Opinion

James Saft

Europe, cooperation and train wrecks

Aug 30, 2011 20:04 UTC

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

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Aug 30 – In an unintended irony for a continent with a great public transport infrastructure Europe’s debt rescue plans are turning into a train wreck. Consider that as Greek two-year interest rates stood at 45 percent on Monday, officials and interests in the euro zone descended into an unseemly mix of squabbling over assets, denying the undeniable and disagreeing about first principles. Even as weak as recent U.S. economic data has been, these fractures, which imply heightened risk of a bank-centered market crisis, are surely the main source of the recent extreme financial volatility.

Most interesting was the intervention by newly minted International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde on Saturday who warned “developments this summer have indicated we are in a dangerous new phase.”

Lagarde went on to say that Europe’s banks need “urgent recapitalization,” using public funds if necessary, and advised that one option would be to use the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), or some other vehicle, to inject capital into banks directly.

Here we have the head of the IMF, a woman who was until recently the finance minister of France, more or less asserting that the bank stress tests are best disregarded and that people should have real doubts about the banks they do business with, invest in and lend to.

This is nothing that cannot be seen in market prices, of course, but it’s a bit as if U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were to leave government service, set up as an equity analyst and come out with a “sell” rating on Bank of America.

Good luck hedging against inflation

Feb 3, 2011 13:42 UTC

Looking to hedge against a spike in inflation? Equities may not be much help.

Neither, for that matter, will you do all that well over the longer haul with bonds, cash or even commodities, at least on the historical evidence. In short, when it comes to investing, inflation is a real drag.

It’s impossible to know if, much less when, the current very stimulative monetary policy in the developed world will spur inflation, but increasingly indicators are raising concerns. Emerging market economies show signs of overheating, while prices of food and many other commodities are surging.

The traditional view has been that equities are an effective hedge against inflation, in least over the long term, because companies will, all things being equal, eventually pass on inflation to their clients as higher prices.

Icelandic mulishness wins the day

Dec 9, 2010 19:45 UTC

Iceland’s remarkable return to growth shows once again that in this crisis the best policy is often the one that will make international partners most angry.

Having been reviled and chastised when it refused to make good the outsize debts of its banks, Iceland this week capped a striking turnaround when it announced that its economy expanded by 1.2 percent in real terms in the most recent quarter, its first such rise in two years.

This is in stark contrast to Ireland, whose pliability and inability as a member of the euro zone to act unilaterally leaves it with a still crashing economy which must service ever more debt by making ever deeper cuts to public spending.

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