Europe Must Choose

By Delusional Economics, who is unhappy with the current dumbed-down vested interest economic reporting the Australian public is force fed on a daily basis, and takes pleasure in re-reporting the news with “bad” parts removed, and a bit of contrarian balance thrown in. Cross posted from MacroBusiness

The big news from Europe last night was the “surprising” PMI numbers. But as usual the news also goes behind the headline.

The PMI again highlighted the underlying issues and delusion in Europe. As I have spoken about many times before, the European model is based on the fact that Germany is an industrial powerhouse which has suppressed its wages in comparison to its production compared to its neighbours. This has made it a large net exporter into Europe and therefore appear to be running a sustainable economy. But for that to be the case then other European nations needed to be net importers. Given the common currency, countries within Europe with differing productive capacity had a choice between labour markets or debt markets as their response mechanism. Given the liberalisation of the banking system and the illusion of credit risk symmetry across Europe many nations took the path of least resistance. Debt. By doing so they allowed Germany to continue to export into Europe under the illusion of sustainability, but as we have now seen this was a fool’s game. Weak political will in fiscal policy, the loss of national monetary control, de-regulated cross-boader banking and the single currency created an environment of massive imbalance.

We have now reached the point where that imbalance has lead to a crisis. The debt that accumulated in the periphery based on this model has now reached a point where it is unserviceable. But this has been a symbiotic relationship. The net exporters need the net importers to continually take on debt or they cannot finance the purchasing of their manufactures or maintain their banking systems that are based on loans to the indebted nations to continually fund those purchases. Demand that the periphery stop spending and down goes the whole ship. That is what we are now seeing.

Anyone making assumptions that there will be a recovery based on anything but a bailout or a write-off simply doesn’t understand the macroeconomic environment of Europe. That is why I have been stating for some time that this is an issue of leadership. Europe must choose its poison, it simply has no other choice.

Yet, even members of the ECB seemed to be completely confused about this point:

European Central Bank Vice President Vitor Constancio said sustained bond purchases by the central bank would only delay the fiscal adjustments that governments need to make.

“The secondary market purchases are not, and cannot be used to circumvent the principle of budgetary discipline as a pillar of Economic and Monetary Union,” Constancio said at an event in Frankfurt tonight, according to a text of his speech published by the ECB. “Sustained buying of government paper by the central bank would only postpone problems and delay the necessary fiscal adjustments, ultimately resulting in a build-up of inflationary pressures.”

The comments underscore the ECB’s reluctance to continue buying the bonds of distressed euro-area governments to contain a sovereign debt crisis that’s now threatening to engulf Italy and Spain. It was forced to re-start the purchases last month after governments failed to convince investors they can solve the crisis which, according to a research paper published by the ECB today, is putting the survival of the euro at risk. ECB Executive Board member Juergen Stark, a co-author of that paper, resigned this month to protest the bond purchases.

Constancio said an intensification of turbulence in financial markets “is leading to very high interest rates in some countries, to potentially damaging volatility, and to very low trading volumes in some government bond markets that at times cease to function appropriately.”

The ECB has no choice. It is the funder of last resort, there is no “fiscal adjustment” that any of these nations can make outside of defaulting if they do not continue to receive bailouts somewhere in the region of their external sector deficits while they are de-leveraging the government sector.

Over the past week we have seen more and more evidence that the rest of the debt laden periphery are lining up behind Greece in the default congo-line. From Portugal:

The budget deficit narrowed to €6.687bn in the first seven months of the year, a €2.243bn decrease against the same period last year, benefiting of an increase in revenue and a decrease in expenditure, the government declared Monday in its monthly budget report. This year’s budget target stands at 5.9% of GDP, as agreed under the bailout programme, from more than 9% in 2010.

The budget deficit narrowed to €6.687bn in the first seven months of the year, €2.243bn less than the same period last year, benefiting from an increase in revenue and a decrease in expenditure, but both at a slower pace when compared with the same numbers published last month, said the government Monday in its monthly budget report.

It sounds positive, but it is not. The government has enacted changes to the tax system in order to increase government income. But Portugal has a deficit in the external sector, high private sector debt and a stressed banking system. Under these conditions the inevitable outcome is that the private sector will deflate and this will lead to a fall in government income. This is exactly the situation we saw in Greece.

That is why, in light of the fact that government revenues are now slowing, the Portuguese PM admitted to national broadcaster RTP1 that a new request for help will be needed if the situation in Greece doesn’t receive a new bailout:

Portugal’s prime minister said late Tuesday that should Greece default, it is possible Portugal could need a second round of aid from its European peers and the International Monetary Fund.

“If something really negative happens in Europe, particularly in Greece, it is necessary that [Portugal] is fulfilling and even surpassing all the demands made by the troika,” Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said in a televised interview.

“If something happens, it is important that those able to help us can do so convinced that what happened in Greece won’t happen here,” he added.

Italy and Spain are in exactly the same situation; it has just manifested in different ways:

Italy has leapfrogged Spain on the euro zone worry list but Madrid is still a long way from convincing investors it is on the mend as its regions fight high debt and its banks struggle with still-sliding property values.

Spain has something of a headstart on Italy.

It has been under market attack since May 2010 after Greece asked for its first bailout and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government was forced to recognize the crisis was at its door.

Austerity measures, which have helped save public coffers around 60 billion euros ($82 billion) since last year, structural reforms and a bank recapitalizing plan, have shown investors it is serious in turning its economy around.

And earlier this month, Spanish politicians agreed to set constitutional limits on public deficits and debt which will provide long-term certainty though they will not come into force until 2020.

On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund said Spain may meet its 2011 deficit target of 6 percent of gross domestic product after 9.2 percent of GDP last year and 11.1 percent a year before that.

Italy by comparison has found itself under siege since July, just as bitter political infighting and a number of scandals besetting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cast doubt on the government’s ability to implement meaningful austerity measures.

Italy has had to pay a higher yield on its 10-year paper than Spain for over six weeks as investors become increasingly concerned Rome is stuck in a trap of high debt and anemic growth.

“Italy’s bond spread is being driven by a liquidity rather than solvency risk. Italy has huge amount of public debt to refinance every year and, given the liquidity conditions in the secondary bond market, the refinancing risk of that debt increases proportionally,” rate strategist at Lombard Street Stefano Di Domizio said.

Spain, while it has one of the highest levels of household and corporate debt levels in the euro zone, has a relatively low debt-to-GDP ratio of an expected 67.3 percent this year. Italy meanwhile faces public debt levels of 120 percent of output.

Nonetheless, Spain’s economy is expected to remain stagnant into next year due to fragile consumer spending and slowing export growth, its 17 autonomous regions are making painful cuts to rein in deficits and its banking system is laden with bad debt from a construction bust.

It will take 17 billion euros to completely recapitalize, the Bank of Spain says, but critics say this figure is unrealistic and could soar higher.

Ironically the IMF knows that the current situation is unsustainable which is why they are being very vocal about Europe’s need to recapitalise its banking system:

Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, urged Europe’s leaders to bail out their fragile banks, as the boss of the eurozone’s biggest bank, BNP Paribas, rejected fears that the financial sector is “in peril”.

Addressing journalists in Washington at the opening of the IMF’s annual meeting, Lagarde said that Europe must tackle “this twin problem of sovereign debt and the need to strengthen capital buffers”.

She said: “It is critical that to fuel growth banks be in a position to finance the economy, to finance enterprises, to finance households, to finance local governments. To do that they need to have the balance sheet that will actually support credit to the economy.”

Despite the recent stress tests carried out by the European Banking Authority, which suggested that most of the banks were well-placed to cope with the sovereign debt crisis, the IMF estimates that banks have taken a €300bn (£260bn) hit in the past year as a result of the growing risk of default by Greece and other vulnerable eurozone countries.

Europe needs to make a choice. Bail or default, time is up.

Update: Moody’s downgrades 8 Greek banks and maintains a negative outlook.

Moody’s said the outlooks for all the ratings remained negative. The downgrade concluded a review begun on July 25.

The agency cut National Bank of Greece SA (NBG), EFG Eurobank Ergasias SA (Eurobank), Alpha Bank AE (Alpha), Piraeus Bank SA (Piraeus), Agricultural Bank of Greece (ATE) and Attica Bank SA downgraded to Caa2 from B3.

Emporiki Bank of Greece (Emporiki) and General Bank of Greece (Geniki) were downgraded to B3 from B1.

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  1. Linus Huber

    We might have to consider the possibility that the politicians in Europe know that they cannot introduce certain new programs without being in a crisis. In general, politics is reactive (never proactive) so that they can justify their decisions with the seemingly uncontrollable actions of the markets.

    In other words, it is all a scam to enable the bankers to continue looting the system.

    1. ambrit

      Mr Huber;
      The problem with that strategy, as I see it, is that, in times of crisis, uncertainty of action and outcome increase.
      The financial elites may be planning on a continued looting spree, but what if some of the defaulting countries get really fed up and start nationalizing everything in sight? A pseudo-nationalist arguement could be made that most, if not all, of the local nations rentier class are ‘internationalists,’ and ‘deserve’ to have their ill gotten gains clawed back by the government ‘for the national good.’ In past events of this sort, the primary countervailing force has been one of the superpowers. Now there is only one such left, the U.S., and it’s looking weaker and weaker as it wastes its’ resources on adventures. If enough smaller countries go the nationalization route, and all it would take is for one to go ahead and demonstrate the feasability of the idea, the remaining superpower would find itself in an impossible bind. Interesting times ahead.

      1. Susan the other

        I don’t think you go back this far Ambrit. But the rationale for LBJ going into southeast Asia was because he, and his “wisemen” advisors, didn’t believe we should just bunker down and become “fortress America.” Translation: we want the world to be capitalist like us, not socialist as they currently are (@1965). If we went back to nationalized economies, would it necessarily destroy global trade? I don’t really think so. It might trim it back to things you can’t produce on your own. But I think that would be good.

  2. joe

    I’m sorry, but while pointing out the relationship between buyers and sellers (exporters and importers), seller’s are not directly responsible for the buyer’s financial position! Especially, when the entities are in fact private.

    The debt did not all just occur in the periphery! As a generalisation, the periphery could also include the likes of the Netherlands and Denmark and any general definition of European core countries would include the likes of Spain, Italy and France.

    The article makes it all sound so simple. But one should be wary of simple justifications! Later they may be ascribed to fool’s games.

    1. ambrit

      Dear joe;
      I must disagree. If you accept the idea of balance in the trading flows between national economies, (if such an idea is tenable anymore,) one nations surplus must be balanced out by other countries deficits.
      Also, I believe that the author is using economic strength to decide ‘core’ vs. ‘periphery’ in this case. Which way has the money been flowing lately?
      Plus, with the heavy interventions of central banks, arguably the organs of the state everywhere, no one in this witches brew is pure; neither private nor public do they be.
      As for simplistic. Well, gee, just how convoluted do you want it? Dopes like me have to have a chance at understanding things too!

      1. joe

        Hello Armbrit,

        but in that case you are making periphery a synonym for ( economic ) loser! In my opinion, one syndrome of the financial crisis is the relative size of the financial industry in the different national economies.

        Great Britain is a good example of an enormous financial system compared to the size of the other sectors in its national economy. What and whose finances are these companies actually managing other than the witches’?

        I’m not clear about what you are trying to say with respect to the central banks. I guess you are being ironic, when you write that you are able to understand the interventions and interrelationships of the ECB.

    2. Marcus Padley

      Joe said:

      “I’m sorry, but while pointing out the relationship between buyers and sellers (exporters and importers), seller’s are not directly responsible for the buyer’s financial position! Especially, when the entities are in fact private.”

      The author didn’t claim the relationship was one of responsibility. They claimed the relationship was symbiotic, which means dependent.

      “But this has been a symbiotic relationship. The net exporters need the net importers to continually take on debt or they cannot finance the purchasing of their manufactures or maintain their banking systems that are based on loans to the indebted nations to continually fund those purchases. ”

      The author is making the statement that Germany needed other European nations to amass debt and that under the single currency once this type of relationship was established there was no automatic stabiliser in place to reverse that position. Your comment about “buyer and seller” is not the entire story as the author states. This is a story of buyer, seller AND lender. It is the lenders responsibility to ensure the recipient of that loan can afford to pay it back. The position is compromised when the lender is also the seller.

      I believe that is a solid analysis, possibly oversimplified, but still solid.

  3. Jim Haygood

    ‘Bail or default, time is up.”

    ‘Bail’ isn’t really a choice; it’s just a decision to throw the last sticks of furniture into the fire to stay warm, now that the woodpile is used up.

    Bailing won’t work until the entity being bailed is solvent, with a sustainable debt load.

    Doesn’t Europe have any sovereign bankruptcy attorneys? Surely the IMF does! Dial 1-800-U-R-BROKE and speak to one of our qualified attorneys today. Get the relief you deserve!

  4. Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

    As I predicted way back in 2005, “Because of the Euro, no euro nation can control its own money supply. The Euro is the worst economic idea since the recession-era, Smoot-Hawley Tariff. The economies of European nations are doomed by the euro.” (See:

    The euro nations have two, and only two, options:

    1. Go back to Monetary Sovereignty by leaving the euro in favor of their own sovereign currencies
    2. Form a true United States of Europe, in which the EU supplies euros to its member nations.

    (Either way, they better pray they don’t have a local Tea Party, which believes the way to grow an economy is to cut the money supply)

    Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

    1. F. Beard

      (Either way, they better pray they don’t have a local Tea Party, which believes the way to grow an economy is to cut the money supply) RMM

      The Tea Party wishes to cut the government enforced monopoly money supply and you wish to increase the government enforced monopoly money supply.

      You both are tyrants but with opposite agendas. The Tea Party wishes the private sector to control the money supply that everyone must use and you wish the government to control the money supply that everyone must use.

      The obvious solution is separate government and private money supplies per Matthew 22:16-22 (“Render to Caesar …”).

      That should satisfy everyone worth satisfying. The government would be denied the disgraceful “stealth inflation tax” and the private sector would have to offer genuine value in order for its money to be freely accepted.

      1. Maju

        Allegedly the government is elected in a democratic manner. That’s the difference.

        True that in practice the government is under control of corporations, so first a truly free kind of government must be achieved and that passes by the destruction of corporations altogether.

        1. F. Beard

          True that in practice the government is under control of corporations, Maju

          There is nothing inherently wrong with common stock companies. They are a way for many small owners to consolidate their capital for economies of scale. The problem is the banks, be they corporations or not.

          1. Maju

            The problem is that corporations or in general bourgeois oligarchs have much more real power (wealth) than the common (working class) person. That power is used almost invariably to defend their class interests and privileges and to expand them at the cost of the common person (worker).

            The main exception was when there was a real competition with an alternate system that claimed to defend (and to some extent did defend) the interests of this working class. Then the Capitalist system had to make huge concessions (social security, labor rights, decent salaries, almost full employment, etc.), concessions that have been dismantled in the last decades and are still being dismantled now in spite of the deep socio-economical crisis.

            So corporations or in general inequality is the essence of the problem: the fact that some people or organizations have the ability to control the media for example, or to bribe a judge or to pay a horde of lobbyists or even a secrete death squad. All those powers (“cheating”) that no common person can even dream to have.

            That’s the problem.

          2. F. Beard

            That power is used almost invariably to defend their class interests and privileges and to expand them at the cost of the common person (worker). Maju

            Without the government enforced/backed “credit” cartel, the banking system, to borrow from, it is likely that the corporations would have to pay their workers with common stock. The alternative would be to pay honest (most likely high) real interest rates for the workers’ savings.

            So without the government enforced “credit” cartel, it is likely that corporations would be largely owned by the workers.

            “Fractional reserve” banks are inherently crooked. It is a mistake to lump them in with otherwise (except for their borrowing from the banks) honest corporations.

      2. DSP

        Dear Mr. Beard,(can I call you Frank?)
        You’ve been banging on about private note creation for ages,so can I take you back to an age when Big Beasts roamed the plains.
        There you are striding along with a wallet full of Enron bucks(they’re a dominant market maker),AOL dollars(they own the future)and,for old times sake,some General Motors Greenbacks(a little slow but an old established company)….YOURE RICH! the futures safe.
        I can barely imagine the social turmoil involved when private companies issue notes(insert favourite company here)
        (Bloody spellcheck is questioning favourite)

        1. F. Beard

          I can barely imagine the social turmoil involved when private companies issue notes(insert favourite company here) DSP

          I sympathize. I go to the grocery store and there are so many breakfast cereals to choose from! So much mental turmoil!

          The truth is that most people would continue to use fiat UNLESS it was mismanaged, by say, using it to bailout the banks.

          But if you insist on a single, government enforced monopoly money supply then you risk that that money supply will be a shiny metal that we must rent or buy from private interests.

          1. DSP

            I’m sorry Frank for not replying sooner but my house is being pulled apart for updating reasons.It is probably unfair as well as pointless to add to an old post but…
            The reference to breakfast cereals is just off piste.It’s not a matter of getting in a tizz over so much choice,the point of the discussion is the retention of value.
            With cereal,I take it home,consume it,I like it or I don’t.With a supposed store of value,some of it I hope to save.
            My original point was,what at one moment looks like a safe store of value could overnight evaporate.And I can’t imagine how the banking industry would deal with multiple independent,micro-issues.Then there’s Gresham’s Law.
            I think the problem stems from the fact that currency serves two functions,medium of exchange and store of value.It concentrates on one or the other.At the moment everyone is on the lookout for a safe store of value.If you can reasonably solve that one then you’ll earn a nations gratitude.
            No doubt a Gold bug will pop up to tell me I can and China and the oil-producers would desperately love to see one now.
            The mention of X-box credits and Linden dollars is an interesting one.No,I don’t have anything to do with them and I only think they work within a monopoly situation and suffer from the same commercial limitations (if the company goes broke then it’s literally game over.)But it will be interesting to see how they develop.

          2. F. Beard

            At the moment everyone is on the lookout for a safe store of value.If you can reasonably solve that one then you’ll earn a nations gratitude. DSP

            Without a healthy economy, there is no safe store of value. So, the problem is how to restore the US economy. That requires 1) a universal bailout and 2) monetary reform so that the problem does not reoccur.

          3. DSP

            Thanks for replying,Frank.I wonder if Yves would consider a Point of View Forum as well as a blog commentary as fundamental points keep cropping up but they get spread over many articles.Besides, our genius is flowering unseen.
            During the 1930’s,there were a multitude of books written about money and I suspect this decade will see a lot more.
            You say the world has to be bailed out,yes,but what with?RMB?That will cause a seismic shift in International politics even if it was likely.The people in a position to do the bailing haven’t got any money.
            Then establishing a secure currency is nowhere as easy as you make it out to be.
            Unfortunately, a lot of people are talking of bailouts as though they’re being done in asset dollars and not debt dollars.
            Anyway Frank,I’ll come back to see if you’ve replied in a coupla days but won’t comment.It’ll save us both from having to keep returning here while the caravan moves on.

    2. Jim

      If they agree to a United States of Europe, who would represent that country in Fifa World Cup tournaments?

      Perhaps 1 or 2 from the Italian state, 3 from the Spanish state, 7 from the German state, and th rest of the roster from the northern European states?

  5. Maju

    What do you mean by “bail”? So far there have been “bails” and “rescues” but they are nothing but colonialist poisoned “gifts” of increased debt burden. So “bail” seems to be a non-option.

    Default is an option always but its a bad option because creditors will mobilize all their power to get paid and therefore defaulting states will be isolated, ostracized, brought to military coups and wars… For those reasons the defaulting state can only become a socialist state like Cuba or the USSR and cannot anymore be a Capitalist country (economic planning and rationing becomes a must – not necessarily something bad but certainly revolutionary). Coordinated default at EU level might do it but that’s not going to happen unless there is first a revolution at EU level as well.

    What I do not understand why nobody proposes the Capitalist “solution” (better late than never) of devaluing the euro and making again Southern Europe competitive at global level diverting the problem to the outside of the Eurozone: to the USA, to the EU states outside the Eurozone, to China, India, Brazil, Russia…)

    Devaluing the euro and planning the Eurozone’s economy as an export economy (and not an impossible “black hole market”) is the only thing that makes any sense other than Communism. And for that the euro must be devalued significantly (even as much as 30%, with the goal of parity with the US dollar or something not much stronger).

    1. Maju

      PS- Notice that I am ideologically all for default and communism but that is not a realistic option unless a true revolution is going on at grassroots level (not yet). But don’t get me wrong in this please: I don’t think that communism is bad, just not an option YET.

      1. Jim Haygood

        If you would expand the program to “default, communism and free love,” maybe I could buy into it also.

        At least two out of three, anyhow … ;-)

      2. different clue

        So the U. S. of E. should become an economic mercantilist aggressor like China? Could the US of E ever force its citizens to accept Chinese wages, Chinese labor standards, Chinese pollution levels, etc? And to whom would the US of E export anyway? Other exporters? Third World economies too poor to buy much? Fourth World economies too poor to buy anything?

        (By the way, do I understand the article to imply that Germany is something of a mercantilist aggressor within Europe and now doesn’t like the effects of the debt German economic policy forced the periphery into so that the peripherals could buy German product?)

        1. Maju

          “So the U. S. of E. should become an economic mercantilist aggressor like China?”

          Rather defend itself from the mercantilist aggression by the USA and its systematic ‘dollar dumping’ (which China just follows by keeping a wise dollar-yuan balanced relation). What the EU can’t do is to compete in international markets with an euro that is overvalued c. 50% (compared with 1999-2003 values). That’s why the Portuguese textiles, which used to be prosperous are now all destroyed, for example.

          “Could the US of E ever force its citizens to accept Chinese wages, Chinese labor standards, Chinese pollution levels, etc?”

          Hopefully not. Hopefully EU would impose huge import taxes or even close itself altogether to imports from countries where labor unions are not part of the economic landscape and where abusive exploitation and environmental destruction happens.

          Hopefully EU would dump WTO and Bretton Woods… but that’s another, quite wider, debate: why do we have to accept products from states where workers are not freely unionized or where the environment is made to pay the hidden costs of production, harming our own competitivity? Because
          the banskter oligarchy says so?

          “And to whom would the US of E export anyway?”

          Actually at least 50% of “external” trade of EU states happens in EU itself: we basically export and import within EU boundaries.

          But you touch a key issue in all export driven economic theories: if A exports, there must be a B who imports. And that is unsustainable.

          “Germany is something of a mercantilist aggressor within Europe”…

          That’s a fact. An often ignored fact but a hard fact.

          Somehow the EU has ended up working as a German colonial empire of sorts. And that’s a very bad result that must be corrected.

    2. Fraud Guy

      That type of bailing (almost) worked for the US mortgage giants; during HAMP, they offered to modify your loan when you were in distress by making the payments go up!

  6. Susan the other

    I think I’ve decided the EU dilemma is almost a melodrama. Germany is constrained either way. But they are coming down on the side of a “balanced paper budget”; that is, they seem to be choosing to no longer produce/sell so many cars and precision engineered stuff to those southerners. Isn’t one of the factors here an abundance of both coal and iron ore in Germany? If so, it really makes sense that they go forward with their industries. If they came down on the other side, the side that tolerates EU deficits, like the Chinese have done with us, then wouldn’t it almost be 6s because in order to fund a new politically sanctioned ECB because the Germans would have to pay a lot of euros to buy the southern bonds; the Germans GDP would take a cut? But this might be the difference: that if Germany curtailed what it is good at exporting, they might be looking at exporting other stuff they are really not suited to export. I’m not so sure but that this isn’t the position China is in. OK, I can’t sort thru it. Maybe the big obstacle is that the Germans don’t want to open themselves up to banksters (bondsters?) until their are rules to control them.

  7. Guy

    So much of Europe’s culture is dependant on social programs, it’s going to be a very difficult transition over the coming decades. But there is no ignoring it in the age of corporate rule.

    1. Maju

      It’s not culture but the social fabric. Worse: much of Europe’s social fabric relies on giveaways from elderly people within families (because the young ones are broke and unemployed).

      But anyhow in the USA too a lot of the social fabric resistance depends on social programs like food coupons, social security, free public schooling, medicare… it’s nothing really European (in fact the USA may have greater welfare levels that some European states, and so does Brazil, mind you – because in these states poverty and inequality are even bigger). What happens in Europe is that most people don’t go around jerking that social welfare is fundamentally wrong: most people knows that it is necessary because otherwise their reality would suddenly collapse into a narco-corrido.

      1. Fraud Guy

        True–my wife watches House Hunters International on HGTV, and it is a frequent comment on the Euro shows that the parents of the “young home buyers” to be providing either the payment (in all cash countries)or the down payment (where loans are more common) for any purchase.

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