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Auf Wiedersehen, Au Revoir, Greece!

Politics / Global Debt Crisis Nov 01, 2011 - 06:56 PM GMT

By: Axel_Merk

Politics

Greek Prime Minister Papandreou is throwing in the towel: by calling for a popular vote on austerity measures now, we believe he is almost assured a no vote. This allows Papandreou to say that he tried everything he could to avoid a default, but the people have spoken. Having said that, as we write this analysis, Papandreou appears to be changing his mind and may cancel the idea of a referendum as quickly as it came about. Still, the message is clear: a default is coming.


The sad part is that Greece has not been able to eliminate its primary deficit (the deficit before interest payments), so that it could have the potential to bounce back upon a default. On the contrary, Greece may fall into chaos or anarchy. The threat of such a scenario, in turn, may prompt European policy makers to instigate a Marshall Plan to rebuild Greece. While we can ponder about the Greek drama, it's paramount to contemplate the consequences for the rest of Europe and the euro.

First, the good news: market pressures should accelerate reform. Specifically, we expect bank recapitalizations will both be accelerated and increased in scope; if you can't save the sovereigns, at least make the banking system robust enough to absorb defaults. That's better than any insurance scheme policy makers can come up with.

Expect dramatic actions by policy makers, akin to those seen in October 2008. Just as policy makers did not initially heed the markets then, the pressure is now on to follow through with substance after last week's sketchy plan to save Europe, and ostensibly, the world. Specifically, pressure on Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi is mounting rather dramatically to engage in real pension reform. In comparison to both Spain and Ireland, which have seen relative market improvements, the markets have scolded Italy. While it is possible to turn the tide, the longer the wait, the more the market will demand.

What would alleviate the pressure is a commitment by the European Central Bank (ECB) to be the lender of last resort for Italy and Spain. However, that's unlikely to happen, at least not in the short term. As of today, the ECB has a new leader, Mario Draghi. As an Italian, he will be under pressure to be rather hawkish. His first press conference is this Thursday. He could announce a program to buy unlimited Eurozone debt, and sterilize such activities. However, such a move would take the pressure for reform away. And a central bank's role is not to make the life of policy makers easy. If Draghi were to pursue the route of least resistance, he could easily be labeled as, well, Italian, in his approach to central banking.

Any revised bailout fund for Italy is likely to cost France its AAA rating. France itself also has lots of homework to do. The lesson here is that policy makers always wait until the last minute to engage in reform; some day down the road, the market will focus on the U.S.; at that stage, the U.S. dollar may be under severe pressure: the U.S. dollar is more vulnerable given the significant current account deficit.

So for now, the drama continues. To summarize, expect more on bank recapitalization and reform. A wild card is whether the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) is going to be bolstered in earnest. For those politicians that still believe Greece can be held afloat: stop believing in fairy tails and move on. The market will.

As far as our positioning is concerned, we had increased our euro holdings ahead of the summit last week. We have since reduced it. We had also substantially reduced the yen ahead of that summit. Our outlook calls for substantial volatility in all currencies, except for possibly the yen; as such, our risk assessment is currently favoring the yen disproportionally. As October 2008 has taught us, though, rational investors may be forgiven for changing their view of the world on a daily basis... Stay tuned and subscribe to Merk Insights.

By Axel Merk

Manager of the Merk Hard, Asian and Absolute Return Currency Funds, www.merkfunds.com

Axel Merk, President & CIO of Merk Investments, LLC, is an expert on hard money, macro trends and international investing. He is considered an authority on currencies. Axel Merk wrote the book on Sustainable Wealth; order your copy today.

The Merk Absolute Return Currency Fund seeks to generate positive absolute returns by investing in currencies. The Fund is a pure-play on currencies, aiming to profit regardless of the direction of the U.S. dollar or traditional asset classes.

The Merk Asian Currency Fund seeks to profit from a rise in Asian currencies versus the U.S. dollar. The Fund typically invests in a basket of Asian currencies that may include, but are not limited to, the currencies of China, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

The Merk Hard Currency Fund seeks to profit from a rise in hard currencies versus the U.S. dollar. Hard currencies are currencies backed by sound monetary policy; sound monetary policy focuses on price stability.

The Funds may be appropriate for you if you are pursuing a long-term goal with a currency component to your portfolio; are willing to tolerate the risks associated with investments in foreign currencies; or are looking for a way to potentially mitigate downside risk in or profit from a secular bear market. For more information on the Funds and to download a prospectus, please visit www.merkfunds.com.

Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks and charges and expenses of the Merk Funds carefully before investing. This and other information is in the prospectus, a copy of which may be obtained by visiting the Funds' website at www.merkfunds.com or calling 866-MERK FUND. Please read the prospectus carefully before you invest.

The Funds primarily invest in foreign currencies and as such, changes in currency exchange rates will affect the value of what the Funds own and the price of the Funds' shares. Investing in foreign instruments bears a greater risk than investing in domestic instruments for reasons such as volatility of currency exchange rates and, in some cases, limited geographic focus, political and economic instability, and relatively illiquid markets. The Funds are subject to interest rate risk which is the risk that debt securities in the Funds' portfolio will decline in value because of increases in market interest rates. The Funds may also invest in derivative securities which can be volatile and involve various types and degrees of risk. As a non-diversified fund, the Merk Hard Currency Fund will be subject to more investment risk and potential for volatility than a diversified fund because its portfolio may, at times, focus on a limited number of issuers. For a more complete discussion of these and other Fund risks please refer to the Funds' prospectuses.

This report was prepared by Merk Investments LLC, and reflects the current opinion of the authors. It is based upon sources and data believed to be accurate and reliable. Opinions and forward-looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. This information does not constitute investment advice. Foreside Fund Services, LLC, distributor.

Axel Merk Archive

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