintained revenue strength amid solid liquidity by driving high profitability in our mid and downstream businesses and by reducing costs and improving performance in our upstream businesses."
Contributing to the profit decline was a global glut resulting from stagnant and slowing growth in many areas around the world, especially China.
The Next Phase of the Eurozone Debt Crisis
Today (Monday), as we digest what happened in Europe, the obvious question arises: What comes next for the Eurozone debt crisis?
For starters, the heads of state coming out of the Council of Europe meeting last week pledged to have the new structure by July 9, even though the new stabilization mechanism will take longer to phase in.
For the first time, there will be a greater accountability (and control) over continent-wide commercial banking and access to some underwriting of debt coverage. It also means that national banking systems will need to relinquish some oversight to the European Central Bank (ECB).
For months, a number of people (myself included) have insisted that the solution to th e Eurozone debt crisis requires greater financial integration. The shortcoming seemed rather straightforward.
The EU had ushered in a more centralized monetary system (single currency and all that) but had no centralized fiscal system to parallel it. Simply put, that required adherence to currency rules without any ability to coordinate the credit and fiduciary end of the spectrum.
Well what came out of the Council in the early hours of Friday will not solve the debt problem in Spain , Italy , Portugal, or Greece. There is no magic short -term fix. But it might just provide the underpinnings for a credit system that may begin to operate.
Eurozone Debt Crisis: EU Reaches Bailout Deal
The recent marathon session in Brussels was the EU Council's 18th meeting on the Eurozone debt crisis. As it is comprised of the heads of government from European Union members, the Council was largely thought of as a grand debating society.
Not this morning.
In what may well be the first glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, the EU will agree to coordinate bailouts across the continent. The details are still incomplete, and there is always devil in the details.
In addition, EU members must approve the substantive plan, meaning more coming politics in parliaments from London to Warsaw.
So this is not a done deal.
Actually, until there is some flesh on the bones, we are still uncertain what the "deal" really is.
But this much we do know.
The Eurozone Crisis is Far From Over
The Greek election last weekend has brought us a brief reprieve. The nation and the Eurozone have stepped back from the brink.
But the larger truth is that little has changed.
Yes, the Eurozone has survived its latest test, yet there is little indication where it will go from here. Considerable continental support for the common currency remains, and EU officials will soon introduce initiatives to consolidate banking and financial policy in the European Union.
Still, the problems keep mounting, and there is very little resolve to fix them.
At this point, a lot of actions (or lack of actions) could still upset the entire apple cart.
- The Eurozone Bailout: Prepare for What's Next
Eurozone Descends into a Farce as "Grexit" Looms Large
The elections on May 6 only made the Eurozone's problems even worse. The French and the Greeks have rejected sensible policies in favor of self-delusion.
Those elections, and the failure of Greece to form a government, have actually moved the Eurozone crisis one step further – from potential tragedy into a complete farce.
As investors, we can only watch horrified, knowing that a really bad outcome would seriously damage our own wealth.
But at this point, a Greek exit – or "Grexit" as it has come to be known – from the Eurozone would be the best thing that could happen.
Confusion Surrounds the "Grexit"
The Greek election produced a very confused result. But one thing was clear: the Greek electorate has decisively rejected the rescue plan the outgoing government had so painstakingly negotiated with the EU.
The previous ruling party's joint support declined to just 32% of the vote. That might be thought of as just retribution, since those parties produced Greece's appalling fiscal mess by lying for decades about the true position of Greece's public finances. (And let us not forget being abetted by Goldman Sachs in doing so).
However, the winners were not some new paragons of fiscal responsibility and free market government. They were anti-German Nazis (a peculiar combination when you think about it), communists and a truly unpleasant new leftist party, SYRIZA, led by the 37-year-old Alexis Tsipras.
SYRIZA's politics, in that one can fathom them, spell nothing but trouble.
The Gloss is Coming Off the Eurozone
Europe, Europe, Europe…
I know, you're sick of hearing about problems in the Eurozone.
But the problem with Europe is that it won't go away. And if it does go away, we'll have even bigger problems. What a mess.
Of course, I'm talking about the Euro-currency zone and the European Union, not Europe itself.
I love Europe. I love every country in Europe. I love the different cultures. I love the different languages. I love the different societal models. I love the history of Europe.
And no doubt all the Europeans love all the same things about their Europe – except maybe some of their history.
But even more than loving Europe, Europeans love their own countries. Why? Because they have different cultures, languages, societal models, and differing views of their history. Vive la différence!
So, whose bright idea was it to gloss over (with shiny promises and, later, a shiny new currency) thousands of years of differences and shove all Europeans into a funnel in the hopes that they'd all come out the other end as one homogeneous mass of humanity?
Oh, that would be the bankers and financiers who wanted a United States of Europe so that the free flow of goods and services payable with a common currency would make everyone better off, and make themselves better, better off, by a lot of betters.
And now, what a surprise! There are differences all across Europe about, well, Europe and what it has become and where it has to go to get out of the mess it's created for itself.
How that's going to end is playing out right before our eyes.
The Fate of the Eurozone Hangs on Sunday's French Elections
It now looks as though Nicolas Sarkozy's days are numbered. In the balance lies the fate of the Eurozone itself.
It appears Socialist Francois Hollande will win the French election runoff on Sunday and that June's legislative elections will give the Socialists a powerful position in France's parliament.
Added to these developments is the good chance that both the major existing parties in Greece's parliament, which had jointly agreed to the bailout deal, will be voted out of office on Sunday as well and replaced by a motley set of far-lefties.
So while the Eurozone has been quiet this week, the calm is deceptive with the elections on Sunday.
Meanwhile, most of the worry in the Eurozone centers on Spain – which is quite foolish.
Spain recently elected a center-right government with a large majority, which is clearing up the mess left by its predecessors. The country does have a 25% unemployment rate, but that's a function of Spanish labor law and excessive welfare payments, both of which the current government is addressing.
Spain's budget deficit is also smaller than France's, as is its debt level. In fact, Spain's debt and deficit burdens are lower than both Britain and the United States. Spain is not the issue.
Considerable Danger in the Eurozone
As for Greece, it is a shambles.
The truth is it should have been chucked out of the Eurozone two years ago, when it was first revealed that its governments had been consistently lying about its budget numbers.
Had that happened, the new drachma would have sunk to about a third of its former value, and Greek living standards would have reduced by half, all without anything but market forces to be blamed.
Now hundreds of billions of euros have been poured into the country, and its ungrateful electorate is determined to elect every nut-job it can rake up. The whole Greek rescue project has been a complete waste of time and money, and should be ended forthwith.
Fortunately, throwing Greece out of the Eurozone will not destroy the euro – after all, nobody was relying on the strength of the Greek economy in their calculations of the euro's value.
However, France is a different matter entirely.
Unlike Greece, if France gets into serious trouble, the remaining "solid" euro economies led by Germany are not big enough to save it.
And, led by Hollande, France looks to be in considerable danger.