Sunday , June 25 2017
Home / Don Quijones
Don Quijones

Don Quijones

Articles by Don Quijones

EU Political Class Rides Roughshod over Citizens’ Concerns & Frustrations as it Pushes Integration

2 days ago

Even the “elite” is not totally on board.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
2017 has been a surprisingly kind year for the European Union — so far! Staunchly pro-EU candidates not only survived the gauntlet of national elections in France and the Netherlands but emerged triumphant. The once-imminent threat of political populism is now on the wane, we are led to believe. As if to prove that point, even the UK government is struggling to preserve a united front to see out Brexit after recent elections delivered a hung parliament.
The governments of the EU’s two core nations, Germany and France, appear to share a unified sense of purpose. Merkel has expressed a willingness to go along with two central French demands — the appointment of a Eurozone finance minister

Read More »

German Politicians Hammer the ECB, But Only to Get Votes

6 days ago

They know: the Eurozone would plunge into a sovereign debt crisis all over again, only worse this time.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
These days it’s easy to tell when general elections are approaching in Germany: members of the ruling government begin bewailing, in perfect unison, the ECB’s ultra-loose monetary policy. Leading the charge this time was Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who on Tuesday urged the ECB to change its policy “in a timely manner”, warning that very low interest rates had caused problems in “some parts of the world.”
Werner Bahlsen, the head of the economic council of Merkel’s CDU conservatives, was next to take the baton. “The ongoing purchase of government bonds has already cost the European project a great deal of credibility

Read More »

Fear of Contagion Feeds the Italian Banking Crisis

8 days ago

At first, deny, deny, deny. Then taxpayers get to bail out bondholders.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Spain’s Banco Popular had the dubious honor of being the first financial institution to be resolved under the EU’s Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, passed in January 2016. As a result, shareholders and subordinate bondholders were “bailed in” before the bank was sold to Santander for the princely sum of one euro.
At first the operation was proclaimed a roaring success. As European banking crises go, this was an orderly one, reported The Economist. Taxpayers were not left on the hook, as long as you ignore the €5 billion of deferred tax credits Santander obtained from the operation. Depositors and senior bondholders were spared any of the fallout.

Read More »

Is Another Spanish Bank about to Bite the Dust?

15 days ago

Stockholders and junior bondholders fear a “bail-in.”
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
After its most tumultuous week since the bailout days of 2012, Spain’s banking system is gripped by a climate of fear, uncertainty and distrust. Rather than allaying investor nerves, the shotgun bail-in and sale of Banco Popular to Santander on Tuesday has merely intensified them. For the first time since the Global Financial Crisis, shareholders and subordinate bondholders of a failing Spanish bank were not bailed out by taxpayers; they took risks in order to make a buck, and they bore the consequences. That’s how it should be. But bank investors don’t like not getting bailed out.
Now they’re worrying it could happen again. As Popular’s final days showed, once confidence

Read More »

“Bail-In” Era for Europe’s Banking Crisis Begins

17 days ago

Many Banco Popular investors wiped out. Taxpayers off the hook. What it means for Italy.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Banco Popular, until today Spain’s sixth biggest bank, is no more. Its assets, including a massive portfolio of small-business clients, now belong to Banco Santander, Spain’s biggest bank. The global giant now has 17 million customers in Spain, a country of just 45 million people. The price was €1.
Spain’s Ministry of the Economy revealed that by 3 pm Tuesday, Popular was no longer able to contain the deposit outflow. “It had exhausted all its lines of liquidity, both ordinary and extraordinary.” It had run out of collateral to cover any further lines of emergency liquidity.
This apparently triggered the intervention by the ECB’s Single

Read More »

Shock Waves Spread from Spain’s New Banking Crisis

22 days ago

Has the time finally come to test the EU’s bail-in law?
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
The shares of Spain’s sixth biggest bank, Banco Popular, plunged 36% this week to €0.43, reducing the bank’s market capitalization to €1.7 billion. Just three weeks ago, when there was still a glimmer of hope that things could be turned around, it was worth almost double that. Its shares traded at €15 ten years ago, before the collapse of Spain’s mind-boggling housing bubble that left Popular holding billions of euros of real estate assets.
Popular may not be a systemically important institution, but it’s nonetheless an institution of great import. It has the largest portfolio of small business customers in Spain and enjoys the patronage of one of Spain’s most influential

Read More »

Despite the Hype, Italy’s Banking Crisis Metastasizes

24 days ago

The government’s giant debt is already “vulnerable to market turbulence.”
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
For the last five months, Italy’s third largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, has been locked in talks with the Italian government, the European Commission and the ECB’s regulatory arm, the Single Supervisory Mechanism, over the design of a taxpayer-funded rescue. The negotiations have no led to a preliminary rescue deal, prompting speculation that Italy’s banking sector may finally be on the mend. But the progress has been painfully slow and as time drags on, the deep-seated problems affecting Italy’s broader banking system continue to metastasize.
Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco warned on Wednesday that weaker Italian banks that will probably

Read More »

Banco Popular’s Co-Co Bonds Plunge as Balance Sheet Chaos Revealed in Potential Forced Sale

26 days ago

“This sales process is atypical, as the seller itself cannot at this point make a rough calculation of what the value of the entity is, and if they can’t, neither can we.”
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
The current share price of Spain’s sixth biggest bank, Banco Popular, at €0.67, is just pennies above its lowest point ever. According to analysts at 20 different investment banks consulted by Bloomberg, the “objective” value of those shares could be anything from €1.50 (Oddo & Cie) to €0.25 (Kepler Cheuvreux).
There’s good reason for this uncertainty: Popular’s books are filled with impaired real estate assets that date back to before the collapse of Spain’s gargantuan real estate bubble. They are now in varying stages of decomposition. And the prices at

Read More »

Mexico’s Economy Reels from a Blast from the Past

28 days ago

Inflation suddenly takes off.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
“Green gold.” That’s the new name Mexicans have given to avocado, one of the country’s staple foods and most important agricultural exports. Unlike real gold, the price of green gold is soaring, having more than doubled in the last year alone, to reach an average price of 71.4 pesos ($3.85) in Mexico City, according to data from Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi).
Avocado prices are soaring for a whole variety of reasons, including rising global demand. Mexico is the world’s biggest exporter of avocado, accounting for just under half of the global market. And that market is growing by the day, particularly in the U.S., Europe, and China. But there’s another reason why

Read More »

Catalonia Threatens Spain with “Financial Bloodbath”

May 24, 2017

Catalonia’s independence would set off Spain’s debt time-bomb.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
On Monday El Pais published leaked excerpts from what it claims to be the Catalonian regional government’s road map to independence. The secret document includes a plan for the region to unilaterally break away from Spain should its citizens be prevented from holding a referendum on independence in the fall.
It provoked a fierce backlash from Madrid. “This proposal is an unacceptable attempt to blackmail the state,” Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a hastily convened press conference. Spain’s defense minister María Dolores de Cospedal likened the plot to a coup d’état. In the meantime, Madrid continues to refuse to even entertain the idea of allowing a

Read More »

The Pillage of Pemex Turns Bloody

May 21, 2017

Gasoline theft is now the second most profitable activity for Mexico’s criminal gangs.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Mexico’s state-owned oil giant, Petróleos de Mexico, AKA Pemex, has spent the last few decades being pillaged and plundered from the inside-out. The state-owned giant has been financially bled to the verge of collapse by its swollen ranks of senior managers and administrators, corrupt politicians, shady contractors, and the untouchable, unsackable leaders of the oil workers’ union.
Now, Pemex is being bled dry from the outside-in. Those doing the plundering this time include armies of amateur opportunists who live close to the major pipelines that crisscross the country as well as some of Mexico’s most ruthless and organized drug gangs.

Read More »

ECB Tapering May Trigger “Disorderly Restructuring” of Italian Debt, Return to National Currency

May 18, 2017

The only other option: “Orderly restructuring.”
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Here’s the staggering scale of the Italian government’s dependence on the ECB’s bond purchases, according to a new report by Astellon Capital: Since 2008, 88% of government debt net issuance has been acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019.
But now there’s a snag.
Last month, the size of the balance sheet of the ECB surpassed that of any other central bank: At €4.17 trillion, the ECB’s assets have soared to 38.8% of Eurozone GDP. The ECB has already reduced the rate of purchases to €60 billion a month. And it plans to

Read More »

The Backlash to Spain’s New Property Boom Has Begun

May 16, 2017

When locals can’t afford to live there anymore.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Spain is in the grip of a property boom. Whereas the last bubble was driven largely by the rampant construction and sale of new homes, with the country at one point accounting for more housing starts than Germany, France, Britain and Italy combined, the focal point of the new boom is the smaller but fast-growing rental apartment market.
Spain has traditionally been a country of home-owners, with an average ownership rate of 78.5%, 10 percentage points above the EU average. But things are changing.
“The concept of owning a home in Spain was almost religious, but that’s changed for an entire generation of young people who have seen people losing their homes, (their house) prices

Read More »

Hit by Run on Deposits, Banco Popular Denies it’s Looking for Rushed Takeover to Avert Collapse

May 12, 2017

Spain’s 6th largest bank: “We have liquidity until the end of the year.”
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
In the world of banking, confidence and trust are a precious currency. The moment a bank loses them, things tend to spiral down quickly. Spain’s sixth biggest and desperately troubled bank, Banco Popular, appears to be well along the process of losing the confidence of its customers, and with it their deposits. Last year the bank lost 6.5% of its deposit base. But now, according to a report by the financial daily El Confidencial, the deposit outflow is swelling from a trickle into a deluge.
The bank responded by making its deposits more attractive. Its deposit rates now range between 0.75% and 4%. With the eurobor at 0%, offering such enticing rates will

Read More »

In Bleak Prognosis, Italy’s Financial Regulator Threatens EU with Return to a “National Currency”

May 10, 2017

Because Italy’s banking crisis and other problems have not been solved.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Nerves are fraying in the corridors of power of the Eurozone’s third largest economy, Italy. It’s in the grip of a full-blown banking meltdown that has the potential to rip asunder the tenuous threads keeping the European project together.
In his annual speech to the financial market, Giuseppe Vegas, the president of stock-market regulator CONSOB — a consummate insider — delivered a bleak prognosis. The ECB’s quantitative easing program has “reduced the pressure on countries, such as ours, which more than others needed to recover ground on competitiveness, stability and convergence.”
But it hasn’t worked, he said. Despite trillions of euros worth of QE,

Read More »

Spain’s Government Presses Property-Bubble Rewind Button

May 7, 2017

Taxpayer-funded subsidies to benefit banks, real estate agencies, construction companies, PE firms, and landlords.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
After spending the last few years groggily getting back onto its feet following the collapse of one of the most spectacular — and destructive — real estate bubbles of this century, Spain’s economy is once again being primed for another property boom.
In the last quarter prices registered a year-on-year rise of 4.5%. Rents are also surging, though the country is still home to over half a million vacant properties. The cost of renting in Madrid and Barcelona, which between them account for 16% of those vacant properties, has reached historic highs, according to a new study by the online real estate market place

Read More »

Is the City of London about to Lose its Crown Jewel? 

May 2, 2017

Where will nearly €1 trillion-a-DAY in euro-clearing operations go? But other finance operations might not go to the usual suspects.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
The UK economy’s prize “asset,” the City of London’s gargantuan financial services industry, is at the top of the menu of the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. For Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, safeguarding the City of London’s operations is a top priority. But for the EU’s negotiators, those operations represent both a valuable asset to covet as well as a huge bargaining chip in the forthcoming negotiations.
One area of activity that European authorities, both political and monetary, seem determined to get their hands on, at pretty much any cost, is the City’s vast clearing operations.
The U.K. is estimated to handle 75% of all euro-denominated derivatives transactions, equivalent to around €930 billion of trades per day. It’s also home to roughly 90% of US dollar domestic interest-rate swaps. Clearing is a huge business for the City of London. The world’s largest clearinghouse for interest rate swaps, LCH, is based there and is majority-owned by London Stock Exchange Group Plc.
It functions as a middle man collecting collateral and standing between derivatives and swaps traders to prevent a default from spiraling out of control.

Read More »

London’s Deflating House Price Bubble Gets Messier

April 30, 2017

Prices in this hotbed of global wealth fall most since 2009.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
London’s property market is estimated to be worth as much as the annual GDP of the world’s ninth biggest economy, Brazil. But prices are falling.
In April they fell 1.5% year-over-year, to £636,777, according to Rightmove, a firm specialized in real estate. The last time prices fell so sharply was in May 2009, when the global financial crisis was gaining steam. The worst hit areas are London’s most expensive boroughs.
Those at the top end of the global wealth and income scale — just about the only people left who can afford to buy residential property in London these days — either have less money to spend or are spending it elsewhere. Some are even splashing it around other parts of the UK, where better value deals can be found.
For the last two years the UK’s prime regional housing markets have outperformed London’s top postcodes, as higher taxes and Brexit uncertainty have chilled the capital’s prime markets. According to Lucian Cook, head of residential research at Savills, values in the prime central London market are 13% below their 2014 peak.

Read More »

Corruption Scandals already Trip Up Spain’s New Government

April 26, 2017

If the Prime Minister is made to testify, all bets are off.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
After taking almost a whole year to form, Spain’s coalition government is already showing signs of strain. Chief among its problems is the endless string of corruption scandals engulfing the government’s majority party, the People’s Party.
In the latest scandal the regional government of Madrid — a bastion of the party’s national apparatus — is accused of channeling illegal funds through the local water company, Canal de Isabel II. Also, the embattled construction behemoth OHL allegedly gave the former president of the regional government, Ignacio González, a €1.4 million bribe in return for the tender of a light-rail project in Madrid.
González is now in jail awaiting charges, as is his brother who is promising to drag down others. Javier López Madrid, OHL’s chief executive, has also been arrested by Spain’s Civil Guard.
The latest scandal raises serious questions about the durability of Spain’s fragile coalition government. True to form, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy continues to say nothing on the matter. But his silence may soon be broken following news last week that he has been called as a witness in the ongoing Gürtel kickbacks case.

Read More »

Just How Safe is Spain’s Banking System?

April 23, 2017

Investment bank Mediobanca warns of “clear risk of contagion.”
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
“The Cover of La la Land with a Potential Horror Story” is the title of a report about Spanish banks, authored by analysts at Italian investment bank Mediobanca. The shares of many Spanish banks have surged in recent months, some as much as 50%, hence La La Land. “Banco Popular [the teetering bank we’ve written so much about] seems to be the only exception to a truly happy world, but the current situation could take a nosedive with clear risk of contagion for the rest of the sector.”
Spain’s sixth biggest bank, Banco Popular, remains on the verge of either collapsing or being gobbled up by a bigger bank before it collapses. The bank lost over 60% of its market cap last year and it’s already 30% down so far this year. Popular has become a favorite target of short-selling hedge funds. Moody’s has just downgraded its senior debt two notches to B1 (junk), with negative outlook due to the bank’s “weak solvency levels” and worsening capital position.
For Popular to remain a going concern beyond 2017, it must pull off another capital expansion, this time of around €4 billion. That’s a big ask for a bank with a market cap of just €2.9 billion, and that has already burnt through the lion’s share of the €5.4 billion it raised in its three previous rights issues.

Read More »

Mexico’s Economy Is Being Plundered Dry

April 20, 2017

Debt is suffocating the economy, but where did the money go? 
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
The government of Mexico has a new problem on its hands: what to do with the burgeoning ranks of state governors, current or former, that are facing prosecution for fraud or corruption. It’s a particularly sensitive problem given that most of the suspects belong to the governing political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico uninterruptedly from 1929 to 2000. It returned to power in December 2012 with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto. And it clearly hasn’t changed its ways.
Some of the accused governors were so compromised they went on the run. In the last few weeks, two of them, Tomás Yarrington, former state governor of Tamaulipas, and Javier Duarte, former governor of Veracruz, were tracked down. Yarrington, accused of laundering proceeds from drug trafficking as well as helping Mexico’s Gulf Cartel export “large quantities” of cocaine to the United States, was ensnared by Italian Police in the Tuscan city of Florence. He faces possible extradition to the United States.
Yarrington’s successor as governor of Tamaulipas, Eugenio Hernández, a fellow PRI member who is also accused of close ties with narcotraficantes and money laundering, has not been seen in public since last June.

Read More »

Is Barcelona’s Crazy Tourist Boom Too Much of a Good Thing?

April 16, 2017

It brings buckets of money, but what are the consequences?
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Barcelona, Europe’s most visited non-capital city (at least officially speaking), is now so saturated with tourists that even the tourists are complaining. In a recent study by the City Council, 40% of the tourists surveyed thought that prices in the city were too high, while 59% believed that the streets and tourist hotspots were too crowded.
They’ve got a point. In 2015 the city, with a total permanent population of 1.7 million, drew 8.9 million visitors, 6.5% more than the year before and a five-fold increase from 1990. And that’s just those who stayed in hotels. Airbnb hosts provided accommodation for a further 900,000 visitors. By 2016 that number had climbed to 1.25 million. Many Airbnb offerings are considered illegal, according to the City Council.
The tourism boom has brought with it buckets of money. According to Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index, Barcelona rakes in over $12 billion a year from tourism and is the third-ranked European city in terms of tourist expenditure, just behind the two global powerhouses of London and Paris. However, this money has come at a heavy price, as the documentary film Bye Bye Barcelona documents.

Read More »

Here’s Italy’s Latest Plan B Where Desperation Meets Insanity

April 13, 2017

Selling securities backed by defaulted loans to NIRP refugees.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Nerves are beginning to fray in Italy’s banking sector, as pressure rises on the worst hit banks to remove the most noxious elements off their books — most likely at big discounts that will further impair their balance sheets. On Saturday Italy’s finance minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, begged the ECB for more time for the banks to clean up their act.
“We cannot demand that suddenly banks offload their NPLs, because this could be potentially destabilizing, especially if the problem involves several banks in the same banking system,” Padoan told a news conference.
By “several banks,” Padoan means perhaps the 114 banks, of the close to 500 banks in Italy, that have “Texas Ratios” of over 100%. The Texas Ratio, or TR, is calculated by dividing the total value of a bank’s non-performing loans by its tangible book value plus reserves — or as money manager Steve Eisman put it, “all the bad stuff divided by the money you have to pay for all the bad stuff.”
If the TR is over 100%, the bank doesn’t have enough money to “pay for all the bad stuff” and tends to fail. In Italy, 24 banks are estimated to have ratios of over 200%.
On Tuesday it was the Governor of Bank of Italy Ignazio Visco’s turn to plead for more time.

Read More »

Three More Reasons to Worry about the Euro’s Future

April 9, 2017

From the “Doom Loop” to the Black Hole.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
“Despite uncertainty over Brexit — formally triggered last week by prime minister Theresa May — central bankers from around the world see the UK as a safer prospect for their reserve investments than the Eurozone, a new poll reveals”: The Financial Times.
At first whiff, this may smell counter intuitive. After all, it’s the UK that’s supposed to be in the weaker negotiating position over Brexit terms. It also risks losing a sizable chunk of its core industry, finance. Yet according to a survey of reserve managers at 80 central banks, who together are responsible for investments worth almost €6 trillion, the stability of the monetary union is their greatest fear for 2017.
They have good reasons to worry. Here are three of them:
1. The Doom Loop is Back in All Its Glory.
In fact, it never went away; it was just squeezed into temporary irrelevance by the ECB’s mass purchase of Eurozone sovereign bonds. The biggest beneficiaries are Italy and Spain where banks’ balance sheets are overflowing with bonds of their individual governments — all considered “risk free” for regulatory reporting.
In 2012, Spanish banks held a staggering 32% of Spain’s national debt (excluding regional and local debt). At the end of 2016, that figure had shrunk to 22.7%, or €168 billion.

Read More »

War on Cash Puts ECB, EU on Collision Course with Germany

April 7, 2017

Bundesbank: It’s a war on personal freedom and choice.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Relations between Germany, and the ECB have curdled in recent times over a key issue: the role of cash. Germans have a soft spot for physical lucre while the ECB and Europe’s executive branch, the European Commission, have openly expressed their desire to suppress, or even punish, its use.
For Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, the war on cash is a war on personal freedom and choice, in the name of saving a financial system and its absurd negative interest rates. Last year Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann warned that it would be “disastrous” if people started to believe cash would be abolished — an oblique reference to the risk of negative interest rates and the escalating war on cash triggering a run on cash.
In Germany, trust in Europe’s financial institutions is already at a historic low, with only one in three Germans saying they have confidence in the ECB. That was before ECB president Mario Draghi gave an infamous speech in May last year laying much of the blame for the Eurozone’s weak economy on Germans’ proclivity to save, rather than splash out on foreign imports or invest in the stock market.
Now, it’s the turn of the scientific advisory board of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology to have its say.

Read More »

Spain’s Most Italian Bank Still “Solvent,” Claims Finance Minister

April 4, 2017

It just doesn’t let up with this bank.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
The future continues to look bleak for Spain’s most Italian bank, Banco Popular, which ironically once bore the slogan “Our Past and Our Present Guarantee Our Future.” Things have gotten so bad that when the country’s Minister of Finance Luis de Guindos was asked by a reporter today about the bank’s state of health, he responded: “the bank is solvent.” Which is kind of like a doctor saying, “the patient is alive.” Not exactly reassuring.
Popular just had its worst day of 2017 after seeing its penny stock tumble over 10%, from €0.90 to €0.82. This is a bank that was once ranked among the world’s most profitable by ratings company IBCA and which not so long ago boasted a share price of over €15. That was before its management decided to bet the farm on risky real estate investments at the height of an insane property bubble and then took too long to clean up afterward.
Even now, nine years after the the bubble’s crash, roughly a quarter of Popular’s total loan portfolio is still concentrated in the real estate and construction sectors. In November last year. it had over €30 billion worth of bad loans and non-performing assets on its books, which it continues to struggle to offload without incurring fatal losses.

Read More »

Is the Global Taxman Coming?

April 1, 2017

But who are they really going after?
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
Credit Suisse is once again under international investigation for allegedly helping its clients evade the prying eyes of national tax authorities. This comes after the bank was fined $2.6 billion by the U.S. government in 2014 for helping Americans evade taxes.
Helping high net worth private clients and corporations evade taxes, and then getting caught is not unique to Credit Suisse. Fellow Swiss megabank UBS and UK giant HSBC were fined hundreds of millions of dollars for their troubles.
The banks are not just helping their clients evade taxes. In a report titled Opening the Vaults, UK-based charity Oxfam International revealed this week that in 2015, Europe’s 20 largest banks registered over a quarter of their profits in tax havens – well out of proportion to the level of real economic activity that occurs there. Once again, Luxembourg was a top destination for funds, while in Ireland the same banks recorded profits that were 76% higher than the global average in 2015. Only the Cayman Islands was found to have a higher profitability rate.
None of this should come as a surprise. If any organization knows how to bend the rules and use and abuse the tools and levers of global finance to minimize a company or individual’s tax “footprint,” it’s today’s generation of global banks.

Read More »

Here’s Why Italy’s Banking Crisis Has Gone Off the Radar

March 30, 2017

Just how many banks are insolvent? Turns out, a lot! But elections are coming up.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
For a country that is on the brink of a gargantuan public bailout of its toxic-loan riddled banking sector, or failing that, a full-blown financial crisis that could bring down the European financial system, things are eerily quiet in Italy these days. It’s almost as if the more serious the crisis gets, the less we hear about it — otherwise, investors and voters might get spooked. And elections are coming up.
But an article published in the financial section of Italian daily Il Sole lays out just how serious the situation has become. According to new research by Italian investment bank Mediobanca, 114 of the close to 500 banks in Italy have “Texas Ratios” of over 100%. The Texas Ratio, or TR, is calculated by dividing the total value of a bank’s non-performing loans by its tangible book value plus reserves — or as American money manager Steve Eisman put it, “all the bad stuff divided by the money you have to pay for all the bad stuff.”
If the TR is over 100%, the bank doesn’t have enough money “pay for all the bad stuff.” Hence, banks tend to fail when the ratio surpasses 100%. In Italy there are 114 of them. Of them, 24 have ratios of over 200%.

Read More »

Shock, Horror: ECB Not as “Independent” as it Claims – Report

March 29, 2017

Transparency International whacks at a central bank.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
The European Central Bank has found itself in the rare position of having to defend itself in the public arena following the release of a scathing report on its perceived lack of political independence. The report, published by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, argues that the institution has accrued new power and influence in the wake of the financial crisis but its code of conduct has not kept up with that newfound clout.
It even suggests that the ECB should withdraw from the Eurozone’s Troika of creditors, precisely at a time that calls are rising for the creation of a European Monetary Fund.
“The extraordinary measures taken by the ECB since 2008 have tested the ECB’s mandate (to ensure price stability) to breaking point,” Transparency International EU said. “The ECB’s accountability framework is not appropriate for the far-reaching political decisions taken by the Governing Council.”
The Berlin-based NGO has proposed a range of measures to improve the central bank’s transparency and accountability. They include better management of conflicts of interest, clearer rules on the cooling-off period before former officials accept private-sector jobs; and much higher levels of transparency on the ECB’s meetings with lobbyists.

Read More »

Italy at the Grim Edge of a Global Problem

March 25, 2017

This trend is not your friend.
By Don Quijones, Spain & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.
To be young, gifted, educated and Italian is no guarantee of financial security these days. As a new report by the Bruno Visentini Foundation shows, the average 20-year-old will have 18 years to wait before living independently — meaning, among other things, having a home, a steady income, and the ability to support a family. That’s almost twice as long as it took Italians who turned 20 in 2004.
A Worsening Trend
Eurostat statistics in October 2016 showed that less than a third of under-35s in Italy had left their parental home, a figure 20 percentage points higher than the European average. The trend is expected to worsen as the economy continues to struggle. Researchers said that for Italians who turn 20 in 2030, it will take an average of 28 years to be able to live independently. In other words, many of Italy’s children today won’t have “grown up” until they’re nearing their 50s.

Read More »