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Wednesday, October 01, 2014 9:26 PM

Argentine Central Bank Chief Quits in Currency Dispute; Hyperinflation On the Way?

On Tuesday evening, Argentine President Cristina Fernández accused Juan Carlos Fábrega, head of Argentina’s central bank, of "provoking a devaluation of the peso".

In response Head of Argentine Central Bank Quits.

Without naming Mr Fábrega directly, Ms Fernández accused the central bank during a nationwide address on Tuesday night of failing to control “manoeuvres” by banks and brokers to provoke a devaluation of the peso, and suggested that “privileged information” had been leaked.

After continual clashes over economic policy with Argentina’s economy minister Axel Kicillof, there are fears that Mr Fábrega’s departure may clear the way for greater government control over the central bank.

“Kicillof has increased his power, he will have a bigger say on monetary issues and we should expect an acceleration in the pace of the worsening of financial conditions,” said Miguel Kiguel, who runs the EconViews consultancy.

There was a sharp sell-off in the benchmark Merval stock index after Mr Fábrega’s departure was announced. But Luis Secco, an economist, argues that the central bank has been “absolutely subordinated” to the executive’s decisions “for a long time”.

Mr Fábrega leaves the central bank as annual inflation has climbed to around 40 per cent, and presided over huge monetary emission to finance a growing fiscal deficit, with negative real interest rates of about 20 per cent.
Argentine Central Bank “Absolutely Subordinated”

Inquiring minds may be seeking proof the central bank has been "absolutely subordinated for a long time".

Here's a chart that shows just that.

Argentine Peso vs. US Dollar

64% "Official" Decline Since July 2008

On July 31, 2008, the peso had been relatively stable an traded at 3.03 pesos to the US dollar. Today the peso trades at 8.45 to the US dollar. That's a decline of 64%.

Does a 64% decline constitute hyperinflation? No not quite. Hyperinflation is generally defined as a complete collapse in currency.

Nonetheless, such a decline does constitute severe inflation, especially since the decline has gone increasingly hyperbolic in the past two years.

Black Market Rate Shows 78% Decline

The black market exchange rate is about 14 pesos to the dollar. That's a decline of 78%. And that is arguably hyperinflation territory depending on how fast that decline occurred.

Here's a Black Market exchange rate chart form the Wall Street Journal as of the end of August.

Another Devaluation Coming Up

On September 5, the Wall Street Journal reported Argentina Moves to Limit Dollar Purchases.
Argentina limited the number of people who can buy U.S. dollars on Friday, following record demand for greenbacks amid fears that a debt default and hard-currency shortages could lead to a second peso devaluation this year.

Argentine taxpayers seeking to legally buy up to $2,000 a month are now required to have a monthly salary of at least 8,800 pesos ($1,046). The increase from the previous floor of 7,200 pesos comes amid growing concerns about the central bank's declining foreign-currency reserves.

Argentines have bought almost $1.5 billion since the program was launched in January, when the government devalued the peso by about 20% in an ultimately successful bid to halt a run on the currency and reserves. In just the first four days of September, taxpayers bought $147 million, compared with $260 million for all of August.

The dollar purchases speak volumes about where some Argentines think the exchange rate is headed because buyers pay a 20% tax on those transactions, which effectively means they are paying about 10.10 pesos for each greenback. The local Rofex futures market quotes the peso at 9.1650 to the dollar in December.

Argentines have few reasons to hold pesos. Benchmark deposit rates are at 21%, while inflation is widely believed to be nearly 40%. A black-market exchange rate of around 14 pesos to the dollar makes the official exchange rate of 8.41 pesos look overvalued and hurts confidence in the currency.

The government has been selling limited amounts of dollars to taxpayers to keep them from turning to an underground currency market that is feeding inflation and devaluation expectations. But the default has rekindled demand for U.S. currency, causing the black-market dollar rate to surge from 12.30 pesos in late July and leading people to buy more dollars from the government.
Spotlight on Exports

Argentina is generally perceived as a commodity exporter, especially grains. With that in mind, please consider Against the Grain
AGRICULTURE ought to be Argentina’s strength. Instead, incessant intervention has turned it into a source of weakness. The government has meddled in wheat production since 2006 by raising export taxes and setting export quotas. This interference, defended by the government as “protecting the tables” of Argentine consumers, has simply discouraged farmers from planting the crop.

The interventions show no sign of stopping. Last year’s unexpectedly poor wheat harvest caused the price of bread to double, prompting the government to suspend exports of the crop. Last month was the first December in 25 years that Argentina did not export any wheat.

Wheat production in Argentina has plunged—from nearly 16m tonnes in 2005 to 8.2m tonnes in 2013. Not all the intervening years have been terrible, says Santiago del Solar, an Argentine agronomist and farmer. There were decent wheat harvests in 2008, 2011 and 2012, as high international prices incentivised farmers to plant wheat despite the unpredictability of government policy. But with export restrictions becoming tighter and tighter, Mr del Solar has slashed the area he plants with wheat. He expects other farmers will do the same.

The retreat from wheat has devastated exports. According to the US Department of Agriculture, Argentina was the world’s fourth-largest exporter of wheat in 2006. By 2013, it had dropped to tenth place.
Exports Down, Prices Down Too

Not only are exports in tons down, prices are down even more.


Things do not look promising for Argentina.

Four Signs Hyperinflation On the Way

  1. Black market rates show a 78% increasingly hyperbolic decline 
  2. Governments taking over central banks is a strong indication of futher trouble. 
  3. That Argentine citizens willingly pay a 20% tax to escape the peso is another sign. 
  4. A fourth factor is falling commodity prices.

If Argentina uses up all of its foreign currency reserves, it's lights out for the Argentina peso.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

2:20 PM

Congressman Rangel Calls for War Tax, Draft; Why Not Bomb the Entire Muslim World? Draft Worse Than Slavery

In a Time Magazine Op-Ed, Congressman Charles Rangel (Democrat from New York), a combat veteran says It’s Time for a War Tax and a Reinstated Draft.

While I am optimistic about our Commander-in-Chief’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, I voted against the Continuing Appropriations Resolution 2015 that would grant the President the authority to provide funds to train and arm Syrian rebels against the enemy. I opposed the amendment because I strongly believe amassing additional debt to go to war should involve all of America debating the matter. That is why I have called for levying a war tax in addition to bringing back the military draft.

Both the war surcharge and conscription will give everyone in America a real stake in any decision on going to war, and compel the public to think twice before they make a commitment to send their loved ones into harm’s way.

For a decade I have been calling for the reinstatement of the draft because our military personnel and their families bear a tremendous cost each time we send them to fight.
Draft Worse Than Slavery

Slavery is involuntary servitude. Is a draft anything less than slavery?

Actually, it's worse. You take a guy's freedom away, ship him overseas, give him a rifle, and force him to kill other people against whom he has no direct grievance, when the best such a person can ever hope for is to come back in one piece, years later, possibly with huge psychological stress after needless killing.

Rangel points out the "tremendous cost each time we send them [US troops] to fight" then proposes the stupidest solution possible, to force everyone to have the same opportunity.

I propose there can be no debate on a draft just as there can be no debate on whether we should revive slave trade from Africa.

Financing Wars

Rather than admit the stupidity of wasting $6 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan and vowing to never do it again, Rangel proposes a War Tax.

The United States has borrowed almost $2 trillion to fund our military engagements on foreign soil. It is estimated that the total cost would be close to $6 trillion; we continue to pay a heavy toll for these conflicts. Each dollar spent on war is a dollar not spent on education, energy, housing, or healthcare. We cannot afford to tread this same path when we are slashing domestic programs that are the lifelines for so many Americans. I will soon introduce a bill that will impose war tax to ensure that we do not have to choose between further gutting the social safety net and adding to the $17.7 trillion of national debt.

Rangel was once Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Let's Bomb the Entire Muslim World

George Monbiot, writer for the Guardian, says "Humanitarian arguments, if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East".

Monbiot sarcastically asks Why stop at Isis when we could bomb the whole Muslim world?
Let’s bomb the Muslim world – all of it – to save the lives of its people. Surely this is the only consistent moral course? Why stop at Islamic State (Isis), when the Syrian government has murdered and tortured so many? This, after all, was last year’s moral imperative. What’s changed?

In Gaza this year, 2,100 Palestinians were massacred: including people taking shelter in schools and hospitals. Surely these atrocities demand an air war against Israel? And what’s the moral basis for refusing to liquidate Iran? Mohsen Amir-Aslani was hanged there last week for making “innovations in the religion” (suggesting that the story of Jonah in the Qur’an was symbolic rather than literal). Surely that should inspire humanitarian action from above? Pakistan is crying out for friendly bombs.

Is there not an urgent duty to blow up Saudi Arabia? It has beheaded 59 people so far this year, for offences that include adultery, sorcery and witchcraft. It has long presented a far greater threat to the west than Isis now poses. In 2009 Hillary Clinton warned in a secret memo that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban … and other terrorist groups”.

The humanitarian arguments aired in parliament last week, if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East and west Asia. By this means you could end all human suffering, liberating the people of these regions from the vale of tears in which they live.

Yes, the agenda and practices of Isis are disgusting. It murders and tortures, terrorises and threatens. As Obama says, it is a “network of death”. But it’s one of many networks of death. Worse still, a western crusade appears to be exactly what Isis wants.

And if the bombing succeeds? If – and it’s a big if – it manages to tilt the balance against Isis, what then? Then we’ll start hearing once more about Shia death squads and the moral imperative to destroy them too – and any civilians who happen to get in the way. The targets change; the policy doesn’t. Never mind the question, the answer is bombs. In the name of peace and the preservation of life, our governments wage perpetual war.

While the bombs fall, our states befriend and defend other networks of death. The US government still refuses – despite Obama’s promise – to release the 28 redacted pages from the joint congressional inquiry into 9/11, which document Saudi Arabian complicity in the US attack. In the UK, in 2004 the Serious Fraud Office began investigating allegations of massive bribes paid by the British weapons company BAE to Saudi ministers and middlemen. Just as crucial evidence was about to be released, Tony Blair intervened to stop the investigation.

Last week’s Private Eye, drawing on a dossier of recordings and emails, alleges that a British company has paid £300m in bribes to facilitate weapons sales to the Saudi national guard. When a whistleblower in the company reported these payments to the British Ministry of Defence, instead of taking action it alerted his bosses. He had to flee the country to avoid being thrown into a Saudi jail.

There are no good solutions that military intervention by the UK or the US can engineer. Whenever our armed forces have bombed or invaded Muslim nations, they have made life worse for those who live there. The regions in which our governments have intervened most are those that suffer most from terrorism and war. That is neither coincidental nor surprising.

Yet our politicians affect to learn nothing. Insisting that more killing will magically resolve deep-rooted conflicts, they scatter bombs like fairy dust.
Fraud of Humanitarin Wars

For humanitarian reasons, 2009 Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama has bombed seven Muslim nations: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya.
The utter lack of interest in what possible legal authority Obama has to bomb Syria is telling indeed: Empires bomb who they want, when they want, for whatever reason (indeed, recall that Obama bombed Libya even after Congress explicitly voted against authorization to use force, and very few people seemed to mind that abject act of lawlessness; constitutional constraints are not for warriors and emperors).

It was just over a year ago that Obama officials [Sec of State John Kerry] were insisting that bombing and attacking Assad was a moral and strategic imperative. Instead, Obama is now bombing Assad’s enemies while politely informing his regime of its targets in advance. It seems irrelevant on whom the U.S. wages war; what matters it that it will be at war, always and forever.

Six weeks of bombing hasn’t budged ISIS in Iraq, but it has caused ISIS recruitment to soar. That’s all predictable: the U.S. has known for years that what fuels and strengthens anti-American sentiment (and thus anti-American extremism) is exactly what they keep doing: aggression in that region. If you know that, then they know that.

As the disastrous Libya “intervention” should conclusively and permanently demonstrate, the U.S. does not bomb countries for humanitarian objectives. Humanitarianism is the pretense, not the purpose.
On May 2, Glenn Greenwald wrote about The Fraud of Humanitarian Wars. "All wars, even the most unjustifiably aggressive, are wrapped in the same pretty rhetorical packaging."

Goering at the Nuremberg Trials

Please recall what Reichsmarschall Hermann Wilhelm Göring (in English his name is also spelled as Hermann Goering) Nazi founder of the Gestapo, Head of the Luftwaffe, said at the Nuremberg Trials.

Here is a clip of the interview in Goering's cell in prison, after the war.
Göring: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.

Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.

Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
We Gotta Do Something!

Please note that all it took was a couple of beheadings for warmongers to get the rest of Congress behind bombing ISIS in Syria. And that's all it took for Obama to break his promise to get out of Afghanistan. Instead, we will be there until 2024 "at least".

For details, please see "Come Hell or High Water" Promise Morphs Into "Infinity and Beyond"

Public sentiment following the beheadings is "We Gotta Do Something!"

Indeed we do.

Instead of a draft coupled with a war tax, I propose we kick the warmongers out of office and stop all war funding except what's explicitly needed to protect US borders here, not half-way around the globe.

Unfortunately that goal is next to impossible. The industrial-military war machine backs every candidate who is in favor of perpetual war.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 9:00 PM

Draghi Pressures ECB to Buy "Junk-Rated" Loan Bundles of Greece and Cyprus

On September 4, ECB President pulled out a financial bazooka including a pledge to build up the ECB's balance sheet by another €1 trillion.

Draghi confirmed the asset purchases would "include the real estate, the RMBS, real estate ABS. It would also include a fairly wide range of ABS containing loans to the real economy," but only "the senior tranches, and the mezzanine tranches only if there is a guarantee."

Now, just three weeks later, he wants to buy outright junk, presumably without guarantees.

Please consider Mario Draghi pushes for ECB to accept Greek and Cypriot ‘junk’ loan bundles.

Mario Draghi is to push the European Central Bank to buy bundles of Greek and Cypriot bank loans with “junk” ratings, in a move that is set to exacerbate tensions between Germany and the bank.

The ECB’s executive board will propose that existing requirements on the quality of assets accepted by the bank are relaxed to allow the eurozone’s monetary guardian to buy the safer slices of Greek and Cypriot asset backed securities, or ABS, say people familiar with the matter.

However, the idea is likely to face staunch opposition in Germany, straining already tense relations between the ECB and officials in the eurozone’s largest economy.

Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann, who also sits on the ECB’s policy making governing council, has already objected to the plan to buy ABS, which he says leaves the central bank’s balance sheet too exposed to risks.

Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has also voiced his opposition, saying purchases would heighten concerns about potential conflicts of interest between the ECB’s role as monetary policy maker and bank supervisor.

While the safer slices – or senior tranches – of Greek and Cypriot ABS only make up a tiny proportion of Europe’s securitisation market, it would free up billions in liquidity for banks in two of the eurozone’s weakest economies, and potentially boost lending to credit-starved smaller businesses in the currency area’s periphery.
Free Up Liquidity?

The idea that swapping money for junk will free up liquidity is as ridiculous as moving a rotting fish from your pantry to the living room in hopes the stench will go away.

In this case, the stench on Greek bank balance sheets will not go away. Instead, stench will also appear on the balance sheet of the ECB.

And it will not do a thing to spur lending for the same reasons as noted in ECB's €1 Trillion Stimulus Gamble: ECB Pulls Out Bazooka, Cuts Rates, Buys Assets; Will this Stimulate Lending?

Here's the key snip.
Will this Stimulate Lending?

Everyone wonders if this will work. Let me ask a different set of questions:

  1. Why should it?
  2. Does the announcement fix any structural problems with the euro?
  3. Does the announcement fix any fiscal issues in any European country?
  4. Does the announcement fix any competitive disadvantages of France vs. Germany?
  5. Does this provide any impetus for structural reforms in France or Italy?
  6. If -0.1% rates for funds parked with the ECB did not stimulate lending, why should -0.2% rates?
Draghi Creates Bond Bubble

All Drahghi really accomplished with LTRO is to make Europe the biggest bond bubble in the world.

Well bubbles can always get bigger, until they pop.

Meanwhile none of these can-kicking efforts have fixed a single structural problem. Instead, they made it easy for governments to delay needed reforms.

Forcing Banks to Lend a Huge Mistake

These attempts to force banks to lend is a huge mistake. Banks lend if and only if ...

  1. Banks are not capital impaired
  2. Banks believe they have credit-worthy borrowers
  3. Credit-worthy borrowers want credit

If banks lend in other circumstances, they will incur losses. They also incur losses if they believe they have credit-worthy customers but they don't.

The problem should be obvious. European banks lack credit-worthy borrowers who want loans, or the banks are capital impaired.

I suggest both.

And if this move by Draghi does spur more lending to small uncreditworthy businesses, the ECB will have done nothing but compound Eurozone problems greatly.
 In response to the above post, a director at a global financial company pinged me with ...
"Hello Mish,

Mario Draghi is an idiot. Banks create money when they lend. The loans create a requirement for reserves which ultimately reverts back as deposits at the ECB. The negative interest rate is therefore a tax on capital and a tax on lending. This not rocket science.

I’d start a charity whereby every newly appointed central bank board member is sent a free copy of Rothbard’s Mystery of Banking except I am beginning to doubt their ability to read.
These actions by Draghi prove he is clueless about how the system even works.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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