Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What's going on in Greece

Numerian, one of the most insightful financial bloggers I know, gets to the bottom of the markets' surge in the wake of the Greek passage of the new "austerity" measures:
For now, stock markets are happy because they get their periodic injection of heroin – oops, make that “liquidity” – to keep the game going. The game is the one we have all lived through our whole lives – the one where capitalism continues to grow by taking on more and more debt, until now every country is at the point where only the government is big enough to take on the enormous amounts of new debt necessary to keep paying principal and interest on the old debt. At least some countries are: the United States, the UK, Germany, France. Greece of course lost that privilege several years ago, and now even big borrowers like Italy are allowed into the markets only for very short term maturities.

The game, in short, is about over, choking to death on too much debt, kept on a resuscitator by politicians and central bankers who know the public has no way to stop them from raising trillions of dollars or euros with new bond issues. Only the market can stop an out-of-control debtor. Greece has found that out, Italy and Spain and Portugal are close to finding that out, and the UK and the United States are on the list, being no more virtuous than the Greeks. Once the government can no longer borrow, default in some form is inevitable, and austerity follows. The Greeks have austerity handed to them by the Germans; everyone else will be able to choose their own forms of austerity, as different economic and social forces fight with each other in a country that has run out of borrowing capacity and must live off the taxes it is able to raise.

If the stock market had a long term view, it would think about these things. It would look at Greece as a combination horror story and warning sign. Instead, the stock market lives for the day only, and for now the debt binge continues, and the fix of easy credit is being pumped into the financial system once more. Let the celebrations continue.