With Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy calling for a new euro zone fiscal authority to manage the bloc’s finances and send markets a signal that EU leaders mean business about defending the euro, it is clear that the push towards fiscal union, led by Germany, is gathering momentum. Germany has also conceded that Spain should get an extra year to make the spending cuts demanded of it, suggesting it is aware that the crisis is lapping at its door again.
Spain’s plans to revive Bankia with state money and sort out its regions’ finances have well and truly unnerved the markets. It seems that Plan A — to inject state bonds straight into the stricken bank so that it could offer them to the ECB as collateral in return for cash — was roundly rejectd by the European Central Bank, so Madrid rapidly produced a second plan which will involve the government raising yet more money on the bond market, not helpful to its drive to cut debt.
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.
Spain’s borrowing costs are likely to soar at an auction of 12- and 18-month T-bills after its 10-year yields were pushed through the totemic 6 percent level on Monday. The history of the euro zone debt crisis shows that once above 6 percent the spiral accelerates and before you know it you’re at 7 percent – the level generally seen as unsustainable for state financing.
A day for central bankers and maybe the hint of a row brewing within the ECB. After days of jitters, euro zone bond markets were calmed a little this week when ECB policymaker Benoit Coure said the central bank’s government bond-buying programme could be revived if Spain started teetering.
All eyes on Italy. After paying sharply higher yields to sell one-year paper on Wednesday, it faces the altogether trickier task of selling up to five billion euros of three-year bonds. Yields are expected to jump by a full percentage point from a month ago but, as with yesterday, demand will be there and the paper should get away.
Spanish 10-year bond yields are within a whisker of breaking above six percent for the first time since December and are dragging Italy’s up with them. The balmy days of first quarter calm are well and truly over. “Markets step up the attack”, El Pais blares from its front page this morning.
Brace yourself for a blizzard of numbers.
EU finance ministers gathered in Copenhagen are poised to decide precisely how much firepower their new rescue fund – to be launched mid-year – will have. A draft communiqué suggests that as of mid-2013, presuming no new bailouts have been required in the interim, the combined lending ceiling of the future ESM and existing EFSF bailout funds will be set at 700 billion euros (500 billion pledged to the ESM plus the roughly 200 billion already committed to Greek, Irish and Portuguese rescue programmes).