The Great Debate UK

from MacroScope:

Political economy and the euro

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The reality of  'political economy'  is something that irritates many economists -- the "purists", if you like. The political element is impossible to model;  it often flies in the face of  textbook economics;  and democratic decision-making and backroom horse trading can be notoriously difficult to predict and painfully slow.  And political economy is all pervasive in 2010 -- Barack Obama's proposals to rein in the banks is rooted in public outrage; reading China's monetary and currency policies is like Kremlinology; capital curbs being introduced in Brazil and elsewhere aim to prevent market overshoot; and British budgetary policies are becoming the political football ahead of this spring's UK election. The list is long, the outcomes uncertain, the market risk high.

But nowhere is this more apparent than in well-worn arguments over the validity and future of Europe's single currency -- the new milennium's posterchild for political economy.

For many, the euro simply should never have happened --  it thumbed a nose at the belief that all things good come from free financial markets; it removed monetary safety valves for member countries out of sync with their bigger neighbours and put the cart before the horse with monetary union ahead of fiscal policy integration. But the sheer political determination to finish the European's single market project, stop beggar-thy-neighbour currency devaluations and face down erratic currency trading meant the  currency was born and has thrived for 11 years.

Now the budgetary and bond market upheaval currently afflicting euro member Greece and stalking  Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy has reawakened the whole debate. "Will the euro survive?" seems a legitimate question once again.

from Global News Journal:

Does Greece really deserve such a market pummelling?

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So there's no question Greece has work to do to improve its bookkeeping.

Not only must it get spending in check,  but it needs to be a bit more honest about where its finances stand in the first place. After all, it's not often an EU country says one month that its budget deficit is a little over three percent of GDP and admits a few weeks later that, oh dear, it's actually nearer 13 percent.

Yet it's hard not to have a little sympathy for Greece at the same time.

Its government bonds have been hammered and the price it has to pay to finance its debt has soared as financial markets have relentlessly taken it to task over the past six weeks for its profligacy.

Greece loses a major incentive to stay within EMU

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cr_mega_503_JaneFoley-150x150-Jane Foley is research director of Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

Germany’s Finance Ministry this week denied a report in Le Monde that Germany, France and other countries were working on a package to rescue Greece. It seems that for now the official line from the grandfathers of European Monetary Union is that Greece can sort out its own budget deficit. The official line from the Greek government is much the same; it continues to maintain that it doesn’t need a bailout.

from Breakingviews:

Has Greece delivered another Trojan horse?

Greece's economic statistics are dubious in more than one sense. The country probably bent its figures to get into the euro zone. Now, the EU is angry that Greece has not been straightforward about the size of its fiscal deficit. But the greater doubts concern how an uncompetitive, highly indebted, weakly governed country can live with a strong currency such as the euro.

The Trojans were shocked after Greek guile got them in. The feeling may be similar at Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office. There is particular anger at Greece's increase of its estimate of the fiscal deficit last year from a tolerable 3.7 percent of GDP to a quite intolerable 12.5 percent.

Too soon to predict that EMU will wobble

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foley-Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

The budget crisis facing the Greek government has drawn an array of comments and responses from various parts of the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the financial markets.

from The Great Debate:

Icelandic, Greek sagas show sovereign risks

-- James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. --

Developments in cash-strapped Iceland and Greece nicely illustrate two themes for 2010: sovereign risk and financial balkanization.

Iceland is balking at crushing terms demanded as part of its making whole overseas depositors in its ruined banking system, while Greece is involved in a game of chicken with the euro zone authorities over how, when and with whose assistance it heals its fiscal difficulties.

from MacroScope:

The euro gets a warning shot of Greek fire

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Juergen Stark , Germany's ECB executive board member, is well known as a true believer in tight fiscal discipline, so his reported comments in Italy's Il Sole 24 Ore about not bailing Greece out of its financial difficulties are not out of character. But the market reaction must have at least given pause for thought to EU leaders wondering how far to go in coddling their wayward child.

Within moments of Stark's reported musings that markets were "deluding themselves" if they thought member states would "put their hands in their wallets to save Greece", hitting the foreign exchange rooms, the euro was on a tumble.  It hit a low of $1.4285 from a day's high of $1.4371 -- which doesn't sound like a lot, but is, especially over a very short period of time.

from Global Investing:

Who were the investment winners and losers in 2009?

Let's not beat about the bush: the winners in this year's investment stakes were those who cashed out early in the financial crisis, looked at hugely oversold stock markets in March and jumped back in. The losers were those who spent too much time thinking about it or, worse, thought it was a good idea to put all their money in Dubai stocks and  Greek government debt.

For the winners, it all had to do with market timing. Buying MSCI's emerging market stock index at its March 3 low brought gains of close to 110 percent.  It was "only" a bit above 72 percent for the full year. World stocks as a whole gained around 30 percent for the year and nearly 75 percent from the March low.

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