Charles Gave is the French economist whose research firm GaveKal is fairly well known, and read in some hedge fund circles.
In his latest note, John Mauldin reports on a dinner he attended with several investors and experts, of which Gave was one. At the dinner, he predicted the Euro’s imminent demise.
Will the Euro Survive?
We had dinner on Monday night at the home of Hervig Von Hove of Notz-Stucki Bank, where I was speaking the next morning. There were 16 of us at the table, and these people represented a great deal of money as managers and investors. All very well-informed. We sat outside in perfect weather in the Swiss countryside. Charles Gave sat across from me at the middle of the table, and we talked and debated as the rest asked questions and offered opinions for 3-4 hours. The wine was flowing, and it was a most interesting evening. Now, with that set-up…
I was asked if I still thought the euro was going to parity with the dollar, and I said I did, although I was not sure what the euro would look like in three years, or who would be in it. There was some pushback from people who thought the dollar would be the weaker currency. So I asked for a show of hands as to how many people thought the euro would be higher in one year’s time. There were 6 hands raised, but one gentleman said he was actually abstaining. So I asked how many thought the euro would fall, and we got 12 hands. Yes, that is 19 votes for 16 people. Clearly there were at least three economists in the group who voted both ways!
Then someone asked Charles about the issue. Now, for those who have never had the extreme pleasure of time with Charles, he is a powerful, white-haired French patrician, and one of the better economists I know. Quite a brilliant thinker and not afraid to express his mind forcefully with a voice that sounds like God talking, with about the same assurance (note to self: never again follow Charles on a speaking stage).
“The question is entirely irrelevant” – punctuating the air for added emphasis. “The euro will not exist in a year. The whole thing was dysfunctional from the beginning.”
I suggested that was a tad bearish.
“Not at all. I think it is extremely bullish. The demise of the euro and the return of national currencies will allow for proper allocation of investments and resources. It is the best thing that could happen for the markets.”
I could not get him to commit to exactly how that process of dissolution would look.
“I didn’t create the euro so it is not my responsibility to solve the problem for them.”
But I cannot help but think that any exit by anyone from the euro will be disorderly, giving rise to Bernanke’s “significant effects.” Many European banks are simply not solvent if there are major sovereign defaults. The US banks have sold some $90 billion in credit default swaps on Greek, Irish, and Portuguese debt to European banks. That is supposedly balanced with other purchases of CDS, but my sources say that much of that insurance is from German Landesbanks. Yes, the same ones I mentioned above that are basically insolvent. We are joined at the hip to Europe. A European recession would certainly be felt here. And a credit event could cause the same problem as in 2008, as banks start to refuse to lend to each other again. Ugh.
The potential for a real crisis is far too high for comfort. It would mean another recession for sure, with the US already close to stall speed and global growth slowing. I hate to sound alarmist, but I am worried. Absent a problem in Europe, the US should be fine, if slow. And maybe European leaders can stall the crisis off longer, buying time for banks to move their debt to the ECB and raise capital. We have to really keep our eyes on this.
At some point, Europe needs to realize that the problem with Greece, Portugal, et al. is not illiquidity, but that they are insolvent and have few prospects for economic growth anywhere close to what is needed to solve their problems.
Europe would be better off just taking the money they are giving to Greece and using it to recapitalize their banks. Let Greece go. Give it up. Let them enter a 12-step program or whatever it is that insolvent nations do. That is harsh, but it is also the truth.
But there are very sad things going on. It is not just banks that are losers here. Pharmaceutical companies are starting to refuse to deliver to Greek hospitals, as they are up to two years behind on their payments. It turns out that Greece owes some €6 billion to private businesses like hospitals and simply cannot pay. Those costs are rising, and much of it is to hospitals for medical care supported by the government. They are issuing bonds (shades of California) for the debt in some cases, which sell for a discount of 50%, if they can be sold. And we thought finding €12 billion was a hard thing.
This is not just a Greek problem, it is a concern in many countries that are having financial difficulties.
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