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Greece, Hungary and Italy – a nexus of debt failure?

It is my opinion that no matter what Sarkozy and Merkel agree, it will not be enough and will not work. Why? There is one simple fact which is moving like a wall of mud towards our leaders and their mad scramblings – there is not enough money to pay the debts. And creating more debts – no matter what time frame, no matter how far in to the future they reach – will not solve the problem because interest on those debts is accumulating faster than we are growing and will continue to outstrip growth unless another bubble can be inflated that is far, far larger than all those we have ridden since the 1980’s.

Signs of this basic fact are now everywhere. Here are three which lock together to form a kind of rudimentary trigger.

Last night I heard from a banker friend that people in Germany are beginning to get a somewhat incredible letter from HVB (Hypovereinsbank – now part of UniCredit).  The letter says – and I have not seen the letter myself, so you may chose to hold this as ‘rumour’ for the moment – that HVB offers to increase to 3% in the interest paid on their account, IF they agree to let the bank hold their money without being covered by any government deposit scheme.

It’s so bizarre you have to think about it for a second. Why would UniCredit ask its customers to do this? I asked my friend and the answer could be simple.  I say ‘could be’ because frankly neither of us is sure of the legality of such a request. But here is what we came up with as the only thing we could think of that explained the bizzare letter.

Banks are required by Basel 2 to retain in the bank something around 8% of any deposit as their ‘contribution’ to the deposit insurance scheme.  If a depositor agrees to waive this protection could it be that the bank gains a massive 8% new money to invest?  If so then ithe banks could certainly afford to siphon off 1% out of the 8% as the incentive for the depositor.

Question? How utterly desperate does a bank have to be to write letters to clients to ask them to waive deposit insurance? How close to destruction must a bank be to risk the utter ruination of everyone involved that would come from depositors losing absolutely everything?

The answer comes from an article ZeroHedge ( I recommend reading the whole piece) lifted from a Hungarian web site called Index.hu. The piece is an Op Ed written by the current  head of UniCredit global securities Attila Szalay-Berzeviczy, who was previously Chairman of the Hungarian stock exchange.

What he says in the article is,

“the euro is “practically dead” and Europe faces a financial earthquake from a Greek default”… “The euro is beyond rescue”… “The only remaining question is how many days the hopeless rearguard action of European governments and the European Central Bank can keep up Greece’s spirits.”….”A Greek default will trigger an immediate “magnitude 10” earthquake across Europe.”…”Holders of Greek government bonds will have to write off their entire investment, the southern European nation will stop paying salaries and pensions and automated teller machines in the country will empty “within minutes.”

Remember this man is in one of the top jobs of one of the world’s largest banks and THE bank which will bring Italy down. It is the bank which is massively exposed to East European debt in part through its lending in Greece and in part through its other subsidiary Bank Austria which is itself one of the banks most exposed to East European bad debts.

Which brings us to the final part of the trigger.  It is part of what Mr SzalayBerzeviczy refers to in his article and is I suspect a major reason for his outburst. Hungary is about to default. While all eyes have been on Greece and its certain default, it seems the markets and certainly the media have not been paying attention to humble Hungary. And yet over the last few months it has been getting more and more desperate. I wrote a few weeks ago how the Swiss decision to peg the Swiss franc to the Euro was probably all that saved Hungary from imploding some while ago. But it was obviously not enough. Hungary’s debts, like those of Greece, are too deeply rooted and widespread throughout domestic, government and commercial sectors. What Hungary did on 19th September was to pas a law allowing Hungarians who took out loans in Swiss Francs, which they cannot now pay back,  to pay  back the loan in Florints at a heavily discounted exchange rate. The discount will be up to 22%.

This is a default. It is unilaterally telling the banks they will take up to a 22% loss on their loans. If the loans were securitized and sold on then those holding those securities will take a 22% ‘haircut’.

Hungary is not a massive player, its loans are not in the league of Spain or Italy. But what matters is not how much they owe but who to and how parlous a state they are in. One of the countries whose banks operated widely in Hungary is…Greece. Another is UniCredit directly and via Bank Austria. If you want to read more about the railway of debt running East to West I wrote about it in Dominoes Falling form the East.

The Greek banks cannot withstand heavy losses in Hungary. I don’t think UniCredit can either.




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37 Responses to Greece, Hungary and Italy – a nexus of debt failure?

  1. Neil September 28, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    Beat me to it!

    Meanwhile, a German banking source quoted on the Slog:

    ““There has been in the last five or six days in Berlin and Paris something of an awakening. First, Frau Merkel is in a corner. She will get her EFSF expansion bill through one way or another I think. But the word coming back from the Troika is 100% opposed to what Papandreou and Venizelos said in public yesterday. Despite some spin, Greek progress is negligible. She daren’t give any more money to a nation already seen by most Germans as feckless….***and she is fully briefed on the situation in Portugal, which is now critical***.

    “Second, the political, legal and banking opposition to bailouts within Germany is gaining strength….to the point where even partaking in the expanded 440 billion euro EFSF fund may become politically and perhaps constitutionally impossible. Merkel has had the riot act read to her by CDU colleagues: you may want to go down forever on this issue, but we don’t.

    “Finally, Paris is at last being brutally frank about not only its disastrous level of exposure to Greek debt, but also its direct responsibility for guaranteeing the losses in the event of Greek default. The Elysee Palace is in a full-blown panic about this. Under such circumstances, Sarkozy will not even contemplate giving more money to mortally wounded member States. His focus now is 100% on ensuring the French banking system survives.”


    The Slogger ends by asking: “National self-interest is well and truly back. Are these two founder nations actually going to make themselves totally safe…and then cut the rope?”

  2. richard in norway September 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    It is annoying that while everyone is concentrating on Greece all the other countries which are or have gone down the tubes are not talked about. Do we have a list, so far I got

    Belrussia(not sure whether to include this one because the problems are different I think)
    Poland? (I read a post that said it was as bad as Greece but pinch of salt
    Spain is getting there

    I’m sure there are others, I should have put the % decline in living standards beside each one but I don’t know that. I heard on norweigen radio about a year ago this economist saying that would be a wave of crisis, he said it had started at the edges and would work its way slowly into the central economy’s bringing with it a 25 to 50% cut in living standards. Well we can see he was right but most folk think it won’t get so bad in the UK, and folk in Norway don’t think it will touch them at all

    • Neil September 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

      Yet another Greek rescue plan (“Eureca”), dreamed up by the Germans, first two prongs of which are:

      “Greece to confine all of its public assets (banks, real estate, telephone, ports …) in a common structure, a sort of equivalent of the Treuhandanstalt in Germany established in 1990 to privatize some 8,500 East German companies, these assets are estimated at 125 billion euros, according to the valuations already known on a number of properties listed for “official” privatization.

      This structure is purchased by a European institution, financed by the member states…”


      I’m sure the Greeks will go along with that (not)…

    • richard in norway September 28, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

      According to zerohedge I can add Ukraine to the list

        • SidFinster September 29, 2011 at 10:29 am #

          Capitalist lies. (Full disclosure: I live in Ukraine and follow the economic situation pretty closely. I also have some contacts here who are in the know.)

          Ukraine has a lot of very serious problems; its biggest problem is that 38% of Ukraine’s foreign currency earnings are from steel exports, and steel is a very cyclical commodity, with steel prices and sales volumes closely tied to world economic development. Other than steel, Ukraine exports grain, blondes, cement, and some basic chemicals, all of which are relatively low value-added and all of which are cyclical.

          Because only something like 1% of the citizens of this country pays (16%) income tax, and noone other than me pays income tax based on their real earnings, the government is very dependent on VAT and exports for revenue.

          Ukraine also has the IMF demanding increased austerity, namely increasing gas prices. The government is resisting this, as it will hurt the government’s financial backers (industrialists), not to mention voters (factory workers and pensioners).

          This after the IMF forced Ukraine to adopt pension reform. Admittedly, the Ukrainian pension system was incredibly inefficient, expensive and corrupt, but cutting payments did nothing to endear the government to the pensioners, who were a major source of support to the current government.

          Ukraine and the IMF are heading for a showdown over gas prices, while at the same time Ukraine tries to reach a bargain with Russia over gas supply. Ukraine probably is betting that either the IMF will knuckle under (again) rather than let Ukraine fail and take the local subsidiaries of German, French, Austrian, Greek and Italian banks with them, or that a deal to buy some breathing room can be reached with Russia.

          The IMF has a history of taking a tough line with Ukraine and then renegotiating after the country flouts its agreements, especially when the government was run by someone ostensibly pro-western (unlike the current government). Russia will demand fewer “good government” conditions, but Ukraine has less leverage here.

          At any rate, this is a very risky game, akin to holding oneself hostage. Ukraine has been storing foreign reserves for this showdown, but those will not last long, especially if faced with a combination of either the IMF or Russia playing hardball and steel prices staying soft.

          Even if none of the above happens, it still will not fix Ukraine’s underlying problems; energy inefficiency, tax policy, dependence on export of low value-added commodities, a bandit state (note that the nature of the state here does not change, no matter who is in charge).

          Ukraine is in for a rough ride, and may fall apart. Still, Ukraine will not collapse today.

          • richard in norway September 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

            How much has the standard of living fell in the last 3/4 years in the Ukraine.

          • SidFinster September 30, 2011 at 10:43 am #

            Not as much as you think, but the actual amount (as opposed to what shows up in the official statistics) is hard to measure.

            Although the official numbers here are invariably cooked and are also more optimistic than the facts would warrant, between 40-70% of the entire economy is in the “black” or “grey” areas, depending.

            Hence Ukraine is MUCH richer than any official numbers would suggest. To give one example, full-sized 4×4 Mercedes/AMG Gelaendewagen are about as remarkable as Opels are in Germany. All the time, we see cars here that I thought existed only in the pages of magazines for single men and not in real life. Then remember, all of those cars from the most expensive to the most humble were bought for cash; banks here will rarely make car loans, unless you are connected, and then you don’t need a loan (interest rates have long been in nosebleed territory).

            Also, all newer cars here cost between 30-50% more than a comparable car in Europe does.

            Ukrainian real estate is still grossly overpriced, although there is a huge disconnect between what sellers want and what buyers are willing to pay. Still, a lot of property changes hands for EUR 200,000-500,000.

            Again, almost always for cash. Not as in “bank transfer” but as in “cash,” as in you show up with a suitcase full of banknotes like in a Mafia movie.

            Everything else here is expensive too, sellers in many markets cooperate to keep prices high, but people keep buying what they sell as fast as they can get it in.

            This happens not just in Kiev, but in any large Ukrainian city. Odessa makes Kiev look like a farm village, wealth-wise. Big money, big violence, big willie players.

    • MrShigemitsu September 28, 2011 at 9:37 pm #


      • richard in norway September 28, 2011 at 10:25 pm #


        Not yet but soon

  3. hedgey September 28, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    thanks for this. As luck would have it, I have $ in the subsidiaries of both Unicredit and the equivalent player in the Greek bank pecking order, in the country where I live. While I remain relatively confident in the ability of the (nonEuro member) government here to actually pay out on the loss insurance guarantee figure, the $ above that amount has been making me restless for months now…and of course the reassurances I keep getting from my bank managers are to be taken with a large measure of salt…

    today’s article kind of cuts straight to the chase, both with the German angle and the Hungarian one too…

    any advice you would care to offer would be greatly appreciated…
    is it time to pull the plug, based on the old adage he who panics first…?

    • richard in norway September 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

      He who panics first panics best, but you are lucky you still have time to do something other than panic

    • MrShigemitsu September 28, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

      What meagre savings I had got transferred from Santander to the Co-op Bank a while ago.

      Not sure it makes any difference though – if it all goes down, does anyone truly believe the FSCS would really be able to bail out everyone in the UK to the tune of up to £85K?

      Wondering whether I should be keeping a grand or two in a metal box under the floorboards and stock up on lentils!!!

      Is that too extreme? I don’t want to turn into a paranoid, Zerohedge survivalist.

      Then again, the inhabitants of Buenos Aires might have thought the same thing just before TSHTF in 2001…..

      • richard in norway September 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

        Do it

        You not getting any interest on your money or very little and the risk/reward ratio is not good, but you need to tell someone where you stashed it just in case, it should be someone you trust and someone a long way away. Someone like me!

        • richard in norway September 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

          The middle class in Argentina got wiped out literally overnight, and we saw that some Greeks had learnt from that and have been moving their money to swiss accounts. It is scary, I laugh as well at the nutters on zerohedge but at least they have a plan

        • bill40 September 28, 2011 at 10:52 pm #


          I used to snigger too. But I’m afraid that guns,grub and gold could be the way forward. Along with plenty of ammo and a secure compound.

      • Dave September 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

        Hi Mr Shigemitsu , another 5kg bag of lentils, €6.30 at Intermarché looked a good deal to me on monday. I have just spent almost the last10K of savings on 27cms of cellulose insulation in my pitched roof and new slates which I’m still laying .

        The lentils are a bit of a joke, but any investing in energy-saving/autonomy is looking one of the best deals . I got no subsidies because it was all ( OAP & son and friends) DIY.

        Richard’s 6.06PM post mentioned a 25 to 50% reduction in living standards. Many of us here have foreseen for a long time some inevitable reduction due to the criminally mismanaged response to, and often encouragement of, globalisation.

        A reduction needn’t necessarily hurt so much as it appears, with changes in spending patterns etc, but what is criminal (again) is that we are definitely not all in this together.


  4. bill40 September 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    Richard in Norway.

    I am confident you can add Belgium to the list, by all accounts Dexia is in worse shape than Unicredit which is saying something. From reading about the ESEF expansion fund would only cover Greece and a small part of Italy. But again I come to the Question how can Geece be causing such shockwaves, the minnow that it is.

    The chain reaction, caused by leverage, and geography would be immense. That means Cyprus goes mammary glands up too. Then the contagion hits Italy,France and Germany, with repurcussions for the UK and USA.

    At this point it will be everyman for himself. Even if the BBC trader waS A HOAX HE STILL TOLD THE TRUTH IN PRETTY MUCH THE SAME WAY WE ALL TRY TO (oops caps!!) which is why we are here.

    The American answer is more leverage which is what got us here in the first place. As Golem says we need more money but the only source of money is debt which nobody can service, never mind repay.

    Greece should be irrelevant on a worldwide scale but here we are. I have tended to agree with an autuam 2010 endgame but it may come a year early. Anyone of Richards list may set it in motion, it can’t be long now.

    hang on to your hats chaps.

  5. Golem XIV September 28, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    I have a very sober and level headed friend who I have known for decades. He has been buying gold and burying it. He is not a survivalist. He is a very upstanding member of his community. He lives in America and simply does not trust those who hold power in Washington and in Wall Street.

    A sign of the times I think.

    It is time to be afraid. Not of a bank collapse. The sooner that happens the better off we’ll all be in the medium, never mind the long term. The longer teis drags on teh greater the debt we are being concreted into.

    No, it’s time to be afraid of what might rip its way out from inside our democractic body politic. Time to seriously consider what undemocratic survival instinct the wealthy and the powerful have been incubating in there unseen for the last decade or two at least.

    • MrShigemitsu September 28, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

      To be honest I think that’s already been happening under our noses. 30 years of Thatcherite economics for one.

      Civil liberties have been slowly eroded for decades – there really isn’t any genuine democracy any more in the UK, unless you want to vote centre right, that is.

      The thing that WOULD worry me about banking collapse would be an immediate calling in of loans or overdrafts, which would sink many households. And the consequent fire sale of assets, to be quickly hoovered up by the wealthy.

      So what sort of draconian measures are you alluding to, Golem? Or do you think you’ll give ’em ideas if you reveal them?

  6. Mike Hall September 29, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    Interview with Michael Hudson, always worth listening to (also about Europe, not just US)


  7. PhilJoMar September 29, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    I was in Buenos Aires in December 2001 (the President’s helicopter even flew over my head as he exited stage left off the top of the Casa Rosada) and although I saw people sleeping rough just off the railway lines, I saw a lot of begging, and I was mugged for a few patacones (a BA currency), I was surprised how much normal life was going on. It did get worse before it got better but the people themselves were pretty resilient and I do not doubt we will be as well. If TSHTF I also predict there will be a lot of people discovering a lot more meaning to life as they dig their Keynesian holes or whatever else the govt. will find for people to do to buy their food and energy. If we don’t panic we can avoid revolutionary chaos and discover society exists. I’m actually for revolution but I know most people are not as prepared to look into that potential abyss as I am. Change is coming though but I don’t think we need to be as frightened as the rich clearly are. We have each other. They have their flunkies who will be deserting their posts before breakfast… Enjoy rich people enjoy. Bought and paid for. Enjoy.

  8. Maria dos Santos September 29, 2011 at 5:08 am #

    Chelsea,Kensington,Mayfair and Belgravia look like ripe targets,even with their heavy secret police.Unidentified police stalk and walk the upper echelons of society,for how long?As a cleaner in these rich neigbourhoods,I have observed over the last two years the installation of at least one hundred very large safes and strong rooms.Anecdotally,friends in the same game,have also witnessed a large number of safes and strong rooms being installed,along with a new group of hard faced security teams.The “teams”now know where millions of ounces of Gold are,as do I and every cleaner in London.The oligarchs really believe London is safe as long as the secret police stalk the capital.I would have thought the recent “riots”would have put paid to that.Just recently one oligarch has emptied his strong room and dismissed his security team.Perhaps he has been digging holes in his back yard!

  9. Neil September 29, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    Hope you’re not posting under you real name, Maria! Brave if you are…

    “A Panorama Of The European Debt System” – The Definitive Primer Of The Eurozone – from Morgan Stanley…


    83 pages, so you may not have time to get through it before the crucial (?) German vote 😉

    • Neil September 29, 2011 at 10:25 am #

      Corriere della Sera publishes a private letter from the ECB to Berlusconi ordering him to get Italy’s finances in order pdq, with seven specific measures:

      http://www.corriere.it/economia/11_settembre_29/trichet_draghi_inglese_304a5f1e-ea59-11e0-ae06-4da866778017.shtml?fr=correlati (translated)

      The letter is dated 5 August, shortly before the ECB started buying Italian debt in order to drive down the country’s borrowing costs.

      The Telegraph asks: “What will Italian voters make of the ECB over-ruling their democratically-elected government in this way?”

      The leak is obviously a populist move by the increasingly desperate Berlusconi.

  10. Martin September 29, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    re survivalism –

    Maybe ‘Arnos Grove neighborhood watch scheme’ will take on a new meaning 🙂 🙂

  11. Charles Wheeler September 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    An interesting blast from the past:

    “It is my view that the European project for arriving at economic and monetary union (EMU) should be regarded as the combined result of a radical change, since the late 1970s, in the principal economic policy objective of the major industrial countries – an epoch-making shift in emphasis away from unemployment and poverty to the objective of reducing inflation; and of the theoretical restoration that has occurred over the last twenty years, with the revival of pre-Keynesin conceptions in macroeconomic thinking. This view, which I have discussed elsewhere …, makes it reasonable to believe also that the project’s fortunes will reflect developments in these two ambits. Specifically, one can sensibly expect the EMU project to be definitively abandoned as soon as the social impact of actual unemployment will again make the pursuit of its reduction each government’s main focus of concern, at the same time leading to a rejection of the ‘natural’ rate concept of the economy.

    This process of gradual abandonment of the project, however, is likely to be delayed as regards countries in which the EMU is seen as a means of solving a ‘commitment problem’ in their national economic policies – an irreplaceable source of discipline, that is to say, with respect to inflation, government budget deficits and government debt.” — Massimo Pivetti (1999). “High Public Debt and Inflation: On the ‘Disciplinary’ View of European Monetary Union”. In Value, Distribution and Capital: Essays in Honour of Pierangelo Garegnani (edited by Gary Mongiovi and Fabio Petri), Routledge.

    Cited: http://goo.gl/WyLdj

  12. keekster September 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    I’ve read Fernando Ferfal Aguirre’s book. Nothing wrong with being prepared for a banking/economic collapse. And if it doesn’t happen no big deal. You can always sell your gold and put your cash back in the bank and eat your stash of food. Our economic system no longer fits with a world of finite resources (perhaps never did). Only a collapse will remove the power of the wealth elite and allow change to a more sustainable lifestyle. However, any transition will not be smooth, because the wealthy will resist to the bitter end I’m afraid. If there is any truth to Ravi Batra’s recent book it’s the middle classes that hold the key to the aquisitors grip on power. But as they are reduced to the level of subsistence they will no longer trust the ruling elite and look for alternatives. This time they are better educated and informed, than previous crises. Thanks to sites like this.

    • richard in norway September 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

      Some of us working class folk are also better informed than in previous crises as well

  13. Neil September 29, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    Golem: “It is time to be afraid. Not of a bank collapse. […] No, it’s time to be afraid of what might rip its way out from inside our democratic body politic. Time to seriously consider what undemocratic survival instinct the wealthy and the powerful have been incubating in there unseen for the last decade or two at least.”

    Do we really have a democratic body politic? In 1976, Lord Hailsham described Britain as an “elective dictatorship” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elective_dictatorship ). Since then, it’s become increasingly obvious – even to the editor of the Telegraph – that that dictatorship is exercised by a professional political “elite” in the interests, precisely, of the wealthy and powerful.

    But you’re right that we should be afraid of the kind of politics which might emerge – and on the international level, is already emerging – from the ever-deepening financial crisis. Obviously, the situation differs from country to country, but one can’t help thinking of what happened in the 1930s.

    We need to be prepared for that too. With the major parties so compromised and discredited, a new political space may be opening up. It’s up to us how it will be filled, for good or ill.

    PS I note that Avaaz has finally latched on to the people against the banks issue, at least in Europe. To quote their latest email:

    “Collapsing economies often lead to social and political upheaval and away from the world we want. Recessions bring protectionism, nationalism, racism, and a collapse in social solidarity. Today, by building a European movement against the banks and in support of people, we can draw a line in the sand and demand solutions that strengthen communities not corporations, restoring hope and humanity to the world.”

    But it’ll take a hell of a lot more than hopelessly vague petition declarations like this:

    “As citizens concerned about the economic crisis and massive austerity cuts, we urge you to take bold action to save our economies. Europe must face down the banking lobbies, stop the cuts and urgently introduce the people-centred spending and regulation policies that will secure our future. ”


  14. keekster September 29, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Good point. To be honest Richard, Ive never been convinced there is a middle class. But simply, those that work to live (the working class), and those that dont have to work to live (the rich). The working class of course is made up of a group of people with various amounts of skills, training and education.
    Ravi Batra reckons there are 4 groups, the aquistors, the intellectuals, the warriors, and the labourers. And that the first three take it in ‘turns’ to rule. We shall have to see if he is right. Greece will be the test bed.

  15. Golem XIV September 29, 2011 at 3:51 pm #


    I’d quite forgotten that quote from Hailsham. Very accurate indeed.

    As you say it is up to us. I think Avaaz is way behind the curve. Worrying as it is to say, I think there is no one much ahead of us here, and people like us on other web sites. It truely is up to us.

    Oddly I don’t feel daunted. If anything I feel …calm. How about others? Are we ready?

    • richard in norway September 29, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

      No I’m afraid I’m not ready but then I never have been. But I reckon and hope that I will deal with things ok when it comes to it

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