The European Central Bank is being Cagey

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The European Central Bank is being cagey. Recently, Jean-Claude Trichet tried to explain himself. We do not have the same mandate as the U.S. Fed, he put forth. The Fed is meant to do two things at once – protect the value of the dollar…and maintain a healthy, prosperous economy. Our mission at the ECB, he went on, is merely to protect the value of the currency.

Accordingly, the ECB has been reluctant to cut rates in order to help the economy. And consequently, the euro (EUR) has gone up against the dollar…and the pound.

In today’s news, the ECB warns that the U.S. Fed may not be able to continue cutting rates: “crashing dollar may stop Fed cuts,” says the headline.

Against gold and oil, the dollar has already crashed. You could buy an ounce of gold for just over $260 when George W. Bush first began using the White House toilet on a regular basis. That was not quite seven years ago. As of yesterday, you’d pay $902 for an ounce. Against gold, the buck has lost 60% of its value in less than two presidential terms. Against oil, it has taken a similar shellacking. Even against the euro – Europe’s Esperanto money – the greenback has been cut in half, more or less, over the same period of time.

And now the whole world is wise to America’s game. When the voters feel pinched, the feds give them more money. But the money they give them competes for value directly with the dollars the foreigners have saved. The Asians, for example, sweat and save…and stick the dollars in their vaults. Now, they have trillions of them. But they wake up every morning and find their dollars are losing value. One day, a dollar buys one 800th of an ounce of gold. A few days later, it will only bring one 900th. One week, a dollar will buy one 90th of a barrel of oil. The next week, a barrel of oil costs $100.

So the ECB feels it is only fair to give warning. ‘Don’t expect us to keep protecting the quality of your money. If you keep putting it out, we’re going to sell it.’

Trichet is right about the theory. But he is probably wrong about the practice. Property prices on the fringe of Europe – in Ireland and Spain, notably – are falling faster than those in the United States. It won’t be long before the squeals of pain – in various foreign languages – reach the ECB too.

Spain and Ireland benefited hugely from the European Union. Suddenly, the Irish and the Spanish were able to borrow money at rates set by the Germans. They were low rates – the kind of rates the Germans, with the financial discipline and economic rigor, deserved. When such rates were on tap in Ireland, it set the whole country into major boom. Everyone wanted to buy property. And after a decade, Irish property was the most expensive in Europe…and the Irish, improbably, were Europe’s richest people. In Spain, the circumstances were different. But the effect was the same – Spain enjoyed a boom of the sort not seen in Iberia since the galleons came back from the New World with Inca gold.

But now what? Irish houses fell about 10% last year. We don’t have figures on Spanish property prices, but word on the Costa del Sol is that they are falling…and so are the shares of the large builders who have been putting up apartments at a furious pace for the last 10 years. And the editors of International Living magazine tell me that they’re preparing a special feature article on Spanish real estate prices in the next issue. “If you’re looking for bargains,” they say, “that’s the place to look.”

What will Trichet do in the face of such America-like problems? Will he hold fast to his principles and refuse to cut rates? Or will he take a page of the Alan Greenspan Manual of Successful Central Banking and fall into line with his counterparts in Washington and London? Like them, will he favor the quantity side of the balance…and let the quality go to Hell?

We don’t know. And we’d still rather hold euros than dollars…but the rate of increase in the European money supply is not much different from that of the dollar – about three or four times GDP increases. We prefer the yen to the euro…and the euro to the dollar…and the dollar to the pound…but we’d rather hold gold than any of them.

Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.
Bill Bonner

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Comments

  1. Not by a long shot are prices in Ireland the most expensive in Europe. Average per sq meter is 5000 Euro. Residential apartments or flats in Prime Central London are among the priciest in the world, at US$21,800 to US$36,200 (£10,960 – £18,214 or €16,305 – €27,095) per sq. m. Prime central London include Belgravia, Chelsea, Mayfair, Notting Hill, Knightsbridge, Regent’s Park, South Kensington, St. John’s Woods, and St. James.

    Prices in other luxurious areas in London such as Wimbledon, Hampstead, Richmond, and Wandsworth range from US$14,142 to US$19,361 (£8,675 – £9,719 or €10,560 – €14,458) per sq. m., also among the highest in the world.

    New York comes in second place with property prices in Upper Manhattan between US$13,270 and US$22,923. Apartment prices in Lower Manhattan are around US$12,510 – US$20,456.

    Moscow comes in third place with apartment prices ranging from US$10,764 to US$20,506.

    Other cities in Europe that are among the top ten most expensive cities for condominium buyers are Paris, Barcelona and Geneva. Condominium prices in Paris are around US$12,930 to US$18,070 per sq. m.

    In Spain, prices of flats in Barcelona are between US$9,160 and US$9,870. Prices of apartments in Madrid are lower than Barcelona, at US$6,535 – US$ 8,000.

    In Switzerland, prices of flats in Geneva are around US$6,870 – US$10,400 per sq. m. Prices in Geneva are higher compared to Zurich, US$5,900 – US$9,830.

    Of the three German cities included in the study, Munich is the most expensive with prices of flats at US$3,485 – US$3,700 per sq. m.; followed by Frankfurt at US$2,360 – US$3,300 per sq. m. Property prices in Berlin are still relatively subdued at US$1,840 – US$2,600 per sq. m.

    Residential apartments in Istanbul, Turkey are among the cheapest in Europe at around US$1,850 to US$2,500 per sq.

    Tony Glavin
    January 18, 2008
    Reply
  2. Here is all the latest price details from top to bottom in Europe. Monaco €24,900
    UK €18,108
    Russia €11,501
    France €10,014
    Netherlands €6,667
    Liechtenstein €6,333
    Italy €6,083
    Switzerland €5,534
    Spain €5,160
    Norway €5,117
    Ireland €5,000
    Luxembourg €3,934
    Lithuania €3,792
    Denmark €3,784
    Finland €3,333
    Poland €3,292
    Sweden €3,167
    Latvia €3,020
    Austria €3,000
    Ukraine €2,807
    Andorra €2,583
    Portugal €2,517
    Slovenia €2,467
    Turkey €2,467
    Germany €2,462
    Estonia €2,383
    Czech Rep. €2,367
    Romania €2,350
    Greece €2,244
    Croatia €2,215
    Cyprus €2,167
    Belgium €2,150
    Malta €1,967
    Hungary €1,792
    Bulgaria €1,487
    Slovak Rep. €1,292
    Macedonia €1,133
    Moldova €902

    Tony Glavin
    January 18, 2008
    Reply
  3. windmills are on the hills…..watermills are in the valleys……ben the miller sets his sails/rates to induce the winds of confidence….jean-claude the miller sets his sluicegate to accommodate the waters of necessity….but there’s a new miller up the way….the ebbs and flows of confidence and necessity mean nothing to him…the everflowing non-relenting servitude on the human-powered treadmill keeps his mill producing……

    Reply

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