MacroScope

100-years of solitude in the euro zone

The euro zone slipped deeper into recession than economists expected in the fourth quarter of 2012 as Germany and France– the region’s two largest economies – shrank 0.6 percent and 0.3 percent respectively on a quarterly basis.

The data is a reminder of the plight still facing the euro zone as it struggles to shake off a three-year debt crisis, which the region has sought to fight with harsh, growth-crimping austerity.

The European Central Bank’s promise to buy the bonds of struggling sovereigns has spurred investors back into those markets and helped reduce borrowing costs. While one trillion euros of cheap funding made available to banks in late 2011 and early 2012 also gave investors greater confidence, the benefits of such policies have yet to translate into improvements in the real economy.

According to David Schnautz, interest rate strategist, at Commerzbank:

The gap is still widening between what the market is pricing in and what the real economy or the overall situation actually justifies. The Spanish Q4 GDP number was a very nasty reminder that things are still in the doldrums there.

Spain, the euro zone’s fourth largest economy, released figures two weeks ago which showed it remained mired in recession after a 0.7 percent contraction in the fourth quarter. Data this week shows Italy’s GDP fell by 0.9 percent – its sixth successive quarterly fall.

Don Rajoy de la Mancha: Spain’s “quixotic” adventures

 

Spain will not seek aid imminently, says Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. And by imminently, he means, not this weekend. Just the latest twist in a European crisis plot that now sees Spain as its primary actor.

The focus on Spain’s reluctance to see foreign aid, a pre-condition for additional European Central Bank purchases of its bonds, is ironic given the country’s record of goading weaker counterparts into similar rescue packages earlier in the crisis.

To Lena Komileva, chief economist at G+ Economics, the saga is all too reminiscent of the hapless meanderings of Don Quixote. Komileva argues that the country’s latest budget announcement marks only the beginning of a deeper, almost circular plight:

Spain calls for bank aid

Things are on the move in Spain although nothing is set in stone yet.
Treasury minister Montoro’s call yesterday for “European mechanisms” to be involved in the recapitalization of Spain’s debt-laden banks – a reversal of Madrid’s previous insistence that it could sort its banks alone – unleashed a barrage of whispers in Europe’s corridors of powers.

Our sources say that the independent of audit of Spanish banks’ capital needs, the first phase of which is due by the end of the month, will be a key moment after which things could move quickly.

The hitch is that Madrid still doesn’t want the humiliation of asking for a bailout and Germany will not countenance the bloc’s rescue funds lending to banks direct. One possible solution floated last night –  the EFSF or ESM bailout funds could lend to Spain’s FROB bank rescue fund, which could be viewed as tantamount to lending to the state but would give the government some political cover to say it wasn’t asking for the money. This is anything but a done deal and there would still be some strings attached which could be tough for Prime Mininster Mariano Rajoy to swallow.

Today in the euro zone

The Greek bailout is done and Spain and the EU have struck a face-saving compromise over what deficit Madrid should aim for this year, so all is well with the world. That certainly seems to be the market mood this morning with safe haven German Bund futures opening sharply lower and European stock futures pointing to further gains.
In fact, the tone is more to do with the Federal Reserve, which sounded somewhat more upbeat about the U.S. economic outlook last night and said most banks (with the exception of Citi!) had passed tough stress tests, though it’s also true that there is nothing on the euro zone horizon today to spoil the party.

Italy comes to market with its latest bond auction. Investors flush with cheap European Central Bank funds are expected to pile in, pushing three-year borrowing costs below 3 percent. Rome is taking advantage of the current benign conditions to try and sell up to six billion euros of debt.

More interesting may be tomorrow’s Spanish auction. Italian premier Mario Monti remains the euro zone’s austerity poster boy, in contrast to Mariano Rajoy. Although the new Spanish prime minister has successfully negotiated a looser deficit target with Brussels, the downside of that deal is that Madrid might come under more scrutiny, particularly if it looks like missing that softer target.