Investors face a battle for clarity

May 30, 2012

How are we looking? Fluid, very fluid!

In a classic case of call and response, the latest twist of the euro saga has seen the crisis escalate sharply in Spain and Italy (with the attempted cleanup of Bankia the latest trigger for a surge in government borrowing rates in both) only to see the European Commission today invoke major policy responses including the proposed use of the new European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to directly recapitalize euro banks, a single banking union, a euro-wide deposit protection system and even pushing back Spanish budget deadlines by a year.

It seems clear from this that they see Spain and Italy – which seem to be trading in tandem regardless of their differences – as the battleground for the survival of the euro. The gauntlet is down for next month’s summit, though the absence of a roadmap to Eurobonds per se will disappoint and markets are not going to sit quietly for a month. Moreover, the Grexit vigil has another fortnight to run before any clarity and the latest polls are not going in the direction other euro governments had hoped, with anti-bailout parties still in the lead. And we can only assume Ireland votes in favour of the now notional fiscal pact tomorrow as per opinion polls, though there’s always an outside chance of an upset.

So, seeing ahead even a month seems like an impossible task. A week ahead, however, points the spotlight firmly at the ECBs meeting on Wednesday and the chance the central bank eases again in some form to try and buy time for other developments to work through. But it will also be a moment of potential conflict, with its role in the Spanish bank bailout fraught with disagreements to date. Despite a two-day London market holiday, the week will be dominated by central banks at large – the BoE meeting and Bernanke’s testimony on Thursday being the other highlights. Is there a chance they act together again? And Italian/Spanish/French bond auctions next week certainly look precarious in the current environment.

One interesting bit is that beyond economies on the front line, the wider markets have been relatively well behaved over the past week. Global stock markets and emerging markets are up to 1 percent higher since last Wednesday, broad European indices are flattish, the Vix is flat and oil is down a little (and arguably good news for everything else).

The real pressure points are the 50-75bp spikes in Italian and Spanish 10-yr yields, a near 3 percent loss in European bank stocks and the inexorable slide in bund and Treasury yields. Reflecting the heightened ECB easing talk, the euro is down another 1 percent.

On one level, the withering complexity of the euro story must be impossible for global investors to keep track of on a daily basis, never mind act on. And that is leading to both an inevitable drift away from risk and into cash for those with low risk thresholds but also a certain amount of inertia from thicker-skinned value investors who still hope that when the fog clears or policymakers crank back into action, there will be some juicy pickings.

Unfortunately for them, the story outside Europe isn’t getting much better either with a mixed bag of US and global data leaving everyone lukewarm about the global economy at large. China’s latest data dump for May at the end of next week will again be a big juncture in that assessment.



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Plans for Greece or any other member to find an orderly way (or perhaps the most orderly way possible) to exit the Euro are urgently needed. In Greece’s case there is no alternative – the status quo is unsustainable and a disorderly exit as this National Bank of Greece piece points out will be a nightmare.

Just as importantly, the uncertainty about how this can happen need to be resolved. Confusion and worries about how an exit might play out is causing resources to be wasted as people speculate about possible solutions. Resources are needlessly being misallocated. The longer it drags on the greater these problems become — it is no wonder that the European economy is shrinking.

The rules of the game for an oderly exit is urgently needed, even if it doesn’t happen. At least much of the uncertainty about the “how” would be resolved.

Posted by TorrensHume | Report as abusive

Italy Spain and France can pay down debt, but they would rather renege and collapse their banking systems. I favor such a quick and dirty, nasty, brutish, and short conclusion. Jump.

Posted by mulholland | Report as abusive