Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Can the Euro Be Saved?

Since its introduction back in January 1999 to its near destruction by the Greek debt crisis, is the European common currency of the euro still worth saving?

By: Ringo Bones

From its origins dating back to the late 1960s to its eventual introduction in January 1999 with the help of the US Federal Reserve and the German Bundesbank. The common European currency – called the euro – supposed raison d’ĂȘtre was to provide Eurozone economies with a currency equipped with built-in price stability and hopefully apolitical-flavored neutrality. The euro nearly died back in December 1999 when its value tumbled below that of the US dollar. But the common European currency did wonders to Europe’s capital markets as its value dropped by triggering a mergers-and acquisition boom that allowed the European corporate bond market – then worth 2.3-trillion US dollars – to grow almost threefold.

Despite of its “miraculous” first twelve months of life, euro-skeptics were not so shy in voicing their opinions. Like the now-defunct British pop band called the Spice Girls -whose members can’t even tell a mathematical equation describing a typical credit derivative from one describing the ballistic coefficient of a 155-mm projectile. And who can forget former British P.M. Tony Blair who said during the 1998 EU summit that the UK would not be using the euro before 2002.

Even though I harbor the perception that the German propensity to over-engineer their creations, it seems to have done wonders to the euro’s apparent resilience despite of the current debt crisis affecting Greece that is also threatening other Eurozone economies like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland. And maybe it is no wonder why Germany has exerted the most in trying to save the euro because, historically, it seems like it is their pride-child.

Wim Duisenberg was serving as the first European Central Bank president when the euro was launched back in 1999, and the then Finance Minister of Germany – Oskar Lafontaine – used the euro as a platform to reduce Europe’s unemployment rate at that time. Not to mention Hans Tietmeyer’s announcement back then on the Bundesbank deciding to join an Eurozone wide interest rate cut with a tragic result to many mortgage holders at the start of 1999. Nonetheless, then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder together with then French President Jacques Chirac’s well-panned rhetoric of using the euro as a platform for economic growth.

Over-engineered supercurrency or not, it seems like the only solution for economic stability in Europe – and the rest of the world for that matter – is probably something like a Bretton Woods version 2.0 overhaul of the global financial system. The euro might survive even if an economic crisis rivaling that of the 2008 global credit crunch occurs with regularity every five years, but I doubt if typical Europeans and other working-class people around the world can survive such economic onslaught.

As of late, EU finance ministers have been meeting to put forth proposals that would save the euro after it plunged to an 18-month low of just below US$ 1.25 back in May 14, 2010. There has been a consensus in favor of more regulation of hedge fund trading on European soil in order to curb risky behavior by fund managers and its current fight against currency speculators that could irreversibly harm the euro. But as usual, UK opposed such a deal primarily because it handles 80% of Europe’s hedge fund market. A stricter regulation on hedge funds could put pension funds at a disadvantage because they are inherently tied down to hedge funds. It seems that in saving the euro, working-class folks are put into a disadvantage yet again – just like back in 1999. Isn’t quantitative easing such a fierce and fickle mistress?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Computer Trading Errors: Undermining Investor Confidence?

Will the latest NYSE computer trading error that resulted in a thousand-point drop of the DOW in Thursday’s trading eventually undermine investor confidence in our post credit crunch world?

By: Ringo Bones

The incident is somewhat reminiscent of the Black Monday Stock Market Crash of October 19, 1987. The NYSE computer trading error that resulted in a thousand-point plunge of the DOW in Thursday’s trading that eventually resulted in the global stock sellout rout even though the global markets has since stabilized after that unfortunate May 6, 2010 trading fluke. Given that there is that on-going Greek debt crisis that threatens the euro, is this latest computer trading error looking more like the financial equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 27, 1962?

Some old timers who have much at stake in this latest stock market crash probably have memories of being rudely awakened at 2 A.M. in to be prepped up for pre-breathing pure oxygen at 2 p.s.i. in order to purge excess nitrogen from their blood as they hurriedly slip on into their partial-pressure suit came flooding in. With the on-going Greek debt crisis being labeled as a “Contagion” by leading financial pundits, it is no wonder that the NYSE computer trading error can now be safely compared as the financial equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Even though the Greek debt crisis having very little – if nothing – to do with the latest NYSE stock market crash.

Unfortunately, the resulting stock price plunge had resulted in a panicky knee-jerk reaction in the global markets. Imagine Exxon Mobil stocks suddenly plunging from 66 US dollars a share to 58, or Procter and Gamble suddenly falling from 62 US dollars a share to 39, while Accenture PLC was probably the worst affected after their shares priced at 42 US dollars each suddenly becoming into penny stocks. When a Blue Chip-priced stocks suddenly turning into penny stocks in a single trading session managed to raise alarms that there in something terribly wrong – as in a major computer trading error.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that a certain overworked sleep-deprived trader manning a certain computer workstation at the NYSE has been blamed for mistakenly typing in a “B” for billion instead of an “M” for million. The resulting pricing error had made a trillion dollars worth of funds virtually disappear into thin air. Looks like humans are still the be-all-end-all link of our contemporary heavily computerized global stock markets. But will this weak link undermine investor confidence in our post global credit crunch world?

Goldman Sachs: Capitol Hill’s Financial Scapegoat Du Jour?

With the US government and the American public desperately seeking the financial reform of Wall Street, has Goldman Sachs just become another scapegoat of the 2008 financial crisis?

By: Ringo Bones

After surviving relatively unscathed from the 2008 global financial crisis, Goldman Sachs was once again put under the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s microscope. Most likely due to the financial firm’s publicly revealed promise to pay exorbitant executive bonuses after profiting a little over 3-billion-dollars during the first three months of 2010 that revealed anomalies in the financial firm’s proprietary trading of derivatives. After the SEC filed fraud charges, the UK financial watchdog immediately followed suit to investigate Goldman Sachs’ affiliates on British soil. Despite of the financial firm’s somewhat questionable reputation when it comes to shady dealings of derivatives like CDOs, has Goldman Sachs just became Capitol Hill’s latest financial crisis scapegoat?

The primary reason why Goldman Sachs got further SEC scrutiny is probably due to the Obama Administration’s proposed Wall Street reform on financial regulations. The gist of which includes: 1) Consumer protection for stock investors, 2) More SEC oversight on derivatives trading and 3) Set up a fund to lessen the of a large-scale financial meltdown in case it happens again. Will this proposed White House financial reform of Wall Street nothing more than biting the hand that feeds then albeit gently? After all, it is primarily the capital gains tax collected from Wall Street financial firms – and contributions come presidential election time - that made the periodic titanic political battle between the Democratic Party and Republican Party a possibility.

The Capitol Hill versus Goldman Sachs saga just went into another unexpected plot twist when the firm’s CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, was summoned before the Capitol Hill’s investigative committee after allegedly placing the financial firm’s profits before their clients. Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations chairman, managed to add color to the proceedings after his expletive-laden grilling of Goldman Sachs’ executives over the e-mails pertaining to the “Shitty Timberwolf Deal”. Ironically, Senator Levin could be blamed for the current Goldman debacle because he further enabled the laissez-faire policy of the US government when it comes to a genuine Wall Street financial regulation reform after he fully endorsed the Gram-Leach-Bliley Act back in November 4, 1999. Passing the Gram-Leach-Bliley Act more than likely made Goldman Sachs the “evil” financial firm that it is today.