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Europe Whispers “Crisis” While the Market Continues Screaming

Interest-Rates / Global Debt Crisis Mar 30, 2011 - 12:53 PM GMT

By: Jason_Kaspar

Interest-Rates

Last year the Europe Union (and the euro) teetered on the verge of collapse when the Greek financial crisis strained the viability of the EU construct. This year, as other EU countries domino in similar fashion, no one seems to care – certainly not the markets. Portugal’s government collapsed last Friday, and Standard and Poor has downgraded Portugal twice in the last week from A- to BBB-.  S&P then proceeded to cut Greece’s rating further from BB+ to BB-. Yet, defying all reason, the markets have gone up.


So, why is the market reacting positively to this news?

Well, in the perverse logic of a shortsighted market, debt spending is good.  Going into the European crises last year, there was no backstop for a European country in trouble.  The provisions for sovereign collapse were unclear and hotly debated.  Would Greece be kicked out of the Eurozone?  What would happen to the Euro?  Would bondholders suffer losses? How would this impact banks? 

The solution? Europe quickly embraced the troubled American model, socializing risk, instituting multiple backstops, and implementing enough cross guarantees to ensure that sorting through them would be more difficult than, say, trying to figure out how may countries the US is at war with.

The primary organism responsible for this socialist backstopping is the European Financial Stability Fund, or EFSF. The EFSF has the authority to issue $440 billion in additional bonds backed by European Area Member States, or EAMS, which means that Greece is lending to Portugal through the EFSF, and Portugal is lending to Greece. The credit rating agencies have (naturally) given this bailout vehicle their highest rating, AAA. Go figure. The system represents nothing more than a European version of a collateralized debt obligation (CDO) or collateralized loan obligation (CLO). You may remember, CDOs and CLOs helped ruin the financial system in 2008.  To certain market participants, garbage intermingling with trash with a spice of waste produces a sweet European fragrance.

Seduced by this “sweet” aroma, when a government like Portugal fails and a bailout is imminent, the market perceives it as a non-event at worst and as a positive at best, because CDOs and CLOs allow leverage to be piled upon leverage. When the economy is doing well, the prospect of leverage actually enhances returns.  The EFSF offers a Euro version of quantitative easing, providing a tailwind for the market when the market is going up.

The European effort does not actually fix the system, and in true Americano style, it is a form of kicking the can down the road (Americans may not be great at soccer, but we are elite can-kickers). For this reason, the European debt crisis continues unabated, passing from one country to the next. There will be a day of reckoning; the question is the catalyst, of which there are many possibilities. Spain, by itself, could crash the entire fiesta, straining the best laid bailout plans based on pure size.  The country I am particularly watching is Ireland.

There has been chatter in Ireland about default on some of its bonds, which has the potential to start a chain reaction across Europe.  It changes the game theory scenario.  Default seems inevitable for many of the EU countries, but it can be pushed off at the expense of citizens for years.  If Ireland defaults, Greece and Portugal should very quickly come to the conclusion that they can default also, bringing down the pyramid of leverage and instigating the European version of America circa 2008.  Because the euro structure is much worse than the dollar, such a crisis also likely would create a currency panic.

The day is coming, but until it does, overweight market participants plump with profits will enjoy skinny-dipping with the false protection of a full tide.  Someday the tide will go out, and it will be a very ugly sight indeed.

Jason Kaspar blogs daily for www.GoldShark.com.

Jason is the Chief Investment Officer for Ark Fund Capital Management, focusing on investment and portfolio management.  Jason founded a long/short value fund, Kaspar Investments, LP, in November 2007 along with its investment adviser, Dunamis Capital LLC.  Prior to launching his fund, Jason was employed by Highland Capital Management LP, a then $40 billion hedge fund firm.  Prior to joining Highland Capital, Jason worked for FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm.  At FTI Consulting, Jason worked within the corporate finance restructuring division and directly with the debtors and creditors involved in FTI's bankruptcy restructurings.  Jason has built long lasting relationships with a broad base of private and institutional investors.  Jason graduated Summa ***** Laude from Texas A&M with a double-degree in Finance & Accounting, where he was involved in numerous investment think-tanks focusing on investment strategy.

Twitter: www.twitter.com/kasparscomments 

Website: www.arkfundcapital.com

© 2011 Copyright Jason Kaspar - All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


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