The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
Financial conditions in the euro zone have significantly improved since the summer, when euro zone risks peaked because of German policymakers’ open consideration of a Greek exit, and the sovereign spreads of Italy and Spain reached new heights. The day before European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s famous speech in London in which he announced that the ECB would do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, bond yields in Spain and Italy were at 7.75 percent and 6.75 percent, respectively, and rising. When the ECB announced its outright monetary transactions (OMT) bond-buying program, the euro zone was at risk of a collapse.
Since then, risks have abated significantly, thanks to a number of factors:
The ECB’s OMT has been incredibly successful in reducing the risks of breakup, redenomination and a liquidity/rollover crisis in the public debt markets of Spain and Italy. Although the ECB has yet to spend a single additional euro to buy the bonds of Spain and Italy, both short-term and longer-term sovereign spreads against German bonds have fallen substantially.
Following a number of political and legal hurdles, the successful operational start of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) rescue fund provides the euro zone with another €500 billion of official resources to backstop banks and sovereigns in the euro zone periphery, on top of the leftover funds of its predecessor, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).
Realizing that a monetary union is not viable without deeper integration, euro zone leaders have proposed a banking union, a fiscal union, an economic union and, eventually, a political union. The last is necessary to resolve any issue of democratic legitimacy that might result from national states transferring power from national governments to EU- or euro zone-wide institutions. This transfer of power also would have to involve the creation of such institutions to ensure solidarity and risk-sharing are developed in the banking, fiscal and economic unions.
The open talk in the summer by some German authorities about an exit option for Greece has turned into a tentative willingness to prevent and postpone such an exit. There are several reasons for this. First, Greece has done some austerity and reforms in spite of a deepening recession, and the current coalition is holding up. Second, an orderly exit of Greece is impossible until Spain and Italy are successfully isolated. Such an exit would lead to massive contagion, which would hurt not only the euro zone periphery but also the core, given extensive trade and financial links. Third, an economic disaster in Greece would be damaging to the CDU Party’s chances of winning the German elections. Thus, even when Greece inevitably underperforms on its policy commitments, Germany and the troika (the IMF, EU and ECB) will hold their noses and keep the funds flowing as long as the current coalition holds up.
Given these developments, the risk of a Greek exit in 2013 has been significantly reduced, even if the risk of an eventual Greek exit from the euro zone is still high, close to 50 percent by my estimation. Meanwhile, the narrowing of Spanish and Italian sovereign spreads has significantly diminished the risk that either country will fully lose market access and be forced to undergo a full troika bailout like Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Both Spain and Italy may in 2013 opt for a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that opens the taps of ESM and OMT support, but such official financing would inspire confidence as it would not be associated with rising, unsustainable spreads and a loss of market access.
While there is a much lower likelihood of disorderly events in the euro zone, there are still significant obstacles to deeper integration, as well as country-specific economic and political vulnerabilities. The biggest obstacle to the formation of a banking, fiscal, economic and political union is that Germany is pushing back against the time line for action, with the initial skirmish on ECB supervision of euro zone banks. This backpedaling reflects deep German skepticism on whether the resolution of the euro zone crisis requires a move toward greater union. Without a more credible commitment to austerity and reforms from euro zone periphery countries, lurching forward would imply that risk-sharing will turn into a large, long-term transfer union, which is unacceptable to Germany and the core. Thus, Germany will do whatever is necessary to delay the integration process, at least until after elections in fall 2013.
Meanwhile, there is a deep recession in the euro zone periphery that is spreading even to parts of the core: France will experience a recession in 2013, and even Germany is sharply decelerating as two of its main export markets, the euro zone periphery and China, contract and slow, respectively. The balkanization of economic activity between the euro zone core and the periphery persists. The balkanization of banking is ongoing as cross-border flows, interbank flows and smart money have left the periphery banks and found shelter in the core; in the case of public debt markets, balkanization and domestication continue as cross-border investors have left the periphery public debt markets, in spite of reduced yields, on top of abandoning periphery banks and corporates.
By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.
The aftermath of the U.S. presidential election has seen some tentative steps towards political harmony. After a bruising campaign with Democrats and Republicans at each others throats for most of the last two years, President Obama declared in his victory speech that there is no such thing as blue or red states, there is only the United States of America.
This is what makes America one country. Different states may have various social and cultural attitudes, but at the end of the day each person identifies themselves as American, and they are proud. Likewise, the euro zone is made up of disparate member states with different cultures, attitudes and fiscal stances. But that is where the similarity ends. The U.S. presidential election was a stark reminder just how far we from a United States of Europe.
from Hugo Dixon:
Investors have been obsessed with the notion of “Grexit” - Greece’s exit from the euro. But “Brexit” - Britain’s exit from the European Union - is as likely if not more so. The country has never been at ease with its EU membership. It refused to join its predecessor, the European Economic Community, in 1957; it was then blocked twice from becoming a member by France’s Charles De Gaulle in 1960s; and shortly after it finally entered in 1973, it had a referendum on whether to stay.
The euro crisis has put further pressure on this difficult relationship. David Cameron’s Conservative Party, the governing coalition’s dominant group, delights in pointing out the flaws in the single currency. The party’s eurosceptics feel vindicated because they have long believed that monetary union was only possible with political union.
The upcoming elections in Greece have gained added significance in recent weeks. It’s not just the Greek people choosing their next leader; it is also being presented as a referendum on euro membership. Either vote for a pro-bailout party and stay in the euro zone or vote anti-austerity and you’re out. But is the outcome of the vote really that clear cut? Although three quarters of Greeks want to remain in the euro zone, 80 percent want the terms of their second bailout to be re-negotiated. The elections might not be such a foregone conclusion after all.
It’s worth looking at the two potential “choices” currently being presented to the Greek people. If they choose a “pro-bailout” party that doesn’t mean that champagne corks will be popped in Berlin. Those in power in Athens need to answer to the electorate who will have given them a mandate to challenge Germany and its insistence on tough fiscal reform in return for bailout cash. So if Europe’s authorities think that the election of New Democracy (one of the parties who pledged to stick to fiscal reform post the election) is enough to keep Greece on the fiscal straight and narrow, think again.
Throughout history it has always been difficult to take something away from someone once you have given it to them. Europe is finding that it is extremely difficult to reign in public finances once they start to go out of control. Democracies don’t like to vote for austerity, which is why Sarkozy lost the Presidency in France, why a radical left party came second in the Greek elections and why the Conservatives got a drubbing at last week’s local elections in the UK.
This tells us something about democracy in the western world. Governments have to manage the public finances directly – they have to sell the debt, do the sums and present budgets. However, the people who vote them into (and out of) power are the public, who rightly in most cases, believe they have worked hard, paid taxes and deserve the services and retirement promises made to them.
In addition to the economic meltdown, there is another political story in Europe at present – Belgium.
I’m not referring to the recent release of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Adventures of Tintin’ movie – though it might be argued that Captain Haddock bears a passing resemblance to several much-missed British political figures, thanks to the trademark slur.
from The Great Debate:
By Mohamed El-Erian and Michael Spence
The opinions expressed are their own.
In formulating policy, the process and the mindset can have a significant impact on the success or failure of outcomes. How you do it can be as or more important than what you do.
In today’s western economies, this observation may go a long way in explaining why policy outcomes have consistently fallen short of what policymakers themselves have expected, let alone what is needed to address important and growing economic challenges.
from Anooja Debnath:
If it were about age, 40-somethings would cringe. But it seems a dead certainty that 40 now means 50 -- or even higher -- when it comes to predicting the chances of a recession taking place.
Going by past Reuters polls of economists, every time the probability hits 40 percent, the recession's already started or is perilously close to doing so.
Markets thrive on certainty. Anything that smacks of uncertainty, fence-sitting or indecision will lead to market turbulence, as investors punish those who don’t tell them how it is.
This is exactly what we are seeing in Europe right now. The markets are losing patience with the EU’s inability to come up with a credible plan to fight the sovereign debt crisis and that is why it is escalating at an alarming rate.
By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.
The markets always suffer from a chronic case of short-termism, but once a sovereign debt crisis takes hold it is very difficult to reverse. Investors may be concentrating on Greek, Irish and Portuguese funding needs for the next 24- 36 months now, but it won’t be long before investors start to scrutinise longer-term liabilities that are currently being clocked up for the next 10,20 even 30 years.