Global Investing

What would a benign dictator do with the euro?

The idea of a “benign dictator” may well be an oxymoron but as a thought exercise it goes a way to explaining why giant global fund manager Blackrock thinks the chances of a euro zone collapse remains less than 20 percent.  When push comes to shove, in other words, Europe can sort this mess out. Speaking at an event showcasing the latest investment outlook from Blackrock Investment Institute, the strategy hub of the investment firm with a staggering $3.7 trillion of assets under management,  Richard Urwin said the problem in trying to second-guess the outcome of the euro crisis was the extent to which domestic political priorities were working against a resolution of the three-year old crisis.

“The thing is if you could imagine a benign dictator, then the problems are all solvable and could be fixed in a matter of weeks,” said Urwin, who is Head of Investments at Blackrock’s Fiduciary Mandate Investment Team.  Playing with the idea, Urwin said parts of a workable plan may involve debt rescheduling or restructuring for the existing bailout countries Greece, Portugal and Ireland; a buildup of a sufficiently large liquidity fund to help the larger countries such as Spain and Italy; a euro banking union with deposit guarantees and single supervisor to ring-fence and close insolvent banks that will never function properly; the creation of a central finance ministry and the issuance of jointly-guaranteed euro bonds etc etc.

Urwin’s point of course was not to advocate a dictator for the euro zone — although he acknowledged the euro was not exactly a child of European electorates to begin with–  rather that euro members have the ability if not the willingness yet to solve the crisis and that global investors looking for signposts in the saga needed to watch closely the runes of political cooperation and leadership instead of the economics and debt dynamics alone.  Where exactly that turns is hard to guess, but but it may well be that the process that has to wait until the German elections next year, he added.

Far from thinking these plans are some fanciful wishlist, Blackrock managers stressed that a lot of what has been done in the euro bloc over the past couple of the years — in terms of cross-border bailouts and funds, fiscal integration and central bank activism — would also have been thought unthinkable as recently as 2009.  And the past month of European Union moves  — recapitalisation of the Spanish banking system,  opening up the new European Stability Mechanism to directly fund banks and not just sovereigns, and moves toward a European banking union — all marked another big, if still insufficient, step to restore system-wide confidence.

“My view is that there has been a great deal of progress in the past 60 days in Europe,” said Peter Fisher, Head of Blackrock’s Fixed Income Portfolio Management Group. “But we’ve yet to see whether the political leadership in Europe will tie themselves to the mast of reforms needed to hold the euro together. They’ve made some progress but we still don’t see them having done enough to make it credible yet for us.”

A necessary evil?

While market players nervously chew their nails over the Greek election result, the French market is calmly absorbing news of a socialist victory in its own presidential race.

Francois Hollande has defeated half the “Merkozy” austerity titan, and  panic is nowhere to be seen. Of course, the feeling that cuts might not quite be best way to spark  growth has been building for a while but today brings some confirmation that a new consensus is forming.

John Bennett, director of European equities at Henderson, believes the French result might be essential.