Imagine if your banker offered to lend you a $150,000 to make up for the money that you’d lost on your home since the housing bubble burst in 2006. And, let’s say, he agreed to lend you this money for 3 years at rock-bottom rates of 1 percent provided that you post the contents of your garage (ie. rusty bikes, a bent basketball hoop, an old dollhouse, and rodent-infested luggage) as collateral on the loan.
Would that seem like a good deal to you?
On Wednesday, the European Central Bank (ECB) made this very same offer to over a hundred underwater banks in Europe, awarding them $640 billion (489 euros) in dirt-cheap 3-year loans in exchange for all manner of dodgy collateral for which there is currently no market. Now you, dear reader, know that when you try to sell something on Craig’s List and there’s very little interest; you have to drop the price in order to attract a buyer. That’s just how supply-demand dynamics work in a free market, right?
Au contraire. In fact, this rule never applies to bankers. When the junk assets on a bank’s balance sheet begin to fall in value, the banks just ring-up their big brother at the ECB or the Fed and demand a bailout, er, I mean, “swap liquidity for collateral that is temporarily impaired.” But the truth is, the garbage that the banks have accumulated–particularly the sovereign bonds from Italy, Spain, Greece, etc–is not merely “impaired”. These bonds will never regain their original value because the loans were made at the peak of a bubble. So, there’s as much chance that Greek bonds will bounce back in three years as there is that that tacky $650,000 McMansion you bought in Encinito in 2005 will claw its way back to par.
That’s not going to happen.
So, the $640 billion that the ECB forked out on Tuesday, is basically a whopping-big gift to the banksters that will probably never be repaid. And if you have any doubt about this, then just take look at the Fed’s balance sheet which has exploded to nearly $3 trillion. You’ll notice that the $1.45 trillion in mortgage-backed securities (MBS) that Bernanke bought from the banks two years ago has not gone down at all, mainly because no one in their right-mind would buy these turkeys. And, if the Fed were to put their stash of MBS up for auction; the sale would further depress the assets on the banks balance sheets triggering another financial crisis. (In fact, this actually happened about a year ago when the government experimented with bonds from the AIG fund. Not only did the auction fail, but it also sent the equities markets into a nosedive) So, just as the Fed will eventually have to account for the losses on their pile of MBS, so too will EU banks have to writedown the losses their sovereign bonds. That will push many of the banks into bankruptcy, which will undoubtedly trigger another round of loans. When financial institutions are insolvent, their only choice is to extend and pretend. Obviously, the ECB sees its job as helping with this fakery.
This is a familiar pattern with central banks. They create the easy money and loose regulatory environment where bubbles emerge, and then they provide “limitless” liquidity so their friends don’t lose money on the inflated value of their assets. That’s what Tuesday’s $640 billion boondoggle was really all about, propping up toxic bonds that are worth a mere fraction of their original value … //
… Draghi’s real goal is to implement the labor reforms and “adjustments” that big finance demands. He’s already succeeded in deposing two democratically elected leaders in Greece and Italy and replacing them with bank-friendly stooges that will carry out his diktats. Now, he’s on to bigger things, like slashing the social safety net, crushing the unions, and reducing the eurozone to third world poverty. (full text).
(Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached here. Global Research Articles by Mike Whitney).