Why the ECB and the Fed Have China Laughing

The market give-eth and the market take-eth away. Yesterday’s speculative rally, based on hopes of another dose of central bank liquidity, has evaporated at the open today. The treadmill continues.

The much hoped for additional liquidity boost from the European Central Bank (ECB) came merely within expectations. Last night the ECB revealed that an amazing 800 banks had come sniffing around for a bit of cheap money. €530 billion – at a cost of 1 per cent for three years – to be precise.

And according to the Financial Times, over half of the banks were German. This goes to show the absurdity of the Eurozone structure.

Germany, we are told, is a nation of savers. Fiscally prudent types who keep their houses in order. That’s why the nation runs a trade and current account surplus.

But where do all these savings go? Into the banks mostly. And the banks send these surplus euros back to the European periphery to finance the trade and current account deficits run by countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal. It’s a classic vendor financing scheme…along the same lines as China and the US.

There are two sides to everything in economics. If Germany has a current account surplus, it has a capital account deficit. Everything must balance. So while German citizens might feel individually prudent, the custodians of their money – the German banks – have been fiscally imprudent.

They recycled the money from the trade surplus back to the countries that borrowed to buy in the first place. And they kept lending German savings to countries with deteriorating credit profiles. Now they’re largely insolvent and need central bank handouts.

While banks are partly to blame, they’re simply operating within a flawed economic structure. Because Germany is so much more competitive than southern Europe, for years it has generated excessively large trade surpluses. To keep the game going, Germany has recycled these surpluses back to their customers. They are lending their customers money to buy their goods.

Normally, currency and interest rate changes would rectify the imbalances. Lower interest rates and a stronger currency in Germany versus higher interest rates and a weaker currency in the deficit countries.

But that can’t happen in a currency union. The irony is that for years the Eurozone based monetary policy on Germany’s economic growth needs. Low interest rates helped drag Germany out of its post-reunification slump.

But interest rates were held far too low for the peripheral countries. It created a credit boom, excess spending by households and governments – and it certainly didn’t provide the incentives required to increase competitiveness.

While Germany was getting its house in order with monetary assistance, southern Europe was in party mode. Now, Germany has no intention of returning the favour. It won’t accept inflation domestically as a method to correct the imbalances within the Eurozone. Instead, it wants to impose deflation on the periphery.

The ECB is now pitching in by perpetuating a broken system. The banks all know they’re broke so they don’t want to lend to each other. So the ECB fulfils that role. It gives the banks 1 per cent money in return for any old collateral (meaning bank assets that no one else wants to hold as security) and hopes the banks will in turn lend to cash-strapped sovereigns at around 5 per cent.

The interest rate differential makes it a sweet deal for the banks. On the surface, it’s three years of very, very, easy money.

But this whole can- kicking exercise is based on the expectation that economic growth will save indebted governments.

The simple maths of debt dynamics says that for a country’s debt-to-GDP profile to improve, its economic growth rate (plus or minus the primary budget balance) must be greater than the market interest rate it’s paying on its debt.

Take Italy for example. It has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 120 per cent. Its economy will contract this year by at least 0.5 per cent (and probably more) while the budget deficit will come in over 1.5 per cent. With interest rates on the 10-year bond still 5.2 per cent (that’s after the ECB’s double bazooka effort), the maths says that Italy’s debt-to-GDP ratio grows by 7.2 per cent this year.

And it will probably grow again in 2013. There won’t be much improvement by 2014/5 (when this latest ECB liquidity experiment expires) so we’ll be back to square one.

The market knows this. It won’t take three years to start attacking Italy’s bond market again. It may do so in another two years…or maybe less, six months.

But it will happen. It there’s one thing ‘the market’ instinctively attacks, it’s an inefficiency…a flawed structure. It will wait until the time is right…and then all hell will break loose.

While the ECB pumped over €500 billion into the system overnight, the Federal Reserve was trying to downplay to prospects of another round of QE. On Bernanke’s words, stocks retreated modestly and precious metals prices fell significantly.

If stocks are supposedly the biggest beneficiaries of QE, why they would retreat only slightly while gold and silver fall massively makes no sense. And oil hardly moved.

Judging from the action in the paper gold (and silver) market, there was some very determined selling. But there was no correlation with other asset classes. We smell a rat.

There’s an election coming up. Previous Bernanke idiocy has increased the price of oil and ‘gas’ at the pump. That’s worrying Obama. He wants a higher stock market AND lower commodity prices in the lead up to November’s election. Tough boss.

So Bernanke talks up the market/unemployment/housing as reasons why QEIII might not be necessary…while at the same time the government’s goons try to smash gold and silver prices. The government knows gold is a barometer of their ineptitude. It’s a feeble attempt to attack the symptom, not the cause.

The Chinese have happily bought the gold dips in this long bull market. Another dip has just been handed to them. They must be laughing.


Greg Canavan
for Markets and Money

Greg Canavan
Greg Canavan is a contributing Editor of Markets and Money and is the foremost authority for retail investors on value investing in Australia. He is a former head of Australasian Research for an Australian asset-management group and has been a regular guest on CNBC, Sky Business’s The Perrett Report and Lateline Business. Greg is also the editor of Crisis & Opportunity, an investment publication designed to help investors profit from companies and stocks that are undervalued on the market. To follow Greg's financial world view more closely you can subscribe to Markets and Money for free here. If you’re already a Markets and Money subscriber, then we recommend you also join him on Google+. It's where he shares investment research, commentary and ideas that he can't always fit into his regular Markets and Money emails. For more on Greg go here.

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9 Comments on "Why the ECB and the Fed Have China Laughing"

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I bankers are fools Greg, I doubt it’s because they are lending too much. Lending worthless dollars is how they are getting everything of value. If they are fools it is for thinking they will make themselves happy this way.


What shenanigans are going on Greg, the adage,
“What a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive” springs to mind. That’s what is happening, i feel some more ‘financial instruments’ coming on,….again.
Will be in the UK next Wednesday, wish me luck.


Shortchanged, I hear London is the global epicentre of financial graft. Watch you don’t live up to your name then.
Good luck too ;)

Thanks Lachlan, I’m retired, just thought i’d pop over for a look see. Must do something, can’t just sit around waiting for the grim reaper, its so damn boring. Besides there’s my Aunt, she’s not to well but holding on, thought i’d surprise her. Come to think of it, just might stay. I do miss that ‘Green and Pleasant Land’; land of my fathers, and all that. Warm beer means you can actually taste it. As for the city, it’s starting to unravel, kind’a fun seeing it all happen, its no good telling them whats going on, ‘they’ are so… Read more »

I’m over there (visiting relies) for April. Been warned by the family that I won’t recognise the place we left just 6 years ago.
Austerity is the new black in Europe.
Can’t help but suspect (as no man is an island) that Australia’s time will come too.

Richo (the second)

but is this a dip in the Gold price or part of a longer downward trend?


a dip before 2000 plus ;)

I understand why the US government would want stocks to rise and oil and gold to fall and I can envisage a ‘soft guiding hand’ through directed policy announcements. I do need a little more evidence than that linked article that ‘government goons’ were responsible for the drop in the price overnight. There may well have been a conspiracy by central governments during the noughties, what can I say: they have egg on their face now. But that’s neither here nor there with respect to the current circumstances. Evidence please, you don’t do your credibility any favours shooting off at… Read more »

Peter…yes evidence is surely required. The evidence so far from the disconnect suggest that it ought to be examined a bit more to see if there was some skulduggery!

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