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A Bubble In Search of a Pin


Should Greenspan, Bernanke, and the entire Fed have seen it coming?

It's doubtful that German and French voters will be happy with any bailout using their tax money that doesn't impose serious cuts in Greek budgets, with realistic controls as a condition for the bailout. Can Greece live with that? We'll see.

(I'm sure I have hundreds of Greek readers. I'd love to hear from you as to your views, from the inside.)

But is it so unthinkable that Greece could simply default and then be forced by the market to get realistic about its deficits? The same market forces that work in Illinois can work in Greece.

But if the EU does bail out Greece, what then of Ireland, which is making the tough choices? Will Portugal be next? If Greece is allowed to fail, or better, actually shows some fiscal discipline, that bodes well for the EU in the long run. It will be a lesson that each nation is responsible to maintain its own house.

The data presented by Reinhart and Rogoff show clearly that adding yet more suffocating debt to a bloated debt crisis isn't the solution. It simply puts off the inevitable. Greece is an intractable problem. From here it looks like default or a very serious recession, with large unemployment numbers.

But in the meantime the Greek situation is adding volatility to risk markets of all types. I have written before of the connection between what's called the euro-yen cross and risk markets all over the world. Right now, you can borrow money very cheaply in dollars and yen (the so-called carry trade). When investors want to reduce risk, they pay back those loans, which has the result of increasing the value of the dollar and the yen.

That's what was happening with the euro-yen cross as of Friday morning. It's in the process of falling out of bed. And so are risk markets. Markets don't like uncertainty. And Greece, Portugal and Spain are uncertainty in spades. If Greece defaults, who owns the debt? Which banks? My bank? Will they call my loan? This happened in 2008 a lot! Can it happen again? We still have banks all over the world that are too big too fail. Credit default swaps aren't on an exchange (because to do that would make them less profitable for the investment banks that sell them, and thus the lobbyists have convinced Congress to ignore them).

Are we at the place where we can think the unthinkable? That sovereign nations can in fact default? I think we see a de facto default by Japan this decade.

Don't assume that we've weathered the storm. We may just be getting ready for the next one.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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