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.Read More...
Greek Debt Crisis
Eurozone Debt Crisis: Will The Grexit Finally Become Reality?
The Eurozone debt crisis has long needed a "Grexit" or some other landmark event to occur to change the direction the beleaguered continent is headed.
When Mario Draghi announced that he would do whatever he can to preserve the euro, it seemed that moment was imminent. Since he uttered those words on July 26, the IBEX 35 in Spain has gained 17%, while Italy's FTSE Milano Italia Borsa is up 13%.
But the rally may quickly fade.
Draghi and the European Central Bank have not taken any drastic measures since then and investors will most likely have to wait until the September 6 meeting to hear what's next.
On Monday ECB policy maker Joerg Asmussen played to the sentiment felt by many German officials that it might be time to let Greece go from the euro.
"Firstly, my clear preference is that Greece should remain in the currency union," Asmussen said in Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau."Secondly, it is in Greece's hands to ensure that. Thirdly, a Greek exit would be manageable."
However, Asmussen warned that a Grexit would be costly, not just to Greece but to the entire continent as well. "It would be associated with a loss of growth and higher unemployment and it would be very expensive - in Greece, Europe as a whole and even in Germany," Asmussen said.
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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.
The banks are the problem right now.
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.
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EU Calls for "Banking Union" to Ease Eurozone Debt Crisis
Blame the tumultuous tumble in equities Wednesday on Europe.
World markets were shaken as worries over the Eurozone debt crisis, in particular the Spanish banking system, again rattled investor confidence.
The Dow Jones was down 160 points, the S&P 500 fell 19 and the Nasdaq lost 34.
Sending shivers through markets Wednesday was a statement from the European Central Bank (ECB) saying it had not been consulted on the bailout for Spain's No.4 bank Bankia, and that such a recapitalization could not be provided by the Eurosystem. Spanish lender Bankia announced last week it needs $23.8 billion in state aid.
Also weighing on markets was Spain's debt downgrade late Tuesday by independent ratings agency Egan Jones. The move sparked more questions about the ailing country's ability to fund bank bailouts that could balloon to some 100 billion euro.
A number of other Spanish banks have recently been downgraded by various rating agencies. The woes hanging over Spain and its sickly banking system shoved the euro down to a near two-year low Wednesday of around $1.24.
"I believe that the markets have not yet fully priced in a Greek exit, nor the full implications of a Spanish default - both of which remain distinct possibilities in my mind," said Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald. "Until they do, expect trading to be an unholy mess of rallies driven by hopes for further bailouts, and short, sharp declines driven by the absence of the same."
Now the EU has a new bailout plan.
Heavy Betting in the Middle of Mayhem
There's going to be a lot of very heavy betting over the next few days, weeks, and months on what's going up, what's going down, and what's going around:
- How far will Facebook IPO price go?
- How far DOWN from here will JPMorgan go, with the FBI and DOJ now sniffing around?
- How far AROUND the globe will the fallout be if Greece loses its game of chicken?
If you don't have the stomach for what's going to feel like an out-of-control rollercoaster ride, sideline yourself.
If, on the other hand, you like a lot of action, welcome to Mayhem - the preamble month to what will likely be the Summer of Some Discontent.
That is, unless you like rapid-fire trading.
Which, by the way, is not just fun, but can be very, very profitable. I'm in, and so are the subscribers to my Capital Wave Forecast. We're gearing up for some heavy betting in the weeks and months ahead.
So, what's front and center today? You know. The big three headlines: Facebook, JPMorgan Chase, and Greece. Are you sick of hearing about them? I'm not. I like trading the headlines.
Here's my "heads-up" on the big three headlines.
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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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European Banks Wait in Fear Over Consequences of Unresolved Greek Debt Crisis
Fresh signs of a possible default in Greece have revived a contentious debate between politicians and major banks in the European Union over what to do about the Greek debt crisis.
Yesterday (Wednesday) Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou had no success convincing opposition party leaders to support new austerity measures needed to comply with bailout terms set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other European Union countries.
Without those measures, Greece will not receive the bailout money it needs to avert default. Default would destroy the country's credit for a decade, maybe longer.
Resurgent Greek Debt Crisis Stokes Concern, Causes S&P to Lower Rating
Concern that the Greek debt crisis is far from resolved led Standard & Poor's to lower that troubled country's debt rating even deeper into junk territory yesterday (Monday).
The S&P cut Greece to B from BB- with a warning it could downgrade further.
"In our view, there is increased risk that Greece will take steps to restructure the terms of its commercial debt, including its previously-issued government bonds," S&P said in a statement.
A restructuring of the Greek debt could result in principal reductions of 50% or more, with the loss borne by the bondholders.
One year after a bailout intended to help the Greek government address its crushing debt - it owes more than 150% of its gross domestic product (GDP) - European Union (EU) leaders are worried Greece is not doing enough to fix its debt problems.