EFSF

Italy's Mario Monti, left, being greeted at the G20 summit by Mexican president Felipe Calderon

When EU leaders agreed last year to give the eurozone’s €440bn rescue fund more powers to deal with a teetering country short of a full-scale bailout, it actually created two separate tools to purchase sovereign bonds of a government finding itself squeezed by the financial markets.

Some officials in northern creditor countries believed the most efficient tool would be using the fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, to purchase bonds on the primary market (when a country auctions them off to investors) rather then on the secondary market (where bonds already being openly traded).

The rationale was simple: By declaring the EFSF was going to move into an auction, perhaps at a pre-agreed price, they would effectively set a floor that would encourage private investors to pile in. Indeed, as one senior official said at the time, the EFSF might not even need to spend a cent; the mere threat of auction intervention might be enough to drive up prices and spark confidence, luring buyers back.

In addition to the prospect of using only very little of the EFSF’s increasingly scarce resources, a primary market intervention also had another political benefit: instead of buying bonds off private investors – in essence, rewarding the bad bets made by bankers and traders – the EFSF money would go directly to the governments selling the bonds.

With the topic of using the EFSF – and its successor, the €500bn European Stability Mechanism – to purchase sovereign bonds back on the table for Spain and Italy, it would seem an opportune time for advocates of a primary market programme to have their say. But there’s a problem: as designed by eurozone officials, it can only come as part of a full-scale bailout, meaning it is virtually impossible for Rome or Madrid to accept one. Read more

Klaus Regling, head of the eurozone rescue fund

Coming up with a number for the size of the new, enlarged eurozone rescue fund seems to be the favourite parlour game in the run-up to today’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Copenhagen.

According to a leaked copy of the draft conclusions obtained by the FT, the ceiling for the next year will be €700bn. But is that, to quote a former US president, fuzzy math? Is it really €940bn…but some leaders are afraid to admit it out of fear of angering their bailout-fatigued national parliaments?

The leaked draft has three elements of a new firewall starting in mid-2012 : €200bn is committed to the ongoing bailouts in Greece, Ireland and Portugal; €240bn of left-over money in the current, temporary rescue fund is frozen in an emergency account; and two-fifths of the new €500bn permanent rescue fund gets capitalised.

The fuzzy math comes in when you try to account for the new permanent rescue fund, called the European Stability Mechanism. An attempt to clarify, plus some excerpts from the draft, after the jump… Read more

German chancellor Angela Merkel during a press conference Thursday

Our friends and rivals over at The Daily Telegraph have gotten their hands on an interesting document from the German government detailing its proposals for EU treaty change, and have helpfully posted it online (with an English translation by the Open Europe think thank).

Although the Telegraph focuses on its implications for Britain, there is a significant amount of detail on how Berlin would like to change eurozone economic governance, including yet another stab at enshrining bondholder “haircuts” in the EU treaties.

For those who haven’t followed the debate closely, there is now a closed-door fight going on about whether Greece really will be the only country that sees its bondholders pushed into losses – as the eurozone’s leaders have repeatedly insisted in their summit conclusions – or whether the bloc’s new €500bn rescue fund, which could come into place as early as next year, should allow for organised defaults.

Although almost all EU institutions – including the European Commission and European Central Bank – want to make explicit Greece was a one-off, the German paper makes clear they want to keep the door open. Read more

As we’ve been reporting for the last couple of days, many of the fiscal measures that we once thought had been agreed for the two-day summit are unravelling, thanks in part to Finland’s objections to finalising an increase in the eurozone’s €440bn bail-out fund and Germany’s sudden objection to the structure of the €500bn fund that will replace it in 2013. Read more

Following the hugely successful auction of Irish bail-out bonds Tuesday, Klaus Regling, head of the eurozone agency that raised the cash, said the offering “confirms confidence in the strategy adopted to restore financial stability in the euro area”. But is that really what investors were telling us?

To be sure, the first-ever use of the eurozone’s €440bn rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, was an unmitigated victory for Regling and his nascent organisation – though, let’s remember, that the agency which actually did the heavy lifting was Germany’s debt agency, which is rather experienced in such auctions.

And investors would not have flocked to the issue – some €44.5bn in orders came in for a €5bn offering – if the markets thought the euro was about to implode.

But as my London-based colleague and sovereign debt savant David Oakley quoted one fund manager saying: “We are buyers of this bond because it is very safe and offers extra yield over German Bunds.” Which seems to be the prime motivator here. Read more

Here at the Brussels blog, we’re keeping a close eye on the run-up to next Friday’s rare one-day summit of European Union heads of government. And nothing is occupying more of our attention than whether leaders will actually tackle the ongoing eurozone crisis at the conclave.

One of the events that had been closely monitored by the tea-leaf readers was Tuesday night’s private dinner outside Berlin between the two main antagonists in the debate, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

According to people we have talked to, however, there was little meeting of the minds. Even though the dinner lasted for well over three hours – and almost all of it was occupied by discussions of economic policy – there is still no agreement on whether to put reforms touted by Barroso, including a revamp of the EU’s €440bn bail-out fund, on next week’s agenda. Read more