Counterparties: Banning shorts in Europe

By Peter Rudegeair
July 23, 2012

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A ban on short selling didn’t reverse a drop in stocks when the SEC imposed one covering 19 financial companies in July 2008, including, ahem, Lehman Brothers. Spain and Italy believe they can achieve more success — the countries have reinstated a ban on short selling the shares of their financial institutions.

Spain’s claim that the sell-off in bank stocks is overdone is made difficult by its continued negotiation of a $1.2 billion bailout of its financial banking system. That bailout looks increasingly necessary: The Bank of Spain reported that the economy contracted by 0.4% in the second quarter. And the fiscal health of the provinces continue to weaken. On Friday, the overly indebted region of Valenica sought financial aid from the central government in Madrid, and the tiny region of Murcia looks like it will do so as well. Those payments are getting increasingly expensive for the central government to fund. Yields on Spain’s 10-year bonds hit 7.52% today, a euro-era high.

Italy is in a relatively better position (emphasis on “relatively”). Sicily’s situation is causing alarm in Rome, as policymakers announced they would send the island $484 million in aid to stave off a liquidity crunch. Sicily, which some call “the Greece of Italy,” faces the same problems of bloated public payrolls and overly generous public pension contracts, as the country as a whole:

Today, Sicily’s regional government has 1,800 employees – more than the British Cabinet Office – and the island employs 26,000 auxiliary forest rangers; in the vast forestlands of British Columbia, there are fewer than 1,500.

Out of a population of five million people in Sicily, the state directly or indirectly employs more than 100,000 of them and pays pensions to many more. It changed its pension system eight years after the rest of Italy. (One retired politician recently won a case to keep an annual pension of 480,000 euros, about $584,000.)

And then there’s Greece itself. The WSJ reports that European officials have doubts about the new government’s commitment to austerity – and have compiled a laundry list of more than 200 delays to cuts to prove their point. The Germans are growing increasingly inured to Greece’s cries for help: While Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was telling Bill Clinton that Greece was in “our version of the Great Depression,” German Vice-Chancellor Philipp Roesler told an interviewer that a Greek exit from the euro zone “has long ago lost its terror”. – Peter Rudegeair

On to today’s links:

Wall St: Experts (including our own!) say eminent domain mortgage seizures are unconstitutional – SIFMA

New Normal
Economists predict US poverty to reach its highest levels since the 1960s – AP

Tax Arcana
Corporate tax breaks, why bother? They’re more trouble than they’re worth – WSJ

China’s glamour vs. service infrastructure problem – FT Alphaville

Bold Moves
Banks intrigued by idea of profitable, non-abusive ways to serve the poor – American Banker

Libor scandal is moving closer to becoming officially criminal – Reuters
Bob Diamond asked to resign from decreasingly prestigious jobs – Waterville Morning Sentinel

Less is More
Bank of America has 1,536 fewer ATMs than it had six months ago – American Banker

11,000 new business books are published each year – Businessweek

The main job of venture capital’s trade group: contradicting reports that Mitt Romney was a venture capitalist – Reuters

Good Questions
What is Yahoo? – NYT


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s 1994 MTV town meeting.

Posted by MoBioph | Report as abusive

Not to pick a nit, but the $1.21 billion (as opposed to $121 billion) Spanish banking bailout is going a bit Dr. Evil on the amount (and I say that in good humor that we all make the occasional mistake).

Posted by realist50 | Report as abusive

Well, we have prominent economists reporting anywhere between $21 to $32 TRILLIONS held by rich individuals in offshore bank accounts for the purpose of tax evasion.

I wonder what is Italy’s (or Spain’s or any other country’s) share of this? Maybe if NATO invaded these countries instead of Afghanistan or Iran we might manage some of these financial problems a bit better.

Posted by ChrisHerz | Report as abusive

About this -

Wall St: Experts (including our own!) say eminent domain mortgage seizures are unconstitutional – SIFMA”

Joke – didn’t bother to read it. Get real – the underwater mortgage crisis is so serious that anything that plausibly solves the problem and passes the political test of getting enacted into law is gonna pass Constitutional muster. No USSC is going to say “No” to anything that fixes the problem and that people agree on.

Posted by MrRFox | Report as abusive

Actually Spain banned shorts on the whole Spanish market not just financials.
Italy aimed at Financials and Insurance.

As for ChrisHerz – !!

Posted by TinyTim1 | Report as abusive

“the island employs 26,000 auxiliary forest rangers; in the vast forestlands of British Columbia, there are fewer than 1,500.”

This is potentially a very misleading comparison. What an “Auxiliary forest ranger” does can vary significantly depending on the type of “forest”. In the US, there are large numbers of “Park Rangers” whose purpose is primarily to interact with the public, give tours of national monuments, etc. There are more rangers working on the tiny Liberty Island in New York Harbor than there are in the vast Gateway to the Arctic National Park in northern Alaska. Sicily may need far more “forest rangers” to handle large numbers of European tourists than the less heavily visited forests of British Columbia.

Posted by Ragweed | Report as abusive

Given the amount of “forest” in Sicily, it’s certainly reasonable to wonder what all those “forest rangers” are doing. I suspect they are about as busy as the Greeks on the committee to manage Lake Kopais, which dried up in the 1930′s.

Posted by johnhhaskell | Report as abusive

Considering that 300,000 people visit each year to climb Mount Etna alone, there could be plenty of things for “auxiliary forest rangers” to do. It all depends on what exactly “auxiliary forest rangers” entails. Are they low-paid part-time employees who clean up trash on heavily visited trails and beaches? Or highly paid employees who “oversee” underutilized timber lands? Do “forest rangers” in British Columbia only include those that manage timberlands, or does it include interpretive rangers and visitors center employees at provincial parks? Without any information on what these positions actually entail, then the comparison is highly suspect.

Posted by Ragweed | Report as abusive