All eyes on Wednesday EU summit

May 22, 2012

After last week’s hefty losses, European stock gained yesterday and are up up again this morning, denoting some optimism about the Wednesday supper summit of EU leaders, which might well be unrealistic.

The European growth measures that we know are in the works – boosting the paid-in capital of the European Investment Bank and plans for ‘project bonds’ underwritten by the EU budget to finance infrastructure – might help a little but will fall a long way short of turning the euro zone economy around, so unless we get something more, on either the growth or the building defences fronts, there’s scope for investor disappointment.

Europe’s international partners continue to demand more dramatic crisis action. After the G8 summit, President Obama was out last night with four demands:
– firewalls to protect countries from Greek contagion (are the ESM and IMF funds now viewed as insufficient?),
– recapitalization of banks that need it (Spain to the fore here presumably),
– A growth strategy to run alongside tight fiscal measures (easier said than done),
– easy monetary policy to help the likes of Italy and Spain keep cutting debt (the ECB thinks its 1 percent rate is very loose and is unlikely to cut soon with inflation above target and will only flood the system with more liquidity in utter extremis)

Nothing new there but it keeps up the drumbeat of pressure ahead of the EU get-together. We know French President Francois Hollande, with the backing of others, will press the case for common euro zone bonds at the summit and also know that German opposition will not weaken one jot on that score. Spain’s Rajoy is pressing for more ECB involvement, presumably by reviving its bond-buying programme. Given internal opposition to that within the ECB that is probably the least likely measure to be reactivated, yet anyway.

Despite money flowing out of Greek banks, and at least the threat of it spreading more widely if Greece bombed out of the euro zone, there is no hint yet of any planning for any scheme to underwrite bank deposits across the bloc, probably because the ECB and Germany will not countenance underwriting it. The golden rule of this crisis is that red lines have and will be crossed when it reaches breaking point. We’re not there yet.

With so much focus on Greece and Spain, Portugal has been somewhat overlooked in recent weeks but it will quite likely need a second bailout at some stage and if Greece prompts a wave of contagion, it will be firmly and instantly in the firing line.

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