Truth, Lies and Tickertape in America and Europe

It’s a desperate politician that ever uses the term ‘one hundred per cent’, but yesterday Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said he was that certain 2013 will be Greece’s last year of recession. Whether it’s a forever thing or just until 2014 we can’t be sure, but speaking to the BBC’s Mark Lowen, Yannis said the Greeks had reason to be optimistic.

Missing from his statement was why they should feel optimistic, but just to back himself still further into a newly-painted corner, Stournaras added, “Towards the last quarter of 2013, we are going to have recovery. The probability of Greece leaving the euro – Grexit – is now very small.”

I would imagine this is what passes for being ‘on message’ in the Eurozone at the moment, and if nothing else it offers an example to French ministers about how they’re expected to behave. In a desperate attempt to disarm a self-inflicted torpedo yesterday, colleagues in the Socialist administration said Labour Minister Michel Sapin was only highlighting faults of the previous government of Nicolas Sarkozy when he said France was ‘totally bankrupt’.

‘Totally’ is another of those ‘one hundred per cent’ statements. Not that you can be slightly bankrupt, but either way retreating from such an observation represents a toughie. His boss Pierre Moscovici said: “What he meant was that the fiscal situation was worrying”, but nobody in history ever rang up the administrators to say the situation was totally worrying. As if to prove the point, a poll yesterday by Le Figaro had 80% of readers agreeing that France was bankrupt. You ain’t outta the woods yet, Pierre baby.

But if things seem anything from rosey to awful on the mainland, things are catastrophic on Cyprus. You know there’s a big issue at stake when they drag in the clerics, and last week the island’s orthodox leader Archbishop Chrysostomos II requested financial assistance for the rapidly sinking island nobody wants to sink. However, Chrysostomos turned towards Russia, asking his counterpart in Moscow to try to persuade President Rasputin to grant another emergency loan….on top of the 2.5 billion euros Cyprus got from Russia just 13 short months ago.

According to Fitch, in fact, the total Cyprus now needs is 17 billion euros, which represents seventeen eighteenths of the gdp there. I’d call that ‘worrying’ even on a good day and 25 mgs of Valium; but then, I’m getting hazy on what ‘bankrupt’ means. I’m also unclear as to when Archbishops began to have numbers like monarchs: does this suggest delusions of grandeur, we ask. Or is he the follow up to the last movie, Archbishop Chrysostomos I, in which the Bish looked West but saw only a Belgian skull writing kamikaze poetry?

We may never know, but it’s good to see that the Phantom Finn Olli Rehn has joined the certainty club. “It’s essential that everybody realises that a disorderly default of Cyprus could lead to an exit of Cyprus from the Eurozone,” he said, adding pointedly and yet pointlessly, “It would be extremely stupid to take any risk of that nature.”

That’s another fine mess you got us into, Olli: but as the irrepressible Mark J Grant pointed out yesterday, a big slice of the formula for Europe is that ‘no country will leave the Euro under any circumstances so not only is money thrown about, but deficit goals are relaxed, relaxed and ignored as demonstrated quite clearly in Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Cyprus. The actual financials in these European countries have gone from bad to worse but it is irrelevant, as there has been a change in the mindset of the Europeans which is being reflected in the minds of investors – which is that “it just does not matter”’. He is of course right on the money, reflected by the fact that Catalonia has just requested another 9 billion euros in aid from Mariano Rajoy’s Madrid Government.

Grant’s brilliant piece was marred only by the growing inability of folks under forty to get the compose/comprise verb right. Something is either composed of, or it comprises. You can’t comprise of something any more than you can compose of music. English is full of comprises, but it does no harm to know the rules.

Knowing the rules has never held the Italians back, and the smell surrounding Monte dei  Paschi di Siena Bank (MPS) is getting more pervasively gaggo by the hour. Siena prosecutors have been looking at the MPS accounts, and found suspicious bank transfers for €17bn in 11 months from May 2008 to April 2009 to various other institutions. That’s a figure I’d rank beyond suspicious and heading towards smoking gun held in bright-red cordite-stained hand. I mean, €17bn is a lot. The money went to ABN Amro, Santander and Abbey National, and has an air of f**king enormous bribe about it.

Talking of bribes, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanka’s latest round of bond buying will reach $1.14 trillion before he ends the programme in the first quarter of 2014, according to estimates in a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Despite the US being in complete, obvious and unstoppable recovery, Benny the Banke will press on with purchases of $40 billion a month of mortgage bonds, and $45 billion a month of Treasuries – although more than a few Fed officials warn his unprecedented balance-sheet expansion will “impair efforts to tighten policy when necessary” as one mole put it.

I am very happy to be quoted as offering the view that this is a one hundred per cent certainty. But as they say in Brussels, “it just doesn’t matter”. Thank God for that: we are saved.