Opinion

The Great Debate

Europe risks going the way of Japan

(The views expressed by former British prime minister Gordon Brown are the author’s own and not those of Reuters)

The good news is that Europe is no longer going the way of Greece. The sad news is that it is threatening to go the way of Japan.

After years of hesitation punctuated by panic, Europe has finally accepted the compelling logic that a single currency needs a lender of last resort. Pro-euro voters in the Netherlands have clearly been impressed as the President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, braved the scowl of the ever-cautious Bundesbank and led his ECB directors to a pledge of unlimited – if conditional – short-dated bond-buying to avert another currency crisis.

The ECB acted in the nick of time; the fuse was set for an explosion next month with the market chaos of both a Greek and Spanish crisis. President Obama has been spared a Eurozone spanner in his campaign for re-election and the chances are we won’t have a pre-November Greek euro exit or Spanish bankruptcy, plus a run on Italy and a French financial crisis just for good measure.

Indeed, now that the ECB is ready to intervene to level short-term bond rates for economies intent on reform and the German Constitutional Court has removed its objections to a bailout fund, there need be no European bust-up over who pays for it.

Decisive euro action is needed at the G20 summit

The European crisis is no longer a European crisis. It is now everyone’s. Unless Monday’s G20 summit in Mexico coordinates a concerted global action plan right now, we face a global slowdown that will also have a deep impact on the U.S. presidential election and even on China’s transition to a new leadership. This is the last chance.

The standard, but often empty, language of summit communiqués will simply not do when the euro area is finally approaching its own day of reckoning. Whichever way the Greeks vote in Sunday’s election, a chaotic exit from the euro is becoming more likely: Its tax revenues are collapsing, not rising as promised. Unable to regain access to markets, Portugal and Ireland will soon have to ask for their second IMF programs. Sadly Italy – and potentially even France – may soon follow Spain in needing finance as the European recession deepens. Even German banks, which are some of the most highly leveraged, are not immune from needing more capital.

At G8 and G20 summits, world leaders have tended to be mere spectators as Europe has gone from one failed intervention to another. Now they must move decisively as they did in 2009. They must not leave Mexico without agreeing to support a big European firewall to stop contagion. And they must construct a global growth initiative for East and West.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

The unsyncopated rhythm of central banks

The European Central Bank is off and running with its tightening cycle -- raising by 25 basis points last week and talking in tongues enough to persuade markets that another hike is coming by July.  At the same time, the Fed -- despite some hawkish comments recently about QE -- isn't seen actually tightening for some time. Next year, actually.

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch is now wondering whether there is something wrong with this. " Surely one of these central banks is heading to a painful policy mistake? " it says.

Key to the question is the fact that U.S. and euro zone economics are not as far apart normally as one might think. Take growth, where there is a 0.6 positive correlation between the two across business cycles. Or inflation. The correlation there is even greater at a positive 0.75 over a whole economic cycle.

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