By Christopher Georgopoulos
What if, hypothetically, fear of a Greek default cannot be contained? What will be the aftermath to the markets? To gold?
In the prequel to this article (European Default Inevitable — Sell Your Gold?), I discussed the fact that safe-haven-seeking investors could be in for a surprise when they run to buy gold after a Greek default and find huge sellers in the form of European sovereign nations. That article focused on events that would occur if a Greek default could be contained and the contagion that’s brought so much fear to the global system could be defeated. But what if, hypothetically, that fear cannot be contained? How will it happen, and what will be the aftermath to the markets? To gold?
The first signs of a detrimental contagion will be surprise losses, initially centered within the European banks and financial institutions. Articles such as, “European Stress Tests Underestimated Greek Exposure” will catch front-page attention. Quickly after, multiple small banks will become insolvent and the names of those banks — which many Americans have never heard of — will become as well-known as Citibank (C). Those defaults will spread to the larger European institutions that many of us know, and emergency midnight conferences will be highlighted on CNBC wherein the global financial community will be assured that all is sound. Sooner than later, a major default of one of these institutions will be revealed, and the bomb will be detonated.
This is when a 2008-type Lehman event reemerges, but this time on steroids. The fear driven from individual financial institutions will quickly morph into a fear for the nations of Europe. This fear will be derived from the recent questions concerning the lack of growth to combat their immense debt-to-revenues ratios. Anyone holding the bonds of these debt-ridden countries (i.e. Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy) will panic and sell, driving their yields even higher and their credit-worthiness even lower. Those countries will find that trying to fund their needs through bond markets has become even harder and more expensive, and their risk of default will skyrocket. Deep recessions will set in as they will impose even deeper austerity plans, and unemployment — already high — will grow. Because these country’s economies are co-dependent upon each other as trading partners and consumers, even the more financially stable countries will be adversely affected. The viability of the entire Union will be questioned, their currency devalued, and talk of secession will be popular. Even worse, the spread of these losses will not be restricted by their coastal boundaries. Many American and global banks still have exposure to their European counterparts as well as money market and mutual funds. New losses, which could include massive losses on European credit default swaps, must be accounted for, which could cause a new round of credit freezes. Just like a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, the foundation of the rapidly spreading fear will be a lack of confidence. Although this time around the solution won’t be as easy: Who will have the money to back-stop the back-stoppers?
If this were the scenario, the panic that the markets around the world would experience would be historic. The first wave of heavy selling (besides the aforementioned European bonds and stocks) would be centered in your most risky investments — the high-yielding and high-return emerging markets. Equities of the most stable markets would quickly follow. Money would flow from there to the “safest” of investments, such as US treasuries, US currency, and gold. As mentioned in my previous article, the price of gold would initially fall as Germany and the ECB try to contain the Greek default, but if the world’s confidence erodes and the defaults spread, the gold markets would once again be one of the few safe alternatives and could offer substantial upside.
The coming volatility of the markets could be unprecedented and swift. My firm has highlighted that the risks of serious market deprecation are likely with its SmartStops Risk Barometer Indicator.
You need to monitor the SPDR gold Trust (GLD), SPDR S&P 500 (SPY), Rydex Currency Shares Euro Trust (FXE) and the Vanguard MSCI Europe ETF (VGK).