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Junk bonds frenzy points to a new crash

After five years of austerity budgets, the headline on the latest survey from global financial information services company Markit sums it up: “Downturn deepens as business conditions deteriorate in all euro nations”.

Or put another way, the brutal assault on living standards of people of the eurozone is certain to accelerate as the system’s self-destruct mode strengthens. 

It’s not just the weather that’s gone into deep freeze this spring. Markit reports a worsening of “manufacturing conditions across the currency union”. Germany and Ireland both fell back into recession, while rates of decline quickened in nearly all other nations. France’s rate of slowdown did not actually increase but its present speed of contraction is bad enough, only exceeded by that of Greece. The survey’s gloomy report adds:

March saw total new orders decline for the twenty second successive month, dropping at the fastest pace since December. Demand was weaker in both domestic and export markets, reflecting lacklustre client confidence. The outlook for manufacturing also deteriorated, as the ratio of new orders-to finished goods inventories dipped to a three-month low.

Job losses were reported for the fourteenth straight month in March, with steep rates of declines reported in France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland and Greece.

So the terms of the Cyprus bailout “agreed” by its government at the point of a Troika gun, bad as they are, can only be an opening to something far worse.  There’s a huge 60% tax on bank deposits over the guaranteed limit of €100,000, which means that many businesses are closing with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs – 4,500 in the public sector alone – a heavy blow for a population of less than a million. Those in work will pay a “temporary insurance fee” of 1.5% on salaries for access to healthcare.  

The people of Slovenia are next in line for attention by the punishment squad led by the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. Its economy is shrinking rapidly and its budget deficit is ballooning towards 5% of GDP. According to the IMF, “a negative loop between financial distress, fiscal consolidation and weak corporate balance sheets is prolonging the recession”.

This spiral of decline isn’t limited to the eurozone. Markit’s figures for the UK are hardly encouraging:  manufacturing output fell in March at its fastest pace since July last year, along with a further decline in new orders and employment. The Bank of England reported that lending to households and companies contracted in February in spite of its efforts to increase the flow of credit to the real economy.

The Bank of England has, of course, taken part in the unprecedented pumping of billions into the financial system via quantitative easing, aka printing money. Since the crash, starting at the end of 2007, central banks around the world have created a staggering $12 trillion of new money in a desperate bid to stave off total collapse.

All this has done is to fuel inflation, encourage speculation in basic commodities like wheat and, all in all, create the conditions for another financial bubble to burst. According to Daily Telegraph finance writer Harry Wilson, huge sums have gone into sales of high-yield debt, formerly known as junk bonds.

In January alone, non-investment grade Asian companies, whose debt is ranked by credit rating agencies as riskiest, sold just over $9bn of high-yield bonds, a year-on-year increase of more 6,000%, he reports. Wilson warns:

The massive increase so soon after a financial crisis that was caused in part by the credit meltdown has raised fears that less than five years on from the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the near failure of Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS, the world is setting itself up for another crash.

Reports of investment banks and other institutions borrowing to buy junk bonds – what is known as leverage – only adds to the tendency towards a new, even more destructive crash.

All attempts to fix the capitalist system are just making things worse. These are the conditions which must make the campaign against austerity into a movement to replace the broken, bankrupt system of production for profit, once and for all time.
 
Gerry Gold
Economics editor
3 April 2013

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