James Saft

Euro woes to spread via credit

Nov 25, 2011 14:42 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

A sharp cut back in lending by euro zone banks in their scramble to raise capital will prove an important channel spreading pain from the vulnerable single currency area to the rest of the world.

Though the euro-induced credit crunch will be less important than the outright effects of the euro zone recession, in some areas, like trade finance, and in some regions, such as emerging Europe, the impact will be felt far more quickly.

“European banks have huge exposures outside Europe itself,” said Srinivas Thiruvadanthai, an economist at the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center.

“They are being asked to increase their capital base. You can go and raise capital or you go and get a government handout or you shed assets. Raising assets will be very, very tough.”

Euro zone banks will be cutting back on foreign exposure, either out of prudence or under pressure from their regulators.

Britain eats (leverages) its young

Nov 22, 2011 21:31 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Four years, several failed banks and at least one global recession later, Britain has finally discovered what its young people need: 19-1 leverage.

Britain has announced a new housing initiative, the centerpiece of which is a plan to entice first-time buyers into buying newly-built properties with as little as 5 percent down.

Under the plan both builders and the government would contribute funds to partially indemnify lenders against what I am betting are the inevitable losses. Borrowers, who are almost by definition younger and less well off, will still bear all losses, but will be rewarded with the chance to take out the kind of loan which has proven time and again to be a bad idea.

Technocrats can’t cure the contagion

Nov 15, 2011 23:07 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Now it is Spain.

The message from markets is not so much that Italy is too big to fail but that Greece will fail and in doing so ensnare others.

The prospect of two new avowedly technocratic governments and fresh pledges and plans for austerity proved not enough to stem contagion in the euro zone, as the financing drought spread beyond Greece and Italy to Spain. Spanish 10-year bond yields climbed above 6 percent for the first time since early August when the European Central Bank waded into bond markets in Spain’s support.

Perhaps that is because the contagion isn’t coming from Athens or Rome but from governments in Berlin, Paris and the ECB in Frankfurt, all of which seem unwilling to take the needed steps to save the euro.

Waiting for deus ex ECB

Nov 10, 2011 20:36 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

It looks as if we will need to see some kind of miracle intervention from the European Central Bank — a Deus ex ECB — or the euro zone is heading for a nasty divorce.

Either the ECB comes across with a mandate-busting rescue, probably involving direct lending to Italy and rolling the currency printing presses, or the forces aligned against currency union will roll over Italy and into France.

Italian political chaos and a move by some clearing houses to demand more margin on Italian debt helped to drive 10-year yields of the troubled sovereign borrower to a euro-era record of 7.5 percent on Wednesday. The market appears to doubt that the EFSF rescue fund will be big enough and operative enough to back Italy effectively.

Euro plan drives into ditch

Nov 8, 2011 20:36 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The early returns on the euro rescue are as straightforward as the plan was vague: it probably isn’t going to work.Two numbers tell the tale: the 177 basis points over German debt the supposedly AAA-rated euro rescue fund was forced to pay to borrow on Monday; and 6.67 percent, the 14-year record amount Italy had to pony up to borrow for 10 years.

Neither of those numbers fit in well with the plan announced last week to recapitalize banks, bail out Greece, erect a firewall around the larger weak economies and produce credible plans for fiscal and economic reform.

Put simply, these numbers are telling us that the market and debt investors do not believe the plan will work in its current form. And little wonder, it is now just days later and Greece’s government has fallen, Italy‘s Berlusconi is under siege and the much hoped-for support from outsiders like China has failed to materialize.

Europe’s three simple problems

Nov 3, 2011 15:40 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The plan to rescue the euro zone faces only three hurdles; democracy, reality, and supply and demand.If they can overcome those, it is going to work perfectly, and, amazingly, they just might.

Democracy reared its rather large head when the Greek government decided suddenly that it wanted a sign-off from its voters and moved to put the plan to a plebiscite.

While it is hard to argue with the idea of a people getting a chance to vote directly on a plan that will mean tough times for the better part of the next decade, the move jeopardizes not only the confidence on which the entire rescue relies but also the next infusion of much-needed cash Greece is slated to get in November.

Going for crazy broke

Nov 1, 2011 19:54 UTC

Why aren’t Americans still saving?

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

A look at the fall in the U.S. savings rate raises one crucial question: are Americans crazy, or just broke?

The answer may hold the key for whether the country is headed for another recession or a policy-engineered recovery.

The personal savings rate fell in September to 3.6 percent, the lowest since December 2007. Given that household balance sheets are still under stress from tumbling housing prices — and tiny rates of savings for much of the last decade — this makes little sense as a strategy.