The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Without coordinated leadership, Europe will falter

There is an increasing probability that financial markets will respond negatively to the unfolding economic and political drama unfolding across Europe. So far, the European Central Bank has pumped out cash and calmed the nerves of investors, but it needs to do more. A cut in interest rates by the ECB is crucial to contribute to a revival of growth across the euro zone. On its own, however, that is not enough. Europe’s political authorities need to counter the increasingly widespread perception that they lack the will to confront the zone’s economic ailments and promote a clear path to growth – austerity policies alone will not work.

The situation has become far more serious now that the crisis has moved from the zone’s periphery to its major economies: Spain shows no signs of emerging from prolonged negative growth, Italy is now facing mounting difficulties and France is sliding into recession.

Overall, looking across the euro zone, the jobless data best illustrates the pain of this crisis. The latest statistics from Eurostat show unemployment across the 17-nation euro zone at 11.9percent; 19 million people are out of work. The rates in Greece and Spain are 27 percent and 26.2 percent, respectively, and in both countries the rate for youth unemployment exceeds 55 percent. In Portugal and in Ireland, where major efforts are being made to overcome acute difficulties, the jobless rates are, nevertheless, 17.6 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively. The rate in Cyprus has shot up from 9.9 percent to 14.7 percent over the last year. In Italy, the rate is over 11.5 percent, while in France it now stands at 10.6 percent.

It is most likely that in each of these countries the jobless rates in coming months will rise and, as they do, the public demonstrations will multiply and the risks to the sustainability of existing political structures in a number of countries will increase. Despite such prospects –- with the number of jobless expected to soon to exceed 20 million people -- there is no sense that the political authorities are striving to formulate a “Brady Plan” of the kind that opened the way to sustained growth in Latin America, or take into account the lessons of past sovereign debt crises.

Capitalism in the West and other myths…

The West’s claim to be a capitalist society has been eroded throughout the European sovereign debt crisis. If we were truly capitalist then the markets wouldn’t expect Germany to step in to solve the euro zone’s problems or to eradicate the excess debts of Europe’s periphery. The prospect of this safety cushion provided by Berlin has kept the euro propped up even though Spanish bond yields are hovering around 7%, even after it received the go-ahead to get a bailout for its banks.

The same is true the other side of the pond. Since the financial crisis, the central bank in the U.S. has stepped in to prop up stock markets and other asset classes with quantitative easing when volatility has spiked. Some people in the markets now just expect officials to step in and save investors when the going gets tough.

Governments, not central banks, must act

–Michala Marcussen is global head of economics at Société Générale Corporate and Investment Bank. The opinions expressed are her own.–

Marcussen

The reflex induced by three decades of success is to look to central banks to steer the economy back to a path of sustainable growth, but five years on from the outbreak of the crisis, it is becoming increasingly evident that, despite the introduction of multiple unorthodox policy tools and huge balance sheet expansion, central banks can only help buy time, they cannot fix the underlying issues of huge debt mountains and weak trend potential growth. For this, government action is required, and as each new round of monetary policy easing seemingly comes with diminishing returns – both in terms of the absolute impact and its duration – there is a growing sense of urgency for governments to act.

A German debt purchase is a bet on euro zone break-up

Wednesday’s panic in the bond markets drove yields down to unprecedented lows in U.S., UK and Germany. The stampede into British and American debt is no surprise, since both countries represent a rock-solid guarantee of repayment in their own currency (though heaven knows how much lenders will be able to buy with the money in ten or twenty years’ time), but why the rush into Bunds?

One possible interpretation, which can never be discounted, is pure panic, based on nothing more rational than faith in Germany’s sleek cars, orderly cities and conservative bankers. But that is unlikely to be the whole story, if only because the trend has been apparent for too long to be put down to knee-jerk reaction.

from MacroScope:

The Law of Diminishing Greeks

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The Law of Diminishing Returns  states that a continuing push towards a given goal tends to  decline in effectiveness after a certain amount of effort has been expended. If this weren't the case, Usain Bolt would be able to run the mile in  less than 2-1/2 minutes.

From an economic standpoint, this law now seems to be fully in force in Greece. The latest jobs figures from the twice-bailed out euro zone country paint a bleak numerical picture of the impact of unrelenting austerity in ordinary Greeks, regardless of whether it was self-inflicted or not. To wit:

Germany should be happy to let Greece go

When the Greek crisis began, there was much talk of contagion as the greatest short-term risk. In my view, this worry is almost irrelevant because bondholders are in any case facing a haircut of over 70%, so the question of default or bailout is now merely a technical detail.

From a longer term perspective, there is also little reason for the Germans to panic over a Greek default, even if it ultimately leads to the disintegration of the euro zone. The line peddled by a number of commentators and politicians that Germany has “done very well out of the euro zone” begs the question of how well it would have done without the euro zone, a question to which I do not know the answer – but nor does anyone else.

from Lawrence Summers:

It’s time for the IMF to step up in Europe

By Lawrence Summers
The opinions expressed are his own.

European leaders will meet today for yet another “historic” summit at which the fate of Europe is said to hang in the balance. Yet it is clear that this will not be the last convened to deal with the financial crisis.

If public previews from France and Germany are a guide, there will be commitments to assuring fiscal discipline in Europe and establishing common crisis resolution mechanisms. There will also be much celebration of commitments made by Italy, and a strong political reaffirmation of the permanence of the monetary union. All of this is necessary and desirable, but the world economy will remain on edge.

Why stasis on Capitol Hill should worry investors

By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

The markets have had to – grudgingly – get used to pricing in political risk in recent months. Instead of being moved by economic data and fundamental or technical factors, a large amount of recent price action has been driven by politicians, and that always spells bad news.

Firstly, we have had to listen to the machinations of Europe’s various branches of power as they try to muddle through to a solution to the euro zone debt crisis. This has done very little apart from cause excess amounts of volatility in the markets as politicians talk at odds to each other. The results are pathetic: more than 18 months since the Greek crisis first flared up not only is Athens still deep in its own sovereign crisis but contagion has spread to Italy and Spain and even threatens to engulf some of the core member states like France.

from The Great Debate:

The G20 summit should commit to growth

By Gordon Brown
The views expressed are his own.

The build-up to the G20 summit has been dominated by the euro's failings. With Europe now the epicenter of the global crisis, its continued weakness will dominate the G20 discussions. Even now, uncertainties about Greece’s future -- and about the real strength of Europe’s commitment to its new stability fund -- has left little opportunity for a focus on the global economy as a whole.

But even if the state of the world economy has featured less than the euro in the preparatory work for the summit, the decisions world leaders will make on the global economy will dictate the mood of the coming two years. President Sarkozy has major global initiatives he will unveil to improve global food security, and may even force his plan for a global financial levy on the agenda. But there is a big choice the G20 must make. Either the world will come together and agree on a coordinated growth plan -- or we will retreat into a new, more acrimonious protectionism.

A 6-1 defeat is not a draw

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Michael Gove trying to laugh off Monday’s rebellion by 81 backbenchers sounds like a United supporter arguing that 6-1 was more or less a draw. For all the excuses, he can’t hide the fact that the government’s position is full of contradictions.

On the one hand, the PM has added his voice to the chorus calling for the euro zone to turn itself into a monetary-and-fiscal union, a proposal which certainly goes with the grain of the crisis. The idea has the support of the Americans and would probably be warmly welcomed in Asia too. In fact, it has great appeal everywhere except in the euro zone itself, where the main protagonists themselves have got a severe attack of cold feet.

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