MacroScope

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:



What the euro crisis is not

With Southern Europe getting so much of the blame for the continent’s financial crisis, it is refreshing to see someone highlight the other side of the coin. That’s just what Joshua Rosner, managing director of Graham Fisher & Co., did in testimony on Thursday. Asked to discuss the potential risk to U.S. taxpayers of the ongoing political battle over a frayed monetary union, Fisher began his remarks by debunking the reigning narratives being used to describe the crisis:

To fully assess the risks to the United States and our proper role in the euro zone  crisis it must first be clear what the crisis is and is not. It is not a bailout of the populations of the weaker European economies such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Hungary or Belgium. After all, the populations of those countries are being forced to give up portions of their sovereignty in the name of austerity toward a fiscal union.

Rather, I would contend, it is a bailout of banks in the core countries of Europe, of their stockholders and creditors who, failing to gain sufficient access capital markets, would need to be recapitalized by their host country governments. It is a transfer of losses from banks and corporations onto the backs of ordinary people without requiring any recognition of losses by those banks whose risk management and lending practices created the problem. It is as much a tale of over lending as it is of over borrowing and, just as nobody should feel undue sympathy for those who miscalculated the amount of debt they could service, nobody should feel for those who miscalculated their lending risks.

Contemplating Italian debt restructuring

This week’s evaporation of confidence in the euro zone’s biggest government debt market — Italy’s 1.6 trillion euros of bonds and bills and the world’s third biggest — has opened a Pandora’s Box that may now force  investors to consider the possibility of a mega sovereign debt default or writedown and, or maybe as a result of,  a euro zone collapse.

Given the dynamics and politics of the euro zone, this is a chicken-or-egg situation where it’s not clear which would necessarily come first. Greece has already shown it’s possible for a “voluntary” creditor writedown of  the country’s debts to the tune of 50 percent without — immediately at least — a euro exit. On the other hand, leaving the euro and absorbing a maxi devaluation of a newly-minted domestic currency would instantly render most country’s euro-denominated debts unpayable in full.

But if a mega government default is now a realistic risk, the numbers on the “ifs” and “buts” are being crunched.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Why is the euro still strong?

One of the more bizarre aspects of the euro zone crisis is that the currency in question -- the euro -- has actually not had that bad a year, certainly against the dollar. Even with Greece on the brink and Italy sending ripples of fear across financial markets, the single currency is still up  1.4 percent against the greenback for the year to date.

There are lots of reasons for this. The dollar is subject to its country's own debt crisis, negligible interest rates and various forms of quantitative easing money printing -- all of which weaken FX demand. There is also some evidence that euro investors are bring their money home, as the super-low yields on 10-year German bonds attest.

Finally -- and this is a bit of a stretch -- some investors reckon that if a hard core euro emerges from the current debacle, it could be a buy. Thanos Papasavvas, head of currency management at Investec Asset Management, says:

from Global Investing:

Are global investors slow to move on euro break-up risk?

No longer an idle "what if" game, investors are actively debating the chance of a breakup of the euro as a creditor strike  in the zone's largest government bond market sends  Italian debt yields into the stratosphere -- or at least beyond the circa 7% levels where government funding is seen as sustainable over time.  Emergency funding for Italy, along the lines of bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal over the past two years, may now be needed but no one's sure there's enough money available -- in large part due to Germany's refusal to contemplate either a bigger bailout fund or open-ended debt purchases from the European Central Bank as a lender of last resort.

So, if Germany doesn't move significantly on any of those issues (or at least not without protracted, soul-searching domestic debates and/or tortuous EU Treaty changes), creditor strikes can reasonably be expected to spread elsewhere in the zone until some clarity is restored. The fog surrounding the functioning and makeup of the EFSF rescue fund and now Italian and Greek elections early next year  -- not to mention the precise role of the ECB in all this going forward -- just thickens. Why invest/lend to these countries now with all those imponderables.

Where it all pans out is now anyone's guess, but an eventual collapse of the single currency can't be ruled out now as at least one possible if not likely outcome. The global consequences, according to many economists, are almost incalculable. HSBC, for example, said in September that a euro break-up would lead to a shocking global depression.

from Global Investing:

Euro exit-ology

Whether or not it's likely or even a good idea, talk of Greece leaving the euro is no longer taboo in either financial or political circles.  What is more, anxiety over the future of the  single currency has reached such a pitch since the infection of the giant Italian bond market that there are many investors talking openly of an unraveling of the entire bloc. But against such an amplified "tail risk",  it's remarkable how stable world financial markets have been over the past few turbulent weeks -- at least outside the ailing sovereign debt markets in question.

Yet, focussing on the possible consequences for Greece of bankruptcy and euro exit has now become an inevitable part of investment reseach and analysis. In a note to clients on Tuesday entitled "Breaking Up is Hard to Do", Bank of New York Mellon strategist Simon Derrick sketched some of the issues.

One issue he pointed out,  and one raised in the September Spiegel online report, was the chance of invoking Article 143 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which permits certain countries to "take protective measures" and which could be used to allow restrictions on the movement of capital in order to prevent a flight of capital abroad.