Posts Tagged ‘bailout’

Back to the Drawing Board for Greece

Monday, July 9th, 2012

International lenders and Greece will renegotiate the program on which the second financial bailout for Athens is based because the original has become outdated, according to a senior Eurozone official.  Greece received a €130-billion bailout in February from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  General elections in May and June delayed the bailout’s implementation.  The United States, the IMF’s largest member, supports discussions to review the Greek bailout program, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel countered that any relaxing of Greece’s reform promises is unacceptable.

“Anybody who would say that we need not, and cannot renegotiate the MoU (memo of understanding) is delusional, because he, or she, would be under the understanding that the whole program, the whole process, has remained completely on track ever since the weeks before the Greek first election,” the official said.  “Because the economic situation has changed, the situation of tax receipts has changed, the rhythm of implementation of the milestones has changed, the rhythm of privatization has changed — if we were not to change the MoU –it does not work.  We would be signing off on an illusion.  So we have to sit down with our Greek colleagues and say: this is where we should be in July, and this is where we are in July, and there is a delta.  Let’s find out what the delta is and then how to deal with the delta — that is a new MoU,” according to the official.

According to the official, representatives of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission will visit Greece as soon as a new government is in place to review the program’s implementation and prepare for negotiations.  “It is no secret, quite logical in fact, that due to the time passed without a functioning government in place that can take the required decisions, because of this, there have been significant delays,” the official said.  “The conclusion is that they have to engage in discussions on the memorandum of understanding and bring it back onto an even keel.”

Meanwhile at the G-20 summit in Mexico,  leaders of the world’s most powerful economies say they have produced a coordinated global plan for job creation, which it calls the top priority in fighting the effects of the European economic crisis.  The draft says “We are united in our resolve to promote growth and jobs.”

An editorial in the Australian Financial Review warns Europe not to misrepresent the issue. “The optimism that followed Greece’s election has proved to be short-lived as investors acknowledge the poll result doesn’t really change all that much in terms of Europe’s ongoing debt crisis.  Less than a day after Greece pulled back from installing anti-austerity parties in office, European bond markets were once again in meltdown on concerns that Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland may need more financial aid to prevent default.  The European Union’s financial ‘firewall’ is clearly not up to the task, with the yield on Spanish 10-year bonds soaring to a Euro-era high of 7.29 percent.  In Athens, talks are under way to form a pro-EU coalition government between the center-right New Democracy party and the socialist Pasok party, reducing the likelihood of a near-term Greek exit from the Eurozone.  Yet rather than insist that Athens stick to the tough conditions it agreed to as part of the EU’s €240 billion ($300 billion) rescue packages, there are signs that European leaders may again be preparing to fudge the issue.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel insists that Athens must stick to its austerity commitments and that there is no room for compromise.  But other European politicians are starting to talk about giving Greece more time to fix its problems.  This appears to confirm the Greeks will never live up to their austerity conditions and that the exercise was all about kicking the can further down the road.”

Devaluation would be the optimal way for Greece to jump start its economy.  Because that option is not on the table this time, achieving competitiveness is going to be much harder.  One of the bailout’s stipulations requires the government to cut pensions, slash the number of public servants and control costs – in other words, the “austerity” option.  Others prefer a program to stimulate growth and boost revenue, although one that would likely involve increased spending.  This is the “growth” option.  Angela Merkel favors austerity while French President Francois Hollande prefers the “growth” option.  In this debate, the Germans are in control because they are the ones that are going to cough up the money.  They have the ability to help because, contrary to most of Europe, they practice austerity and thrift.  If German taxpayers are going to have to pay higher taxes to save nations like Greece, they think their European brothers and sisters should share some of the pain.

According to a Washington Post editorial, Germany and other creditworthy E.U. governments were right to tell Greeks before the election that they could not choose both the Euro and an end to austerity and reforms, as several populist parties were promising.  Yet now that voters favored parties that supported the last bailout package, it’s time for Angela Merkel and other austerity hawks to make their own bow to reality. For Greece to stabilize, some easing of the terms of EU loans will be needed, at a minimum; an extension of deadlines for meeting government spending and deficit targets may also be necessary.  Unless it can deliver such a relaxation, there is not much chance the new administration in Athens will be able to push through the huge reforms still needed to make the economy competitive, including privatizations, deregulation and public sector layoffs.

“In the end, a Greek slide into insolvency and an exit from the euro may still be unavoidable. That’s all the more reason why EU leaders must at last agree on decisive measures to shore up the rest of the currency zone, beginning with Spain and Italy.  Measures under discussion for a summit meeting next week, including euro-area bank regulation, are positive but not sufficient.  In the end, banks and governments must be provided with sufficient liquidity to restore confidence — something that will probably require the issuance of bonds backed by all Euro-area countries, or greatly increased lending by the European Central Bank.  As German officials invariably point out, bailout measures will be wasted unless they are accompanied by significant structural reforms by debtor nations.  But without monetary liquidity, and the chance for renewed growth, the Euro cannot be rescued.”

Spain Asks the Eurozone for a Bank Bailout

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Spain asked the Eurozone for a bailout of up to €100-billion to rescue its banks.  This is just a short-term fix for the troubled Eurozone because it doesn’t address the underlying problems in the monetary union.  The earlier bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal didn’t resolve the problems either.  “The Spanish banking bailout is big enough for some shock and awe (€100-billion vs. talk of €40-billion) but details are murky,” said Kit Juckes, the chief of foreign exchange at Société Générale.

Still unanswered are who shares the burden, and just how much will Spain be limited in terms of talks over its debt troubles.  It’s crucial to keep in mind that in Spain, it’s currently a banking crisis.  “And where is the growth coming from to make the problems go away?” Juckes said.  “The Spanish bailout doesn’t solve Europe’s woes…but maybe it allows the rest of the world to focus on something else.”  There are many other questions, said Adam Cole of RBC in London.  Which bailout will fund the rescue?  How much will the final rescue total?  What will the ratings agencies do?  What terms will be attached to the funds?  “The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) report concluded Spanish banks would need at least €37-billion,” Cole said, noting that the maximum of €100-billion is perceived as credible.  In terms of the ratings agencies, Cole said that “the loans will add directly to the Spanish government’s liabilities and so increase the debt-to-GDP ratio by around 10 per cent, leaving further downgrades likely.”

Spain’s bailout plan is seen as a robust answer to critics who accused European Union (EU) leaders of reacting too slowly, too late and with the least possible amount of cash while the crisis is spinning out of control.  “This is a very clear signal to the markets, to the public, that the Eurozone is ready to take determined action,” Olli Rehn, the EU’s top economic official, said.  “This is pre-emptive action.”

Instead of waiting for Spain to complete stress tests on its banks later, Eurozone officials agreed to move before the market turmoil that Greece’s upcoming elections may produce.  Rather than undershooting estimates of Spanish bank needs, they have been generous: the International Monetary Fund estimated a requirement of at least €40 billion, but the Eurozone agreed to provide at least €100 billion.  “We deliberately wanted to ensure there is some additional safety margin,” Rehn said.  “This is the first time Europe is willing and able to deal confidently and overwhelmingly with (such) a large contingency,” said an unidentified Eurozone diplomat.  “And all through a straightforward telephone conference.  No all-nighters, no devising new instruments in a panic, and no penny-pinching haggling over money.”

The bad news is that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s request for a bailout for Spain’s banks may undermine his political authority and credibility in financial markets.  “The emperor’s clothes are tattered,” Simon Maughan, financial strategist at Olivetree Securities Ltd., said. “Unless he uses this money to attack the regions and control the failed cajas, what threads he has left will be stripped off him.”  Rajoy has to persuade the Spanish people to accept austerity, and convince bond investors the cuts will deliver the deficit goals he has pledged.  if he fails, he may have to return for a larger rescue, potentially draining the Eurozone’s financial ammunition.

“Clearly his domestic credibility will have been hampered by this U-turn but at least he is partially recognizing the depth of the problem,” said Stuart Thomson, a fixed income fund manager at Ignis Asset Management, who predicts another bailout, this time for the government itself, within the next year and a  half.  “This bailout is predicated on a return to growth next year and we don’t think that’s possible.”

Protestors demanded to know why billions would prop up broken Spanish banks, instead of helping people who are suffering financially.  According to Moody Analytic’s Mark Zandi, the reason why Spain is in so much trouble may sound familiar to Americans.  “Spain had a bigger housing boom and bust than we had here in the United States and that means a lot of bad mortgage loans bad real estate loans that undermined the capital positions of the banks.  They are broke, they need help from the European Union,” Zandi said.  “The Spanish must be very humiliated by having to take the aid.  For them to actually have to go to the European Union for help like this, I’m sure was very difficult.”  But the pain runs deep with 25 percent of Spaniards is out of work; among the young, unemployment is upward of 50 percent.

Prime Minister Rajoy warned that Spain’s economy, Europe’s fourth-largest, will get worse before it gets better.  ‘‘This year is going to be a bad one,’’ he said.  ‘‘By no means is this a solution,’’ said Adam Parker, of Morgan Stanley.  Spain’s aid ‘‘could be a near-term positive from a trading standpoint, but you haven’t solved anything in the long term.’’

European leaders must prove to the world that they are making a credible effort to repair flaws in the Eurozone that allowed the problems in Greece to threaten the world economy.  If Greek voters elect a government that is willing to live up to the terms of its €130 billion bailout by meeting its payments and narrows its enormous budget gap, strong doubts remain whether new leadership can fulfill those obligations.  A significant amount of private money has already fled Greece, while its deeply depressed economy and dwindling tax revenues threaten to put the country deeper in the hole.  ‘‘Even in case of a new government, I doubt whether the institutional framework in Greece can guarantee the program,’’ said Jurgen Stark, a former member of the European Central Bank’s executive board.  ‘‘Who has the competence to implement the program?  That is the key point.’’

Catalina Parada is an International, Marketing Consultant and Alter NOW’s Madrid correspondent.  She can be reached at catalinaparada@hotmail.com.

Is Greece Headed Towards a Third Bailout?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Lucas Papademos, Greece’s prime minister, said that his crisis-plagued country could require a third bailout just weeks after it secured a second round of rescue funds after much discussion in Brussels. Athens may have received the biggest bailout in history but another lifeline could not be ruled out, according to Papademos.  To date, the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have committed a total €240 billion to the nearly bankrupt nation.  “Some form of financial assistance might be necessary but we have to work intensely to avoid such an event,” Papademos said, noting that additional spending cuts are inevitable.  Whatever government emerges after the upcoming general election, it is vital that is it prepared for the measures.  “In 2013 – 2014, a reduction in state spending of about €12 billion is required under the new economic program,” Papademos said.  “Every effort must be made to limit wasteful spending and not to further burden salaries of civil servants.”

Greece’s new government will have “about 60 days” to enact long-overdue structural reforms and agree on ways of reining in public debt before officials make a decisive inspection tour in June.  “It is very important that there is no let up in the pace of reforms after elections,” said a senior Papademos aide.  The chiefs of both the EU and IMF missions to Greece said while progress is being made in meeting deficit-reducing targets, a lot of work remains to be done.  “There are still many measures to be taken, painful ones too.  I believe we’ll be able to see in the second half of the year in which direction we’re going, whether we’re on the right path or not,” said Matthias Mors, head EU monitor.

Papademos reiterated that Greece will do everything necessary to remain in the Eurozone, saying the cost of an exit would be “devastating.  More than 70 percent of the Greek people support the country’s continuing participation in the euro area,” he said.  “They realize, despite the sacrifices made, that the long-term benefits from remaining in the Eurozone outweigh the short-term costs.  Greece will do everything possible to make a third adjustment program unnecessary,” Papademos said.  “Having said that, markets may not be accessible by Greece even if it has implemented fully all measures agreed on.  It cannot be excluded that some financial support may be necessary, but we must try hard to avoid such an outcome.”

Private investors in Greek debt wrote down the value of their investment by 53.5 percent, or risk losing everything in a possible default.  Public-sector jobs are being slashed, workers ‘ wages are being frozen, welfare payments are being slashed, and taxes are being raised.  Greece’s official unemployment rate is currently more than 20 percent.  If Greece does default, it could start a domino effect that would drag down other ailing European economies — possibly plunging the Eurozone into recession.

According to Papademos, “The real economy is still weak, and high unemployment is likely to persist in the near future.  The challenging period ahead of us needs to be addressed with great care.  If we do things right, implementing all measures agreed upon in a timely, effective and equitable manner, and if we explain our policy objectives and strategy convincingly, public support will be sustained.  An improvement in confidence would have a positive multiplier effect on economic activity and employment.”

When asked if Greece might return to its old currency, Papademos said “The consequences would be devastating.  A return to the drachma would cause high inflation, unstable exchange rate, and a loss of real value of bank deposits.  Real incomes would drop sharply, the banking system would be severely destabilized, there would be many bankruptcies, and unemployment would increase.  A return to the drachma would increase social inequalities, favoring those who have money abroad.”

Is Hard-Hit Ireland Resolving It’s Economic Crisis?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Ireland was one of the nations that was hardest hit by the Eurozone crisis, but now it’s being seen as leading stricken nations in their efforts to turn their economies around.  International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union (EU) officials are impressed by its austerity measures, imposed after the massive 2010 bailout.  For the average Irish person, however, the gain is hard to see.  Public services have been slashed, and housing prices have declined 60 percent.  Approximately 1,000 young Irish people emigrate every week, and there’s extensive cynicism whether economic medicine being taken by the once-mighty Celtic Tiger actually works.

Ireland’s unemployment is currently upwards of 14 percent.  At the start of Ireland’s second year of austerity, there have been tax rises, wage freezes, layoffs and more.  This is being supervised by the so-called Troika, the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF.  These entities bailed out Ireland after the property bubble burst and its banks collapsed.

Larry Elliott, economics editor of The Guardian, describes Ireland as “the Icarus economy.  It was the low-tax, Celtic tiger model that became the European home for US multinationals in the hi-tech sectors of pharma and IT.  Ireland was open, export-driven and growing fast, but flew too close to the sun and crashed back to earth.  The final humiliation came when it had to seek a bailout a year ago.  In a colossal property bubble, debt as a share of household income doubled, the balance of payments sank deeper and deeper into the red, the government finances become over-reliant on stamp duty from the sale of houses and the banks leveraged up to the eyeballs.

During the time running up to the bubble bursting, Elliott says that “A series of emergency packages and austerity budgets followed as the government sought to balance the books during a recession in which national output sank by 20 percent.  In November 2010, the Irish government asked for external support from the EU and the IMF.  Again, it had little choice in the matter.  The terms of the bailout were tough and there has been no let-up in the austerity.  The finance minister, Michael Noonan, plans to put up the top rate of VAT by two points to 23 percent.  At least 100,000 homeowners are in negative equity, and welfare payments (with the exception of pensions) have been slashed.  In recent quarters there have been signs of life in the Irish economy, but the boost has come entirely from the export sector, which has benefited from the increased competitiveness prompted by cost-cutting.  The best that can be said for its domestic economy is that the decline appears to have bottomed out.  At least for now.

“Around a third of Ireland’s exports go to Britain, which is heading for stagnation, a third go to the eurozone, which is almost certainly heading for recession, and a third go to the United States, which will suffer contamination effects from the crisis in Europe.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that the supply side of the Irish economy is sound.  Much attention is paid to Ireland’s low level of corporation tax, which has certainly acted as a magnet for inward investment, but that is not the only reason the big multinationals have arrived.  There is a young, skilled workforce and Dublin does not have London’s hang-up about using industrial policy to invest capital in growth sectors.  Ireland had a dysfunctional banking system, but most of the multinationals — which account for 80 percent of the country’s exports — don’t rely on domestic banks for their funding.  The problem is that you can’t run a successful economy on exports alone, no matter how competitive they might be.”

In fact, Ireland’s prime minister, Enda Kenny, recently called for even deeper budget cuts.  Kenny outlined savings of up to €3.8 billion needed to slash its national debt under the terms of 2010’s EU/International Monetary Fund bailout.  Kenny appealed for understanding from the Irish people and stressed that the nation may have to endure a further two or three harsh budgets to put the country’s finances in order. He said on Saturday that the Republic “was in the region of €18 billion out of line”.

“It is the same old story with Ireland in our view — doing good work and will continue to do so,” Brian Devine, economist at NCB Stockbrokers in Dublin said.  “But the country is still extremely vulnerable given the level of the deficit.”  The anticipated adjustments total approximately eight percent of Ireland’s economy, and follow spending cuts and tax rises of more than €20 billion since the economy began to decline in 2008.

And how are the Irish people dealing with austerity? “We’re squeezed to the pips,” said Tommy Larkin, a 35-year-old mechanic changing tires and oil on the double in northside Dublin.  “I never had to watch my money in the good times, but that’s all I do with my money now.”

Wages for middle-class families have been cut around 15 percent, while the nearly 15 percent unemployed have seen welfare and other aid payments cut.  The government recently imposed a new household tax, and is planning new water charges next.  Driving a car can mean an annual fee of anything from $205 to $3,045, while recent fuel-tax increase haves taken gas upwards of $7.25 per gallon.

The Fed’s Secret Bank Loans Revealed

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

In a stunning revelation, Bloomberg has obtained 29,000 pages of Federal Reserve documents detailing the largest bailout in American history.  According to an article that will appear in the January issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine, the “Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on December 5, 2008, their single neediest day.  Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy.  And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates.”

The $7.77 trillion that the central bank made available stunned even Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009.  According to Stern, he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.”  It overshadows the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) program.  When you add up guarantees and lending limits, it becomes clear that the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March, 2009 to rescuing the financial system. That is more than half the value of the U.S. GDP that year.  “TARP at least had some strings attached,” said Representative Brad Miller (D-NC), a member of the House Financial Services Committee.  “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.”

According to Bloomberg’s editors, “Even as they were tapping the Fed for emergency loans at rates as low as 0.01 percent, the banks that were the biggest beneficiaries of the program were assuring investors that their firms were healthy.  Moreover, these banks used money they had received in the bailout to lobby Congress against reforms aimed at preventing the next collapse.  By keeping the details of its activities under wraps, the Fed deprived lawmakers of the essential information they needed to draft those rules. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, for example, was debated and passed by Congress in 2010 without a full understanding of how deeply the banks had depended on the Fed for survival.  Similarly, lawmakers approved the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program to rescue the banks without knowing the details of the far larger bailout being run by the Fed.

“The central bank justified its approach by saying that disclosing the information would have signaled to the markets that the financial institutions that received help were in trouble.  That, in turn, would make needy institutions reluctant to use the Fed as a lender of last resort in the next crisis.  Fed officials argue, with some justification, that the program helped avert a much bigger economic cataclysm and that all the loans have now been repaid.”

Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, argues that the Fed’s secret bailout is a sign that it was doing its job.  According to Thompson, “First, you can be furious that the Federal Reserve ‘committed’ $7.7 trillion — a sum of money equal to half of the U.S. economy — to save the financial system.  I understand the shock, but we were at the precipice of catastrophe and that money wasn’t ‘spent’ so much as it was put at risk and subsequently recouped.  The economy has struggled in the three years since, but we avoided meltdown.  The trillions worked.

“Second, you can be furious that the banks made a profit off of their own mistakes — but $13 billion is a small price to pay for staving off Armageddon.  Third, you can be furious that the Federal Reserve went to court to keep this information out of the hands of journalists.  There, I’d agree.  It’s Congress’s job (not the Federal Reserve’s job) to pass laws that govern the banking sector, but Congress needs information to make good decisions about regulating banks and it’s disappointing that the Federal Reserve withheld details about its bailouts while the commission and the Dodd-Frank debate were ongoing.  Fourth, you can be furious that our central bank basically did the right thing when it had to, and its counterpart in Europe won’t — at the risk of a continental meltdown.”

Times’ Massimo Calabresi agrees. According to Calabresi, “But the Fed saved the world economy through all this lending without losing a penny in the process.  And after its initial heavy breathing, the article does give the Fed an opportunity to explain itself.  ‘Supporting financial-market stability in times of extreme stress is a core function of central banks,’ said William B. English, director of the Fed’s Division of Monetary Affairs.  “Our lending programs served to prevent a collapse of the financial system and to keep credit flowing to American families and businesses.’  In other words, lending money to banks in a crisis is the whole point of the Fed:  saving the world economy by flooding the system with money when it is about to freeze up is exactly what the central bank was created to do.”

The Fed has been lending money to banks since just after it was established in 1913. By the end of 2008, the Fed had created or expanded 11 lending facilities catering to financial firms that were unable to obtain short-term loans from their usual sources.  “Supporting financial-market stability in times of extreme market stress is a core function of central banks,” said William English, director of the Fed’s Division of Monetary Affairs.  “Our lending programs served to prevent a collapse of the financial system and to keep credit flowing to American families and businesses.”

 

As Economic Woes Deepen, Greece Seeing More Suicides

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Greece’s dire financial crisis is taking a toll on the nation’s psyche in more ways than mere worries over whether the economy will survive. A team of technical experts, primarily from the European Union (EU), are in Greece monitoring the state of its debt-stricken economy – and they are well aware of how dire the situation is.

One sign of exactly how bad things are is the fact that the rate of suicide – especially among men desperate because they can no longer provide for their families – has increased by 40 percent in the last year.  Suicide help lines report a deluge of calls  – 5,000 in the first eight months of 2011 compared with 2,500 for all of 2010.  The typical caller tends to be male, age 35 to 60 and financially ruined.  “He has also lost his core identity as a husband and provider, and he cannot be a man any more according to our cultural standards,” clinical psychologist Aris Violatzis said.  “Our times are dominated by depression and even mourning for the loss of everything people had managed to achieve in their lives,” Violatzis said. “Suicide is always due to a combination of several reasons but the economic crisis is becoming a major factor,” he noted.  According to the World Health Organization, Greece traditionally occupied last place in the global list of suicides, but the numbers currently are rising fast.

Exact statistics are difficult to confirm, but unofficial figures showed a rise to 391 suicides in 2009 from 328 in 2007.  Experts believe that the reality is much worse.  To avoid traumatizing their families, some crash their cars in what police typically report as accidents.  Additionally, families often cover up a suicide so their loved ones can be buried in the Greek Orthodox church.  “The real suicide rate is many times the official one,” Violatzis said.  “Right now we have the biggest increase in Europe.”

The Greek health ministry and Klimaka, a charitable organization, place the number of suicides even higher.  They believe that the suicide rate has doubled since the crisis began to approximately six per 100,000 residents a year.  A suicide help line at Klimaka at one time received from four to 10 calls a day, but “now there are days when we have up to 100,” according to Violatzis.

With speculation that Greece is on the brink of default more than 16 months after it received the biggest bailout on record, the country is the focus of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) talks.  Some do not believe that time is running out to solve a crisis that began two years ago but, with markets far from appeased and enormous job losses, tax increases and out-of-control inflation, Greeks no longer believe what their politicians say.

“The belt is now at the eighth notch, it’s become so tight there are only two more left, but nothing has improved,” said Georgios Valsamis, a taxi driver who joined a barrage of strikes that brought public transport to a halt.  “People in power, MPs, they’re like robots, they do whatever those foreigners (the EU, ECB and IMF) say.  We are no longer willing to be a laboratory for failed policies.  Low-income earners, those who have been really hit, can’t endure much more.”

“The worst part is perhaps psychological because there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no source of hope,” said Dr Thanos Dokos who directs Eliamep, a think-tank in Athens. “When you make sacrifices and you know they will come to something you don’t mind. But that is not the case.”

In addition to desperation, there is a collective sense of guilt and depression – more dangerous, say analysts, than even the social tensions that threaten to tear Greece apart.  A short time ago, hundreds of Greeks crowded a lecture hall to hear Fotini Tsalikoglou, a noted psychology professor, speak on “the power of loss”.  “Greeks feel like they are in a bad dream,” she said.  “You wake up not knowing what will be overturned today of what was overturned yesterday.  A common thread that unites people is the experience of fear and desperation.”

Portugal Becomes Third of PIGS To Seek EU Bailout

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Portugal has become the third European nation to accept a financial bailout to the tune of € 78 billion, with € 12 billion going directly to the Iberian nation’s banks.  It is the third of four PIGS nations (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain) to require a bailout.  Caretaker Prime Minister Jose Socrates announced that he had reached preliminary agreement with the European Union (EU), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) for a three-year package of support, including help for Lisbon’s banks.  Portugal’s bailout means three of the eurozone’s 17 countries can be described as being in financial intensive care.  Greece accepted €110 billion of bilateral loans last year; Ireland signed an € 85 billion bailout last November — with the long-term fiscal and economic prognosis for all three nations still uncertain.  Socrates believes that he has secured a good deal, saying, “There are no financial assistance programs that are not demanding.”

The eurozone’s three patients are on three different medicine regimes: Greece’s loans must be repaid over seven years at an average 4.2 percent interest rate; Ireland’s over seven years at an average 5.8 percent rate (although it is trying to change the rate); and Portugal’s is still under discussion.  “I think the terms inevitably are going to be different in each country because the circumstances are…different,” said Eamon Gilmore, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs.  “The government would be very fed up too if another country was getting a bailout deal better than the terms that we are getting,” he said.

The capital of these banks isn’t really the main problem at the moment.  The focus is their dependency on the ECB for liquidity and how they can get out of that and somehow fund themselves in the wholesale market again,” said Carlo Mareels, banks analyst for RBC Capital Markets.  Portugal’s banks have been unable to raise funds in wholesale markets for the last year, demonstrating exactly how intertwined the fortunes of the state and lenders has become in eurozone countries.  Margins have been squeezed as banks compete for retail deposits, which strains their capital positions.  The declining value of their government bonds makes a bad situation even worse.

Simonetta Nardin, a spokeswoman for the IMF, l confirmed that officials had reached an agreement with the Portuguese government ”on a comprehensive economic program.  We have said from the beginning that it is important that any program should have broad cross-party support and we will continue our engagement with the opposition parties to establish that this is the case.”  The bailout requires EU approval.  Portugal’s prime minister said that he would present the deal to opposition parties and called on them to show ”a sense of responsibility and a superior sense of national interest” to ensure Portugal receives emergency financing quickly.  Under the plan, the deficit would need to be reduced to 5.9 percent of GDP this year; 4.5 percent in 2012; and three percent in 2013.

Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics, predicted that Portugal’s GDP will decline by two percent in 2011. “Against this background, while the confirmation of the bailout should provide some reassurance that Portugal will be able meet its upcoming bond redemptions, it won’t put an end to speculation that – along with Greece and perhaps others – it will sooner or later need to undertake some form of debt restructuring,” he said.

The bailout needs wide-ranging cross-party support because Socrates’ government collapsed last month, which set off a round of increased borrowing rates.  Additionally, it forced Lisbon to seek financial assistance from the EU.  The winner of the June 5 general election will implement it.  Agreement on the loan terms is required by June 15, when Lisbon needs to redeem € 4.9 billion worth of bonds.

Treasury: TARP Repayments Now Surpass Debt

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

TARP repayments total $194 billion; $190 billion is still outstanding.  The $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is turning out to be a better bet than many thought at first. According to the Treasury Department, the amount of money repaid by banks and other recipients now exceeds TARP’s outstanding balance.  In a monthly report to Congress on the program, TARP repayments total $194 billion; $190 billion is still outstanding.  A large chunk of that came when Treasury sold 1.5 billion Citigroup shares it had acquired when bailing out the bank, netting $6.18 billion.

“TARP repayments have continued to exceed expectations, substantially reducing the projected cost of this program to taxpayers,” said Herbert M. Allison, the Department of the Treasury’s assistant secretary for financial stability.  “This milestone is further evidence that TARP is achieving its intended objectives:  stabilizing our financial system and laying the groundwork for economic recovery.”

Created during the darkest months of the financial meltdown in the fall of 2008, TARP originally was intended to purchase toxic subprime mortgage securities from banks.  Henry M. Paulson, who was Treasury Secretary at the time, later altered TARP to channel money into banks to stabilize them and provide capital to encourage them to make loans at a time when the capital markets were frozen.  TARP funds bailed out 707 American banks – including Citicorp and Bank of America — to the tune of $205 billion.  Another $331 billion was used to bail out companies such as General Motors and Chrysler.

Banks are making a concerted effort to repay the money to avoid strict executive compensation limits.  By May 31, 71 banks had repaid 100 percent – or $137 billion — of their TARP money.  President Barack Obama hopes to recoup some TARP losses with his proposal to tax the 50 largest financial institutions.  This would net approximately $9 billion annually over 10 years.  Congress is considering the legislation, which faces stiff opposition from the big banks.

TARP Savings Could Finance Jobs Program

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Returned TARP funds could finance jobs creation program.  The $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) cost $200 billion less than originally anticipated,  according to a new Treasury Department report.  That reflects faster repayments by big banks, as well as less spending on rescue programs as the financial sector recovers more quickly than expected.

And it’s good news for President Obama’s new job creation stimulus.  In a speech delivered at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution,  President Obama outlined a wide-ranging plan to create jobs that could be partially financed by the $200 billion in TARP funds that the government now expects to get back.

Among the job creation proposals detailed by President Obama are:

  • A tax cut for small business to encourage hiring.
  • Eliminate capitals gains on these businesses for one year.
  • Redirect leftover TARP money to support small business growth.
  • Invest new money in rebuilding roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements.
  • Start a “Cash for Caulkers” plan that would give rebates to people who make their homes more energy efficient.

“Small businesses, infrastructure, clean energy:  these are areas in which we can put Americans to work while putting our nation on a sturdier economic footing,” according to President Obama.  “That foundation for sustained economic growth must be our continuing focus and our ultimate goal.”

The President’s proposals require Congressional approval.

Fed Proposing to Take a Hard Line on Bank Executive Pay

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Fed Proposing to Take a Hard Line on Bank Executive PayThe Federal Reserve is considering regulating banks’ pay policies to make certain they discourage employees from making the irresponsible gambles that led to 2008’s financial meltdown.  The Fed’s proposal would apply to thousands of banks, including some that did not receive bailouts.

Under the Fed’s proposal, the central bank would review – and could say “no” – to pay policies that might result in excessive risk-taking by executives, traders or loan officers.  The move marks the Fed’s most recent response to critics who say it didn’t crack down on lax lending, reckless risk taking and other practices that led to the great recession.  If the proposal is adopted, the 28 largest banks would develop internal plans to assure that compensation doesn’t start a new round of disproportionate risk taking.  Although the Fed declined to identify which banks would be required to submit plans, it’s safe to say that Citigroup, Inc., Bank of America Corporation and Wells Fargo & Company will be on that list.

“Compensation practices at some banking organizations have led to misaligned incentives and excessive risk-taking, contributing to bank losses and financial instability,” says Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.  “The Federal Reserve is working to ensure that compensation packages appropriately tie rewards to longer-term performance and do not create undue risk for the firm or the financial system.”

The key concept here is that of moral hazard – creating a correlation between performance and remuneration so that people are always compelled to act in the general interest.