Weil on Finance: Germany’s Irish Shell Firms

Here are links to my morning reading.

Good morning, View fans. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving weekend. Here's a look at what I've been reading this morning.

A moment of schadenfreude in Dublin

Greece isn't the only euro-area country that used accounting tricks in an effort to make its budget look better. Germany did it, too. You can tell the Irish Times had a lot of fun with this piece, which was a follow-up to an article this morning in the German magazine Der Spiegel: "German politician Peer Steinbruck -- one of the fiercest critics of Ireland's tax regime -- used Irish letter box companies when finance minister to try to balance the German budget through financial engineering. Mr. Steinbruck -- an unsuccessful candidate in the recent German election -- and his Social Democratic Party have been particularly vocal critics of Ireland's tax laws. He used the recent election campaign to attack failed finance market alchemy and condemn `tax oases' such as Ireland and the Netherlands."

Puerto Ricans fleeing for the mainland

The jobless rate is almost 15 percent, and the government is drowning in debt. Now Puerto Rico's population is shrinking as residents head for the U.S. From Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post: "The island's problems have ignited an exodus not seen here since the 1950s, when 500,000 people left for jobs on the mainland. Now Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are again leaving in droves."

What matters most in the capital markets

It's not fundamentals. It's Janet Yellen, who takes office Feb. 1 as head of the Federal Reserve, pending Senate confirmation. Wall Street Journal columnist Jim Browning writes: "Doomsday theories are in bloom. Analysts are worrying about a bubble in the stock market, a bubble in the bond market, fading earnings growth, the risk of economic slowdown in China. All are legitimate concerns, but at the moment what investors care about is simply WWJD: What Will Janet Do."

Meanwhile, banks are pulling back on buying Treasuries

From Cordell Eddings and Daniel Kruger of Bloomberg News: "Never before have America's banks been so wary of risking their cash deposits on U.S. government debt." Relative to the amount of cash on their books, banks' holdings of U.S. debt are at their lowest level since the Fed began compiling the data 40 years ago, they write. "With net interest margins falling to the lowest since 2006, banks are spurning Treasuries and hoarding unprecedented amounts of cash on prospects that loan demand will revive as a strengthening economy leads the Fed to reduce its own debt purchases. Five years of cheap-money policies also have depressed yields and made it less attractive for banks to buy Treasuries as a way to bolster income."

Whomever Microsoft picks as its new CEO, this may be a sign of the challenges ahead

John Hempton of Bronte Capital writes that he recently bought a subscription to Microsoft 365 Home Office Premium for 12 Australian dollars ($10.95) per month, and that he just received his first invoice. It came by traditional snail-mail from Singapore to Australia: "I can't even begin to grasp the level of management dysfunction that allows a tech giant to put a piece of dead tree through a printing press, into an envelope and onto a jet plane every month to give an unwanted receipt for an amount equal to three coffees. This is more than a decade after Bill Gates said that the Internet was central to everything that they were going to do."

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