Monday, November 03, 2008

The Shocks Continue : Currency Crisis and Emerging Market Collapses

On both sides of the Atlantic there is incredulity at the gall of bankers. Goldman Sachs is reported to have set aside $7 billion for bonuses having received $6 billion from the federal government in bailout funds; while The Royal Bank of Scotland is scheduled to pay out a much more modest $2.9 billion equivalent.

The age old argument that bonuses have to be paid to keep people from walking has of course been trotted out. In the current atmosphere, it might be said that bankers are lucky not to be walking the plank let alone getting a bonus. Indeed, in any just society many of them would be in jail already.


World stock markets rebounded strongly last week. The major world indices all gained back more than they lost the week before, with the ones that fell the most rising the most. The Hang Seng was up 19% and the Nikkei was up 13%. The Dow rose 11% after only falling 5% the week before.

Oil prices rose regaining about half of what was lost the week before. Gold however continued its suspicious decline.

The U.S. Federal Reserve Board announced another interest rate cut, reacting to more news of contraction in the real economy and of plummeting consumer confidence, which seemed to help stocks and oil regain previous losses.

The markets this week
Previous week's close This week's close Change% change
Gold ($) 730.30718.2012.101.66%
Gold (€)578.50564.4014.102.44%
Oil ($) 64.1567.813.665.71%
Oil (€)50.8253.292.474.86%
$ / €0.7922 / 1.26240.7858 / 1.2725 0.0064 / 0.01010.81% / 0.80%
$ / ₤0.6290 / 1.58980.622 / 1.6077 0.0070 / 0.0179 1.11% / 1.13%
$ / ¥94.318 / 0.0106 98.465 / 0.0102 4.147 / 0.00044.40% / 3.77%
HANG SENG 12,37314,7092,33618.88%
US Fed Funds 1.00%0.12%0.8888%
$ 3month 0.84%0.38%0.4654.76%
$ 10 year 3.69%3.96%0.277.32%

You may have noticed some new numbers in a new format. We have added a sampling of the world's stock indexes along with the Japanese Yen and British Pound exchange rates. Here is a brief summary of what these numbers mean

Precious Metals

Gold Price in Dollars

Gold has held value for thousands of years, for far longer than any currency. So the price of gold can be considered to measure the value of currencies. Gold is also a commodity however, so it is a rare thing: a commodity and a currency. Historically, gold is seen as a haven/store of value in uncertain and volatile times.

Gold Price in Euros

Following this number allows us to determine, to some extent, whether gold is rising in price or whether the dollar is falling. If gold stays stable against the euro but rises against the dollar, than what is really happening is that the dollar is falling.

Gold/Oil Ratio

Historically, an ounce of gold has bought about ten barrels of oil. This ratio can sometimes get out of balance in one direction or the other. But it can tell us if there is an unusual run-up in either gold or oil, or if what we are seeing is a general rise in the price of all commodities. That is another way of saying that all currencies are worth less.

Stock Indexes

Stock indexes are total groups of stocks traded in different world stock exchanges. They can be weighted in different ways, such as price-weighted or capitalization-weighted (capitalization meaning the total value of a company's stock) but the idea is to have a snapshot of the perceived health of companies traded in different stock exchanges.


The Dow Jones Industrial Average. An index of 30 "Blue Chip" U.S. stocks, or stocks of prestigious, well-established corporations. These stocks often pay regular dividends. The stocks that make up the Dow change over time, but represent leading companies in different industries, such as Disney, DuPont, Kraft, General Motors, General Electric, ATT, Coca-Cola, IBM, you get the idea. Big-time American corporations.


Pronounced "Footsie," the FTSE 100 is like a British Dow Jones, comprised of the leading 100 British corporations.


The DAX is an index of 30 leading stocks traded in the Frankfurt exchange, so it's like a German Dow. The DAX is a good way to get an idea of the health of European corporations, since Germany is the leading economy in continental Europe.


The Nikkei 225 is the most important Japanese index. The Nikkei is a price-weighted index of 225 leading Japanese stocks traded on the Tokyo stock exchange. Along with the Hang Seng, it is a good indicator of the health of Asian capitalism. Most of your favorite Japanese companies are in the Nikkei, such as Sony, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Konica-Minolta, etc.


The Hang Seng is an index of 45 stocks traded on the Hong Kong stock exchange. It is a good indicator of the health of Chinese capitalism in particular, and, along with the Nikkei, Asian capitalism in general. Mainland China's stock exchanges are not yet mature enough to be a reliable indicator, but may be soon as their banking and regulatory systems mature.


The Bovespa index measures Brazilian stocks traded on the Sao Paolo stock exchange. Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America and can be seen as an indicator of second-tier capitalist countries on the verge of the first tier.

Currency Exchange Rates

U.S. dollar

The greenback is the world's most important reserve currency (for now). The dollar's supremacy is due to US economic and military dominance of much of the world, and the pricing/trading of commodities in dollars.


The currency of the European Union and newest of the major currencies. It is the official currency of 15 of the member states of the E.U. It has joined the dollar as a major reserve currency, giving a stable alternative to those central banks that want to diversify away from the dollar.

Japanese Yen

Japan's currency is the third most traded currency after the dollar and euro and is also used as a reserve currency.

British Pound

The grand old lady of world reserve currencies. Reflects the strength of Anglo capitalism and the world's oldest central bank, the Bank of England. The pound is the third-ranked reserve currency. Not bad for a former imperial power. Maybe the British bankers are not so "former" after all.

Interest Rates

U.S. 10-Year Treasury Note

How much annual interest you get for loaning the U.S. government money for ten years, in other words for buying a 10-year Treasury Note. The main indicator of long term interest rates for the dollar.

U.S. Dollar, 3 Month Rate

How much interest (on an annual equivalent basis) you would get lending money to the US government for 3 months.

U.S. Federal Funds Rate

The rate that US banks lend reserves held with the Federal Reserve to each other on an overnight basis. While determined between the banks, the Federal Reserve targets the nominal rate as a means controlling money supply.

While markets rebounded in the US on Halloween, October remained ugly and the state of the real economy continues to worsen:-

Ugly October ends with an upbeat day on Wall St

Leah Schnurr
Fri Oct 31, 5:10 pm ET

U.S. stocks ended one of their worst months on record, but signs of further thawing in credit markets lifted battered shares on Friday.

Hammered by worries over the extent of the damage the credit crunch has inflicted on the global economy, the Dow Jones industrial average logged its biggest monthly decline in a decade, while the S&P 500 had its worst month since the October 1987 market crash.
[ ]

The decrease in overnight interbank borrowing costs prompted hopes that global efforts to bolster confidence in credit markets are taking hold following the Federal Reserve's interest-rate cut earlier this week and spurred investors to search for bargains.

"It seems like you have some continued mild improvement in the credit markets and that seems to be buoying hopes but people should know, conditions may have improved, but they're improving slowly," said Chip Hanlon, president of Delta Global Advisors Inc, in Huntington Beach, California...

U.S. consumers cut their monthly spending for the first time in two years during September, according to a U.S. Commerce Department report...

In other economic news, an index of consumer sentiment suffered its steepest monthly drop on record, according to the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers' final reading for October.

And the Chicago Purchasing Management Index showed that business activity in the Midwest came to a halt in October as production and new orders plummeted...

Despite the rise in stocks last week, the real economy looks as bad as it ever did.

Payrolls Probably Fell, Factories Shrank

Bob Willis

Nov. 2

U.S. employers probably eliminated jobs in October for a 10th consecutive month, while manufacturing contracted at the fastest pace since the 2001 recession, economists said before reports this week.

Payrolls shrank by 200,000 workers, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News before the Labor Department's report on Nov. 7. The unemployment rate may jump to its highest level in more than five years.
[ ]

The loss of almost one million jobs, falling property values, slumping stocks and frozen credit may cause consumers and businesses to keep retrenching. The state of the economy gave Democrat Barack Obama a lift over Republican rival John McCain as Americans, who will elect a new president in two days, perceived the Democrat from Illinois had a better grasp of the issue.
[ ]

The jobless rate last month probably rose to 6.3 percent from 6.1 percent in September, the survey also showed.

''Unemployment is likely to rise sharply over the next several months as repercussions from the credit crisis ripple through the economy,'' said Russell Price, senior economist at H&R Block Financial Advisors in Detroit. ''The economy is the most important issue on the minds of voters.''
[ ]

''Downside risks to growth remain,'' the Federal Reserve said last week as it lowered its key rate by a half point to 1 percent. ''Business equipment spending and industrial production have weakened in recent months, and slowing economic activity in many foreign economies is damping the prospects for U.S. exports.''
[ ]

''Swift and decisive actions are necessary in response to today's global economic conditions,'' Chief Executive Officer Charles ''Chip'' McClure said in a statement.
Service industries, which range from homebuilders to mortgage lenders, retailers and restaurants, and account for almost 90 percent of the economy, also probably contracted in October, economists forecast another report from the Institute for Supply Management will show on Nov. 5.
[ ]

The economy shrank at a 0.3 percent pace in the third quarter, with consumer spending dropping by 3.1 percent, the biggest decline since 1980, the Commerce Department reported last week. Business investment in equipment and software fell at a 5.5 percent rate. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast the economy will contract at a 0.8 percent rate in the fourth quarter.

Circles of Power

Last week we talked a bit about Circles of Power stating that, "Throughout history, bankers have formed circles and clubs around them, the present day is no different. The members of these circles, of which there are inner, intermediate and outer, some interlocking some not, are bound by common values and psychology (psychopathy and characteropathy), by blood, inheritance, education, history, money and ultimately of course, power and the desire to retain it absolutely."

A fine example of these 'circles of power' and how they operate has been the recent revelations in the UK regarding Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire 'Oligarch'; Nathan Rothschild, a member of the Rothschild banking family; Peter Mandelson, a controversial Labour Party minister and George Osbourne, a senior member of the Conservative party opposition.

Nathaniel Philip James Rothschild, co-chairman of Atticus Capital, is the 37 year old only son of Jacob Rothschild (4th Baron Rothschild).

His father controls RIT Capital Partners, hold shares in Rothschild Continuation Holdings, is said to have strong personal and business links with Henry Kissinger and maintains exceptionally strong links with Israel, the family having given the Knesset and Supreme Court buildings to Israel.

Rothschild Continuation Holdings' UK operating company, N.M Rothschild & Sons lists as "notable current and former employees" men at the top of: Blackstone Indosuez, Telecom Italia, Citigroup, Heineken, Shell, National Power, Repsol, Coca-Cola, McGraw Hill, Philips Electronics, Aviva, Gallaher, Jardine Matheson, De Beers, Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Media, Marks & Spencer, Bear Stearns, Lazard, BBC, Freshfields, Coopers & Lybrand, Savills, Verizon, Royal Bank of Scotland, British Telecom. This list of men in politics and public service is equally impressive including a former President of France, French Minister of Economy, Governor of the Bank of England, British Finance Minister, Chancellor and Germany and UK Chief of the Defense Staff.

In 2003 Jacob Rothschild was found to have exceptionally close links with Russian oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky when it became public that the voting rights on Khodorkovsky's shares in Yukos passed to him in the event of Khodorkovsky being unable "to act as beneficiary". Thus solving the apparent mystery as to how a handful of unknown's succeeded in buying up the crown jewels of the Russian economy thus transforming themselves into "Oligarchs". As the expression goes, "follow the money".

Young Nathan Rothschild, in keeping with the family tradition, is the "financial advisor" to Oleg Deripaska purportedly Russia's richest man. Deripaska, like all the Russian Oligarchs, is under pressure from his bankers having borrowed heavily to finance his expansive business empire.

During this last summer (2008) Rothschild held a party aboard Deripaska's immense yacht, the Queen K, while it was moored in Corfu. Attending the party and staying on the yacht, was Peter Mandelson EU Trade Commissioner and now a British government minister. Mandelson is regarded by many as being exceptionally corrupt in both is personal life where he is reported to have a penchant for young boys and in his business and political dealings which have led him to be dismissed from government office twice before.

For an EU Trade Commissioner to have such a close relationship with a man of Deripaska's reputation is highly suspicious to many including the UK Sunday Times. What Mandelson lacks in personal integrity he makes up for in political cunning, representing therefore a potent threat to the political opposition in the UK.

So it is that it must have seemed a chance too good to miss for George Osbourne, a university friend of Nathan Rothschild and shadow chancellor for the Conservative Party, having attended the party on the Queen K as well, not to leak Mandelson's attendance to the press in the hope of scoring a potentially fatal political blow to Mandelson.

However, while Mandelson has indeed been wounded, it has been fascinating to see the counterattack against Osbourne which has emanated, in a public letter, from none other than Nathan Rothschild. The counter accusations of political impropriety against Osbourne have been investigated and he is deemed innocent but one can only wonder at the comment in the UK Daily Telegraph "George Osborne and the [Conservative] Party have been warned that they should stop their attempts to 'rubbish' Nat Rothschild, or risk being brought down".

Currency Crisis

Last week we commented:-

What is needed is not a new currency system although that is the focus of much rhetoric as we have seen [...] At this stage we don't see there being sufficient stress in the currency markets to swing a new currency on a single region [...] All the talk of current institutions being insufficient to manage global affairs and of individual countries being swamped by capital movements suggests to us that there is a move afoot to bring in a global central bank; and not the BIS which would remain in the background, at least for the time being. This might be achieved via some sort of reform of the IMF but we doubt it.
The Euro, British Pound and Japanese Yen had all depreciated substantially against the US dollar. While more dramatic depreciations had been in commodity based and emerging market currencies, led by the Australian and New Zealand dollars with the currencies of Korea, Poland, Hungary, Mexico and South Africa among those quickly following. No sooner had we commented than on October 26th the G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors had this to say:-
We reaffirm our shared interest in a strong and stable international financial system. We are concerned about the recent excessive volatility in the exchange rate of the yen and its possible adverse implications for economic and financial stability. We continue to monitor markets closely, and cooperate as appropriate.
Plus a mass of "currency crisis" headlines hit the media:-

Currency markets in turmoil as crisis extends

Europe's financial crisis is spreading eastward

Denmark currency crisis prompts euro re-think
Denmark made its clearest commitment to a currency u-turn as it became the latest country to clamour for the euro as a result of the financial crisis.....
[ ]

Among the 12 'new' members who joined since 2004, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta have adopted the euro and Slovakia will follow on January 1, while high-level opposition dramatically softened in Poland this week with talk of a 2012 entry date.

Hungary also said that it wanted to speed up entry following the damaging run on the forint which led to Wednesday's $25 billion international rescue package for its economy.

"The euro ensures political and economical stability in Europe and the current financial turmoil makes it evident that Denmark has to join the Euro,"
[ ]

Danish voters have been very sceptical of euro entry, rejecting the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and only passing it with an opt-out for the single currency, and again resisting the currency in a referendum in 2000 by 53.2 per cent to 46.8 per cent on a massive 87.6 per cent turnout. But a recent poll showed that a slim majority, 50.1 per cent, were now in favour.

Support for the euro is also on the up in Sweden, with a poll this week showing 42 per cent in favour and 47 per cent again, with 11 per cent undecided. In May, just 34.6 per cent were in favour and 51.7 per cent against.

The financial crisis has also concentrated minds in Poland, where the eurosceptic President, Lech Kaczynski, has relaxed his opposition and seems likely to support the constitutional changes needed to adopt the single currency, following a referendum.

The other small country buffeted by the worst of the financial storms and eyeing the security of the euro is Iceland - which would first have to join the EU. Polls are showing a huge change of heart in the island with 70 per cent in favour of membership of the organisation.
Europe on the brink of currency crisis meltdown

The financial crisis spreading like wildfire across the former Soviet bloc threatens to set off a second and more dangerous banking crisis in Western Europe.........Currency pegs are being tested to destruction on the fringes of Europe's monetary union in a traumatic upheaval that recalls the collapse of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992.

"This is the biggest currency crisis the world has ever seen," said Neil Mellor, a strategist at Bank of New York Mellon.
[ ]

The risk is a surge in capital flight from Austria - the country, as it happens, that set off the global banking collapse of May 1931 ....

The latest data from the Bank for International Settlements shows that Western European banks hold almost all the exposure to the emerging market bubble, now busting with spectacular effect......Austria's bank exposure to emerging markets is equal to 85pc of GDP - with a heavy concentration in Hungary, Ukraine, and Serbia - all now queuing up (with Belarus) for rescue packages from the International Monetary Fund.

Exposure is 50pc of GDP for Switzerland, 25pc for Sweden, 24pc for the UK, and 23pc for Spain. The US figure is just 4pc. America is the staid old lady in this drama. ....Amazingly, Spanish banks alone have lent $316bn to Latin America, almost twice the lending by all US banks combined ($172bn) to what was once the US Argentina spirals towards another default, and Brazil's currency, bonds and stocks all go into freefall.
[ ]

The IMF's experts drafted a report two years ago - Asia 1996 and Eastern Europe 2006 - Déjà vu all over again? - warning that the region exhibited the most dangerous excesses in the world.

Inexplicably, the text was never published, though underground copies circulated.

It is just blood in the water for hedge funds sharks, eyeing a long line of currency kills.
[ ]

Russia too is in the eye of the storm, despite its energy wealth..........The foreign debt of the oligarchs ($530bn) has surpassed the country's foreign reserves. Some $47bn has to be repaid over the next two months.
[ ]

It is almost guaranteed that euroland money supply is about to implode," he said.
[ ]

The threat to Britain lies in emerging Asia, where banks have lent $329bn, almost as much as the Americans and Japanese combined.
The last of these being from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard at the UK Daily Telegraph who quickly followed up a couple of days later with the catchy headline, "IMF may need to "print money" as crisis spreads":-
The International Monetary Fund may soon lack the money to bail out an ever growing list of countries crumbling across Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia, raising concerns that it will have to tap taxpayers in Western countries for a capital infusion or resort to the nuclear option of printing its own money.

Brad Setser, an expert on capital flows at the Council for Foreign Relations, Russia, Mexico, Brazil and India have together spent $75bn of their reserves defending their currencies this month, and South Korea is grappling with a serious banking crisis.

"Right now the IMF is too small to meet the foreign currency liquidity needs of the larger emerging economies. We're in a dangerous situation and there is the risk of extreme moves in the markets, as we have seen with the Brazilian real. I hope policy-makers understand how serious this is," he said.
What a clear message the Council on Foreign Relations is sending to those in the intermediate and outer circles of power, and to us too. There will be extreme moves in the markets controlled, indirectly of course, by those very people that can make such starkly accurate predictions when it suits them.

So we were right, there wasn't sufficient stress in the currency markets to justify a new currency system but all that can be changed in a week with a bit of market manipulation and perception management. We are about to have a finely engineered currency crisis with all that that entails in terms of human suffering at one end of the scale and further accumulation of wealth at the other. More pain and suffering and further shocks to the system to add to the pressure upon people so that we clamour for certainty and welcome our new slavery with open arms.

Not only will we have a currency crisis but it seems we are being softened up for a global central bank. One that might even create it's own money. Evans-Pritchard continues:-

The IMF, led by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has the power to raise money on the capital markets by issuing 'AAA' bonds under its own name. It has never resorted to this option, preferring to tap members states for deposits.

The nuclear option is to print money by issuing Special Drawing Rights, in effect acting as if it were the world's central bank. This was done briefly after the fall of the Soviet Union but has never been used as systematic tool of policy to head off a global financial crisis.

"The IMF can in theory create liquidity like a central bank," ............The IMF clearly fears a domino effect in Eastern Europe where a collapse in one country automatically leads to a collapse in another,"
[ ]

The root problem is that Eastern Europe and Russia have together borrowed $1,600bn from foreign banks in euros and dollars to fund their catch-up growth spurt over the last five years, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements. These loans are now coming due at an alarming pace. Even rock-solid companies are having trouble rolling over debts.

Mr Schering said Turkey was likely to join the queue for bail-outs very soon. "Their external liabilities have reached $186bn, and a lot of this is short-term debt that has to be rolled over in coming months," he said.

Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said over the weekend that his country would not "darken its future by bowing to the wishes of the IMF", but it is unclear how long Ankara can maintain its defiant stand as capital flight drains reserves.

Pakistan - now facing imminent bankruptcy - has also raised political hackles, balking at IMF demands for deep cuts in military spending as a condition for a standby loan. Diplomats say it is unlikely that the West will let the nuclear-armed Islamic state slip into chaos.
So crisis upon crisis is set to roll over us, just as we discussed last week.

The Origins of Totalitarianism

Hannah Arendt, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) demonstrates the interconnected nature of racism, expansionist capitalism and imperialism. Bureaucracy and rascism were the main traits of colonial imperialism which might be better called unlimited capitalist expansionism. Excess capital built up in European nation states during the 19th century and had to be invested outside those nation states. Very soon, the export of money led to the export of government power in protection of that money. Business was transformed into a political issue and the narrow economic interests of a relatively small group became equated with national interests. Expansion became an end in itself and its protagonists became "nothing but functionaries of violence [who] could only think in terms of power politics. They were the first who, as a class and supported by their everyday experience, would claim that power is the essence of every political structure."

We children of the 20th century have never known a world not dominated by the equating of business interests with national interests. All modern foreign policy is about business. Arendt continues:-

The new feature of this imperialist philosophy is not the predominant place it gave to violence, nor the discovery that power is one of the basic political realities. Violence has always been the ultima ratio in political action and power has always been the visible expression of rule and government. But neither had ever before been the conscious aim of the body politic or the ultimate goal of any definite policy. For power left to itself can achieve nothing but more power, and violence administered for power's (and not for law's) sake turns into a destructive principle that will not stop until there is nothing left to violate.
Arendt was writing in 1951 about a philosophy that developed the previous century. Since then Western, and in particular US, power backed by violence wielded for the benefit of global corporations has dominated history. While masquerading as "freedom" facing the implacable "communist" enemy it was all too easy for many to fail to observe the true nature of events spanning the globe from Latin America to Southeast Asia. Now, seen for the naked expansionism that it is, with its overt and covert racism, unmitigated brutality and violence at home and abroad, we can only thank Hannah Arendt for her perspicacity in seeing its origins and detailing where, by virtue of its own nature it has to end - Totalitarianism.

So here we are, at the natural conclusion of all that power and violence in the thrall of a singular creed of monetary greed, or as Arendt put it, "the unlimited accumulation of capital". It is our conjecture that we are in a new, and possibly final, phase of this "unlimited accumulation of capital". A phase in which the meagre "capital" that ordinary people have accumulated, or have any hope of accumulating in the future, is in the process of being stripped from them so as to become concentrated in the hands of a very small elite.

As we look into the economic abyss we must also face the political and social abyss that is the totalitarian society that steadily surrounds us, which those in the circles of power are working feverishly to consolidate before enough of us wake up to make a difference.

There are alternatives to this 19th century philosophy gone wild. The US economist Herman Daly, delivered a paper to the Sustainable Development Commission in the UK in April this year in which he reiterated his idea of a Steady State Economy that can replace the "failed growth economy". We will be exploring his ideas on the macro-economic scale and some of our own on the micro-economic scale next week.

However, the issues of our time extend far beyond the economic sphere, they extend to our very conception of ourselves and each other and the true circumstances in which we find ourselves. We need to learn how to survive within the system in which we find ourselves while also building our own new systems. It would seem to us to be foolhardy to cut ourselves off from the existing system as that system is so dominating and so clearly intent on total global domination that we must find a role to play in it to maintain our very existence. Yet, if we wish for a better world, one in which a different set of values maintains, we have to take responsibility and build that world ourselves.

One of the saddest attributes of the political systems in which we find ourselves is that we have surrendered our political rights and social responsibilities to the state. It is time we reclaimed both.

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