John Taylor’s most brilliant letter to date.
MARKET INSIGHT REPORT
June 10, 2010
By John R. Taylor, Jr.
Chief Investment Officer
Managing an investment portfolio in Europe can put you on the fast track to a mental asylum. Only a playwright like Luigi Pirandello, who lived with a schizophrenic wife and wrote plays like Henry IV with its multiple levels of reality, could cope with the financial landscape in today’s Europe. Unfortunately, with the powerful political elite so committed to the EMU process, which they see as critical to the survival of the European Union, these economic distortions will only become more severe. Eventually it will either end badly, as in Henry IV with violence and death, or well, as in a crucible-like reordering and re-characterization of the European nation states. I expect to be writing about this fascinating process for the rest of my life – and I hope to live a long time.
Differences within the Eurozone are extreme. Ireland saw its nominal GDP drop by 10.2% last year, a decline similar to those experienced in the Great Depression, while the German economy recently grew at a nominal rate above 3%. An independent economist calculated that the value of the euro would have to be $0.31 to balance Greece’s international position, and the number for Spain was $0.34, while Germany could effectively compete in the international marketplace with a euro over $1.80. Despite the ECB pegging the refinancing rate at 1.00%, two-year benchmark government rates for Germany are way below that at 0.48%, but way above it at 7.91% for Greece, Ireland 3.37%, and 3.20% for Spain. Ireland has been living with annual deflation for the last 16 months, while German lawmakers are worried about inflation. These differences have become more dramatic in the past few months and most independent observers forecast that trend to continue. By any economist’s measure this is not an optimal currency zone. But the economists are not in charge, the politicians are, and these politicians have spent their entire careers following their conception of the European currency. Their reputations and the European myth depend on the survival of the euro, and those who doubt its viability are enemies who deserve to be ground into dust. There is one overarching problem that the defenders of the euro cannot overcome: in its current form, the euro’s survival is economically impossible. Prior to the Greek crisis, the market did not understand this, but now it does. And you cannot put the genie back in the bottle.
If part of the euro is worth $1.80 and another part is worth $0.31, how do you value this currency today, while it’s still in one piece? That is the crux of the matter. The uncertainty around this issue is what has caused billions of euros to flee into the security of the Swiss franc. The Swiss authorities have intervened, buying so many euros that their reserves expanded by 45% of their GDP since the start of this year. Despite that massive intervention, the Swiss franc has climbed by 10% against the euro since mid-December. There is no sign of change. As the politicians are completely in control, the schizophrenic euro could go on for years with the economic dislocations becoming more and more intense. Little explosions are likely. Certainly, the Swiss are in a terrible position (see Switzerland Surrounded Again, April 29, 2010) as the euros will keep flowing in. The Swiss franc might gain another 10%, destroying its export base, but the Swiss could change the rules to protect themselves. Although the European political elites are totally committed to the euro, the man on the street is different. The European political peace is a compromise between entrenched elites and the highly entitled masses first formulated by Bismarck over 120 years ago. The withdrawal of those entitlements in order to save the euro could easily upset this historic deal. If those in power continue to ignore the needs of the people, neither the euro nor the current political structure will survive in its current form.