A Teutonic Paneuropa? Will Angela Merkel Jump the Shark?

I wrote the following article in early March 2016.  Since then Angela Merkel’s political fortunes have declined precipitously.  John Helmer writes in great detail on Russian issues at Dances With Bears.  He has demonstrated an ability to drill deeply into whatever he focuses on. Several days ago he wrote:

HELLO RAPALLO! THE INEVITABILITY OF THE NEW GERMAN TREATY ON ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA

Secret negotiations have been under way for some time between high German and Russian officials, to which Chancellor Angela Merkel has been excluded. Warned by US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, and in a recent coded communication from outgoing President Barack Obama that she must act to save her authority, and enforce European Union sanctions against Russia, Merkel has also received an ultimatum from her cabinet and party. This watruth of the matters delivered in the form of a page torn out of an Old German bible in which a large black spot had been inked. Either she step aside in secret, Merkel understood the signal, or she will be forced to resign in public.

. . .

Excerpts of the new treaty, which has been drafted by ministry-level officials Merkel has been unable to stop, have been leaked by sources close to the two sides in the secret talks.

I can’t vouch for the truth of Helmer’s report, and it may be just an instance of confirmation bias on my part, but something about it intrigues me so I’m prefacing my blog from last March on Merkel with it.

A Teutonic Paneuropa? Will Angela Merkel Jump the Shark?

March 3, 2016

David L Goldman

  • Angela Merkel’s ratings are way down in Germany
  • Germany faces banking, refugee, foreign policy and economic growth crises
  • The European Central Bank is looking for more German banking/sovereign debt sharing
  • Germany is looking to Russia for more gas via Nord Stream 2
  • The German Constitutional Court will rule on a case bearing on ECB debt sharing that would fall on Germany

Angela Merkel is not only the German chancellor, but is the ruling politician in the European Union. She has controlled through her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the appointment or election of Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU Commission (enforces all EU legislation), Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council (head of state), Martin Schultz, the president of the European parliament and Elmar Brok, the chairman of the EU parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.  (See Doctorow at min 6) The latter 2 men are members of the German CDU.

There’s a German election coming up in late 2017.  Maybe it’s her time to exercise all her political acumen to catch her opponents by surprise and to resurrect her popularity in Germany.  When ratings decline it’s time to do something very different to get and keep attention . . .and power.  In US televison land this has become known as jump the  shark: do something utterly outlandish to save the show.  Merkel’s Europe faces banking, refugee, economic and foreign policy challenges that have geopolitical ramifications.  Merkel has taken firm stands on these issues that are increasingly unpopular.  She is capable of juggling the complexity of what faces her and has proven in the past that she is the smartest politician in Germany.  She is also enough of a power-loving opportunist for one to believe she might reconsider her positions and change course.

This article addresses whether Angela Merkel can address Germany’s difficulties at a time when her ratings are declining:

In the Infratest Dimap poll for public broadcaster ARD and newspaper Die Welt, released on Wednesday night, 46 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with Merkel’s performance — down from 75 percent less than a year ago, in April 2015.

Source: Politico 2-4-16

A Portrait of Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel the politician has been seriously underestimated.  That opinion has ended a number of German political careers.  The following are quotes from a 12-1-14 New Yorker portrait of her: The Quiet German:

According to Karl Feldmeyer, the political correspondent for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, what drove Merkel was “her perfect instinct for power, which, for me, is the main characteristic of this politician.”

John Kornblum, a former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, who still lives in Berlin, said, “If you cross her, you end up dead. There’s nothing cushy about her. There’s a whole list of alpha males who thought they would get her out of the way, and they’re all now in other walks of life.”

Critics and supporters alike describe her as a gifted tactician without a larger vision. Kornblum, the former Ambassador, once asked a Merkel adviser about her long-term view. “The Chancellor’s long-term view is about two weeks,” the adviser replied. The pejorative most often used against her is “opportunist.”

“People say there’s no project, there’s no idea,” the senior official told me. “It’s just a zigzag of smart moves for nine years.” But, he added, “She would say that the times are not conducive to great visions.”

Merkel, at sixty, is the most successful politician in modern German history. Her popularity floats around seventy-five per cent—unheard of in an era of resentment toward elected leaders.

A political consensus founded on economic success, with a complacent citizenry, a compliant press, and a vastly popular leader who rarely deviates from public opinion—Merkel’s Germany is reminiscent of Eisenhower’s America.

Source: The New Yorker

Germany’s shark infested political seascape

 

 

Refugees and Teutonic Europe

I was inspired to put this article together by a series of articles by Adam Whitehead devoted to both the European refugee and the European banking/sovereign debt issues. The chief players mentioned are:

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Minister of Finance, Netherlands; President, Eurogroup, euro currency area finance ministers

Jean-Claude Juncker, President, European Commission

Dr. Jens Weidmann, President of the Deutsche Bundesbank; Member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank; Governor of the International Monetary Fund for Germany; Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bank for International Settlements

Wolfgang Schaeuble, German Finance Minister

Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank

The mini-Schengen zone

Very briefly, in response to the refugee issue there has been a very serious discussion going on for the past several months about the creation of a mini-Schengen Zone, named after an agreement of the same name that abolished passport and border controls amongst 26 European countries, as summarized here on 12-6-15 by Whitehead:  

Under Dijsselbloem’s plan, a new mini-Schengen Zone comprised of the trusted nations of Sweden, Austria, Belgium and Germany may need to be formed. This new “Core European” gang of four could loosely be called “Teutonic Europe” [Whitehead’s term]. Its formation therefore implies the creation of a parallel economic and political zone in which the Euro is used. By logical extension, other nations will then have to apply to join it; although the official criteria for membership as yet remain unknown.

[11-30-15, German chancellor Angela Merkel held a surprise mini-summit in Brussels on Sunday with seven refugee-positive EU countries aiming to create a “coalition of the willing”. Sweden, Finland, Austria, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Greece were present at the talks, held two hours before Sunday’s summit with Turkey]

https://euobserver.com/tickers/131303

Building on Dijsselbloem’s platform, Angela Merkel extended membership of the “Teutonic Zone” to the nine nations who have accepted the most immigrants from Syria. The “Teutonic Zone” therefore has both economic and political drivers of unification, based on current conditions.. . .Its first tactical political step will be the fast tracking of an immigration deal with Turkey. This will then serve as the platform for the creation of all foreign policy for the new Eurozone. As the wider Eurozone disintegrates, there is therefore a substitute ready to take its place. [emphasis added]

Source: Seeking Alpha

Mutualizing EU bank deposit insurance

On 12-20-15, Whitehead connects the refugee issue via a new Schengen zone consolidation to the intra-European fight over a proposal to mutualize bank deposit insurance, i.e., two transitions for the price of one?

[The European Central Bank] . . .has degenerated into a platform, through which differing factions fight for control of the monetary system and governing policy of the Eurozone, at a time when the pressure for it to split up has become extreme. The previous report [Whitehead’s of 12-6-15 above]. . . observed Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s proposal for what was termed “Teutonic Europe” to replace the current degenerating system. The latest revelations of skulduggery, in the corridors of power at the ECB, provide further credibility to this thesis of a “Teutonic Europe” alternative to the current status quo.

. . .

The ECB, which owns Spanish sovereign debt, must be getting very nervous. Presumably this is one reason why the ECB is so keen on mutualising the debts and deposits of Eurozone nations. The ECB is now facing a systemic failure which will translate into its own insolvency and forced liquidation.

. . .

Germany on the other hand, with trade and budget surpluses, is ready and able to foreclose on the ECB and the whole Eurozone by converting its debt claims on these counterparties into political equity. When faced with this recapitalization, some countries will no doubt walk away from the Eurozone, leaving those remaining in something similar to “Paneuropa” [one united European state].

. . .

Jens Weidmann signalled that Germany is now turning its intentions and capabilities in this direction. He was unapologetic for the German current account surplus, which now stands at 8% of GDP. In fact he blamed this number on the falling oil price and the weakness of the Euro. . . . Germany’s surplus, in his opinion, is not as dangerous as other nations’ reciprocal deficits. Germany is therefore not the problem. Indeed it is the solution, if only other Eurozone nations would follow its example of economic management. [emphasis added]

Source: Seeking Alpha

Whitehead notes on 2-4-16 that the debate regarding the Eurozone monetary system has now expanded into a contest between Mario Draghi et al and those who have apparently tied their political future and their vision of Europe to their commitment to German monetary models:

Italian Prime Minister Renzi transformed the country’s position on its banking crisis into a sovereign debt crisis issue. By so doing, he opened up a can of worms, inside of which Jean-Claude Juncker could be seen squirming with embarrassment. Juncker has been recently noticed booking his seat at the “Paneuropa” Last Supper event for the Eurozone. He hopes to enjoy life in the hereafter of a new Eurozone run more closely along the German lines of thinking. Matteo Renzi reminded Juncker that his position in the here and now is predicated upon his ability to mutualise bank deposit insurance and sovereign debt across the Eurozone.

In a joint press conference with Angela Merkel, Renzi opined thatwe are asking that the rules are applied without any misunderstandings over the fact that for us, flexibility was a necessary part of the accord that led to the election of Jean Claude Juncker,” and also that “I have not changed my mind on flexibility, I hope that Jean Claude Juncker has not changed his mind.”

Juncker has been reminded that his political survival is tied to the issues of flexibility and mutualisation. This is a signal of the deal-breaker that finally splits the Eurozone. Germany sees combined flexibility and mutualisation as essentially sanctioning the monetization of state deficits in one nation by another. This move conflicts directly with the Stability Pact rules that Germany wishes all Eurozone nations to adhere to.

. . .

Jens Weidmann’s behaviour highlights the growing trend amongst ECB Governing Council members to talk their own national central bank’s book when it comes to opining in general on Eurozone matters. This trend underlies the larger systemic degenerating trend towards partisanship along national sovereign lines within ECB policy making in general.[emphasis added]

Source: Seeking Alpha

This is truly a very very brief summary of Adam Whitehead’s work. The refugee and monetary/banking situations change daily, what with the problems of Germany’s Deutsche Bank making headlines of late.  See here and here.  I urge those of you with a bent for banking esoterica and who are devoted to the arcana of European monetary frolic and detours to read Whitehead’s articles.  The reason I have cited all the above is to give an hint of how far-reaching the results of addressing just the refugee and monetary issues could be.  Two more things to be aware of: in this 2-12-16 article from Germany’s Spiegel Online, “Turkish-German Pact: EU Split by Merkel’s Refugee Plan,” there is no mention of a mini-Schengen zone.  Too sensitive to trot out to a German audience? In addition, there is another player yet to weigh in on the monetary issues above, the German Constitutional Court, but I’ll get to that below.

 

GERMANY: THE EXPORT NATION PAR EXCELLANCE

Source: World Bank via Malden Economics

Germany is the leading export nation in the world as a percent of GDP. George Friedman sums up the problem he sees facing Germany quite succinctly in this short (5:43 min) video:  

The real problem in Europe and the stress that people are feeling is not simply immigration. . . .southern Europe has unemployment rates of 20%, some 25%.  This is Spain. This is Italy.  This is the Balkans.  This is all of Mediterranean Europe.  These unemployment rates are the same rates that the US had in the Great Depression.  . . .[Immigration] is the biggest problem [northern Europe] thinks they’re facing. But there’s a bigger one.  [There is] a crisis of exports . . .[Germany] derives 50% of its GDP from exports.  It can’t expand those exports. . .The biggest problem in Europe now is Germany. An extraordinarily vulnerable, insecure country. It knows it is living in a bubble.  On top of that you put the immigrants and you’ve got an explosive situation.

. . .

This is a country that simply can’t sustain this kind of export rate at this level of its economy. . . It’s going to wind up in a financial crisis and an economic crisis of the first order. . . . Germany has so far dodged all the bullits being fired at it.  That can’t go on forever.  

Source: Business Insider 1-14-16

What makes this export “dependency” even more compelling are the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU pursuant to the Ukrainian conflict and Russia’s purported responsibility for it.

These sanctions are hitting German exporters hard:

Sanction Spiral Successful: German Exports to Russia Plunge

by Wolf Richter • July 29, 2014

The German economy lives and dies by its exports. While Russia isn’t Germany’s largest trading partner, not anywhere near, it is important. In 2013, German exports to Russia had already dropped over 5% to €36.1 billion, triggered by the economic downturn in Russia. So the 17% plunge this year on top of last year’s drop would amount to a 22% swoon from the halcyon days of 2012. And now there are worries about the 300,000 jobs in Germany that depend on this trade with Russia.

“The German-Russian economic relations are currently heavily burdened,” Volker Treier, foreign trade chief of the DIHK, told the Handelsblatt. Many German companies in Russia are fretting that Russian companies are going to walk away from the relationship. “In part that has already happened,” he said. “Russian customers fear evidently that German companies would be unable to fulfill their delivery and maintenance obligations because of the threat of economic sanctions.” This fear is particularly widespread in the mechanical engineering sector, Germany’s forte.

Source: Wolf Street

German Business Sharply Protests EU Sanctions Against Russia

Germany has already lost 6.5 billion euros in trade in 2014, and is expected to lose another 8.5 billion in 2015 : 12-17-15

Original Source: Deutshe Wirtschafts Nachrichten 12-17-15

Senior German Party Leader Seehofer Questions Sanctions on Russia

The deputy chairman of the Christian Social Union, the top party in Bavaria and a cornerstone of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support, says it’s time to talk about ending the sanctions [emphasis added]

Original Source: Die Welt 12-18-15

German Farmers Association Demands End to Sanctions on Russia

German farmers have lost 1 billion Euros so far – whether German agriculture can even win back the market it has lost in Russia as a result of sanctions is an open question

Original Source: Deutshe Wirtschafts Nachrichten 1-12-16

Die Welt reported that as of June 2015 the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (Wifo) estimated the cost of these sanctions to Europe would run to “more than two million jobs and 100 billion euros in added value at risk.”   Germany was estimated to be facing the immediate (unmittelbar) loss of 175,00 jobs and 290,000 more if

 


In Deutschland sind besonders viele Arbeitsplätze bedroht

Source: Infographics World

sanctions continued (bei anhaltenden Sanctionen).

Often overlooked in the maximization of exports by Germany is the fact that it has exploited its powerful economic engine to “colonize” the former E. European satellites as  sources of manufacturing and cheap labor. The underlying concept is called Mitteleuropa.  In fact this is an idea that figured in the Nazi plans for the Third Reich.  These plans and especially the Nazi legal structures intended for imposition on Europe are detailed by Joseph P. Farrell in his “The Third Way: The Nazi International, European Union, and Corporate Fascism.” Frenchman Emmanuel Todd offered some very useful analysis of this as well:

Germany holds the European continent by Emmanuel Todd (3) 9-8-14

But fundamentally, the new German system is based on the annexation of workforces. First were those used in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, etc. The Germans reorganized their industrial system using their cheap labor. The active population of Ukraine of 45 million inhabitants, with its good level of education inherited from the Soviet era, would be an outstanding decision for Germany, the possibility of a dominant Germany for a long time, and most importantly, with his empire, immediately passing actual economic power over the United States. [Poor] Brzezinski !

Source: Les Crises.fr

Germany’s fast hold on the european continent, by Emmanuel Todd 11-16-14

ET: The recent German power built itself up by putting to capitalist work populations which were formerly communist. This may be a thing of which the Germans themselves are not enough aware of, and maybe that this could be their true fragility: the dynamic of the German economy is not only German. Part of the success of our German neighbours stems from the fact that the Communists were much interested in education. They left behind them, not only obsolete industrial systems, but also populations that were remarkably well educated.

But it must be acknowledged that Germany has substituted itself to Russia as the controlling power in Eastern Europe and that it has succeeded in turning this into a strength. Russia, by contrast, had been weakened by its control over the popular démocracies, as the military cost was not compensated for by economic gain. Thanks to the United States, the cost of military control is, for Germany, close to zero.

Source: Les Crises.fr

For a more comprehensive take on Todd’s views see the article linked below and in this case, do read the comments following it:

Is Berlin Once Again Set On Hegemony in Eastern Europe?

Notable historian and commentator says that while careful not to challenge the US Berlin is using the EU project to transform countries on EU’s periphery into satellites of Germany

Source: Russian Insider 5-11-15

See also McKinsey’s 12/13:    “A new dawn: Reigniting growth in Central and Eastern Europe”

 

GERMANY: NATURAL GAS: NORD STREAM 2: PUTTING THE ENERGY PEDAL TO THE METAL

The second phase of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, paralleling Nord Stream 1, which supplies Germany with 30+% of its gas, appears to be picking up momentum in spite of what was perceived as Nord Stream 2 inconsistency with the EU’s Third energy package, the same alleged inconsistencies opponents of the South Stream natural gas pipeline relied on to kill that project.

The EU has prevented a project to bring more Russian gas to Southeastern Europe, namely the now defunct “South Stream”, but apparently nothing prevents Germany from helping Russia carry out its project to bypass Ukraine [emphasis added]

Source: EurActiv.com. 9-4-15

Source: Map of Nord Stream 1 and 2, plus planned extensions. [Nord Stream website]

Statements coming out of the December 2015 EU energy summit from European Council’s President Donald Tusk might lead us to believe that Nord Stream 2 is unlikely to be built:

European leaders convened [sic] that any new infrastructure – Nord Stream 2 included – has to comply with European laws and with the objectives presented in the Energy Union, European Council’s President Donald Tusk said on Friday after the meeting.

“We discussed the conditions that need to be met by major energy infrastructure projects. What we have agreed is that any new infrastructure should be fully in line with Energy Union objectives, such as reduction of energy dependency and diversification of suppliers, sources and routes” he said in a statement.

Presenting the outcome of the EU summit in Brussels, Tusk explained that the projects can stumble upon political, legal or financial hurdles.

“All projects have to comply with all EU laws, including the third Energy Package. This is a clear condition for receiving support from the EU institutions or any Member State – be it political, legal or financial.”

Tusk explicitly mentioned the Nord Stream 2, saying it does not meet EU energy rules on supply diversification. He also added that the pipeline extension would undermine Ukraine’s role as a gas transit country. [emphasis added]

Source: Natural Gas Europe 12-18-15

But from the statements made since that meeting by Austria and Italy indications are that (t)he ‘elephant’ at the EU summit  [the issue of Nord Stream 2] will turn out to have been Angela Merkel and that President Tusk didn’t get the interoffice memo from German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel: “German authorities should have the final say in all legal issues.” The Germans expect the Russians to be cooperative, so not to worry.  If built, Germany will collect transit fees for gas that flows through and beyond it.  This is likely to be billions of euros.

 

The German Constitutional Court Case

In his 2-4-16 article, Adam Whitehead pointed out that the German Constitutional Court will be hearing a set of cases that reprise an issue that could determine the future of efforts by proponents of debt mutualization in the EU.  This means that Germany could become liable for even more of the debts run up by the other EU nations. Think Italy.  Think Spain.

Germany’s top court next month will rehear five lawsuits alleging that the country should oppose the European Central Bank’s [ECB] 2012 bond-buying program even after European Union judges last year cleared it with minor strings attached.

The Federal Constitutional Court, which will have to make a final ruling in the cases after receiving guidelines from the European Court of Justice, will rehear the lawsuits Feb. 16, the tribunal said in a statement Friday. The German judges will address whether the ECJ’s backing of the Outright Monetary Transactions [OMT] program [ECB purchases in the secondary sovereign bond market of other EU country sovereign debt] and the potential action by the ECB are in line with German constitutional principles.

The hearing is the next step in a long national dispute over the OMT, a program that was never put into action. The German court first heard the case in 2013. In early 2014, the judges sent it to the European Union’s highest tribunal adding a list of demands to curb the program. The Karlsruhe-based court will now look at the guidelines it received and test them under with the national constitution’s democracy principles.

The ECB announced details of the OMT plan in September 2012, as bets multiplied that the euro area would break apart, and after its president Mario Draghi promised to do “whatever it takes” to save the currency. The calming of financial markets produced by the still-untapped OMT program helped the euro area emerge from its longest-ever recession. [emphasis added]

Source: Bloomberg Business 1-15-16

Since the hearing for 2-16-16 was scheduled, the Court issued a ruling on 1-26-16 in another case that has negative implications for the quantitative easing sought by Mario Draghi, the EC Bank president, that the Outright Monetary Transactions program would represent.

Germany’s top court used a ruling in an extradition case to drop hints that it is willing to step in when there are fundamental conflicts between European Union law and the country’s constitution, weeks before it hears a case over the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program.

. . . In the document, the judges cited the argument that the court may declare EU acts inapplicable in Germany if they transgress powers granted under the bloc’s treaties and violate basic principles of the country’s constitution.

Coming three weeks before the court hears a case against the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions program, the decision may signal that the judges are sticking to the idea that German constitutional standards can trump EU acts. While the OMT program was cleared by the European Court of Justice last year with minor strings attached, the German judges will hear more arguments in the case. They had never ruled against any EU action, usually relying on the “EU-friendliness” of the German constitution. [emphasis added]

Source: Bloomberg Business 1-26-16

This case constitutes an opportunity to advance the “Teutonic Paneuropa” concepts mooted above: a plausible rationalization–if the Court rules that the German constitution forbids this type of QE [quantitative easing]–for those who want to restructure EU Schengen zone rules, refugee policies, energy policies, economic sanctions and monetary policies on a grand scale. Adherents of restructuring of EU institutions could claim they have no choice but to radically restructure the EU and consider an even more German-centric entity. To split the EU into northern and southern zones and abandon the biggest sovereign debtors to their fate. Without Germany footing any more debts.

On 2-8-16 two of Europe’s leading bankers, Jens Weidmann, President of the Deutsche Bundesbank; and François Villeroy de Galhau, Governor of the Bank of France, have proposed a sharing of sovereignty amongst 19 European countries concurrent with the creation of  a single EU treasury.  That would be a radical restructuring of the EU.

 

Will Angela Merkel jump the shark ?

She appears to me to be the only politician in Europe who could muster the intellect, political acumen and opportunism to put on the skis and make the jump.  But.  She’s not a person of vision and has the burden of some serious personal biases.  Recall from above:

Critics and supporters alike describe her as a gifted tactician without a larger vision. Kornblum, the former Ambassador, once asked a Merkel adviser about her long-term view. “The Chancellor’s long-term view is about two weeks,“ the adviser replied.

A strong visionary leader(s) could lead the way to solve the German export issue by tackling the sanctions against Russia, the refugee issue by reconstituting the Schengen zone regime with a view to realistic internal capacity and security issues and shield Germany from further intra-EU sovereign debt issues while providing the fiscal space to rescue Deutsche Bank, among others.  Relations with Russia figure very large and that is the geopolitical elephant in this room.  Russia has the resources to make a much closer German-Russian relationship one of the most powerful economic combinations in the world.  German leaders in the past have advocated that. It would give Germany the ability to throw off US domination.  The Russians understand the need for a multi-polar world: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov recently alluded to the possibilty of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for Japan:

We’re interested in close and friendly relations with Japan.

. . .

After all, we are not asking for something exorbitant. We want only one thing from Japan – to say that it is committed to the UN Charter like all other countries that signed and ratified it, in all of its clauses, including Article 107 that says that the results of WWII are not subject to revision. I don’t think that these demands are too much. Japan has ratified this document.

. . .

To fulfil the agreement of our leaders and develop bilateral relations on an entirely new level across the board, including international activities, we would like to cooperate more closely in foreign policy affairs and see a more independent Japan, all the more so since it hopes to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We understand this desire. We’d like those countries that are striving to receive permanent membership in the UN Security Council to bring added value and an additional element of balance in their positions. When a country takes the same position as the United States, it doesn’t contribute much to the political process or adjust the balance in the drafting of decisions. In principle, we would like to see every country (President Putin spoke about this in detail as regards the European Union) to be independent in the world arena and be guided by its own national interests. [emphasis added]

Source: Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference on Russia’s diplomacy performance in 2015, Moscow, January 26, 2016

No doubt Germany would like a seat at that table.  Is Moscow worth a mass (compromising on a principle that seems essential for something far more important)?

Angela Merkel came to power in a uni-polar geopolitical world .  What’s more, she became the most successful German political leader in generations at a time and in a country that did not foster female ambitions.  If she were to consider jumping the shark, she’d need to reconsider those parts of her biography that are no longer serviceful for Germany:

The two world leaders with whom Merkel has her most important and complex relationships are Obama, who has won her reluctant respect, and Putin, who has earned her deep distrust.

After Putin’s speech at the Bundestag, Merkel told a colleague, “This is typical K.G.B. talk. Never trust this guy.”

[After Putin’s dog frightened Merkel during a visit with Putin at his residence], Merkel interpreted Putin’s behavior. “I understand why he has to do this—to prove he’s a man,” . . . “He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this [macho behavior].”

Soon after the annexation of Crimea, Merkel reportedly told Obama   that Putin was living “in another world.” She set about bringing him back to reality.

           Source: The New Yorker 12-1-14

Putin is the leading actor in today’s geopolitical theater and if Merkel still thinks she can treat him as if he is merely a macho fool she’s definitely not the leader who will achieve for Germany conceivably the status it deserves.

Will Angela Merkel jump the shark ? I don’t think so. Will she overcome her career long habit of waiting to determine if the political winds favor her ability to hold and exercise power? Probably not.  But, make no mistake about it: this is only a brief summary of the challenges facing Germany and the issues I’ve covered would be daunting for any leader at any time in history.

And these are very big skis to wear.

 

Deflation in the casino: central banks play their last chips to no avail

Deflation in the casino: central banks play their last chips to no avail

By David L Goldman

March 2016

rev’d 12-5-16

  1. This is not your grandfather´s capitalism
  2. A global $US short squeeze
  3. Negative Interest Rate Policy (NIRP): a perverse incentive to hold non-productive yield free cash
  4. Central banks approach end-game while fighting the last monetary war

Deflation today is a consequence of debt piled on more debt accompanied by failure to generate sufficient wealth, growth and employment resulting in an inability to service the debt. The dollar has risen against other currencies, not because it is strong, but because the lack of global economic growth has exposed the weakness of a petrodollar money-as-debt monetary system. The gaming of the monetary system by all the controlling players is the essence of 21st century capitalism. The failure of this capitalism will mark the end of the American century.

This is not your grandfather´s capitalism

The zero interest rate policies of the US Fed no longer encourage savings as a significant source of funds for private capital expenditure on productive assets.  With unlimited money printing costumed as ¨qualitative easing,¨ QE, and ¨qualitative and quantitative easing,¨ QQE, the US Fed and other central banks have purchased trillions in debt issued by major banks and corporations in recent bubbles at face value rather than market value, supplying the financial sector, some of the largest constituents of which actually failed in 2007-8, with funds to lend to corporations at historically extremely low rates.  Many corporations are collectively spending hundreds of billions  buying back their stock and issuing dividends rather than expanding their operations. This is a direct consequence of and a rational response to Fed policy.  Former Fed governor Richard Fisher confirmed that the Fed injected ¨cocaine and heroin” into the system to boost the stock markets in furtherance of, among other things, the ¨wealth effect¨: the belief that rising stock markets generate confidence that translates into more consumer spending.  The US SEC acknowledged the buybacks and asserted that buybacks under Rule 10b-18 are “voluntary safe harbor[s]” that preclude market manipulation charges.  In another context this was called ¨dumbing deviancy down.¨  The result is a churning of liquidity to create the appearance of an economy producing wealth rather than the actual creation of wealth. And the creation of mountains of debt.

Further consequences of these policies unroll as global liquidity falls

Source: Bloomberg

and a certain amount of quarter-ending corporate book cooking is required to make this new capitalism presentable.  Large end-of quarter Fed reverse repo data suggest that the need for cash on the books on important accounting dates correlates with monetary base changes and stock index movements.  US Treasury fails-to-deliver, at an average of $50 billion per day figure in this scenario as a way to address a shortage of money-good collateral.

Worse than that, entities–some of whom are central bank primary dealers–such as HSBC (drug money laundering), Standard Chartered (falsifying records of transactions with sanctioned countries, RBS (Libor rate fixing), BNP (transactions with sanctioned countries), Barclays (Libor rate fixing), Bank of America (mortgages), Citibank (forex rigging), Wachovia (drug money laundering) and JP Morgan Chase (take your pick) pay fines for criminal activity and recover the ¨losses¨ with more, uh, business.  And by the way, the fines are tax deductible as a cost of doing business.

In 2009, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, there was plenty of drug cartel liquidity supplied to banks in need, and the City of London now seems to be a major center of drug-cartel money laundering.

The Fed´s preservation of failed banks and corporations negates Joseph Schumpeter´s ¨creative destruction¨ that made the capitalism-that-was the dynamic engine that could.  Richard Duncan calls a monetary system that continually issues more debt until the debt can no longer be serviced ¨creditism.¨  Unregulated derivative markets permit the gaming of all the debt in a manner that furthers the ability of the financial sector of the economy to operate as a profit center instead of a cost of doing business.

The FIRE components of the financial sector: finance, insurance and real estate, grew from 10.5% of GDP in 1947 to 21.5% in 2009.  They do so at the expense of what most understand as the benefits of yesterday´s capitalism to have been: the generation of wealth, growth, employment and the capacity to sustain a consumer middle class.  There was a time when the dominant oligarchs understood the need to reel in the worst excesses of capitalism.  F. William Engdahl provides an excellent history in his ¨Gods of Money¨ detailing how the Rockefeller combination successfully lobbied in 1933 for the prohibition of commercial banking and securities transactions in the same bank, via the Glass-Steagall Act, against the wishes of Morgan & Co. Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999 during the Clinton administration.

The fiat currency created by the money-as-debt monetary system is not generating inflation, with monetary velocity in the dog house and the global struggle to service increasing debt.  Deflation today is a consequence of debt piled on more debt accompanied by failure to generate sufficient wealth, growth and employment resulting in an inability to service the debt. The major central banks are working in the service of what are essentially banks operating as hedge-funds when the Bank of Japan engages in infinite QE or the ECB increases its failed QE program from 60 billion euros per month to 80 billion per month.  The financing utilities–the banks–have become the tail wagging what used to be the capitalist dog engine of growth.  

A global $US short squeeze

As a result of the low price of oil, diminished petrodollar flow results in a decrease in global $US liquidity and a reduction in sovereign wealth funds which then must liquidate assets to meet domestic needs:  

Sovereign Wealth Funds, Oil, and Markets

2-9-16

The total assets of sovereign wealth funds, as of last March, were estimated at $7.3 trillion by the International Monetary Fund. That figure has doubled just since 2007. The IMF adds that at least $4.2 trillion of this wealth was energy-related.

A nice chunk of this accumulated oil wealth was placed into global financial markets by countries like Saudi Arabia.

But now plunging oil and gas prices have pushed these countries into budget deficits.

For example, Bank of America estimates that $30 per barrel oil will balloon the Saudis’ 2016 budget deficit to $180 billion. Add to that more than $100 billion in reserves spent in trying to defend its currency (riyal) peg to the U.S. dollar.

So it’s no surprise that the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) says their foreign assets fell by a record $108 billion in 2015. SAMA owned $423 billion in overseas securities as of November.

. . .

In the Gulf region alone, the IMF estimates the fiscal surplus of $200 billion in the 2015-20 period will now turn into a $145 billion deficit over the same period.

Draining Liquidity

The deficits are pushing the oil-producing countries to liquidate some of their holdings and free up monies. Even Norway was forced to tap into its massive $820 billion sovereign wealth fund – the Government Pension Fund Global – for the very first time last October.

. . .

The Royal Bank of Scotland’s Head of Credit Macro Research, Alberto Gallo, estimated that the gross flow of petrodollars into the global economy fell to a mere $200 billion last year from $800 billion in 2012. [emphasis added]

Source: Tim Maverick, Wall st daily

In the US, Alaska is literally a failing petrodollar state:

¨With oil prices down along with oil production, the state is facing an Alaska-size shortfall: Two-thirds of the revenue needed to cover this year’s $5.2 billion state budget cannot be collected.¨

Source: The New York Times

A second aspect of the squeeze may seem counterintuitive at first glance.  The oil-based $US is in an inverse relationship to oil prices.  The lower the price of oil the higher the $US:

How the strengthening US dollar is impacting crude oil prices

This relationship suggests that when the petrodollar tide went out the $US is seen to have been swimming naked.

Another factor squeezing the $US is dollar credit issued to borrowers outside the US which now totals $9.8 trillion, of which $3.3 trillion is owed by borrowers resident in emerging markets.  Debt financed with commodities/trade denominated in non-$US currencies makes for a continued demand for $US liquidity as the $US rises and the debt-servicing costs rise for entities using other currencies.

Yet another squeeze on liquidity for investment in the US especially has been the requirement that counterparties to US energy producers´ hedges cover their obligations as the price of oil has fallen. In April 2015 the estimate was that this liability was $26 billion as of December 2014.  The price of oil has dropped further since that figure was published.  Then there´s the increasing damage to energy loan portfolios of possibly $1 trillion.  Or more.  Moral hazard anyone?

The dollar has risen against other currencies, not because it is strong, but because the lack of global economic growth has exposed the weakness of a petrodollar debt-fueled monetary system.  An otherwise small difference between world supply and demand for oil, about 1-2% more supply during 2014-2015, facilitated a major price decline–exacerbated no doubt by derivative trading in the casino–and revealed the critical shortage of dollar liquidity to service global debt.  

Negative Interest Rate Policy: a perverse incentive to hold non-productive yield free cash

Negative interest rates in Europe and Japan represent the final frontier–to boldly go where no monetary policy has gone before–and the amounts involved are beginning to add up: ¨By February, more than $7 trillion of government bonds worldwide offered yields below zero.¨  The long-term consequences are unknown.  In the short run, what could be better calculated actually to result in a run on safes in Japan, ¨lockers¨ in Germany and to stimulate banks in Germany to stack cash?

It doesn´t take much imagination to see NIRP might mean to the 20 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development country pension funds that have an ¨unstated $78 trillion in retirement-related debt.¨  In the long run how will pension funds finance payouts going forward? Throw in insurance companies and the situation becomes even harder to understand and to manage:

Munich Re, the world’s second-biggest reinsurer, expects profit to decline this year as falling prices for its products and low interest rates weigh on investment earnings.

Source: Insurance Journal

Speaking of insurance, in a negative interest rate environment, gold shines more brightly: as the prospect of a monetary reset a la Bretton Woods (BW) that reintroduces gold into the mix as a brake on unlimited fiat money creation increases in thinkability, gold looks more and more like insurance and less risky than stacking cash.  Germany´s Munich Re seems to agree as it proceeds to stack both cash and gold.

Central banks approach end-game while fighting the last monetary war

Central bank machinations amount to fighting the last monetary war.  In 1944 the Bretton Woods agreement formalized the geopolitical reality of the 20th century: US world domination. The tools appropriate to that monetary world will not address today´s deflation. The central banks refuse to purge debt from the systems they ¨manage¨ and that dooms their policies to failure. None of the current dominant stakeholders will lead this purge because all their assets and control positions depend on continuing the money-as-debt based system.  Upton Sinclair said: ¨It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.¨

Central banks use QE, QQE and NIRP and never eliminate any of the overhanging debt that plagues the global monetary system.  These policies eliminate the possibility of real-price discovery in all markets and therefore render the gaming of the system by all the major players the essence of 21st century capitalism.  Drug cartels provide liquidity, corporations buy-back their own shares with borrowed low-interest loans, major banks commit fraud and pay fines as a normal course of business, the ECB faces an Italian bank crisis that dwarfs the Greek crisis and the European Commission (the executive branch of the European Union) is working its way to requiring Germany to insure a new eurozone-wide bank deposit insurance system–an idea anathema to the Germans, one of the few wealth-producing nations in the EU.

The 1973 petrodollar replacement for the BW agreement–oil became the basis for the $US– has run its course now that the diminished oil-export nation surplus liquidity is insufficient to provide liquidity to service the massive global debt.  The loss of this increment of $US liquidity flow is crucial. The abandonment of the BW gold standard in 1971 marked the beginning of the end of the American century.  The adoption of the petrodollar system and the emergence of industrial China after 150 years of western imperialist domination delayed the finale of the American century as China accumulated several trillion in $US denominated paper.  The US dollar enjoyed a ¨dirty float¨: no nation could afford to operate without otherwise unredeemable $US reserves (Bernanke´s global savings glut?) that would allow them to transact international trade in that one reserve currency.  In this casino the US was the house and no one could turn in their chips for anything but more of the same debauched chips.

On October 1, 2016 the Chinese yuan became an International Monetary Fund Special Drawing Rights currency. The Chinese yuan will become an International Monetary Fund Special Drawing Rights currency.  In spite of China´s economic and banking excesses, note that China has

This could be China´s century. A monetary reset will upset all international geopolitical relations.

Conclusion

The world monetary system needs a governor on the creation of money-as-debt because excessive money-as debt creation has debauched currencies. Gold, the traditional governor on the global monetary system, has been deemed to be an anachronism largely because it has been more than a generation since any currency was redeemable in gold. The major decision makers have been schooled in a fiat system and have no experience with any other system and no incentives to curb monetary excesses. It´s the only system they know.  In hindsight, those countries that increase their physical gold reserves will be deemed to have made obvious choices in an environment ripe for a reset, but now look anachronistic.

When will the reset occur and when will gold be reintegrated into the global monetary system?  Not before nations begin steadily reducing the US dollar component of their national monetary reserves–now approximately 60%— well below 60% and not before the proportion of world trade conducted in the US dollar–now approximately 43%— falls significantly below 40% of the total amount of currencies used in trade.  When these trends are understood to be irreversible, economic confidence in the current fiat system will erode because capital flows to where its owners deem it is safest. Loss of that confidence will trigger the reset.

Until then, it´s rational to stack cash and gold in secure places and to hedge holdings in sufficiently varied asset classes such that some will rise as others fall. For instance, one might invest in real estate and art as well as the war industries. It looks like the $US and US Treasury bond prices will continue to rise with the continued short squeeze on the dollar until the balloon bursts somewhere in high atmosphere black swan flight lines.