Euro breakup risks, although subsiding, are still high on investor minds.
Almost one in two fund managers surveyed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch last month said they expect a euro zone country to leave the monetary union.
Anyone worried about Greece and the potential impact of the euro debt crisis on the world economy should have a chat with Jim O’Neill. O’Neill, the head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management ten years ago coined the BRIC acronym to describe the four biggest emerging economies and perhaps understandably, he is not too perturbed by the outcome of the Greek crisis. Speaking at a recent conference, the man who is often called Mr BRIC, pointed out that China’s economy is growing by $1 trillion a year and that means it is adding the equivalent of a Greece every 4 months. And what if the market turns its guns on Italy, a far larger economy than Greece? Italy’s economy was surpassed in size last year by Brazil, another of the BRICs, O’Neill counters, adding:
This week’s evaporation of confidence in the euro zone’s biggest government debt market — Italy’s 1.6 trillion euros of bonds and bills and the world’s third biggest — has opened a Pandora’s Box that may now force investors to consider the possibility of a mega sovereign debt default or writedown and, or maybe as a result of, a euro zone collapse.
No longer an idle “what if” game, investors are actively debating the chance of a breakup of the euro as a creditor strike in the zone’s largest government bond market sends Italian debt yields into the stratosphere — or at least beyond the circa 7% levels where government funding is seen as sustainable over time. Emergency funding for Italy, along the lines of bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal over the past two years, may now be needed but no one’s sure there’s enough money available — in large part due to Germany’s refusal to contemplate either a bigger bailout fund or open-ended debt purchases from the European Central Bank as a lender of last resort.
Whether or not it’s likely or even a good idea, talk of Greece leaving the euro is no longer taboo in either financial or political circles. What is more, anxiety over the future of the single currency has reached such a pitch since the infection of the giant Italian bond market that there are many investors talking openly of an unraveling of the entire bloc. But against such an amplified “tail risk”, it’s remarkable how stable world financial markets have been over the past few turbulent weeks — at least outside the ailing sovereign debt markets in question.
It seems as if almost everyone was surprised by Prime Minister George Papandreou's decision to hold a referendum on the euro zone's bailout package for his country. At the very least, it can probably be said that he is weary of being hammered from all sides -- his own party, the opposition, the people on the street, Germany, the tabloid press, you name it.
For all the ifs and buts about the latest euro rescue agreement, one of its most profound market legacies may be to sound the death knell for sovereign credit default swaps — at least those covering richer developed economies. In short, the agreement reached in Brussels last night outlined a haircut on Greek government bonds of some 50 percent as a way to keep the country’s debt mountain sustainable over time. But anyone who had bought default insurance on the debt in the form of CDS would not get compensated as long as the “restructuring” was voluntary, or so says a top lawyer for the International Swaps and Derivatives Association — the arbiter of CDS contracts.
Greece is in the danger zone. Even as the country's finance minister sought to reassure his euro zone counterparts at a meeting in Poland, Greek credit default swaps were pricing in a more than 90 percent chance of default, according to Reuters calculations of Markit data. Economists in a Reuters poll see a 65 percent chance of that happening, probably within a year.