MacroScope

Dr. Doom goes to Beverly Hills

When it comes to predicting a dark future, Nouriel Roubini – the NYU economist who earned the moniker Dr. Doom after he correctly predicted the financial crisis – is not about to let anyone get in his way.

Even if it’s his host. And even, or maybe especially, when there are 500 witnesses.

That’s precisely what happened Wednesday morning, when Michael Milken – the former junk-bond king – shared the stage with Roubini at Milken’s Global Conference. What was billed as an interview in one of the Beverly Hilton’s grand ballrooms had the feel of a pitched battle.

Roubini warned of a massive oil shock following a potential clash between Iran and Israel – or possibly the United States, sometime after the November presidential elections.  He talked about geopolitical instability in the Middle East. “It’s a mess,” he said.

Milken countered with a graph showing the U.S. has bigger fossil fuel reserves than any other country in the world, and suggested that natural gas, extracted from shale reserves that are largely outside the Middle East, will eventually make Arab clashes irrelevant to energy.

Dancing on the edge of a (fiscal) cliff

With hundreds of billions worth of stimulus measures set to expire on Jan. 1, investors are all too aware that the United States is hurtling toward what economists are calling “a fiscal cliff.” It’s just that most seem to think Congress will execute one of its typical last-minute, hairpin turns to avoid plunging the economy over the edge.

As Russ Koesterich, global chief investment strategist at iShares told Reuters recently, “people are worried but they feel some sort of fix will get done.” Certainly the equity and bond markets back him up: the S&P 500 is up a healthy 12.7 percent this year while benchmark 10-year Treasury yields remain pinned beneath 2 percent.

Ethan Harris at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch isn’t so sure. After all, we’re talking about the same group of politicians who nearly forced the United States to default last year and earned it a credit downgrade from S&P in the process. This time, Republicans and Democrats will have just seven weeks to stitch up a deal, and they’ll have to do it while the wounds inflicted by a brutally negative a presidential election campaign are still fresh.

What do Americans really want?

Judging by the heated political rhetoric, you would think there is a great divide in America over the proper role of government. The drama is played out in battles over budgetary policy where one side wants low taxes and small government, and the other favors taxing the rich to pay for government programs.

Interestingly Americans, when faced with making the tough fiscal choices themselves, are remarkably pragmatic.

The Committee for a Responsible Budget since 2010 has invited people to go to its website and figure out how they would cut the U.S. budget debt load, which is fast approaching 100 percent of GDP. They must make specific choices, such as whether to cut farm subsidies or Social Security payments and what tax rates to impose.

Netherlands at core of the crisis

The Netherlands has become the latest country to come into the firing line of the euro zone crisis.

The cost of insuring five-year Dutch debt against default jumped to its highest since January as the government’s failure to agree on budget cuts spiraled into a political crisis and cast doubt over its support for future euro zone measures.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte offered to resign on Monday, creating a political vacuum in a country which strongly backed an EU fiscal treaty.

Citi solicits staff donations for its political lobby

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Citigroup, the third largest U.S. bank, is actively soliciting donations from its employees for its political action committee (PAC) or fundraising group. In a letter to staff obtained by Reuters, the bank stressed the importance of the upcoming presidential and Congressional elections, urging staff to give to Citi’s PAC. From the letter:

Our Government Affairs team already does a great job promoting our positions on important issues to lawmakers, but there is one thing that each of us can do to enhance their efforts: contribute to Citi’s Political Action Committee (PAC).

Citi PAC is one of the most effective tools we have to amplify the voice of the company in Washington and enhance our profile with lawmakers.  The PAC provides the resources to help suport government officials who share our views on key policy objectives and who understand the impact various policy decisions may have on overall economic investment and growth.

from Global Investing:

Moscow is not Cairo. Time to buy shares?

The speed of the backlash building against Russia's paramount leader Vladimir Putin following this week's parliamentary elections has taken investors by surprise and sent the country's shares and rouble down sharply lower.

Comparisons to the Arab Spring may be tempting, given that the demonstrations in Russia are also spearheaded by Internet-savvy youth organising via social networks.

But Russia's economic and demographic profiles suggest quite different outcomes from those in the Middle East and North Africa. The gathering unrest may, in fact, signal a reversal of fortunes for the stock market, down 18 percent this year, argue  Renaissance Capital analysts Ivan Tchakarov, Mert Yildiz and Mert Yildiz.

Gingrich’s vision for the Fed

Surging Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told TheStreet in an interview on Tuesday he would commit the Federal Reserve to ensuring that the dollar would not lose value.

I would return having the Fed having an obligation to have hard money, meaning if you save a dollar this year, it should be worth a dollar 20 years from now.

Since the value of the dollar depends on many variables and is relative to other currencies around the world, it would be interesting to learn how he thinks the Fed would accomplish that.

Contagion strikes Europe’s core

Any lingering illusion that the European crisis could be contained to so-called peripheral countries with high debt levels was shattered on Wednesday. German government bonds, which had thus far been seen as a safe-haven, slumped sharply after investors shunned the country’s auction of new 10-year debt.

Germany drew significantly less bids than the amount on offer for its Bunds, with investors deterred by very low yields. There is a growing view the euro zone powerhouse will pay a high price whatever the outcome of the regional debt crisis. If the crisis spirals out of control, some fear that it could reach a magnitude that would hit Germany as well by sending it into a deep recession. On the other hand, any solution to the crisis is likely to involve a higher fiscal bill for Germany.

Marc Ostwald at Monument Securities in London describe the auction as “a complete and utter disaster.” He continued:

Euro zone crisis: It’s Germany’s fault

The reigning narrative of Europe’s financial turmoil is that profligate European states, agglomerated all too offensively by a swine-referenced acronym, are forcing the continent’s wealthy, prudent northern countries to come to their rescue. Not so, according to two policy experts who spoke this week at a conference on the euro zone crisis at the University of Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

They argue that labor reforms in Germany prevented the wages of manufacturing workers from rising after monetary union had been completed, making the country more competitive at the expense of its southern peers. Joerg Bibow, a professor of economics at Skidmore College, gives his view of events:

Germany’s wage trends have been the most important cause of the euro zone crisis. Those wage trends created an asymmetric shock that destabilized Europe.

Greece’s tiny debt load

No, that is not a typo in the headline. Greece has long been the focal point of Europe’s crisis. It was the first country to reveal some cracks in a monetary union that lacks a fiscal authority to back it. Indeed, Greek politics were dominating the headlines on Friday, with news that the prime minister had survived a confidence vote in parliament restoring a momentary sense of calm to a still very dramatic situation.

However, Greece’s actual debt load is only large relative to its own small and struggling economy. In the larger context of the euro zone, the actual amount of debt being haggled over is rather puny. Matias Vernengo, a professor of economics at the University of Utah, explains:

When you look at the size of Greece’s debt, which is slightly more than $500 billion, that corresponds more or less to 3 percent of euro zone GDP. It’s a very small amount of debt. The peculiarity of the crisis is that it’s political. It has an economic basis, an imbalance that it’s unable to solve but which is technically simple to solve.