Obama’s Big Fat Greek Bailout
May 26, 2010 by John Myers
“It was built against the will of the immortal gods, and so it did not last for long.” Homer, The Iliad
The youngsters that run Wall Street know a lot more about Homer Simpson than they do the Greek poet. But in the wake of riots in Greece and stock market gyrations at home, we may all soon be in for a full fledged tragedy of epic proportions.
The $1 trillion bailout by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Europe to stave off a Greek debt default is just the latest attempt by Big Government to defeat deflation. But the soaring price of gold shows that this latest rescue is mired with problems.
Consider the fact that even the strongest of the rescuers are bleeding debt. Germany, once the hero of fiscal policy in Europe, has seen government debt rise to a whopping 80 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Germany is far stronger than the other weak sisters that make up the euro—Spain, Portugal and Italy.
It looks as if the $1 trillion bailout to Greece may not have stabilized global stock markets and it certainly has not arrested the decline of the euro. Last week The New York Times reported that, “Fear in the financial markets is building again, this time over worries that the Continent’s biggest banks face strains that will hobble European economies.”
Greece is the latest domino in a continuing debt crisis that began with the implosion of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Greece is just another link in a very weak chain. In fact, the IMF warns that “high levels of public indebtedness could weigh on economic growth for years.”
Borrowing Against All Of Our Tomorrows
The world’s budget deficit as a percentage of GDP now stands at 6 percent, up from less than 1 percent before the financial crisis. If public debt is not lowered back to pre-crisis levels, says the IMF, economic growth could decline by half a percentage point annually. That is bad for the world and bad for the United States which is just barely clinging to an economic recovery; a recovery built on cheap money. But how long money will stay cheap is anyone’s guess.
In the not too distant future the U.S. dollar, once the Zeus of all currencies, may topple from the mountain top. Greece has a budget deficit of 13.6 percent of its GDP. Meanwhile the U.S. has a budget deficit of 9.3 percent, and that’s only for this year. In the coming years America’s deficit could easily exceed Greece’s number.
Furthermore, Greece’s national debt now totals 115 percent of its GDP. U.S. national debt totals “only” 85 percent of GDP, but it is expected to reach 140 percent of GDP in the next two decades.
But what the Mexican debt crisis taught us in the 1980s and what Greece is teaching us now is that the bond markets will never allow the U.S. to reach its debt targets.
According to Dr. Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, "There’s a tremendous clash between the bond vigilantes on one side and reckless governments on the other. The bond vigilantes are trying to establish some fiscal and monetary law and order."
You might recall Yardeni from the 1980s when he correctly predicted the Latin debt bomb, the explosion which helped trigger the 1987 stock market crash. Three decades ago Yardeni pointed out that, "If the fiscal and monetary authorities won’t regulate the economy, the bond investor will." Like Homer’s Cassandra, Yardeni has a talent for correctly predicting tragedies but is cursed because no one will believe him.
Just how bad is this crisis which was spawned in Greece, the cradle of learning and democracy? According to Citigroup’s top economist, Willem Buiter, with the exception of wartime, “the public finances in the majority of advanced industrial countries are in a worse state today than at any time since the industrial revolution. Restoring fiscal balance will be a drag on growth for years to come.”
Still, the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve continue to believe they can engineer yet another bailout. In fact, the Fed has opened up new lines of credit to the European Central Bank as part of the European rescue package.
“We didn’t do so out of any special love for Europe,” said Narayana Kocherlakota, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “We’re American policy makers, and we make decisions to keep the American economy strong.” Yet the Fed president admits that the liquidity problems abroad could soon haunt U.S. financial markets and the recovery itself.
The Federal Reserve and Federal government have already borrowed trillions of dollars to derail the wave of deflation that began in early 2008. To do that and to spark a recovery the Fed pushed short-term interest rates towards zero, the lowest levels America has seen since the 1930s. In other words the U.S. government has shot its bolt. The U.S. simply can’t hit the “re-flate” button again without a major outcry from the bond market.
Gold On Record Run
The knee-jerk reaction from the euro crisis has been for money to go into U.S. Treasuries. But the chart below shows the monumental increase in 10-year Treasury bond yields since the beginning of 2009. Investors have demanded a higher return from Uncle Sam as the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have been hell-bent on bailing out the U.S. economy with trillions of new dollars.
U.S. loans to buoy European central banks will only accelerate the bond markets woes, and with rising interest rates on the horizon, we can anticipate a bear market. The computer-glitch stock market meltdown that happened earlier this month portends to an American tragedy.
With the euro at four-year lows one might be expecting the greenback to soar. Instead there has been only modest strength in the dollar and record highs for gold. At this writing London gold is trading just under $1,200 per ounce. In November 2008, London gold was $713.50, so the Midas metal has had quite a run since then. In fact gold was $810 when I first recommended it to you last August. Still I believe gold is headed much higher.
Action To Take
Expect short-term strength in the U.S. Treasury market as we go into summer. If you own bonds, use this rally to liquidate them. Higher interest rates are looming and so is a bond market meltdown. Meanwhile, continue to accumulate physical gold. I think $1,500 gold is a realistic target by the end of this year.
Yours for real wealth and good health,
Myers’ Energy and Gold Report
P.S.—I thought the quote at the top by Homer is applicable to the U.S. dollar. I am interested to see if you agree.