Monday, May 07, 2012

If You Hold Euro Bonds

... will you still hold them tomorrow? How about savings in European banks?

The socialists won in France. "No austerity!" they cried. "We have no intention of ever paying back the money we borrowed!" is the more accurate translation.

Anti-austerity parties in Greece cleaned up this weekend as well. And in this case, "party" is the right term because the hangover is going to be merciless. In one weekend, the voters of France and Greece have destroyed the EU's economic foundations. Money no longer has any meaning. When you lend money to a government and they won't pay you back, you've got problems. When they owe their annual gross national product and they won't pay anyone back, everyone has problems.

There are no rules any more.

That may seem like hyperbole, but think about it for a minute. Just a few months ago, the Greeks kicked everyone in the groin to the tune of a 50% or so reduction in what they were willing to pay back on their loans. Now they've decided they won't even pay that back. Prior to this weekend's elections, the French had added weight to the Germans' demand that others honor their debts. Now the French have decided to drink cognac, wear a lampshade and party until they can't remember anything the next morning. If you've got a bank and you use government bonds as principle, as they all do, you've just opened your vault to find empty Courvoisier bottles and strange fluid stains on the floor. If you think you're going to be able to sell those in the open market to pay off people's savings when they come to make a withdrawal, you'd better think again.

Individual savings in European banks are no longer safe because the government bonds backing them won't be convertible to cash.

That's not entirely true, of course. The European Central Bank can always buy your bonds by printing Euros.

At least they've got experience doing it.

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