Time for Plan B. The Spanish bank bailout didn't even work for one day.
Apparently, $125 billion billion doesn't buy much these days. Not even six hours of relief.
Over the weekend, Europe announced a bailout of Spain's ailing banks. It wasn't quite financial shock-and-awe, but €100 billion ($125 billion) seemed like an impressive enough sum to buy at least a few weeks -- or at worst a few days, right? -- of calm in the markets. It wasn't. If anything, things are getting worse faster in Europe. What's going on?
First, a quick recap. As Paul Krugman put it, Spain was Europe's Florida. It had a prodigious housing bubble. And now its cajas saving banks have a prodigious amount of bad real estate loans on their books. But the Spanish government can't afford to bail its banks out. It can't print euros, and it can't borrow euros, except at punitive rates. We have a word for this. That word is "broke".
But Spain resisted going to Germany for a bailout. Spain feared the austere terms Germany would likely impose as part of any deal. So Spain played a game of chicken. First, it tried to get the European Central Bank (ECB) to bail out its banks instead. Germany balked. Then, it threatened eurogeddon -- memorably saying that they would not be bullied because "Spain is not Uganda" -- if it didn't at least get better terms on its bailout.
At first, it looked like Spain had won. Europe announced that the €100 billion aid package for Spain's banks would come without any further conditionality. Translation: Spain would get the money without having to do any more austerity than it had already promised to do. But then things unraveled. And fast.
The chart below from Bloomberg shows Spain's 10-year borrowing costs. Remember, the point of the Spanish bank bailout is, in large part, to reduce yields on Spanish bonds to break up the doom loop between weak sovereigns and weak banks. About that....
After briefly retreating, Spanish borrowing costs surged above 6.5 percent. That's the market giving a vote of no-confidence for the bank bailout. But the bad news hasn't stopped there. The Spanish IBEX stock index gave away a 5.9 percent increase, and finished down on the day. Italian bonds got hammered too. So did the Italian FTSE MIB stock index.
Why did markets turn so quickly from gloom to doom? The short answer: Investors are worried the Spanish bank bailout might make things worse -- and with good reason. The devil is in the details, and the Europeans have been embarrassingly short on those. Here are the four big questions that remain to be answered.
1) What's the interest rate on the €100 billion loan to Spain?
This being Europe, the term "bailout" is a bit misleading. Germany isn't cutting a check for Spain. It's a loan. European officials have promised that the interest rate on this loan is well below what Spain can borrow in the markets -- it'd better be, or what would be the point? -- but they haven't said what that rate is. It's hard to judge how good a deal Spain is getting without knowing this.
2) How much will the bailout add to Spain's debt?
This being Europe, Spain's bank bailout has a slightly Byzantine structure. The bailout funds will go to Spain's so-called Fund for Orderly Recapitalization of Banks (FROB) -- a government agency that will then inject the money into struggling banks. The Spanish government, however, backstops the FROB.
But this being Europe, this financial legerdemain doesn't really matter. The Spanish government is ultimately on the hook, full stop. So the bank "bailout" will add roughly 10 percentage points to Spain's public debt-to-GDP ratio, assuming growth doesn't collapse further. That's a big assumption.
3) Will the bailout loan be senior to other debt?
This being Europe, there are two bailout funds. There's the soon-to-be defunct European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the soon-to-be online European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Spoiler alert: They're supposed to increase ... stability. They haven't exactly succeeded.
This being Europe, it actually matters a great deal whether the EFSF or the ESM loans the money to Spain. The ESM is senior to all other creditors, after the IMF. The EFSF isn't. In plain English, an ESM loan increases the odds that private bondholders will take a loss if Spain ever restructures its debt. An EFSF loan doesn't. So private investors will demand higher interest rates on Spanish bonds to compensate for the higher risk of losses if the money comes from the ESM. That's precisely what happened on Monday after European officials announced that it would indeed be the ESM making the loans.
But this being Europe, they subsequently reversed themselves. They said that the money might come from the EFSF instead -- at least at first. In the long run, it's unclear how much this would even matter. In the short run, Spain is still on the hook as a partial guarantor of EFSF loans. Um, what? The EFSF works by issuing bonds backstopped by Europe's healthy economies. But Spain can't get out of its commitment as a guarantor because its government technically isn't getting bailed out. Its banks are. So Spain would be guaranteeing a loan it's taking out. That makes even less sense than you think.
4) Will the bank bailout come with new strings attached?
This being Europe, it's not too surprising that the initial headlines that Spain was getting this money unconditionally might not be true. On Monday, German officials said that the so-called Troika of the EC, ECB, and IMF would "supervise" the bailout -- which is eurospeak for imposing more austere austerity. Still, it's unclear what this means. It's possible the Germans were talking about a previously announced agreement where European officials will reform Spain's sclerotic financial sector. But it's also possible that they were talking about further spending cuts and tax hikes.
This being Europe, it's almost impossible to say. But it's another reason for markets to worry. Troika reforms in Greece, Portugal and Ireland have knee-capped growth. And a country that can't print its own money can't pay back its debts when it's not growing. It creates self-fulfilling doubts about its solvency. It's just another reason for investors to push up the yields on Spanish debt.
There's a simple way to tell if the Spanish bank bailout is working. Look at Spanish borrowing costs. If they're falling, it's working. If they're not, it's not. By that metric, the 48-hour old bailout is already a clear failure.
It's easy to understand why. The bailout will increase Spain's debt. It will make Spanish debt riskier for private investors. And it might make it harder for Spain to pay back its debts. It kicks the can at the expense of zombifying Spain's economy.
Here's the worst part. It's not even clear that the Eurocrats understand the mistakes they're making. If they did, they wouldn't keep repeating them, from Greece to Ireland to Portugal, and now Spain. They're running out of time. So are we.
The Vermont senator’s revolutionary zeal has met its moment.
There’s no way this man could be president, right? Just look at him: rumpled and scowling, bald pate topped by an entropic nimbus of white hair. Just listen to him: ranting, in his gravelly Brooklyn accent, about socialism. Socialism!
And yet here we are: In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation.
He is drawing enormous crowds—11,000 in Phoenix, 8,000 in Dallas, 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa—the largest turnout of any candidate from any party in the first-to-vote primary state. He has raised $15 million in mostly small donations, to Hillary Clinton’s $45 million—and unlike her, he did it without holding a single fundraiser. Shocking the political establishment, it is Sanders—not Martin O’Malley, the fresh-faced former two-term governor of Maryland; not Joe Biden, the sitting vice president—to whom discontented Democratic voters looking for an alternative to Clinton have turned.
A newly discovered artifact buried with one of Jamestown’s most prominent leaders suggests he could have been a crypto-Catholic.
After 400 years in the Virginia dirt, the box came out of the ground looking like it had been plucked from the ocean. A tiny silver brick, now encrusted with a green patina and rough as sandpaper. Buried beneath it was a human skeleton. The remains would later be identified as those of Captain Gabriel Archer, one of the most prominent leaders at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America. But it was the box, which appeared to be an ancient Catholic reliquary, that had archaeologists bewildered and astonished.
“One of the major surprises was the discovery of this mysterious small silver box,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “I have to say, we’re still trying to figure this out. You have the very strange situation of a Catholic reliquary being found with the leader of the first Protestant church in the country.”
For anyone who has ever caught some treacly adult contemporary on the radio and wondered “Who on earth likes this stuff?” while twisting the dial, a new study might have an answer. A bunch of softies, that’s who.
In the paper, published recently in the online journal PLoS One, Cambridge psychologist David Greenberg theorized that music tastes are determined in part by peoples’ tendency to fall into one of two rough personality categories: empathizers or systemizers. Empathizers are people who are very attuned to others’ emotions and mental states. Systemizers are more focused on patterns that govern the natural and physical worlds.
Over the course of multiple experiments that included 4,000 participants, listeners took personality questionnaires and then listened to and rated 50 pieces of music.
The paper of record’s inaccurate reporting on a nonexistent criminal investigation was a failure that should entail more serious consequences.
I have read The New York Times since I was a teenager as the newspaper to be trusted, the paper of record, the definitive account. But the huge embarrassment over the story claiming a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton for her emails—leading the webpage, prominent on the front page, before being corrected in the usual, cringeworthy fashion of journalists who stonewall any alleged errors and then downplay the real ones—is a direct challenge to its fundamental credibility. And the paper’s response since the initial huge error was uncovered has not been adequate or acceptable.
This is not some minor mistake. Stories, once published, take on a life of their own. If they reinforce existing views or stereotypes, they fit perfectly into Mark Twain’s observation, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” (Or perhaps Twain never said it, in which case the ubiquity of that attribution serves to validate the point.) And a distorted and inaccurate story about a prominent political figure running for president is especially damaging and unconscionable.
The new version of Apple’s signature media software is a mess. What are people with large MP3 libraries to do?
When the developer Erik Kemp designed the first metadata system for MP3s in 1996, he provided only three options for attaching text to the music. Every audio file could be labeled with only an artist, song name, and album title.
Kemp’s system has since been augmented and improved upon, but never replaced. Which makes sense: Like the web itself, his schema was shipped, good enough,and an improvement on the vacuum which preceded it. Those three big tags, as they’re called, work well with pop and rock written between 1960 and 1995. This didn’t prevent rampant mislabeling in the early days of the web, though, as anyone who remembers Napster can tell you. His system stumbles even more, though, when it needs to capture hip hop’s tradition of guest MCs or jazz’s vibrant culture of studio musicianship.
Even when they’re adopted, the children of the wealthy grow up to be just as well-off as their parents.
Lately, it seems that every new study about social mobility further corrodes the story Americans tell themselves about meritocracy; each one provides more evidence that comfortable lives are reserved for the winners of what sociologists call the birth lottery. But, recently, there have been suggestions that the birth lottery’s outcomes can be manipulated even after the fluttering ping-pong balls of inequality have been drawn.
What appears to matter—a lot—is environment, and that’s something that can be controlled. For example, one study out of Harvard found that moving poor families into better neighborhoods greatly increased the chances that children would escape poverty when they grew up.
While it’s well documentedthat the children of the wealthy tend to grow up to be wealthy, researchers are still at work on how and why that happens. Perhaps they grow up to be rich because they genetically inherit certain skills and preferences, such as a tendency to tuck away money into savings. Or perhaps it’s mostly because wealthier parents invest more in their children’s education and help them get well-paid jobs. Is it more nature, or more nurture?
I agree: It’s why I wrote about how poorly iTunes performs for classical music listeners and, really, for anyone with a large music library.
But it’s worth spending time on iTunes’s specific design problems, which surpass those raised by managing a music library or listening to a specific genre. Toxic hellstew it may be, a new version of iTunes points at what kinds of technology are allowed to come out of Apple. Apple is the most valuable company in the world and an organization hailed for its good design. Why does iTunes fail at what it sets out to do?
An off-duty Medford, Massachusetts, cop threatened a motorist during a traffic stop. His colleagues seemed unperturbed by his behavior.
Three years ago in Medford, Massachusetts, narcotics detective Stephen LeBert calmly told the brother of a man he was arresting, “He’s selling drugs illegally. What they should do is just take him up to the railroad tracks and tell him to lay down.” He knew he was being recorded as he made the comment, as moments earlier, the footage shows him licking his finger and wiping saliva on the citizen’s lens. Medford Police Chief Leo Sacco says that he was counseled after the incident.
After watching that video, it comes as no great surprise that Detective LeBert was suspended earlier this week for another instance of misbehavior recorded by a citizen:
The footage, captured by the dashcam on a motorist’s vehicle, begins shortly after the driver got confused at a roundabout in an unfamiliar neighborhood and wound up briefly driving on the wrong side of the road (an error for which he would repeatedly apologize). At first, the motorist is terrified and starts to flee because Detective LeBert, who is driving an unmarked pickup truck and plainclothes, does not identify himself as a police officer, even as he is upset that the motorist doesn’t defer to him. “I’ll put a hole right through your fucking head,’’ LeBert says. “Pull your car over. I’ll put a hole right in your fucking head. I’ll put a hole right through your head.’’ The motorist begins to cooperate as soon as a badge is produced.
More on the F-16 and Cessna crash, and whether the collision of a military and a civilian aircraft was also a collision of cultures
Early this month an Air Force F-16, under the command of an experienced Air Force pilot, rammed into a small-civilian Cessna 150 propeller plane, not far from Charleston, South Carolina. The Air Force pilot ejected to safety; both people aboard the Cessna were killed.
The next three paragraphs are background for the pointed and interesting reader-messages I am about to quote. If you’re already up to speed with previous installments (one, two, three), you can skip ahead to the messages. They highlight an aspect of the modern military-civilian divide I had not considered before this episode.
In an original item on the crash, I noted some of the perils civilians could face when flying near designated military areas—even though this crash happened in ordinary uncontrolled airspace. That is, it occurred when neither plane was within a Military Operations Area (MOA), where civilian pilots are warned about risks from high-speed military aircraft, nor inside the controlled “Class C” airspace that surrounds Charleston’s airport. (Medium-sized commercial airports like Charleston’s typically are ringed by Class C airspace, so the controllers can sequence in the airline, cargo, civilian, military, and other traffic headed toward their runways. The very busiest airports, like LAX or JFK, are surrounded by larger zones of Class B airspace for their more complex traffic-control jobs. In case you’re wondering, Class A airspace is the realm above 18,000 feet where most jet travel occurs.)