MacroScope

Spanish yield curve flattens, along with Europe’s fortunes

Ten-year Spanish government bond yields hit their highest levels since the euro was created – above 7 percent – on growing doubts that the euro zone’s fourth largest economy will be able to avoid a full-blown sovereign bailout.

News that Spain’s heavily indebted eastern region of Valencia would ask Madrid for financial help reinforced concerns the country may eventually run out of funds. The rubber-stamping of a rescue package for Spain’s troubled banking sector did little to allay concerns.

Short-dated bonds came under particular pressure, flattening the Spanish yield curve further in a sign of mounting credit worries. Five-year bond yields hit a euro-era high of 6.928 percent, flirting with the widely dreaded 7 percent mark.

Charles Diebel, head of market strategy at Lloyds Bank says:

The more pressure you put on the front end … it is saying that the near-term risk of default is going up through the roof. It’s exactly the dynamic you saw in all of the other curves before they went into a bailout. You actually saw things like the Greek curve invert.

Asked when such an inversion — where short-term yields would actually surpass long-term ones — may take place for Spain, he said:

Breaking up is hard to do – even for stoic Germany

German Bund futures have just had their second straight week of losses. This has left many scratching their heads given the timing – right before Greek elections that could decide the country’s future in the euro and the next phase of the euro zone debt crisis. That sort of uncertainty would normally bolster bunds, which are seen as a safe-haven because of the country’s economic strength.

To explain the move, analysts pointed to profit-taking on recent hefty gains, and to a bout of long-dated supply from highly-rated Austria, the Netherlands and the European Financial Stability Fund this week. They also noted changes in Danish pension fund rules as an additional technical factor reducing demand for longer-dated German debt.

The losses, however, have also prompted some debate about whether contagion is spreading to Germany, the euro zone’s largest economy.

Spanish bailout blues

100 billion used to be a big number. These days, it barely buys you a little time.

Euro zone finance ministers agreed on Saturday to lend Spain up to 100 billion euros ($125 billion) to shore up its ailing banks and Madrid said it would specify precisely how much it needs once independent audits report in just over a week. 

A bailout for Spain’s banks, struggling with bad debts since a property bubble burst, would make it the fourth country to seek assistance since the region’s debt crisis began, after Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Eurobond or bust

Many market analysts consider a deeper fiscal union the only way to hold together a troubled euro zone. And while Germany continues to loudly reaffirm its long-standing opposition to shared euro zone bonds, the region is in many ways already headed towards implicit mutual responsibility for national debts. Berlin will likely come under increasing pressure to succumb, especially now that “core” European countries are entering the crosshairs of speculators .

The region’s complex TARGET2 payments system, which hosts payment flows between euro zone member states, suggests there is already a good deal of risk-sharing implicit in regional structures, not to mention the exposure the European Central Bank has to peripheral debt. That shared liability may fall short of the kind of joint risk-taking foreseen for a common bond, where one country is responsible for the non-payment of debt by another.

But analysts say the build-up of imbalances in the system – as the ECB replaced private sector lending which dried up for peripheral countries – reflects the latest in a number of crisis-fighting steps that have increased regional integration.

Manifest currency? U.S. dollar’s global dominance not set in stone

Incumbency, it is often said, confers many advantages.

Sitting U.S. presidents certainly have reaped its benefits – in the past 80 years, only three have been unseated.

Most economists believe the same benefits apply to reserve currencies. Yes, the U.S. dollar may one day be supplanted as the leading international currency, the thinking goes, but that day is many decades away.

Then again, maybe not.

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that looks more closely at the dollar’s own rise to the top in the 20th century suggests, among other things, that “the advantages of incumbency are not all they are cracked up to be.”

Greek political poll tracker

Greece faces another election on June 17.  Although they reject the austerity required by the bailout, most Greeks want their country to stay in the euro. However Frankfurt and Brussels say it is impossible for Greece to have one without the other: no bailout means no euro and a return to the drachma. Whether the Greek people believe these warnings could have a big impact on the election result.

First place comes with an automatic bonus of 50 seats, meaning even the slightest edge could be pivotal in determining the makeup of the next government.

Click here for an interactive chart showing the latest polls:

 

Europe’s triple threat: bad banks, big debts, slow growth

The financial turmoil still dogging Europe is most often described as a debt crisis. But sovereign debt is only part of the problem, according to new research from Jay Shambaugh, economist at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. The other two prongs of what he describes as three coexisting crises are the region’s troubled banks and the prospect of an imminent recession.

These problems are mutually reinforcing, and require a more forceful policy response than the authorities have delivered to date. In particular, Shambaugh advocates using tax policy to lower labor costs, fiscal stimulus from those economies strong enough to afford it, and more aggressive action from the European Central Bank:

It is possible that coordinated shifts in payroll and consumption taxes could aid the painful process of internal devaluation. The EFSF could be used to capitalize banks and to help break the sovereign / bank link. Fiscal support in core countries could help spur growth.  Finally, the ECB could provide liquidity to sovereigns and increase nominal GDP growth as well as allow slightly faster inflation to facilitate deleveraging and relative price adjustments across regions.

A recovery in Europe? Really?

There’s a sense of relief among European policymakers that the worst of the euro zone’s crisis appears to have passed. Olli Rehn, the EU’s top economic officials, talked this week of a “turning of the tide in the coming months”. Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, speaks of “sizeable progress” and “a reassuring picture”.

At last week’s spring summit, EU leaders couldn’t say it enough: “This meeting is not a crisis meeting … it’s not crisis management,” according to Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen. All the talk is of how the euro zone’s economy will recover in the second half of this year.

But for the 330 million Europeans who make up the euro zone, the outlook has, if anything, darkened. As euro zone governments deepen their commitment to deficit-cutting, and rising oil prices mean higher-than-expected inflation, households can’t be counted on to drive growth. Not only did housing spending fall 0.4 percent in the October to December period from the third quarter, but unemployment rose to its highest since late 1997 in January.

Europe’s wobbly economy

Things are  looking a bit unsteady in the euro zone’s economy.  Just ask Olli Rehn, the EU’s top economic official, who warned this week of  “risky imbalances” in 12 of the European Union’s 27 members. And that’s doesn’t include Greece, which is too wobbly for words. 

Rehn is looking longer term, trying to prevent the next crisis. But the here-and-now is just as wobbly. The euro zone’s economy, which generates 16 percent of world output, shrunk at the end of 2011 and most economists expect the 17-nation currency area to wallow in recession this year and contract around 0.4 percent overall. Few would have been able to see it coming at the start of last year, when Europe’s factories were driving a recovery from the 2008-2009 Great Recession. And it shows just how poisonous the sovereign debt saga has become.

Not everyone thinks things are so shaky.  Unicredit’s chief euro zone economist, Marco Valli, is among the few who believe the euro zone will skirt a recession — defined by two consecutive quarters of contraction — in 2012. This year is “bound to witness a gradual but steady improvement in underlying growth momentum,” Valli said, saying the fourth quarter was the low point in the euro zone business cycle.

When the euro shorts take off

Currency speculators boosted bets against the euro to a record high in the latest week of data (to end December 27) and built up the biggest long dollar position since mid-2010, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Here — courtesy of Reuters’ graphics whiz Scott Barber, is what happens to the euro when shorts build up: