James Saft

Europe’s three simple problems

Nov 3, 2011 15:40 UTC

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

The plan to rescue the euro zone faces only three hurdles; democracy, reality, and supply and demand.If they can overcome those, it is going to work perfectly, and, amazingly, they just might.

Democracy reared its rather large head when the Greek government decided suddenly that it wanted a sign-off from its voters and moved to put the plan to a plebiscite.

While it is hard to argue with the idea of a people getting a chance to vote directly on a plan that will mean tough times for the better part of the next decade, the move jeopardizes not only the confidence on which the entire rescue relies but also the next infusion of much-needed cash Greece is slated to get in November.

If the Greeks vote against the plan it means a full-fledged, badly controlled sovereign default, with all that implies for euro zone banks. Is that something the Greeks will vote for, even if it means ejection from the euro zone? Just the specter of the vote makes it far harder for euro zone officials to put the rest of their plan into effect, a number of whose planks are already looking shaky.

Democracy, or whatever alternative term you would prefer to use, is also doing the rescue no favors in Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is under pressure to step aside for a government of national unity. There is also precious little faith that Italy will produce credible fiscal and structural reforms. All of this is reflected most starkly in the reality of the bond market. Italian 10-year bond yields now stand at about 6.16 percent, a level that is unsustainable, considerably higher than before the grand plan was announced, and a threat in and of itself to the rest of the plan’s moving pieces.

Europe’s coming credit austerity

Oct 18, 2011 20:48 UTC

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

Having demonstrated how poorly austerity worked in Greece, Europe may be on the verge of giving it a try in credit markets.

Plans to rescue the euro zone and its banks might land Europe in an extended credit crunch, a very poor outcome given the continent’s continued heavy reliance on bank financing.

Europe, cooperation and train wrecks

Aug 30, 2011 20:04 UTC

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

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Aug 30 – In an unintended irony for a continent with a great public transport infrastructure Europe’s debt rescue plans are turning into a train wreck. Consider that as Greek two-year interest rates stood at 45 percent on Monday, officials and interests in the euro zone descended into an unseemly mix of squabbling over assets, denying the undeniable and disagreeing about first principles. Even as weak as recent U.S. economic data has been, these fractures, which imply heightened risk of a bank-centered market crisis, are surely the main source of the recent extreme financial volatility.

Most interesting was the intervention by newly minted International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde on Saturday who warned “developments this summer have indicated we are in a dangerous new phase.”

Lagarde went on to say that Europe’s banks need “urgent recapitalization,” using public funds if necessary, and advised that one option would be to use the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), or some other vehicle, to inject capital into banks directly.

If Greece quacks like a default …

Jun 30, 2011 21:47 UTC

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

The proposed bailout of Greece probably can’t escape the scarlet D of default, at least if the ratings agencies follow their own guidelines.

Even if the deal goes through, it is insufficient to solve Greece’s debt problems, only buying time for those involved to work out how best to engineer a transfer of bank losses to taxpayers.

Greece approved an austerity package on Wednesday, removing one road-block to further support, but it is still unclear how to get banks to participate in debt relief — a German requirement — without prompting a destabilizing event of default on Greece as a sovereign creditor.

Welcome to the global slowdown

May 24, 2011 14:21 UTC

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

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — With QE2 set to end in five weeks and with Greece rolling downhill towards default, the world is not best placed to withstand a weakening economy.

That, however, is exactly what looks to be happening, as Asian demand is hit by a cooling China and a struggling Japan.

Let’s take a look at the evidence:

Japan’s economy shrank by 0.9 percent in the three months to March, battered by the earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear fiasco.

Europe needs a debt jubilee

May 10, 2011 16:30 UTC

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

Greece cannot be saved without debt relief, and debt relief for Greece may mean what amounts to a mass Jubilee with debt write-offs and recapitalizations needed for weak banks and nations across the euro zone.

Little wonder that officials delay, deny and only belatedly try to negotiate openly with reality.

Greece’s credit rating was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s to B on Monday, taking it two steps further into junk territory, just days after a secret meeting of euro zone finance ministers  gave rise to rumors that the country would soon leave the common currency zone.