Greece

There are several potential sources of financial shock to markets this year but for the financial markets an exit from the Eurozone by Greece, while potentially serious, seems to have slipped from the headlines as being very unlikely of late.

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Earlier this year, the press was awash with dramatic headlines on the probability that Greece’s new leftist government, led by the Syriza party, would lead the country out of the euro in protest at the punitive terms placed on the people in return for Europe’s continued support.

Kicking the Greek Debt Problem Down The Road

The domino effect of other ClubMed countries voting in equally anti-austerity parties was raised as the nuclear result of a Greek exit. But the rounds of meetings between Greece and the Troika got so tedious and the progress so glacial that the markets began to lose interest as the problem of how Greece was to repay its debts seemed to be kicked down the road. First by weeks, then by months.

But it would be a mistake to think that the problem has gone away. Central to Greece meeting its terms is the ability of the state to raise sufficient taxes to meet debt repayments when they come due.

The country’s debt pile has risen form 154% of GDP in 2012 to 177% in 2014, that’s a staggering €317 billion (or $336 billion). Syriza’s problem could be said to be of Syriza’s making. The party came into power on a wave of public support and optimism based, in large part, on what they promised in the election campaign, backed by the threat that if the EU didn’t agree Greece would leave the euro.

Campaigning Vs. Governing

Once in office, though, they immediately reversed certain austerity steps but, more significantly, both business and the population positioned themselves for what they expected to happen next. Companies and individuals sent funds overseas in expectation that Greece may leave the euro and any funds held in Greek banks would be converted into Drachma (or whatever would replace the euro) at a much lower rate.

As a result of the cash outflow, the country’s banks are being kept alive through emergency funds (ELA) from the European Central Bank. The ECB has been forced to hike the limits on this cash on a weekly basis as capital has fled the country, a London Telegraph article reports. A further €800 million was drip-fed to banks on Tuesday to keep them solvent. What’s worse is that everyone stopped paying taxes as the money fled Greece.

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We have briefly covered Greece’s decision to vote in the far left “anti-austerity” Syriza party in posts this week, mentioning the short-term impact it has had on copper and gold prices.

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In truth, though, the outcome of the election had been largely priced into both commodity prices and foreign exchange rates, so although the euro weakened on the news it has not crashed. Switzerland’s removal of the Franc’s peg to the euro had more impact and the European Central Bank’s annnouncement of a quantitative easing program was equally disruptive. But Syriza’s election and formation of the government with the help of the far-right Independent Greeks party will certainly start a period of considerable volatility in European markets as negotiations are conducted in the glare of publicity, and no doubt behind closed doors, about Greece’s future in the European single currency.

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Any failure to meet austerity commitments to the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and European Commission next month by Greece will see the next tranche of loans not being paid by the troika of at the end of February. As liquidity from the ECB to Greece’s banks dries up, a banking crisis will ensue.

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Not surprisingly, private money is already heading for the door, some €8 billion of deposits have been pulled since November when the election was called. So, who will blink first? Syriza or the troika?

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Europe is once again in the news as a cause of fear in the financial markets. This time it’s not due to Greece or any of the Club Med countries but more due to the EU economy and the Euro as a whole.

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The value of the euro fell to its lowest level in years this week, hitting $1.19 a 15% fall from May and the lowest level since 2005, In response European stocks fell sharply amid uneasiness about whether the region is on the verge of a new economic and financial crisis.

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2014 saw a number of geopolitical developments that spooked the markets. Generally negative, they created uncertainty and increased risk for investors and consumers alike, not always in metals but sometimes in stock markets that then impacted investor sentiment in metals and other commodities.

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Think the Ukraine-Russia situation, ISIS in Iraq, tension between China and Japan in the South China seas, the Ebola epidemic and China’s falling property market. What could 2015 hold? One potential source of instability is back to our old friend Europe.

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Read the first part of this post here.  Would the US, Britain, or Japan change policy at the request of foreign powers because the foreign powers were, relatively, not doing as well? I don’t think so, especially if that meant lower support for exporters and industry, stoking inflation, and boosting internal consumption when the economy […]

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Continued from Part One. Here are the differences between the Greek side of Piraeus Port and the China-owned Cosco side: On the Greek side, after a series of strikes in the run-up to 2010, unionized labor had created the unsustainable situation where some workers with overtime were earning $181,000 per year, while Cosco is typically […]

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Greece is in a difficult situation — no doubt about that. Pictures of the public rioting on the streets paints a scene of a population driven to extremes by hardship and rightly generates considerable sympathy. But there is another side to this story, one the Germans in particular have come under a lot of criticism […]

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Continued from Part One. According to the Telegraph, over 100 German ship funds have already shut down as the crisis in global container shipping comes to a head, while 800 more funds are threatened with insolvency, according to consultants TPW in Hamburg. In the UK, Britain’s oldest ship-owner, Stephenson Clark, dating back to 1730, went […]

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The Baltic Dry Index (BDI) usually steals the headlines when it comes to discussion of the world’s shipping fleets, and is often quoted when analysis of the global economy refers to international trade. The Dry Index is a measure of bulk shipping rates and although the Baltic Exchange quotes a range of vessel sizes and […]

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