Slovakia's EFSF Approval Vote Hangs in the Balance

It appeared yesterday that the Slovakian parliament would only approve the enlargement of the EFSF if the coalition government of prime minister Iveta Radicova agreed to be toppled at the same time. It was impossible to get the SaS party to vote in favor of the new EFSF agreement and Radicova tied the  EFSF vote to a confidence vote. Then, after long and ultimately fruitless debates, the measure – and her government – were voted down. The plan is now to repeat the vote, this time with the opposition voting in favor of it. This will ensure that the EFSF agreement is approved, but Radicova will be forced to call new elections. 

As the London Telegraph reports on the highly principled SaS party leader Richard Sulik:

“Slovakia’s hero is Richard Sulik, head of the Freedom and Solidarity Party (SaS) the junior partner in a four-party coalition.

He has passionately described Slovakia’s 20-year journey from Communism to the European Union – and the deep national pride of meeting the membership requirements against the odds.  Mr Sulik has articulated the dismay of many that in Greece, Slovakians are faced with a country that bent the rules, rather than sacrificed, to gain entry – and now are demanding their luxuries are maintained by others.

The average Slovak, whose salary is lowest in the euro zone, Sulik claims, would have to work 300 extra hours to cover the increase in the country’s guarantees of the EFSF, which will rise from €4.4bn to €7.7bn under the proposed deal.  Mr Sulik has been criticised for being nationalistic, but he’s fast-becoming the voice of the discontented European masses.


(emphasis added).

Here are a few pertinent quotes by Mr. Sulik:

The greatest threat to the euro is the bailout fund itself. It’s an attempt to use fresh debt to solve the debt crisis. That will never work.

“Our membership in the euro zone, after all, was not conditional on us becoming members of strange associations like the EFSF, which damage the currency.”

“I don’t see the euro as the problem. It’s a good project. Everyone involved can benefit from it — but only if they stick to the ground rules. And that’s exactly what we’re demanding. First, we have to strictly adhere to the existing rules, such as not being liable for others’ debts, just as it’s spelled out in Article 125 of the Lisbon Treaty. Second, we have to let Greece go bankrupt and have the banks involved in the debt-restructuring. The creditors will have to relinquish 50 to perhaps 70 percent of their claims. So far, the agreements on that have been a joke. Third, we have to be adamant about cost-cutting and manage budgets in a responsible way.

And finally, regarding the banks:

So what? They took on too much risk. That one might go broke as a consequence of bad decisions is just part of the market economy. Of course, states have to protect the savings of their populations. But that’s much cheaper than bailing banks out. And that, in turn, is much cheaper than bailing entire states out.


(emphasis added)

Well, Mr. Sulik has got all of this perfectly right and we imagine that many in Germany, Finland and the Netherlands find themselves agreeing with his position. Alas, we fear he (and his supporters) won't get his way. For instance,  the ECB has already decided to throw truckloads of money at the banks with its new 'temporary' liquidity measures. This strikes us a first step in a series of moves designed to 'paper over' the crisis.

As regards the possibility of Slovakia actually refusing to support the EFSF agreement in the end, Bloomberg reported  ahead of the vote already that it will probably be pushed through in spite of the fracturing of the governing coalition:

“Slovakia may approve the euro region’s retooled bailout fund after a political storm that is likely to topple Prime Minister Iveta Radicova’s ruling coalition.

The largest opposition party, which said it won’t back the motion today, will support the revamped European Financial Stability Facility in a second vote, should the first try fail and bring down the government, Robert Fico, the group’s leader, told reporters in the capital Bratislava. That would give the measure a majority. There is no date set for a repeated vote.

Slovakia is the only country in the 17-nation euro area that hasn’t ratified the measure, following approval in Malta yesterday. The Freedom of Solidarity party, one of the members of Radicova’s four-way coalition, said it won’t support the EFSF even after the premier tied a no-confidence motion on her government, denying the plan a majority.

“The government is set to fall, but the bailout fund will eventually be approved,” Grigorij Meseznikov, the head of the Public Affairs Institute, a think-tank in Bratislava, said by phone after Fico’s comments. “It could take a few days, though.

Parliament convened for the session with the EFSF on the agenda at 1 p.m. in Bratislava.

So there is little chance the measure will fail, as the votes of the opposition will suffice to push it through. This should not detract from the fact that there appears to be significant resistance in Slovakia to the bailouts. So it is by no means a given that the regime of ad hoc bailout measures that has marked the euro area's debt crisis so far will continue merrily on its way in the future. At some point, the buck (or the euro, in this case) will stop somewhere.

After the failure of the initial vote and the collapse of the government, the WSJ reported that the new vote on the EFSF will take place later this week, with opposition party Smer voting in favor (it voted nay in the first round in order to topple Radicova's government). Mrs. Radicova's gamble has failed and it is easy to see why. She may have thought that by tying the EFSF vote to a confidence vote she could force Mr. Sulik's party into submission. Alas, Sulik first of all has principles to defend – he could not simply give them up in such a blatant attempt to cling to power. Moreover, he probably is a good judge of the mood of Slovakia's voters as well. We expect his party to do exceedingly well in the upcoming election, as it has proved beyond a doubt that it understands the concerns of the average Slovakian citizen and is prepared to act on them. It is remarkable that the one country in the euro-area that stands most fervently behind free market principles is a country that only slightly over 11 years ago escaped the clutches of communism and had to work its way up from practically nothing. Note here that Slovakia is one of the few countries that are actually adhering to the Maastricht criteria.  At the same time, it is still much poorer than Greece in per capita income terms. This is of course bound to change, as Slovakia's market-friendly policies and well-established discipline will continue to bring about much faster economic growth than seen elsewhere in the euro area. The Slovak's had to suffer through a great deal of temporary, but nonetheless painful deprivation to get to where they are now. Meanwhile, the Greek government  simply lied about the true state of its public finances in order to be able to join the euro area. It is a wonder that there is a majority for the EFSF enlargement at all, but then again we understand that Slovakia's political elite does not want the country to end up as the 'odd man out' that brought the euro area to the point of crisis. At the same time they must surely know that they are once again throwing good money after bad. 


Greece To Receive Next Bailout Tranche, Country Paralyzed by Strikes

In the meantime the ECB has posted the troika's tentative conclusions of its mission to Greece. Basically it is a 'yes, they will miss all their targets again, but…' type of missive. The upshot is that Greek will get the € 8 billion tranche  of bailout funds in November, just in time to keep paying its bills. This is exactly what we expected – namely that they would get the money at least one more time, in order to buy the eurocracy some time to prepare for the eventual default. The decisive sentence of the fifth troika review's conclusion can be found right at the end of the statement:

“Once the Eurogroup and the IMF’s Executive Board have approved the conclusions of the fifth review, the next tranche of EUR 8 billion (EUR 5.8 billion by the euro area Member States, and EUR 2.2 billion by the IMF) will become available, most likely, in early November.”

The fact that a Greek default is a certainty can no longer be disputed. Even euro-group head J.C. Juncker lately talks about '60% haircuts for private creditors' being considered. A 60% haircut means that the 'standard recovery assumption' (40%) of an outright default is being used in the calculation.

Juncker said this in an interview on Austrian TV. Of course, with Juncker you never know when he might be lying. He is one of the few eurocrats stating openly and on the record that he lies often and blatantly if he thinks it helps the eurocracy's agenda of temporarily deceiving the markets. Clearly, a sudden default would reverberate across the euro area's banking system as contagion would immediately rear its head. It is not only the direct exposure to Greece that the banks must worry about – it is their exposure to the rest of the PIIGS stable as well. As we have noted previously, Portugal is already in the market's cross hairs. Hence the two-track method of giving the Greeks more money while openly talking about the coming default to 'prepare the markets' for the inevitable.

In Greece, utter chaos reigns once again in the meantime. From the article linked above:

“As the debt inspectors concluded their talks, protests caused more disruption in the capital. Workers at a key refinery went on strike, sending motorists who feared a fuel shortage to form huge lines at gas stations to fill up. A strike by municipal workers has left garbage piling up in in mounds on city streets for days. Protesters have also staged sit-ins of state buildings, including those of the water company.”

Clearly the Greek citizenry is not happy with being on the receiving end of the hitherto bungled austerity program, but perhaps someone should tell the radical left fringe unionists that their actions only imperil the country's precarious situation even more. If you're standing on the edge of an abyss, it's usually not a good idea to begin practicing your Saturday Night Fever moves.

On the one hand, we can understand the frustration. The Greek government has mishandled the austerity plan to such an extent that there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. A general feeling of hopelessness and despair has set in. There are only sticks and no carrots. On the other hand, the few remaining creators of wealth in Greece must be left to do their work unhindered. It is the only way out. In that sense, what is especially frustrating about the lack of progress is this part of the troika's report:

“As to structural reforms, areas of progress include the transport sector, licensing procedures, and regulated professions. As overall progress has been uneven, a reinvigoration of reforms remains the overarching challenge facing the authorities. In this regard, the decision to suspend the mandatory extension of sector-level collective agreements to the firm level is a major step forward, as it will help ensure the flexibility in the labour market needed to boost growth and prevent high unemployment from getting entrenched.”

They haven't even been able to rescind their crazy licensing laws and regulations of professions, which stifle economic progress like few other things in the country.  


New EBA Stress Tests In Preparation

Meanwhile, it has become known that the new EBA (European Banking Authority) stress test will use far stricter criteria than the last one. This is stress test number three, and we're waiting to see if they get it right this time. Our sense of the situation is that in all likelihood the truth is still going to be suppressed to some extent, for the simple reason that panics and bank runs may be feared by the bureaucracy and the banks alike.

Allegedly though (see this Reuters missive), the EBA will insists on a 7% core tier one capital ratio this time, with the only uncertainty concerning whether the 'easier' Basel 2.5 rules or the tougher Basel 3 rules will be underlying the determination.

There can be little doubt that if the most stringent criteria are used this time, a great many of the banks on the EBA's list will fail the test this time around. They will then be 'asked' to increase their capital. Since no private investors are likely to step up, this means that a massive euro-area-wide tax payer financed bailout is coming in addition to the ECB's recent monetary injections. We are especially worried about the big Italian and French banks, all of which look somewhat shaky in our opinion. Of course there can be little doubt that Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece have even shakier banks,  but this is already well known and likely fully 'priced in' by now. We fear however that there lurk nasty surprises in many corners that were hitherto deemed 'safe' – this was once again brought into stark relief when Austria's Erstebank reported a huge 'unexpected' loss (why no-one expected it remains as usual slightly mysterious).

We want to point readers to a recent interview with Fitch global sovereign ratings chief David Riley in this context (the link leads to a video of the interview). Riley's perspective is one we share: there simply is no 'quick fix' to the situation. If market participants are betting on such an outcome, they are deluding themselves.

Some excerpts:

“David Riley, head of global sovereign ratings at Fitch Ratings, said the situation in Europe had become "systemic".

"The eurozone crisis keeps on getting worse," he said on Jeff Randall Live. "It's now become a systemic crisis – not just in terms of spreading the contagion to Italy, which is deeply worrying – but it's now become a systemic banking crisis."

His comments follow Fitch's downgrade of both Spanish and Italian government debt on Friday. But Mr Riley stressed there was "broad recognition" of what needs to be done to help the region.

He said the solution includes dealing with Greece's debt, putting more money into banks and supporting weaker countries like Spain and Italy, which he described as "solvent but potentially illiquid". But when pressed by Randall on whether Germany would bankroll these measures, he admitted this was a problem.

"It's not that they don't know the potential solution, it's that they don't want to put that one in place," he said. "That's one of the reasons why they've been behind the market, because where the market is wanting to take them… Germany in particular doesn't want to go there."

He added:"(Prime Minister) David Cameron said they have weeks to do it, but I think this crisis could go on for months, not weeks."


(emphasis added)

That's correct, the Germans 'don't want to go there' – but we can remain absolutely certain that the markets will eventually continue to push them. On the one hand, German policymakers want to stay true to their principles, honed by the terrible nightmare of the Weimar hyperinflation and its aftermath. 

On the other hand, Germany is the lynchpin in the long term plan of uniting Europe to such an extent that there will never again be war on the continent. Somehow we don't believe that the Germans will want to be seen as the ones who were at fault if/when the euro-area project collapses. The country is lugging a huge guilt complex around that stems from its pivotal historical role in the two world wars. We don't want to pass judgment on that fact, we merely want to point out that it is a given. So Germany's tough talk must be put into perspective from that point of view as well. In the end we suspect that e.g. in the question of bank recapitalizations, Mrs. Merkel will capitulate and agree to Mr. Sarkozy's demands.


Financial Markets

We would note that recent stock market action has made 'option number 2' as indicated in our DAX charts presented on Monday a slightly more likely outcome (note that our comments on the DAX wave count can be more or less applied to the SPX as well).  In other words, the Western stock markets have probably embarked on a somewhat bigger correction of the preceding down wave. It is too early to say what form this correction will take and how long it will last,  but we will closely observe changes in sentiment data and market internals and keep our readers posted regarding our observations on that front.

We want to point out here that the recent rally is already laboring from the same Achilles heel that has bedeviled previous rebound attempts: trading volume on the bounce has been minuscule. We conclude that it has been largely driven by short covering and an absence of selling, hardly the most solid foundations for a durable rally. Very large single day point gains are in fact fairly typical for retracement bounces in the context of bearish trends – bullish trends usually do not exhibit such a frenetic pace. At the same time, bearish sentiment is being drained fairly quickly as well, so the rebound must be treated with a large degree of circumspection.

Alas, in the short term there is certainly some reason now for bears to remain cautious as well and await further developments.



There is now a clear MACD buy signal on the SPX daily chart, but volume has been suspiciously tiny on this recent rebound – click for higher resolution.



In Gold, large volume spikes are usually seen near lows, so we are less worried by the fact that it has been rising on small volume (at least this means that the speculative net long exposure still has lots of room to expand). Gold's chart also looks a bit better now, having moved up from the recently built small triangle on the daily chart. We can add this as another small positive to the positive signals given by the CoT report and sentiment data which we discussed last week.

Meanwhile, from a technical perspective, the US treasury note yield seems also set for a bigger correction, although it has not yet overcome its downtrend decisively. Still, as can be seen on the chart further below, our signals using the 'keep it simple' procedure that we always employ are favoring a bigger retracement bounce at the moment.

However, as you will see still further below, euro area credit markets do not yet confirm this slightly more happy short term outlook in full. Bond yields of the 'PIIGS' are drifting higher again, and the corrections in CDS prices do not yet amount to a decisive short term trend change. Since nothing has changed fundamentally, this remains a significant warning sign.



Only a very tentative MACD buy signal so far, but we're getting close. The recent move higher from the small triangle is not yet decisive, but it's a beginning. We think eventually gold may build a larger triangle – click for higher resolution.



The recent action in the 10 year note yield is favorable for stock market bulls. Note the RSI divergence at the low and the 'double' MACD buy signal. TYX could be in for a significant correction if it manages to overcome its downtrend line (that remains a big 'IF' of course) – click for higher resolution.



Euro Area Credit Market Charts

Below is our usual collection of charts of CDS spreads, bond yields,  euro basis swaps and a number of other charts. Prices in basis points, with both prices and price scales color-coded where applicable. Prices are as of Tuesday's close. Most CDS spreads are now pulling back in concert with the bounce in stocks, but have so far remained above their major short term support levels. Also, in spite of the pullback in CDS prices, the government bond yields of the 'PIIGS' stable have all increased once again. We still have that 'eye of the hurricane' feeling when looking at all of this.



5 year CDS on Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain – all still pulling back – click for higher resolution.



5 year CDS on France, Belgium, Ireland and Japan – the pullback in CDS on JGB's is notable. Japan has avoided catastrophe again – for now anyway. Belgium is the odd man out here, no doubt on account of the costly Dexia bailout – click for higher resolution.



5 year CDS on Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary and Austria – also pulling back – click for higher resolution.




5 year CDS on Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia – more profit taking is in train – click for higher resolution.



5 year CDS on Romania, Poland, Slovakia and Estonia – click for higher resolution.



5 year CDS on Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco and Turkey – as usual, following their European counterparts. 'It's all one credit market', to paraphrase Bob Hoye – click for higher resolution.



5 year CDS on Germany, the US and the Markit SovX index of CDS on 19 Western European sovereigns. Interestingly, the latter has managed a small bound amidst all  the pullbacks in most individual spreads. This could be Belgium's fault – click for higher resolution.



10 year government bond yields of Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain. Ironically, in spite of the pullback in CDS spreads, these yields are all trekking higher again – click for higher resolution.



10 year government bond yields of Italy and Austria, UK Gilts and the Greek 2 year note. For once, both the 'safe havens' and the yields of the usual suspects are going up in concert. Rising inflation expectations are probably the culprit here – click for higher resolution.




The chart of inflation adjusted yields – still bouncing, so inflation expectations have stabilized for now – click for higher resolution.



Three month, one year and five year euro basis swaps – the recent bounce continues, albeit at a very slow pace. This is not a chart we are especially enamored of. It looks a bit like a consolidation before the next leg down begins – click for higher resolution.



Our proprietary unweighted index of 5 year CDS on eight major European banks (BBVA, Banca Monte dei Paaschi di Siena, Societe Generale, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, UBS, Intesa Sanpaolo and Unicredito) – this one continues to pull back and now trades at the lowest level since early September. Closing in on another area of lateral support now. We will see if the happy times last – click for higher resolution.




5 year CDS on Australia's 'Big Four' banks – the pullback continues here as well – click for higher resolution.



Addendum I:

Lastly, we wanted to briefly comment on the sad news of the passing of Steve Jobs – clearly, as many eulogies have already noted, the world has lost an exemplary and unusually innovative entrepreneur. It is rare to see a large publicly listed company led by a true entrepreneur, least of all such a gifted one. Both the company's shareholders and the many consumers using the delightful products Jobs invented must be forever grateful. Yesterday we came across the picture that graces the title page of a recent issue of the 'New Yorker' that like few others captures the great impact Steve Jobs' work has had on many peoples' lives. In this picture, even St. Peter at the Pearly Gates uses an i-Pad to check on new arrivals.



Steve Jobs at the Pearly Gates – his products are now really everywhere.

(Illustration by: The New Yorker)



Addendum II:

We will soon write a comment on this year's Nobel prize in economics, which went to Messrs. Thomas Sargent of New York university and Christopher Sims of Princeton University. Both are representatives of the 'rational expectations' school, a branch of economic thought of which Eugene Fama and another Nobel winner, Robert Lucas are probably more prominent proponents. We have written about the tenets of 'rational expectations' before and tried to show what in our opinion the decisive flaws of the theory consist of. We will use the opportunity to go over some of that terrain again in more detail. Not surprisingly, this year's Nobel prize for economics has once again resulted in a lot of controversy. For one thing, it did for a change not go to Keynesians, which is something of a relief. Then again, it did go to people who are clearly part of the mainstream orthodoxy, even though they reside at its fringes.

On the day when a real economist like JH de Soto or Hans-Hermann Hoppe gets the prize, you will know that the secular contraction has finally destroyed the vapid mathematical modelers and interventionists on account of their by now numberless failures to explain economic phenomena or recommend viable policies.



Charts by: Bloomberg,




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7 Responses to “Slovakia, Greece, EBA – the Latest from the Euro Area Vaudeville Show”

  • Phil D:

    “Radicova tied the EFSF vote to a confidence vote” – procedurally that’s true.

    However the first vote was about Slovak politics, Radicova was “blackmailed” by Fico to have the no confidence motion in order to secure Fico’s support in the second vote.

    Radicova is in Merkel’s party so she’ll be looked after with a job at Brussels HQ.

    Sulik may have been right on principle, but he’s sunk a centre right government that will probably be replaced by Mr Fico’s Socialists.

    Hopefully, for Slovakia, Radicova’s deal with Merkel includes a waiver of Slovakia’s contributions to the ESFS. I did read that there’s a provision in the ESFS rules that would allow that to happen.

    • There was in fact an exception for Slovakia in the first bailout if I recall correctly.
      I agree it would be bad news if the elections bring the socialists to power, but let’s first see what actually happens. To me it is actually important whether politcians are or aren’t principled. Most are not and that is precisely one of the things I dislike greatly about politics. I can not condemn Sulik for having done the right thing and having stood by what he believes in.

  • worldend666:

    So Pater, do you think that the recent ECB liquidity programs will solve the bank liquidity issue for the 12/13 months the programs will stay open? Really – is it safe to keep money in the bank?

    I am baffled as to how this unelected group is able to provide unlimited funds while the EU struggles to vote through potentially insignificant 440 billion euro package.

    • Andrew Judd:

      Very telling in all of this mess is that Italy wanted to opt out of Greeces bailout because of its own debt costs, Deutsche bank has pulled out of supporting the Italian system while not wanting greater haircuts on stupid loans, Siemens has pulled out of some French banks, and Germany does not want France to use the European emergency funding to support France.

      Greece of course does not seem much interested in playing ball with Europe but all of the others are playing the same game one way or another. Slovaks must have benefited enormously from German French Spanish and Scandanavian finance so that Europeans could buy their rather excellent cars.

      I am in Finland, and no doubt we did better here because Greece was buying some of our stuff. I wonder how many Finnish lifts and escalators were installed because of foreign property booms? Without European consumption, life here might just cease altogether for most of the 5M population in such an enormously hostile winter climate.

      The problem for all of us is that we do not want to be poorer. Poverty is for the other guy. Germans evidently do not want to be poor and are the winners so far? German politicians told Finland that we needed to play ball over Greece and not be a trouble maker and thus ensure Germany got the bailout it wanted of its own interests. Presumably somebody told the Slovaks how the game worked too?

      France for example has no chance at all of survival unless it cooperates with Germany. Hard to believe that whatever the ECB does is not supported by Germany

      • Floyd:

        All these back door dealings will eventually push against reality.
        Though, it could be after everybody is improvished, bitter, and protests.

        Last time it ended up in tears (that is, WWII).

      • Germany clearly has the last word, due to its role as the paymaster. Alas, France and Germany are really the ‘political core’ around which everything revolves, with France so to speak the center of the mediterranean axis and Germany of the Northern one. So ultimately I think both of them must agree on the major policy decisions. I keep wondering about the resignations of Weber and Stark, especially the latter (Weber was replaced by his disciple Weidmann after all). I have a feeling Stark may have seen a future he didn’t want to be part of. In the final analysis, the ECB will either print or the euro will die. This is not to say that I support such an approach – it is merely an assessment of the current reality.

    • Well, it was very similar to what happened in the course of the 2007-2009 crisis – back then the Fed and ECB both stuffed the banks with liquidity willy-nilly, with almost no strings attached. It was a wonder to behold. The fact of the matter is that the fractionally reserved banking system is de facto insolvent all the time – e.g. in the euro area, € 3.7 trillion of the money substitutes in demand deposits are uncovered – representing nearly 95% of all deposit money. Is it safe for depositors to keep their money in the bank? As long as not a whole string of nations goes bankrupt the answer is probably yes, but if I were a Greek or Portuguese depositor, I would have already taken my money out – just in case.
      And yes, it is quite fascinating what central banks can do, compared to mere politicians. A return to a sound market-chosen money is way overdue. I think it may eventually come, but first there will be some major convulsions.

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