MacroScope

No Greek relief for pain in Spain

There was no Greek relief rally (though at least we had no meltdown) and Spanish 10-year yields shot back above seven percent as a result, setting a nasty backdrop to today’s sale of up to 3 billion euros of 12- and 18-month T-bills.

Madrid has had little problem selling debt so far, particularly shorter-dated paper, but it’s beginning to look like the treasury minister’s slightly premature assessment two weeks ago that the bond market was closing to Spain is beginning to come true.
The 12-month bill was trading on Monday at around 4.9 percent. As last month’s auction it went for a touch under three percent. If that is not hairy enough, Spain will return to the market on Thursday with a sale of two-, three- and five-year bonds.

We’re still awaiting the independent audits of Spain’s banks which will give a guide as to how much of the 100 billion euros bailout offered by the euro zone they need. Treasury Minister Montoro was out again yesterday, pleading for the ECB to step in – presumably by reviving its bond-buying programme – something it remains reluctant to do, although a strong sense of purpose and commitment on economic union at the EU summit in a fortnight could embolden the central bank to act.

At the  Mexico G20, euro zone leaders agreed to move towards a more integrated banking system, breaking the negative loop whereby weak countries bail out their weak banks who in turn by the debt of their government which is declining in value, driving both into a negative spiral. They also talked up their plans for fiscal union. We’ll hear more of this at their end-June summit though much of it could take years to put in place. Berlin has so far refused to countenance a full banking union, including deposit guarantees, until the path to economic union is set in stone. Were there hints in Los Cabos of some softening on that?

Germany has crossed some of its red lines recently and there were hints in the G20 draft communiqué that it could be prepared to acquiesce to demands it should consume more, although we’ll await proof of that since it would be possible for Europe to point to its hitherto anaemic growth strategy as justification. The G20 said in its draft communique that countries without heavy debts problems were ready to act together to spur growth, if the economy slows a lot more.

Battening down the hatches

There’s a high degree of battening down the hatches going on before the Greek election by policymakers and market in case a hurricane results.

G20 sources told us last night that the major central banks would be prepared to take coordinated action to stabilize markets if necessary –- which I guess is always the case –  the Bank of England said it would  flood Britain’s banks with more than 100 billion pounds to try and get them to lend into the real economy and we broke news that the euro zone finance ministers will hold a conference call on Sunday evening to discuss the election results – all this as the world’s leaders gather in Mexico for a G20 summit starting on Monday.
Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said the euro zone malaise was creating a broader crisis of confidence.

The central banks acted in concert after the collapse of Lehmans in 2008, pumping vast amounts of liquidity into the world economy and slashing interest rates. There is much less scope on the latter now. The biggest onus may fall on the European Central Bank which may have to act to prop up Greek banks and maybe banks in other “periphery” countries too although the structures to do so through the Greek central bank are in place and functioning daily. In extremis, we can expect Japan and Switzerland to act to keep a cap on their currencies too. As a euro zone official said last night, a bank run might not even be that visible and start on Sunday night over the internet rather than with queues of people outside their local bank on Monday morning.

Time to get real?

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.

That leaves the impression that Spain is making up policy on the hoof, not something likely to endear it to the markets. That’s particularly unfortunate since it has actually done an awful lot on the austerity and structural reform front over the past two years. But not enough.

It’s not all one-way traffic. Madrid is pressing its insistence that the ECB should be the institution to deliver a decisive message to the markets that the euro is here to stay – presumably by reviving its bond-buying programme (highly unlikely at this stage).

Euro zone ying and yang

The ying.
Sources told us last night that Spain may recapitalize stricken Bankia with government bonds in return for shares in the bank. That would presumably involve an up-front hit for Spain’s public finances (it is already striving to lop about 6 percentage points off its budget deficit in two years) which might be recouped at some point if the shares don’t disappear through the floor.
The ECB’s view of this will be crucial since the plan seems to involve the bank depositing the new bonds with the ECB as collateral in return for cash. If it cries foul, where would that leave Madrid?

Spain’s main advantage up to now – that it had issued well over half the debt it needs to this year – may already have evaporated after the government revealed that the publicly stated figure for maturing debt of the autonomous regions of 8 billion euros for this year is in fact more like 36 billion. Catalonia said late last week that it needed central government help to refinance its debt.  If more bonds are required to cover some or all of Bankia’s 19 billion euros bailout, Spain’s funding challenge in the second half of the year starts to look very daunting indeed.

The yang.
Latest Greek opinion polls, five of them, show the pro-bailout New Democracy have regained the lead ahead of June 17 elections although their advantage is a very slender one. If the party manages to hold first place, and secures the 50 parliamentary seat bonus that comes with it, then it looks like it would have the numbers to form a government with socialist PASOK which would keep the bailout programme on the road … for a while.

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:

 

The end of austerity? Not likely

It was Bill Clinton who, after the 2000 U.S. election was thrown into turmoil by Florida’s hanging chads, said the American people had spoken but it was going to take a little time to work out what they had said.
No such dilemma in Greece. A plague on both your houses was the message for the traditional ruling parties PASOK and New Democracy, a result that makes a stable government look a remote possibility and puts a very real question mark over its bailout programme.

Today, the largest party New Democracy will try to form a coalition. Given what they’ve said, the left-wing Left Coalition which leapfrogged PASOK into second place cannot be part of a government committed to the bailout terms so it looks like the two traditionally dominant parties — two seats short of an overall majority between them — must seek support from elsewhere or face fresh elections which could well give an even more fractured result. One thing worth noting is that even the resurgent anti-bailout parties mostly say they want to stay in the euro zone so maybe there’s soom room for negotiation.

The euro has dived to a three-month low, Bund futures have posted yet another record high and European shares are down so we’re right back in fear mode.