Merkel will show Greece no mercy

 

It’s no secret that the biggest holder of Greek debt — which Greece is refusing to pay — is Germany.

But when you see how much exposure Germany has to Greek debt, you quickly realize just how motivated German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to prevent the Greeks from defaulting and to keep them in the eurozone.

She really, really needs to get Germany’s money back.

According to this table from Deutsche Bank, the Greeks owe Germany €87 billion (£62 billion, $96 billion).

That’s 20 billion more euros than the next biggest creditor, France.

Italy and Spain are heavily exposed too, but once you go further down the list the amounts quickly become smaller and more reasonable.

It’s all relative, of course: 400 million euros is doubtless a big deal in Cyprus.

But still, it’s no wonder that Merkel, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union simply shrugged when the Greeks voted “no” to the bailout deal; Merkel has 87 billion reasons to ignore their wishes.

Here’s the table:

Greece debtDeutsche Bank

Now, before you become angry in solidarity with the Germans, there’s the twist at the end of the Deutsche Bank note. Even if Greece defaults and exits the eurozone, it won’t hurt these countries much.

In a note to clients, Deutsche Bank’s Abhishek Singhania and Jack Di Lizia write the debt has already been accounted for and nonpayment will therefore not be “financially burdensome”:

The assessment of major rating agencies is consistent with our analysis that although the economic loss due to a Greek sovereign default or an exit from the Eurozone could be large it is unlikely to prove to be financially burdensome because it is not likely to raise immediate funding needs in creditor countries and has already been largely accounted for in the debt statistics of these countries.

Also missing from the list are the obvious non-euro-using EU countries such as Britain, Denmark, and Sweden.

Suddenly, being a member of the EU but keeping your domestic currency looks like the most important economic decision these countries ever made.

 

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Merkel Warns Greece Time Is Running Out

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was given hours to come up with a plan to keep his country in the euro as citizens endure a second week of capital controls.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “time is running out” as she and French President Francois Hollande, leaders of the two biggest countries in the euro bloc, responded to Sunday’s referendum. The European Central Bank piled on the pressure by making it tougher for Greek banks to access emergency loans. Finance ministers and leaders from the 19-member region gather Tuesday.

After promising Greek voters a “no” outcome against austerity would strengthen his negotiating hand, the onus is on Tsipras to prove he can get a deal with creditors insistent on tax hikes and spending cuts as the price for a new bailout of Europe’s most indebted nation.

“The last offer that we made was a very generous one,” Merkel said Monday at the Elysee Palace in Paris. “On the other hand, Europe can only stand together, if each nation takes on its own responsibility.”

Heading into the Brussels talks — 1 p.m. for the finance chiefs, and 6 p.m. for the summit — Greece made a pre-emptive concession to its trio of creditors with the resignation of outspoken Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis who clashed with his counterparts from other countries, especially Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Draghi Appeal

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Hollande and the two agreed on the need for a way forward that’ll allow Greece to resume reforms and return to growth within the euro area, according to a White House statement. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew spoke with Tsipras and new finance chief Euclid Tsakalotos and urged a constructive outcome.

With bank closures extended through Wednesday to stem deposit withdrawals, Greek lenders are being kept on the equivalent of a drip feed by the ECB.

In a phone call with ECB President Mario Draghi, Tsipras raised the issue of lifting capital controls, providing more Emergency Liquidity Assistance to Greek lenders, according to a Greek government official speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Earlier, the ECB kept its lifeline at a prior level, rather than raise it as Tsipras wanted. Yet it increased the haircuts on collateral pledged against emergency liquidity, raising the discount applied to reflect the dire situation.

Bridging Gap

Financial market reaction to the latest stage in the crisis was muted, suggesting its effects can be contained. The euro was little changed at $1.1049 in Asia and U.S. Treasuries pared back some of last session’s gains. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index rose 0.7 percent from its lowest level since March.

Euro region finance officials on a Monday conference call made little progress towards bridging the gap between Greece and its creditors, two people involved in the talks said. The call took place in preparation for Tuesday’s round of talks.

Tsipras can claim a strong domestic mandate to negotiate after 61 percent voted “no” to the latest creditor proposals. The endorsement came even after banks had been closed for a week, causing widespread lines at ATM machines as Greeks waited to withdraw a daily maximum of 60 euros ($66) each.

“No question about it in the short term. Tsipras won,” said Hans Humes, founder of Greylock Capital Management, on Bloomberg Television. “There’s latitude for the Greeks to go back to the Europeans and present them with something that’s a little bit more palatable.”

Narrowing Window

Unless it finds a solution to its cash crunch, Greece could drift toward a euro exit. Without funds to pay salaries and goods, the government could eventually be forced to issue IOUs or some other medium of exchange, which might gradually evolve into a parallel currency.

“You can’t understate the importance of today’s meeting,” Laura Fitzsimmons, Sydney-based vice president for futures and options at JPMorgan Chase & Co. said on Bloomberg Television. “The ball is in Greece’s court to come to the party. Unless they bring something that is workable to the Eurogroup it will be difficult to go much further from here.”

What Does The Turmoil in Greece Mean for Your Money : Update

nn

UPDATE No Vote Pulls Ahead

Cash within the Greek banking system will run out in just a few short days, a senior banking source has told me, amid fears that the financial crisis will force Greek companies to start laying off workers on Monday.

“This is a fully fledged banking and economic crisis,” said the despairing source. “The rate of cash withdrawals has trebled in recent days, even with the limits.”

Since I arrived in Athens, I have witnessed Greeks queuing at those cash machines that are working, to withdraw the maximum amount of cash they’re allowed under the restrictions implemented last Monday.

“People are taking out money around the clock, out of ATMs, on the internet transferring to HSBC – you name it, they’re finding ingenious ways to get their savings.”

He added: “We desperately need a solution. It will not be long before our country is on its knees, with the damage so great that it will be permanent.”

After the referendum polls close tonight, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis will meet bank bosses, grouped together under the auspices of the Hellenic Bank Association, and the governor of the Bank of Greece, Yannis Stournaras, I have learned.

All options currently remain open. Greece could do what Cyprus did: default on some of its debts while staying in the euro. Tsipras could decide to accept the tax increases and the pension cuts demanded by the creditors while receiving only minor and vague concessions on debt relief. Greece could have run out of money and be out of the euro within 24 hours.

Some things though are clear.

Firstly, the Greeks have said no to austerity rather than to membership of the euro. Tsipras does not have a mandate to bring back the drachma, even if that is where this all ends.

Secondly, the referendum result means both economic and political chaos. As Joan Hoey of the Economist Intelligence Unit put it even before the vote: “Greece is angry and fearful; divided and conflicted.”

Inevitably, Greece faces a fresh period of acute economic pain. It will take months, if not years, to recover from the events of the past week, even if there is a speedy resolution to the crisis. The Greek economy has already shrunk by a quarter in the past five years.

Thirdly, it is no longer possible to kick the can down the road. Any solution to the Greek crisis that involves more austerity without measures designed to get the economy growing again and to make the country’s debt sustainable will be a pyrrhic victory. The upshot would be a period of feeble growth and mounting indebtedness that would bring the possibility of Grexit back on the agenda. Sooner rather than later, in all likelihood.

Fourthly, this is the most serious crisis in the euro’s relatively short history. There have been confident pronouncements that Greece has been quarantined so that there will be no knock-on effects on the rest of the eurozone. Such sentiments will be tested to the full if there is a Grexit. Share prices will inevitably take a tumble when the financial markets open for business, but more attention should be paid to the bond yields – or interest rates – on the sovereign debt of other eurozone members seen as vulnerable.

The short-term problem for Merkel and Hollande is obvious. If they take a tough line in talks with Athens, they will get the blame for Greece’s departure from the single currency.

The longer-term problem is perhaps even more serious. Greece has highlighted the structural weaknesses of the euro, a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t suit such a diverse set of countries. One solution would be to create a fiscal union to run alongside monetary union, with one eurozone finance minister deciding tax and spending decisions for all 19 nations. This, though, requires the sort of solidarity notable by its absence in recent weeks. The European project has stalled.

So, this story is not over. In Homer’s epic tale, it took Odysseus 10 years to return to his Ithaca home from the Trojan war, losing all his men along the way. Greece’s modern odyssey, similarly, is only half over. The next chapter begins on Monday).

Expect lower stock prices.

Faced with an apocalyptic unemployment rate of 28%, voters in Greece have drawn the line on austerity measures that have mired the country in a crisis rivaling that of the Great Depression. In the worst case, the move could lead to Greece’s exit from the European monetary union. In the best case, it will produce much-needed debt relief for the country’s ailing economy. But either way, it’s prudent to assume the turmoil will roil equity markets both here and abroad.

The issue came to a head earlier this week when Greece’s “radical left” Syriza party won a plurality of votes in the latest election. Led by 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras, Syriza campaigned on a platform to ease the “humiliation and suffering” caused by austerity. This includes debt relief and rolling back steep spending cuts enacted by Greece’s former government in exchange for financing from the International Monetary Union and other members of the European Union.

To say Greece has paid dearly for these cuts would be an understatement. The consensus among mainstream economists is that austerity during a time of crisis exacerbates the underlying issues. We saw this in Germany after World War I when France and Great Britain demanded it pay colossal war reparations. We saw it throughout Latin America following the IMF’s structural adjustments of the 1980s and 1990s. And we’re seeing it now in Greece and Spain, where unemployment has reached levels not seen in the developed world since the Great Depression.

The problem for Greece is that Germany and other fiscally conservative European countries aren’t sympathetic to its predicament. They see Greece’s travails as its just deserts. They see a fiscally irresponsible country that exploited its membership in the continent’s monetary union in order to borrow cheaply and spend extravagantly. And they see an electorate that isn’t willing to accept the consequences of its government’s actions.

To a certain extent, Greece’s critics are right. Over the last decade, its debt has ballooned. In 2004, the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio was 97%. Today, it is 175%. This is the heaviest debt load of any European country relative to output.

It accordingly follows that the European Union stands once again at the precipice of fracturing. If the Syriza party sticks to its demands and Greece’s neighbors won’t agree to relief, then one of the few options left on the table will be for Greece to exit the monetary union and abandon the euro. Doing so would free the country to pursue its own fiscal and monetary policies. It would also almost inevitably trigger a period of sharp inflation in a reinstituted drachma.

This isn’t to say global investors should be petrified at the prospect of even the most extreme scenario — that of Greece abandoning the euro. In essence, the euro is nothing more than a currency peg that fossilized the exchange rates between the continent’s currencies in 2001. By going off it, Greece would essentially be following in the footsteps of the Swiss National Bank, which recently unpegged the Swiss franc from the euro after a drop in the latter’s value made maintaining the peg prohibitively expensive.

A more complicated question revolves around the fate of Greece’s sovereign debt. Seceding from the monetary union won’t eliminate its obligations to creditors. It likely also won’t change the fact that the country’s debt is denominated in euros. Thus, if Greece were to exit the euro and experience rapid inflation, the burden of its interest payments would get worse, not better. This would make the prospect of default increasingly attractive if not necessary in order to reignite economic growth.

But investors have shouldered sovereign debt repeatedly since the birth of international bond markets. Just last year, Standard & Poor’s declared that Argentina had defaulted after missing a $539 million payment on $13 billion in restructured bonds — restructured, that is, following the nation’s 2002 default. Yet stocks ended the year up by 11.5%. The same thing happened when Russia defaulted in 1998. Despite triggering the failure of Long Term Capital Management, a highly leveraged hedge fund that was ultimately rescued by a consortium of Wall Street banks, stocks soared by 26.7% that year.

Given all this, the biggest impact on investors, particularly in the United States, is likely to make its way through the currency markets. When fear envelopes the globe, investors flee to safety. And in the currency markets, safety is synonymous with the U.S. dollar. Over the last year, for instance, speculation about quantitative easing by the European Central Bank, coupled with the scourge of low oil prices on energy-dependent economies such as Russia and Mexico, has increased the strength of the dollar. This will only grow more pronounced if the U.S. Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates later this year.

The net result is that American companies with significant international operations will struggle to grow their top and bottom lines. This is because a strong dollar makes American goods more expensive relative to competitors elsewhere. Consumer products giant Procter & Gamble PG 0.26% serves as a case in point. In the final three months of last year, P&G’s sales suffered a negative five percentage point impact from foreign exchange. As Chairman and CEO A.G. Lafley noted in Tuesday’s earnings release:

The October [to] December 2014 quarter was a challenging one with unprecedented currency devaluations. Virtually every currency in the world devalued versus the U.S. dollar, with the Russian Ruble leading the way. While we continue to make steady progress on the strategic transformation of the company — which focuses P&G on about a dozen core categories and 70 to 80 brands, on leading brand growth, on accelerating meaningful product innovation and increasing productivity savings — the considerable business portfolio, product innovation, and productivity progress was not enough to overcome foreign exchange.

With this in mind, it seems best to assume revenue and earnings at American companies will take a hit while Europe works toward a solution to Greece’s problems. In addition, as we’ve already started to see, the hit to earnings will be reflected in lower stock prices. There’s no way around this. But keep in mind that we’ve been through countless crises like this is in the past, and the stock market continues to reward long-term investors for their patience and perseverance.

More Limbo

“Irrespective of the referendum outcome, it is unlikely that there is an immediate resolution to the crisis the next day,” Marco Stringa, an economist at Deutsche Bank AG in London, wrote in a research note before the polls closed. “A ‘yes’ vote would be significantly more likely to lead to a quicker agreement with the creditors, but not without risks. Ultimately, the economic emergency will remain a key catalyst.”

A “yes” could force the end of the Tsipras government and fresh elections, a possibility to which Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis alluded on Thursday. A result so close that it’s inconclusive may only extend the current stalemate, which began when Tsipras called the surprise plebiscite on June 27.

Some Greeks are despairing of their country’s situation.

“This vote is a test of our collective IQ,” said Hara Nikolou, a retired biochemist who lives on the island of Serifos, before casting her “yes” vote. “If our society opts to turn this country into Balkan wasteland, I don’t want to continue living here.”

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Greek Crisis Crushes Stock Futures

US futures are open and stocks are getting crushed.

Shortly after futures opened at 6:00 pm ET, S&P 500 futures were down 1.7%, or 37 points, to around 2,060.

fut_chartFinViz

Dow futures were off 298 points, or around 1.7%, while Nasdaq futures were also off 1.7%, or around 79 points.

fut_chart (2)FinViz

 

Stocks were following the lead of the euro, which was dropping hard against the dollar, falling 1.7% to below $1.10 while losing more than 2% against the Japanese yen and falling to its lowest level against the British pound since 2007.

The drop in stocks comes after a wild weekend of headlines out of Greece that saw talks between Greece and its creditors break down, Greece call a referendum vote on the latest bailout terms for next Sunday, while Greek banks and the Athens stock exchange have been closed for at least the next week.

Greece also has a €1.6 billion payment due to the IMF on Tuesday, which it appears they will miss.

Greek debt crisis: Banks to stay shut, capital controls imposed

Greeks are queuing for cash, but only 40% of ATMs have money in them, the BBC’s Gavin Hewitt reports

Greek banks are to remain closed and capital controls will be imposed, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says.

Speaking after the European Central Bank (ECB) said it was not increasing emergency funding to Greek banks, Mr Tsipras said Greek deposits were safe.

Greece is due to make a €1.6bn (£1.1bn) payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday – the same day that its current bailout expires.

Greece risks default and moving closer to a possible exit from the eurozone.

Greeks have been queuing to withdraw money from cash machines over the weekend, and the Bank of Greece said it was making “huge efforts” to keep the machines stocked.

Greek banks are expected to stay shut until 7 July, two days after Greece’s planned referendum on the terms it had been offered by international creditors for receiving fresh bailout money.

The Athens stock exchange will also be closed on Monday.

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Greece’s capital controls

  • A maximum of €60 (£42; $66) can be withdrawn from an account in one day
  • Overseas transfers of cash prohibited, except for vital, pre-approved commercial transactions.

Capital controls – how do they work?

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Eurozone finance ministers blamed Greece for breaking off the talks, and the European Commission took the unusual step on Sunday of publishing proposals by European creditors that it said were on the table at the time.

But Greece described creditors’ terms as “not viable”, and asked for an extension of its current deal until after the vote was completed.

“[Rejection] of the Greek government’s request for a short extension of the programme was an unprecedented act by European standards, questioning the right of a sovereign people to decide,” Mr Tsipras on Sunday said in a televised address.

“This decision led the ECB today to limit the liquidity available to Greek banks and forced the Greek central bank to suggest a bank holiday and restrictions on bank withdrawals.”

 

End The Greek Ponzi Scheme: Cut Greece Loose

 

Now come Greeks bearing the gift of confirmation that Margaret Thatcher was right about socialist governments: “They always run out of other people’s money.” Greece, from whose ancient playwrights Western drama descends, is in an absurdist melodrama about securing yet another cash infusion from international creditors. This would add another boulder to a mountain of debt almost twice the size of Greece’s gross domestic product. This protracted dispute will result in desirable carnage if Greece defaults, thereby becoming a constructively frightening example to all democracies doling out unsustainable, growth-suppressing entitlements.

In January, Greek voters gave power to the left-wing Syriza party, one third of which, The Economist reports, consists of “Maoists, Marxists and supporters of Che Guevara.” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, 40, a retired student radical, immediately denounced a European Union declaration criticizing Russia’s dismemberment of Ukraine. He chose only one cabinet member with prior government experience — a leader of Greece’s Stalinist communist party. Tsipras’ minister for culture and education says Greek education “should not be governed by the principle of excellence … it is a warped ambition.” Practicing what he preaches, he proposes abolishing university entrance exams.

Voters chose Syriza because it promised to reverse reforms, particularly of pensions and labour laws, demanded by creditors, and to resist new demands for rationality. Tsipras immediately vowed to rehire 12,000 government employees. His shrillness increasing as his options contract, he says the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund are trying to “humiliate” Greece.

How could one humiliate a nation that chooses governments committed to Rumpelstiltskin economics, the belief that the straw of government largesse can be spun into the gold of national wealth? Tsipras’ approach to mollifying those who hold his nation’s fate in their hands is to say they must respect his “mandate” to resist them. He thinks Greek voters, by making delusional promises to themselves, obligate other European taxpayers to fund them. Tsipras, who says the creditors are “pillaging” Greece, is trying to pillage his local governments, which are resisting his extralegal demands that they send him their cash reserves.

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s finance minister, is an academic admirer of Nobel laureate John Nash, the Princeton genius depicted in the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” who recently died. Varoufakis is interested in Nash’s work on game theory, especially the theory of co-operative games in which two or more participants aim for a resolution better for all than would result absent co-operation. Varoufakis’ idea of co-operation is to accuse the creditors whose money Greece has been living on of “fiscal waterboarding.” Tsipras tells Greece’s creditors to read “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the Spanish Civil War. His passive-aggressive message? “Play nicely or we will kill ourselves.”

Since joining the eurozone in 2001, Greece has borrowed a sum 1.7 times its 2013 GDP. Its 25 per cent unemployment (50 per cent among young workers) results from a 25 percent shrinkage of GDP. It is a mendicant reduced to hoping to “extend and pretend” forever. But extending the bailout and pretending that creditors will someday be paid encourages other European socialists to contemplate shedding debts — other people’s money that is no longer fun.

Greece, with just 11 million people and 2 per cent of the eurozone’s GDP, is unlikely to cause a contagion by leaving the zone. If it also leaves the misbegotten European Union, this evidence of the EU’s mutability might encourage Britain’s “Euro-skeptics” when, later this year, that nation has a referendum on reclaiming national sovereignty by

withdrawing from the EU. If Greece so cherishes its sovereignty that it bristles at conditions imposed by creditors, why is it in the EU, the perverse point of which is to “pool” nations’ sovereignties in order to dilute national consciousness?

The EU has a flag no one salutes, an anthem no one sings, a president no one can name, a parliament whose powers subtract from those of national legislatures, a bureaucracy no one admires or controls and rules of fiscal rectitude that no member is penalized for ignoring. It does, however, have in Greece a member whose difficulties are wonderfully didactic.

It cannot be said too often: There cannot be too many socialist smashups. The best of these punish reckless creditors whose lending enables socialists to live, for a while, off other people’s money. The world, which owes much to ancient Athens’ legacy, including the idea of democracy, is indebted to today’s Athens for the reminder that reality does not respect a democracy’s delusions.

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Greece Is Now ‘Lose-Lose Game’

 

 

(Bloomberg) — The chances of Greece leaving the euro area are now 50-50 and the country could go “down the drain,” billionaire investor George Soros said.

“It’s now a lose-lose game and the best that can happen is actually muddling through,” Soros, 84, said in a Bloomberg Television interview due to air Tuesday. “Greece is a long-festering problem that was mishandled from the beginning by all parties.”

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government needs to persuade its creditors to sign off on a package of economic measures to free up long-withheld aid payments that will keep the country afloat. Since his January election victory, the leader has tried to shape an alternative to the austerity program set out in the nation’s bailout agreement, spurring concern that it may be forced out of the euro.

The negotiations between Tsipras’s Syriza government and the institutions helping finance the Greek economy — the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund — could result in a “breakdown,” leading to the country leaving the common currency area, Soros said in the interview at his London home.

“You can keep on pushing it back indefinitely,” making interest payments without writing down debt, Soros said. “But in the meantime there will be no primary surplus because Greece is going down the drain.”

“Right now we are at the cusp and I can see both possibilities,” he said.

The start of quantitative easing by the ECB at a time when the U.S. Federal Reserve is considering raising interest rates “creates currency fluctuations,” said Soros, one of the world’s wealthiest men with a $28.7 billion fortune built partly through multi-billion dollar trades in currency markets, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Ukraine Risk

“That probably creates some great opportunities for hedge funds but I’m no longer in that business,” he said. The war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and rebel militia supported by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin concerns Hungarian-born Soros the most, he said.

Without more external financial assistance the “new Ukraine” probably will gradually deteriorate and “become like the old Ukraine so that the oligarchs come back and assert their power,” he said. “That fight has actually started in the last week or so.”

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