This note was originally published June 22, 2011 at 08:30am ET.
“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
My name is Daryl Jones. I’m a former hockey player from Alberta. I practice yoga (sometimes even Bikram yoga).
Last night I was thinking what it must be like for the Greek Socialists to have to fully embrace the concept of dramatically cutting government spending. From a personal perspective, I think it is a little like me admitting that I practice Yoga. In my heart, I’m still a hockey player, but deep down I also know that practicing yoga is much better for my aging, thirty-something body. Nonetheless, it remains embarrassing to admit. (No offense to any of our Yogi readers.)
Yesterday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou won a confidence vote to sustain his leadership of the Greek government. The next major date for the Greek government is June 30th when the Greek parliament votes on austerity measures of EUR28 billion. Assuming these measures are passed, then the EU and IMF will extend a EUR12 billion lifeline to Greece.
Obviously, it is unlikely that these austerity measures do not pass, given the new cabinet has passed the confidence test. The reaction from the markets to the likelihood of austerity and additional bailout monies for Greece was, well, muted at best. In fact, Greek 10-year yields declined a measly 30 basis points from yesterday to 16.97%, while the periphery yields moved even less with both Spain and Italy 10-year yields effectively flat from yesterday. The markets are calling the impending extend and pretend from the EU and IMF for what it is – a short term solution to a long term issue. As we all know, being on the wrong side of a duration mismatch is never a good thing.
The other day I had an exchange with a friend that started with her asking me generally about the economy (for purposes of privacy we will call her The Diplomat). Our discussion quickly evolved into a broad discussion of economic policy. To be fair to The Diplomat, while she has a BA from Yale and law degree from Harvard, she has a limited economic background. She also willfully admitted that she gets most of her info from The New Yorker and New York Times. After I went on a bit of rant about the low return of government spending, she responded, “I thought Keynesian economics was sound.”
This, ironically, is the one key positive from the sovereign debt issues in Europe. These issues are quickening the pace towards the demise of Keynesian economics. The simple fact that a Greek Socialist had to fight to retain his government in order to have the ability to pass massive government spending cuts is about as representative of the end of Keynesian economics as it gets. In the long run, this will be a positive. In the short run, we will see more pain.
Just over a year ago, on May 18th, 2010, we gave a presentation to our subscribers entitled, “Bearish Enough on Spain?”. The presentation is posted here:
Last May, while the Greek issues were widely known, we contended that investors were not bearish enough on the peripheries, in particular Spain. Spanish CDS literally bottomed the day we gave our presentation and has been trending upwards steadily ever since. Specifically, 5-year CDS closed at 177bps on May 18th, 2010 and last traded at 279bps, which is a 56.8% return from our call.
The primary takeaway from Greece’s actions yesterday and the market’s reaction today is that sovereign debt issues are far from over and, we would submit, our call that investors are still not bearish enough on the peripheries remains intact. If Greece can rattle the world’s markets, the reaction will be amplified as fiscal and debt issues accelerate in Spain and Italy. For reference, Spain is the 8th largest economy in the world and 5th largest in Europe, or 5x the size of Greece. Spain ain’t Kansas, and I ain’t Toto.
With the excitement in Greece behind us, the focus returns to the United States today and the FOMC statement and the Bernanke presser thereafter. Our view on U.S. interest rate policy is that the Fed will remain Indefinitely Dovish. To be specific, we believe this means an interest rate increase will not occur before well into 2012. As for Quantitative Easing, recent rhetoric suggests that the Fed is done with this policy. History, on the other hand, suggests that if we get three or so months of negative payrolls, the policy will be revisited, even though Chairman Bernanke clearly appears frustrated by the limited impact of QE1 and QE2.
The reality is, though, that the ineffectiveness of QE1 didn’t stop the Fed from implementing QE2. Personally, I don’t believe I’ve seen a more apropos manifestation of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity than Quantitative Easing. As Einstein said:
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Daryl G. Jones