DPC Yard of tenement, Manhattan, New York City 1900
Yanis gets creative. 2 days ago it was a payment to the IMF, which he said the ECB could make with money they themselves say belongs to Athens anyway. This one is even smarter: “I see it as a mistake – but the ECB did this with the aim of keeping us in the markets in 2010. They failed.”
Greece called into question on Saturday a major debt repayment it must make to the European Central Bank this summer, after acknowledging it faces problems in meeting its obligations to international creditors. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Athens should negotiate with the ECB on €6.7 billion in Greek government bonds held by the Frankfurt-based bank that mature in July and August. Varoufakis did not say what he hoped to achieve in any talks, but he accused the ECB of making a mistake in buying the bonds around the time Greece had to take an EU/IMF bailout in 2010. “Shouldn’t we negotiate this? We will fight it,” he said in an interview with Skai television. “If we had the money we would pay … They know we don’t have it.”
The government of leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised to honor all its debt obligations when it struck a deal with the euro zone last week that extended Greece’s bailout program for four months. But Athens will get no more money until the EC, ECB and IMF have approved in detail its economic plans during the four-month period. With tax revenue falling far short of target last month and an economic recovery faltering, the state must repay an IMF loan of around €1.6 billion in March and find €800 million in interest payments in April. It then needs about €7.5 billion in July and August to repay the bonds held by the ECB and make other interest payments.
The ECB bought the bonds on the secondary market under its Securities Markets Programme (SMP) which aimed to reduce borrowing costs for troubled southern European governments during the euro zone debt crisis. However, Greece was frozen out of international debt markets, and more than four years later is still unable to fund itself commercially apart from limited issues of short-term treasury bills. Varoufakis, who has staged a media blitz in recent days to sell the euro zone deal to the Greek people, singled out former ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet for criticism. “One part of the negotiations will be on what will happen to these bonds which unfortunately and wrongly Mr Trichet bought,” he said.
“I see it as a mistake – but the ECB did this with the aim of keeping us in the markets in 2010. They failed.” Varoufakis argued that if the bonds had remained in investors’ hands, their value would have been cut by 90% under a restructuring of Greece’s privately held debt in 2012, reducing the burden on the state. The ECB bought the bonds at a deep discount and made large profits because their value rose as the euro zone debt crisis eased. Under Greece’s second bailout deal, these profits were due to be returned to Athens to help it repay debt. Athens received a partial payment in 2013 but eurozone countries are withholding a further €1.9 billion pending the review of Greece’s economic plans. Varoufakis wants this money sent directly to the IMF to meet the March payment.
The Fed will stop being predictable, period. There’s no other way to raise rates and let Wall Street banks profit as much as possible.
The era of the Federal Reserve giving forward guidance to financial markets about its next steps on monetary policy is coming to an end, a top U.S. central banker said Friday. Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said the Fed would feel too constrained if it “pre-committed” to a steady path for interest rates and so the central bank would not “telegraph every action.” “I know of no plans of following a deterministic path to raise rates, I don’t believe it will happen,” Fischer said at a conference sponsored by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Instead, the Fed will take into account the behavior of the economy and “shocks we have to deal with.”
At the same time, he said the Fed “doesn’t want to take the markets by surprise on a regular basis” and would explain to investors a general sense of the Fed’s goals. In other comments, Fischer said the Federal Reserve’s bond buying programs, although completed, are is still currently depressing 10-year Treasury yields by about 110 basis points, a top U.S. central banker said Friday. Fischer said the estimate was based on a Fed staff study of the effect on the term premium on 10-year Treasury securities from the combination of all of the Fed’s asset purchase programs. With the Fed’s balance sheet near $4.5 trillion, the programs will continue to apply downward pressure on rates “for some time,” Fischer said. The effects will likely wane over the next few years as the balance sheet begins to normalize, Fischer said.
All you need to know: “The velocity of money has fallen to a six-decade low in the US.”
ET: Keynesian theory has pretty much dominated macroeconomic thinking over the last thirty years. Its “consume now, pay later” policies provide a short-term boost and fit well with politicians’ desire to prop up the economy on their watch. A large number of economists in government, private sector and academia, believe that adding more debt to a debt-inspired crisis is the only solution, and that at some point the economy will reach escape velocity and help pay down those debts. Do you subscribe to this view, especially at these very high debt levels in the economy?
LH: I think that monetary policy at this stage of the game is largely bankrupt. There is certainly nothing that they can do. Monetary policy works through price effects, quantity effects, the potential wealth effect and the currency depreciation effect. None of those mechanisms are operative. The price effects don’t work because the short-term interest rates are at the zero bounds, so that’s out of the picture. The US central bank, the ECB and the Bank of Japan have greatly expanded their balance sheets, but that’s not printing money. Money is an increase in deposits that are available to households and businesses. US monetary growth today is under 6% in the last 12 months, which is lower than when quantitative easing started. The Bank of Japan has doubled the monetary base in the last two years and yet M2 growth is 3% and a little bit more. The same is true in Europe.
Moreover, money alone does not determine economic activity. The velocity of money has fallen to a six-decade low in the US. It has been falling substantially in Europe, as in Japan. When you look at money growth and velocity it’s hard to see where nominal growth can be much better than 1% in Europe and Japan and no better than 2-2.5% in the US. Monetary policy does not benefit from quantitative effects when economies are extremely over indebted. The velocity of money falls and the banks are undercapitalized – banks don’t make loans based on excess reserves, but rather based on capital.
The currency depreciation option by excessive monetary liquidity does provide a transitory benefit. We saw this one when QE1 was started in the US, but that’s a transitory benefit: other countries eventually retaliate making everyone worse off. And the final option is the wealth effect but there is no empirical support for it. So there’s really nothing that monetary policy can do and the fact that inflation in the US is substantially lower than when all of these quantitative easing efforts started is an indication that such policies are a bankrupt effort.
“Europe has now recognised that Greece has turned a new page..”
Greece will not need a third international debt bailout when its current programme ends in four months, the country’s prime minister has said. Alexis Tsipras vowed his government would “start working hard” to change the country, which is saddled with a debt 175% of its GDP. Greece has already received two bailouts since 2010, totalling €240bn euros. Germany’s parliament ratified a four-month extension on Friday. While some MPs had expressed doubts about the deal and there was substantial public scepticism in the EU’s leading economic power, the vote passed easily. Parliaments in all 19 eurozone states must approve the extension for it to be granted, but Germany’s vote is seen as significant because of its key role as a creditor nation.
Reacting to the Bundestag vote, Mr Tsipras told the Euronews TV channel: “The German parliament gave Europe a vote of confidence today. “Europe has now recognised that Greece has turned a new page… We start working hard, in order to change Greece within a Europe that changes direction.” Greece remains frozen out of international debt markets, prompting speculation about a new bailout request. However, in a televised speech to his cabinet, Mr Tsipras said Greece’s bailout agreements were “over both in form and in essence”. “Some people are betting on a third bailout in July… but we will disappoint them,” he said.
“And let’s not forget that it’s a lonely battle.”
There has been plenty of talk regarding cracking down on corruption and vested interests in this country. From Costas Karamanlis’s “pimps” we have arrived at Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s e-mail. If you read it carefully, you realize that a large portion of the new program deals with this crucial issue. Besides, it’s common knowledge that the reason why the troika, and the IMF in particular, pulled the rug from underneath the government in the fall was because they felt that Antonis Samaras’s administration would not have dared to stand up to vested interests. SYRIZA’s rhetoric on this particular issue coincided to a large extent with the lenders’ conclusions.
Let’s assume that New Democracy and PASOK indeed failed to go up against “pimps” preying on certain crucial sectors of the economy, especially those tied to the state. But will the current administration succeed? Varoufakis appears rather obsessed with this matter and firmly believes that the country’s growth has been curbed because of these vested interests and corruption. This battle will be hard to win, however, even if the necessary political will is in place. To begin with, as strange as it may sound, a prime minister is particularly powerless in this case. In order to fight corruption you need institutions which are operating properly, as in other European countries, whether it’s the justice system or the ministries themselves.
And let’s not forget that it’s a lonely battle. Any PM wishing to fight vested interests – in other words to go after those bleeding the rest of society dry – will face a very tough front. Essentially, Alexis Tsipras is set to confront two very different groups. One the one hand are the romantics who had hoped for a rift with the eurozone as they believe that it’s legitimate for Greece to follow a non-European, Latin American growth model. They will fight Tsipras because he betrayed them.
Then there are also the cynics who hid behind the holy anti-bailout struggle out of fear they would be deprived of the kind of privileges and protection that allowed them to get unjustifiably rich without contributing anything to production. These people wanted the country to remain in the eurozone while they operated in a drachma-style environment – in other words without having to undergo any kind of checks – or to return to the drachma so that they could act as kings in a super-cheap banana republic. If Tsipras and Varoufakis mean what was written in the latter’s e-mail to the eurozone, the battle is bound to be ferocious. There is a lot of money involved and the profit margins are huge..
“Varoufakis quickly realized that he was alone, that the other 18 finance ministers were against him. But he took it as validation for his approach.”
Varoufakis is the newest finance minister in the Euro Group; Schäuble has served the longest. Varoufakis is a professor of economics, a man always good for a clever turn of phrase and a beaming smile. Schäuble is better known for being caustic and irritable. He is a lawyer by training and prefers practice to theory; he is matter-of-fact and deeply skeptical of those who seek to grab the spotlight. And he doesn’t hold university professors in high regard. Since Schäuble has gotten to know his new colleague from Athens, his appreciation for economy professors has dropped even further. He is suspicious of those who believe in their own theories and who think that the world is predictable. For Wolfgang Schäuble, societal behavior cannot be easily explained, not even by social scientists. That is why, he believes, negotiated rules – and adherence to those rules – is the best policy.
For Yanis Varoufakis, the euro is a defective currency. For Schäuble, it is his legacy. The German minister is unconcerned with formalities. He doesn’t care if his Greek counterpart tucks in his shirt or not, nor would he be bothered if Varoufakis were to wrap it around his head like a turban. Former Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg, after all, used to come to Euro Group meetings with his hair in a ponytail. But Borg possessed competence, authority and political gravitas, qualities that, from Schäuble’s perspective, the new Greek finance minister has not yet demonstrated. Schäuble was annoyed by Varoufakis’ insistence during his initial visit to Berlin that he could save not just his country, but the entire euro zone, from the clutches of austerity and install a new financial architecture. And he found the Greek finance minister’s presentation during his first Euro Group meeting, full of well-prepared and well-meaning proposals, to be confused and muddled.
Indeed, by the time Schäuble arrived in Brussels for last Friday’s meeting of euro-zone finance ministers, EU diplomats were finding it difficult to bring the two together in a single room. And tensions were high among others in the group as well. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the Euro Group, had even planned to hold telephone conferences and individual meetings rather than bring everyone together. His concern was the consequence of vigorous disagreement during the previous meeting – a conflict which almost descended into blows. That, at least, is what the long-time Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer reported, citing sources in the French delegation. Varoufakis, his report said, shouted “liar!” at Dijsselbloem over and over again until the meeting ended inconclusively. Varoufakis denies that version of events. He says the disagreement had to do with different versions of the compromise paper.
Varoufakis says he wasn’t aware that, according to Brussels custom, only the version on Dijsselbloem’s desk was official. The result was that last Friday’s Euro Group meeting was atomized, with small groups of two to four people meeting individually with Schäuble, with IMF head Christine Lagarde, with ECB head Mario Draghi and with Dijsselbloem. Varoufakis quickly realized that he was alone, that the other 18 finance ministers were against him. But he took it as validation for his approach. Late that night, he forwarded an article from Foreign Policy to his Twitter followers headlined “Greece Should Not Give In to Germany’s Bullying.” The piece speaks of the “dead hand of Merkelism” and argues that economic logic lies with the Greek finance minister.
Kids in the sandbox.
John Boehner’s first attempt to keep the Department of Homeland Security from running out of money at midnight failed in the House of Representatives after more than 50 Republicans baulked at his plan to fund it for just three more weeks. The House speaker had been hoping to prevent a shutdown by buying time to negotiate with conservatives in his caucus over their demands that the bill include a measure to prevent Barack Obama from deferring deportation of undocumented immigrants. But even this three-week stop gap was rejected by 52 Republican congressman who defied their party leadership and joined with Democrats to voted against the bill by 224 to 203 just after 5pm. The department runs out of funds at midnight.
Majority leader Kevin McCarthy concluded by saying: “Members are advised that additional votes are possible later this evening and may be this weekend.” Democrats resisted Boehner’s proposal in the hope of forcing House Republicans to follow their colleagues in the Senate and agree a one-year funding bill. But the impasse now sets up a dangerous game of chicken between the parties as each tries to see who will blink first before current funding for the department expires at midnight. Without funding, the department will be unable to pay tens of thousands of border guards, coast guards and other DHS staff, who will nevertheless have to turn up to work as they are deemed “essential workers”.
Ooff… they just ordered more sand… nick of time…..
Congress averted a partial shutdown of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with only two hours to spare by passing a stopgap funding bill that punts a fight over immigration into next week. The House of Representatives, with support from Democrats, voted 357-60 to send the measure to President Barack Obama for his signature. The Senate passed the measure by a voice vote. Hours earlier, the House failed to pass a three-week spending measure because 52 of Speaker John Boehner’s majority Republicans refused to support it. “It’s no way to govern the nation and the American people deserve better,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said to boos from some lawmakers before the late-night vote. Nevertheless, the Kentucky Republican said, “It’s the 11th hour and we must act.”
Funding for Homeland Security operations was set to expire at midnight. Without new spending, thousands of employees would have been furloughed or required to work without pay. The House wants to use the Homeland Security funding bill to block Obama’s November orders that shielded about 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The one-week extension ensures that the immigration issue will continue to dominate a congressional calendar that Republican leaders wanted to fill with debate over policy priorities including job creation, health care policy and curbing business regulations. Instead, Republicans are mired in an immigration debate that risks alienating Latino voters ahead of the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.
It’s a policy confrontation the party can’t win while Obama is in the White House. He has threatened to veto any reversal of his orders. The one-week bill, H.R. 33, carries the shutdown fight into next week when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address Congress on security issues. The measure, which extends funding only through March 6, was backed by 183 Republicans and 174 Democrats. Voting no were 55 Republicans and five Democrats. Among the Republicans opposing the bill was Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, who accused Boehner of “unwillingness to challenge” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
“The 5X gain in the Fed’s balance sheet since 2009 has not been harmless——even though it has not stimulated the main street economy. What is has done, obviously, is reflate a massive financial bubble.”
[..]..the case for the Fed’s massive money printing campaign has now been flat-out obliterated. As I documented in the Great Deformation, the short but deep recession of 2008-2009 represented a sharp liquidation of excess inventories and labor that had built up in the main street economy during the Greenspan-Bernanke housing and subprime credit bubble. But that one-time liquidation was over by June 2009; the economy was not sinking into a black hole. Moreover, by the time the US economy began to rebound in mid 2009, the real cause was the natural regenerative power of the capitalist market—not the massive money printing campaign that Bernanke had launched at the time of the Lehman failure in September 2008.
All of the massive liquidity – which took the Fed’s balance sheet from $900 billion to $2.5 trillion in less than a year – worked its magic in the canyons of Wall Street, not in the household and business sectors of the main street economy. The fact is, the only channel through which the Fed can impact the main street economy is through credit expansion. Yet business and household credit outstanding was still shrinking long after the recession ended. The 2% slog that began thereafter had nothing to do with the machinations of the Fed; its represented the return of a steady, modest increment of labor hours and productivity growth to the market economy. But here’s the thing. The 5X gain in the Fed’s balance sheet since 2009 has not been harmless——even though it has not stimulated the main street economy.
What is has done, obviously, is reflate a massive financial bubble. The latter will splatter eventually, sending the main street economy into a new tailspin of short-term labor and inventory liquidation and another financial crisis for no reason whatsoever. Indeed, the monetary politburo is stuck in a dangerous time warp. Not recognizing that the credit channel of monetary transmission is broken and done, they keep money market rates pinned to the zero bound because they claim to detect no acceleration of consumer price inflation on the immediate horizon. So what! Do not these clueless Keynesian apparatchiks recognize that the money market rate and the yield curve are the most important prices in all of capitalism, and that their policy of massive and continuous financial repression generates blatantly false prices in the financial markets and therefore rampant speculation and asset price inflation?
How America sees educating its children: “The federal aid program .. lends money to students at below-market interest rates, regardless of credit history, with no money down, to purchase an asset that can’t be repossessed in the event of default.”
A group of Senate Democrats, led by Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, urged the government to offer relief to distressed borrowers this week, even if that dampens the profit it makes from collecting on people with outstanding loans. In a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan dated Wednesday, the six senators wrote, “It is not the job of the Department of Education to maximize profits for the government at the cost of squeezing students.” The letter noted that a recent Congressional Budget Office estimate indicates the federal government will bring in $110 billion from these loans in the next decade. Denise Horn, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said in an e-mail that the department is reviewing the letter. “[We] look forward to responding,” she wrote.
The department should make it easier for people to use the few tools available for demanding a refund on their student debt, the senators wrote. Borrowers who believe that their college committed fraud or lied to them—about job prospects or graduation rates, for example—can file what’s known as a “defense to repayment” claim against the school, according to federal law. But Warren and other senators have railed against the department for not making it clear enough to students how they could make such a claim. More broadly, the senators noted in the letter, the government has not used its power to cancel federal debts outright when the money went to a school that has been accused of abusing students.
“Instead, the Department continues to gouge borrowers who struggle to meet their payments, subjecting them to debt collection, wage and benefit withholding,” the senators wrote. Some point out, however, that there are risks inherent in handing money to people who might just get a degree in basket weaving, without checking their credit score. Lenders typically expect to be compensated for such risks. The federal aid program, education expert Kevin Carey wrote in the New York Times this month, “lends money to students at below-market interest rates, regardless of credit history, with no money down, to purchase an asset that can’t be repossessed in the event of default.”
Better pay attention!
Western powers should take into consideration Russia’s legitimate security concerns over Ukraine, a top Chinese diplomat has said in an unusually frank and open display of support for Moscow’s position in the crisis. Qu Xing, China’s ambassador to Belgium, was quoted by state news agency Xinhua late on Thursday as blaming competition between Russia and the West for the Ukraine crisis, urging Western powers to “abandon the zero-sum mentality” with Russia. He said the “nature and root cause” of the crisis was the “game” between Russia and Western powers, including the US and the EU. He said external intervention by different powers accelerated the crisis and warned that Moscow would feel it was being treated unfairly if the West did not change its approach.
“The West should abandon the zero-sum mentality, and take the real security concerns of Russia into consideration,” Qu was quoted as saying. His comments were an unusually public show of understanding from China for the Russian position. China and Russia see eye-to-eye on many international diplomatic issues but Beijing has generally not been so willing to back Russia over Ukraine. China has also been cautious not to be drawn into the struggle between Russia and the West over Ukraine’s future, not wanting to alienate a key ally. It has said it would like to continue to develop “friendly cooperation” with Ukraine, and respects the ex-Soviet state’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Qu’s comments coincide with talks between the United States and its European allies over harsher sanctions against Moscow. On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Western powers of trying to dominate and impose their ideology on the rest of world. The United States and European delegations slammed Moscow for supporting rebels in eastern Ukraine. Qu said Washington’s involvement in Ukraine could “become a distraction in its foreign policy”. “The United States is unwilling to see its presence in any part of the world being weakened, but the fact is its resources are limited, and it will be to some extent hard work to sustain its influence in external affairs, ” Qu was quoted as saying.
Forgive us for believing, even for a moment, one single thing that came out of Kiev. What were we thinking? They’re building an amazing record.
The United Arab Emirates is not selling military equipment to Ukraine, despite earlier statements by Kiev officials, the UAE Foreign Ministry said. “An agreement on cooperation in defense technologies the UAE and Ukraine signed recently does not stipulate any contracts for deliveries of weaponry to the Ukrainian side,” said Faraj Faris al-Mazrouei, adviser to UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The deal was only one element in a future system of cooperation between the two countries in the field of defense technologies, RIA Novosti reported al-Mazrouei as saying, citing the Emarat Al-Yawm news portal.
The UAE and Ukraine signed a memorandum of understanding on military-technical cooperation during the IDEX-2015 defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi earlier this week. After the signing, an advisor to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Anton Gerashchenko, wrote on social networks that this cooperation would include “the supply of certain types of arms and military equipment to Ukraine” by the UAE. “The types and volumes of supplies, as you can imagine, are not for disclosure on Facebook,” Gerashchenko said. The advisor stressed that “unlike Europeans and Americans, the Arabs aren’t afraid of Putin’s threats of a third world war starting in case of arms and ammunition supplies to Ukraine.”
Who fought Franco, and how many of them were arrested? How ’bout Hemingway?
Police have arrested eight Spanish men who returned from fighting alongside pro-Russia forces in eastern Ukraine, in what they said was the first operation of its kind in Europe. Officers detained the suspects in six regions across Spain after they returned from predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, the interior ministry said in a statement. They had gone to Ukraine last year where they joined pro-Russia groups fighting for independence in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the statement added. The Spaniards belonged to the far left and were inspired by the International Brigades, the multinational volunteer forces that fought against Francisco Franco’s uprising during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.
They are suspected of being accomplices in killings allegedly carried out by pro-Russia groups, and of possessing arms. “Their activities can be considered offences that compromise Spain’s peace or independence, as Spaniards who, while taking part in an armed conflict, violate the neutrality Spain must keep in relation to the international community,” the statement said. The interior ministry said it was the first operation in Europe directed against foreign fighters in Ukraine. Pro-Russia forces in eastern Ukraine are battling those of the Ukrainian government, which is backed by the west.
Over 30,000 foreign fighters are taking part in the conflict, according to the Ukrainian armed forces. A large number come from Russia and former Soviet states, but many have come from Israel, Serbia, Spain, Italy and Brazil. “These arrests sadden me,” a leader of Ukraine’s pro-Russian separatist rebels, in Donetsk, Denis Pouchiline, told AFP. “I think we are going to demand explanations from Spain over this incident. There are many volunteers in our ranks, the greatest number come from Russia, but there are representatives from Spain, Italy, France … it is the first time that they have these types of problems.”
The western press will play it for all they can, as will the political field. But Putin had no reason to kill the guy, and wouldn’t have done it this way if he had.
Boris Nemtsov did not pose a threat to the Russian government, according to presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov. The murder of the Russian opposition figure has been called a “provocation” by a number of politicians and public figures. Boris Nemtsov was killed Friday evening in the center of Moscow. A veteran of Russian politics, he was an influential figure in the 1990s and held the post of deputy prime minister under former President Boris Yeltsin. Though he had been more involved in business than politics since 2003, he was a critic of the Russian government.
“With all due respect to the memory of Boris Nemtsov, in political terms he did not pose any threat to the current Russian leadership or Vladimir Putin. If we compare popularity levels, Putin’s and the government’s ratings and so on, in general Boris Nemtsov was just a little bit more than an average citizen,” Peskov said on Saturday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned the assassination and expressed his condolences to the family, Peskov added. “Putin has stressed that this brutal murder has all [the] signs of a contract murder and is extremely provocative.”
Irina Khakamada, an opposition figure who was Nemtsov’s ally in the SPS party (Union of Right Forces), called the murder a “provocation” aimed at destabilizing Russia. “It is definitely not beneficial to Putin and it is aimed at destabilizing everything to tatters,” she said.