While U.S. markets closed slightly up on Monday September 12th, panic reigned in Europe. The risks of a hard default by Greece reached 98% according to one model. Interest rates in Greece were spiraling out of control (the two-year government yield hit almost 70%) and credit default swaps on European sovereign and bank debt reached record levels again.
While Greece is a small economy and there are only two major countries --- France and Germany -- that hold substantial amounts of Greek government and corporate debt, this is only the very tip of the financial iceberg that threatens a Titanic like sinking of world markets similar to what occurred during the 2008 Credit Crisis when Lehman Brothers collapsed. Problems in Greece are shared by two other small national economies, Ireland and Portugal, and by two much large economies, Spain and Italy. The Italian economy is roughly the size of the UK economy. It is too big to bail out. Can you imagine the UK defaulting and there being enough money available for an international rescue? If not, don't assume that problems with Italy can be fixed either. Spain is also too large to rescue.
Country defaults have implications well beyond their borders because large international banks have exposure to loans in them. In the global financial system, all large international banks are interconnected. Big banks such as Deutsche Bank, Société Générale, and Bank Paribas have substantial relationships with U.S. banks. The large banks are still in a weakened state from the 2008 crisis. This is showing up in British banks, which like the U.S. banks have limited exposure to Greek debt, and in Bank of America. Credit default swaps have reached record levels for some British banks and Bank of America's stock price keeps dropping.
The Greek default, and this will happen one way or the other at this point, will be similar to the demise of Lehman in 2008. Contagion spread throughout the world financial system. In the U.S. the close to trillion dollar TARP program had to be instituted to hold up the banking system. In total, as much as $11 trillion in programs (the Federal Reserve alone had half a dozen major ones) had to be implemented to patch things up. The will for such an effort no longer exists, which will mute whatever response the authorities come up with. After Greece, something will have to be done with Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Those who think that the U.S. markets will be isolated from these events are at best engaging in wishful thinking and at worst are purposely misinforming the public.
Author: "Inflation Investing - A Guide for the 2010s"
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
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