After six years of non-stop deficit spending that has added $8.2 trillion to the national debt, the U.S. Treasury has announced that it expects to reduce the country's debt by $35 billion this quarter.
Given that national debt growth has rocketed past $16.7 trillion and is on track to exceed $17 trillion at some point in the fall, a $35 billion reduction is laughably tiny. It's just 0.02% of what we as a nation owe.
And in the very same statement, the Treasury admitted that in the following quarter it expects to be back to borrowing as usual - $223 billion worth, more than six times the amount it plans to pay down this quarter.
So why bother?
"I don't believe in coincidences," said Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald. "Our leaders in Washington on both sides of the aisle are terribly under pressure from the American public right now, and I think this is a very convenient announcement to say, "Hey, we're doing the right thing, keep us all in office for a little while longer.'"
And apart from any political motivations, Fitz-Gerald wonders whether the plan to pay down $35 billion of the national debt can even be considered legitimate, given the way the government borrows money from itself.
"It's like taking blood from the left arm and putting in in the right arm and calling it a transfusion," Fitz-Gerald said.
Eurozone Debt Crisis: The Greek Elections are a Make or Break Moment
What happens this Sunday, June 17 , may be the trigger for a final resolution of the Eurozone debt crisis.
Now I understand that you probably don't follow Greek elections. But this is one you'll want to keep an eye on. At the moment, it dwarfs the contest between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.
In fact, come Monday it will be what every banker, politician and trader is talking about.
In the balance is the very fate of the Eurozone.
ripple effects could be enough to actually bring the EU down.
That's the first part of the story. Admittedly, it's not a very pleasant one.
The second part concerns your portfolio, since the solutions will involve more money-printing and, in the long run, more inflation.
But you needn't worry. We've already read the central banker's playbook for you.
In this case, the message is clear. Don't buy Europe. But do buy hard assets -- whether gold, oil, or other commodities.
These safe-havens are one of the best ways to hedge yourself against these characters and their money printing schemes.
Now that you know why Sunday is so important, here is how it will likely play out-in both the short term and in the long run.
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The Greek Bailout: Why I'm Mostly Bullish about the Eurozone
Last week's news that Eurozone GDP declined by 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2011 set all the usual pundits moaning about the inevitable decline of Europe.
Even Andrew Roberts, a wonderful historian with whom I almost always agree, wrote in the Financial Times that "Europe's fire has gone out."
Today, the markets may welcome the Greek bailout deal, but behind the scenes they still dread the fact it won't work.
Meanwhile, hushed whispers are still being muttered about a Greek default as being "worse than Lehman."
On this subject I am a firm contrarian.
If Greece does default and is thrown out of the Eurozone, then I think Europe is actually due for a rebound - not a collapse.
It's only if they decide to bail out Greece again that I would become less optimistic.
If that is the case, they would be devoting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars (or euros, as it were) to propping up an inevitable failure. Even then, Greece is relatively small compared to the growth drivers in the Eurozone, which are strong.
The Problem with the Greek BailoutWhat the Greek crisis has shown is that European leaders in Germany and Scandinavia have their heads properly screwed on, but they are not yet a majority of EU opinion.
The EU bureaucracy simply gave in far too easily to Greece's first demand for a bailout, then suggested further bailouts for the entire Mediterranean littoral, all of which had over-expanded their governments on the back of low interest rates in the first decade of the euro.
Now reality is returning rapidly to the discussion.
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As Greek Debt Default Nears, Investors Need to Take Cover
At this point a Greek debt default is virtually unavoidable, and it could happen in a matter of weeks.
The ensuing chain reaction will upend markets around the world and will almost surely lead to more defaults among the European Union's (EU) other debt-plagued nations, collectively known as the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).
The bond markets have already passed sentence, with the yield on two-year Greek bonds spiking to an astronomical 76% yesterday (Tuesday). Yields on 10-year Greek bonds rose to 24%.
By comparison, the 10-year bond yields of another PIIGS nation, Italy, rose to 5.74%. Meanwhile, bond yields for the EU's strongest economy, Germany, have dropped below 2%.
The credit default swap (CDS) markets, where investors can insure their bond purchases against default, agree with the bond markets' verdict. As of Monday it cost $5.8 million and $100,000 annually to insure $10 million worth of Greek debt for five years, which means the CDS market now considers default a 98% probability.
Most European stock markets have been hammered over the past several weeks, with some dropping as much as 25%.
"Default is inevitable," said Money Morning Global Investment Strategist Martin Hutchinson. "Greeks are paid about twice as much as they should be, and that gap can't be solved by austerity."
How Soon is NowIn recent weeks Germany has shown more reluctance to dig deeper into its own pockets to bail out Greece and the other PIIGS. At the same time, Greece has struggled to implement the austerity measures that are required if it is to continue receiving aid from the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Greece's budget deficit has increased 22% this year, while its economy is projected to shrink more than 5%.
Every new development appears to bring Greece closer to the brink of default - and some see that happening in the very near future.
"My guess is there will be a Greek debt default by the end of this fiscal quarter - yeah, that means very soon," said Money Morning Capital Waves Strategist Shah Gilani.
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Don't Look Now but the National Debt Could be $23 Trillion by 2021
There was a lot of back-patting in Washington this week after U.S. President Barack Obama signed a debt-ceiling deal that he and members of Congress claim will reduce the national debt.
But here's the truth: This deal does nothing to reduce America's debt burden. In fact, the $14 trillion we owe now could every easily exceed $23 trillion by 2021.
That's a 62% increase.
It only takes a little bit of number crunching to see what I mean.
The deal brokered by Congress cuts spending by just $917 billion over a 10-year period, with a special congressional committee assigned to find another $1.5 trillion in deficit savings by late November.
Even if you round up, that $2.5 trillion in "savings" over a 10-year period is inconsequential when you consider that President Obama added nearly $4 trillion to the national debt in just a few short years in office.
How can you make any progress on the debt front when you're adding $4 billion in new liabilities every day?
And the story is even worse than that: According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), even the $2.5 trillion the government claims to be saving is quickly vaporized by inflation and lost economic output.
CBO: Contrary to Barack ObamaThe CBO in January estimated that a 0.1% reduction in growth rates would increase the deficit by $310 billion over the next 10 years, while a 1% increase in inflation rate would increase the deficit by $867 billion.
The CBO projects the average growth rate from 2011 to 2016 will be 3.25%, and the non-partisan group has the average rate of inflation pegged at 1.55% over that same period.
However, growth in the first half of 2011was 0.8% and the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) inflation index - the type of inflation the CBO looks at - was 3.5%.
So let's do the math.
If growth and inflation statistics magically revert to CBO expectations - which would be a long shot considering how much they're already off - then the budget deficit over the next 10 years would rise by $928 billion. That alone is more than enough to wipe out the $917 billion of initial savings in the debt-ceiling bill.
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