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It's not about the banks

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Like Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind”, the banks believe their happiness trumps everyone else’s. The web of bank debt and sovereign bonds has come to dominate the agenda, to the extent that Italy’s government can be dismissed by foreign interests and replaced by a wholly unelected cabinet. ‘This is not the time for elections but the time for actions’, said Herman van Rompuy; no Abraham Lincoln he.
Not all banks have misbehaved, but many of the largest now appear to be ruined enterprises, determined to take rest of us down with them. I cannot explain why our politicians have poured resources into these colanders, except in terms of self-interest as current or future workers for the money establishment.

The banks’ self-absorption is assisted by news media such as the BBC, with e.g. their latest interactive infographic on the Eurodebt nexus. Here are some of the results, recast as a table – ranked by external debt to GDP:

The pundits’ talk is of the PIIGS, yet after Ireland the second worst case – by a long way – is the UK.
Something is wrong here. It’s not the facts (though in a fiat currency world, I’m not quite sure what a financial fact is), it’s the perspective: we’re forgetting to look at the balance sheet, i.e. the net international investment position (NIIP). Leslie Cuadra did this on Financial Sense at the end of August, and it paints a rather different picture. Of the 40 major countries he surveyed, the US is at the bottom, and Spain next up. Greece’s position is much better, scarcely worse than that of France.
We need to widen the lens a bit more. Here are Cuadra’s figures, interpreted in the light of the IMF’s data on GDP (click to enlarge):

INVESTMENT DISCLOSURE: None. Still in cash (and index-linked National Savings Certificates), and missing all those day-trading opportunities.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content.

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