Wednesday, February 29, 2012

13 Steps For A Greek Exit From The Euro

Everyone by now should know it is in Greece's best interest to exit the Euro. In fact, it is so clear that it appears the only reason for these ongoing "bailouts" is to buy time putting in place the systems needed for the transition. So I present to you the 13 steps for a Greek exit from the Euro courtesy of a paper from Variant Perception "A Primer on the Euro Breakup: Default, Exit and Devaluation as the Optimal Solution" (it is worth a read in it's entirety, but it is long).
"1. Convene a special session of Parliament on a Saturday, passing a law governing all the particular details of exit: currency stamping, demonetization of old notes, capital controls, redenomination of debts, etc. These new provisions would all take effect over the weekend.
2. Create a new currency (ideally named after the pre-euro currency) that would become legal tender, and all money, deposits and debts within the borders of the country would be re-denominated into the new currency. This could be done, for example, at a 1:1 basis, eg 1 euro = 1 new drachma. All debts or deposits held by locals outside of the borders would not be subject to the law.
3. Make the national central bank solely charged, as before the introduction of the euro, with all monetary policy, payments systems, reserve management, etc. In order to promote its credibility and lead towards lower interest rates and lower inflation, it should be prohibited from directly monetizing fiscal liabilities, but this is not essential to exiting the euro. 
4. Impose capital controls immediately over the weekend. Electronic transfers of old euros in the country would be prevented from being transferred to euro accounts outside the country. Capital controls would prevent old euros that are not stamped as new drachmas, pesetas, escudos or liras from leaving the country and being deposited elsewhere. 
5. Declare a public bank holiday of a day or two to allow banks to stamp all their notes, prevent withdrawals of euros from banks and allow banks to make any necessary changes to their electronic payment systems 
6. Institute an immediate massive operation to stamp with ink or affix physical stamps to existing euro notes. Currency offices specifically tasked with this job would need to be set up around the exiting country. 
7. Print new notes as quickly as possible in order to exchange them for old notes. Once enough new notes have been printed and exchanged, the old stamped notes would cease to be legal tender and would be de-monetized. 
8. Allow the new currency to trade freely on foreign exchange markets and would float. This would contribute to the devaluation and regaining of lost competitiveness. This might lead towards a large devaluation, but the devaluation itself would be helpful to provide a strong stimulus to the economy by making it competitive. 
9. Expedited bankruptcy proceedings should be instituted and greater resources should be given to bankruptcy courts to deal with a spike in bankruptcies that would inevitably follow any currency exit.

10. Begin negotiations to re-structure and re-schedule sovereign debt subject to collective bargaining with the IMF and the Paris Club. 
11. Notify the ECB and global central banks so they could put in place liquidity safety nets. In order to counteract the inevitable stresses in the financial system and interbank lending markets, central banks should coordinate to provide unlimited foreign exchange swap lines to each other and expand existing discount lending facilities. 
12. Begin post-facto negotiations with the ECB in order to determine how assets and liabilities should be resolved. The best solution is likely simply default and a reduction of existing liabilities in whole or in part. 
13. Institute labor market reforms in order to make them more flexible and de-link wages from inflation and tie them to productivity. Inflation will be an inevitable consequence of devaluation. In order to avoid sustained higher rates of inflation, the country should accompany the devaluation with long term, structural reforms." 
However, there is one very important thing officials must continually do before implementing this 13 step program. Deny, Deny and Deny some more.
That very important step is still not being ignored by Eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker, as Reuters reports today:
"We've got a 17-member euro zone. Greece's exit is not a working hypothesis for us," Juncker told the European Parliament's economic committee.
Suuuure. And I agree with Variant Perception below
"Any euro exits would likely happen quickly and in rapid succession and would be done in a “surprise” announcement over a weekend while capital controls and bank holidays are imposed."
"Almost all emerging market devaluations were “surprise” devaluations, and there is no reason to believe that any exit from the euro would not be a surprise as well."
"In devaluations, the announcements are typically made over the course of a weekend, particularly when capital controls can be imposed. If necessary, Monday and Tuesday could be declared bank holidays as well. This was the case, most notably, with Argentina in 2002 where the announcement was made Sunday and then two days of bank holidays were declared." 
Those with their money in Greek banks aren't being stupid.
Another nice paper on the subject of a Greek exit if you have the time is "More Pain, No Gain for Greece" from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Consumer Spending: Where does your money go?

According to an ongoing Gallup poll the average American reports spending $66 per day, not including the purchase of a home, car, or regular household bills. This is down from $104 per day reported in January 2008, the month after the recession started (isn't it great the recession is over!)

Below is a nice infographic from Credit Donkey on how households spend their money. How does your spending stack-up? I'm definitely over on the percent I'm allocating to the "away from home" food budget. Ah, the downfall of city living!  
Infographics: Where Does All My Money Go
Am I the only one surprised that the average person in the US still writes about 8 checks per month?

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Numbers behind Valentines Day - Infographic Mashup


Here is a mashup of pieces of infographics from around the web showing the numbers behind Valentines Day. These are from Frugal DadH&R BlockFedExOverStock.comOnlineMBAHistory.comLiveScience.com, Monetate & Boticca (you can click on each image to see it's full corresponding infographic). Am I missing some good ones?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Some Commentators Still Clueless That Fed's Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) Is A Backdoor Bank Bailout

I have seen some pretty off-base commentary about the Federal Reserve's Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) over the past week. The first was from Matthew Philips and Dakin Campbell over at Bloomberg BusinessWeek in an article titled "The Hidden Burden of Ultra-Low Interest Rates". Now you might assume that an article with that title is going to dig into some details about how ZIRP is robbing retirees and savers and funneling easy money to the banks so they can cover up their losses. However, you would be mistaken.While that is what ZIRP does, unfortunately it's not what the article is about. (bold added by me)
"The Federal Reserve, which cut its target for the federal funds rate to a zero-to-0.25 percent range on Dec. 16, 2008, said last month that rates would remain “exceptionally low” at least through late 2014. While the unprecedented period of near-zero rates is meant to aid an ailing economy, it poses challenges for banks, insurers, pension funds, and savers.
The hope is that by making mortgages and other loans cheaper, ultra-low rates eventually may revive economic growth. For now they’re squeezing profits at banks and disrupting investment strategies at insurance companies and pension funds. 
Yes you are reading that right. Free money from the Fed is "squeezing profits at banks"! The whole article focuses little on savers except one quote from Barry Ritholtz which is on point.
"“For most people, there’s been more downside to these low rates than upside,” says Barry Ritholtz, CEO of Fusion IQ, an independent research firm. “They’ve punished savers and people living on fixed income, and made insurance more expensive.”"
You will notice he mentioned nothing about banks being punished. However, this doesn't stop the writers from going on with the bogus narrative which they conclude as follows:
"The bottom line: Near-zero interest rates have hurt bank and insurance company profits and contributed to a $236.4 billion increase in pension underfunding."
While correct about hurting pension funds, the article is missing one "tiny" detail about banks........ZIRP is the only reason banks have profits!! (well ZIRP and every other bailout thrown their way). ZIRP is sold to the public by saying that "by making mortgages and other loans cheaper, ultra-low rates eventually may revive economic growth". Great idea, since too much debt got us into the problem, we will revive the economy by encouraging more debt and stopping any money from flowing into the economy through interest on savings. Should anybody be surprised it has not worked?

The real beneficiaries are the Banks. How can getting money for free be "squeezing profits" at the banks as they said? It's not. The banks didn't even fully pass on the savings from ZIRP to consumers in the form of lower rates. Bank's borrowing costs went from 5.25% to 0.1% (or a 98% reduction). The chart below shows how much consumers "benefited" from lower rates by comparison.

Ya, not so much. Or another way to look at it.

The highlighted area is where the Fed lowered rates from 5.25% to essentially 0. Not only did spreads increase in banks favor but it encouraged banks to take the easy money and just buy Treasuries rather than lend it out to consumers. Get money from the Fed at 0%, lend it to the Government for 2%...repeat. And that is exactly what they did.
The primary purpose of ZIRP was (and is) a backdoor bailout for banks......not to help consumers with lower interest rates as advertised. Anyone still under the illusion that it had to do with encouraging lending might want to find out why the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 included a provision for the Fed to pay interest to banks on reserves (which they never did before). Obviously paying banks NOT to lend money isn't going to encourage lending. It shouldn't come as a surprise that excess reserves shot up after this was enacted.

Despite it being undeniably clear that the Fed's ZIRP is robbing the saver to benefit the Banks, we get this article from Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider "DEAR SAVERS AND RETIREES: Stop Whining About Those Lousy Rates You're Getting From The Bank". It includes this gem:
"But why can't Bernanke just, you now, raise rates or something!? 
Well think about what that means: Essentially people are asking the central bank to create a special carve-out in the economy, where despite all that's happening, one class of people—savers—gets to have above-average returns on their money."
So Joe realizes that it's not fair to create a special carve-out in the economy for one class of people but remains utterly ignorant to the fact that is EXACTLY what the Fed is doing....For the banks! The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis makes it quite clear
"By keeping short-term interest rates low, the Fed helps recapitalize the banking system by helping to raise the industry’s net interest margin (NIM), which boosts its retained earnings and, thus, its capital."
Is that not a special carve-out?