James Saft

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.

The era of good feeling following Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation and the appointment of former European Commissioner Mario Monti as premier-designate was, well, short. While Italian bond yields are well below the mid-7-percent levels of last week, they rose again on Monday to 6.67 percent and Italy was forced to pay a euro-era record to sell five-year bonds.

It didn’t stop there, with the costs to insure French and Belgian bonds against default also rising to a euro-era high.

China’s sugar rush may be ending

May 17, 2011 14:51 UTC

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

There are signs that China’s stupendous debt-fueled boom is cooling, posing new risks for global growth and markets.

The People’s Bank of China on Thursday raised the bank reserve requirement ratio to a record 21 percent, a rise of a half a percentage point and the fifth so far this year. The move, effectively a tightening of monetary policy, comes as inflation at 5.3 percent remains high and industrial output slides, albeit to a still high 13.4 percent in the year to April.

China is an economy addicted to investment, a sort of fun house mirror of the U.S.’s addiction to consumption, with an astounding 93 percent of GDP growth in 2009 attributable to investment.

Europe needs a debt jubilee

May 10, 2011 16:30 UTC

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

Greece cannot be saved without debt relief, and debt relief for Greece may mean what amounts to a mass Jubilee with debt write-offs and recapitalizations needed for weak banks and nations across the euro zone.

Little wonder that officials delay, deny and only belatedly try to negotiate openly with reality.

Greece’s credit rating was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s to B on Monday, taking it two steps further into junk territory, just days after a secret meeting of euro zone finance ministers  gave rise to rumors that the country would soon leave the common currency zone.

Bonds, risk and Bernanke’s intentions

Feb 10, 2011 20:49 UTC

Will bond investors keep faith with U.S. government debt amid signs of growing global inflation?

In the end, as with all banks, even central banks, it boils down to trust.

Asked on Wednesday at an appearance before the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee if the Fed’s $600 billion programme of quantitative easing amounted to monetization — that Peter to Paul transfer when a government prints money to pay for a shortfall — Ben Bernanke said an interesting thing:

“Monetization involves a permanent increase in money supply though money creation. (QE) is a temporary measure that will be reversed. Money will be normalized and there will be no permanent increase in outstanding balance sheet or inflation.”

Much depends on, gulp, German consumer

Jan 13, 2011 13:10 UTC

If the euro is going to survive without a Depression, German consumers are going to have to behave in ways that are, well, distinctly un-German.

While attention is focused on the suffering that the euro zone debt debacle is inflicting on the weak and the political anger the costs of bailouts are engendering among the strong, it is important to understand that the belt-tightening won’t just be a Gaelic and Mediterranean phenomenon.

German consumers will (rightly) regard events as likely to increase their taxes while doing precious little for their incomes and job prospects. If they react to this like Americans and spend like there is no tomorrow, well then, perhaps the euro zone can handle the local recessions in the Austerity Provinces. If, on the other hand, Germans behave anything like the way they have in the past, they will save more and only increase spending marginally, if at all.