MacroScope

Pre-summit discord

There is an unusually public level of disagreement going into a key euro zone meeting. EU leaders aren’t helping to foster a sense of united purpose which could calm investors a little.

Yesterday, Germany’s Angela Merkel said Europe would not share debt liability as long as she lived. Maybe she was playing to a domestic audience, but if she means it, one of the main planks of a structure that could eventually solve this crisis has just been reduced to ashes. On the other side of the fence, Italy’s Monti said he was in no mood to rubber stamp any conclusions in Brussels. He said the summit promised to be “very difficult”. Spain’s Rajoy is in accord with him.

There may be movement in other areas though with Merkel’s coalition parties suggesting the ESM rescue fund could lend direct to banks, which would remove the stigma from the Spanish government of having to ask for aid and may explain why Madrid has been dragging its feet over a bank bailout of up to 100 billion euros, waiting for something better to come along.

More significantly, a senior lawmaker in Merkel’s party said the ESM could have its preferred creditor status removed. Technical perhaps, but a big deal since as things stand if the rescue fund offers a bailout or buys up bonds it could drive private investors out since they would be last to get paid back in the event of a default. Removing that obstacle could go some way to improving sentiment about Spain. However, we need to hear more senior voices in favour before this moves from the possible to the probable. Euro zone finance ministers will hold a conference call on the Spanish package and the Cypriot bailout request later today.

The leader of Germany’s opposition SPD is in the FT calling for urgent measures to lower euro zone borrowing costs. Monti wants the euro zone rescue funds to be used to help limit the spreads over German Bunds on bonds issued by countries that respect EU budget rules.  Support for his structural reform programme is waning at home and Italy’s parties have made it clear he needs to return from Brussels with some sort of trophy.

Shifting euro zone sands

A telling moment. Before pretty much every showdown EU summit since the debt crisis exploded into life, the leaders of France and Germany have got together beforehand to agree a common strategy. It is a truism that the European motor only works efficiently when its two biggest powers are in accord.

This time, following the election of Francois Hollande as French president, there has been no such meeting. Instead he will talk with Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy in Paris before they head to the Brussels summit.
There, Hollande will press for the currency bloc to start issuing joint euro zone bonds and will run into implacable German opposition that will squash the plan for now.
But the plates are shifting and German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks somewhat isolated.

On euro bonds, Hollande can call on the support of Italy’s Mario Monti and the European Commission among others.
Nonetheless, Angela holds the purse strings so while we will see some modest pro-growth measures agreed (and no doubt trumpeted), there will be no pump-priming that requires extra deficit spending, certainly no mutualising of debt and probably no hint that the likes of Greece and Spain will be given longer to make the cuts demanded of them (though that policy’s time could soon come, depending on how the June 17 Greek elections go).

All eyes on Wednesday EU summit

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)

Merkel under pressure … but unbending

Some interesting events to  ponder over the weekend, though not many of them came from the G8 summit which, as is customary, was strong on rhetoric but bare of any specific policy measures to tackle the euro zone crisis. However, markets seems to have tired of their panicky last few sessions. German Bund futures have opened lower as investors took profits rather than seizing on any positive news. European stocks have edged up.

It does appear that with the ascension of France’s Francois Hollande, the G8 firmament turned into G7 (or maybe 5 since we didn’t hear much from Japan and Russia) versus 1 (Germany) but as things stand we’re still heading for a fairly anaemic “growth strategy” unless euro zone leaders coalesce behind the notion of giving Spain and Greece longer to make the cuts demanded of them. Spain has moved the goalposts further in the wrong direction, revising its 2011 deficit up to 8.9 percent from 8.5 and blaming the overspending regions. That means its already loosened target of 5.3 percent for this year is now even harder to achieve.

Hollande is talking up the case for common euro zone bonds but that will not wash with Berlin for a long time yet. Sources said Monti used the G8 forum to promote a pan-European bank deposit guarantee fund. Good idea but that too will only be conceivable if the European financial sector is on the point of toppling. And who will underwrite it? There is talk too of allowing the EFSF to lend direct to banks to ease the Spanish government’s reluctance to ask for help. That may have a slightly better chance of success but Berlin doesn’t like this idea either.
Look no further than the German Chancellor’s take on the summit – it was all a great success, she said. Everyone agreed that we need both growth and fiscal consolidation.