Greece

Getty Images

Getty Images

Based on the latest opinion polls, the Greek election could result in a highly confused outcome, with the new government being unable or unwilling to meet any budgetary terms acceptable to the Troika, but also unwilling to leave the euro voluntarily. What would happen then?

Economists like Thomas Mayer (Deutsche Bank) and Huw Pill (Goldman Sachs) have recently argued that, in these circumstances, Greece might resort to a “parallel” currency which would be used for some domestic transactions, while keeping the euro in place for existing bank deposits and for foreign transactions. Thomas is favourably disposed to the idea, while Huw foresees many problems with it.

Although I am not at all convinced that this would be a stable solution, since it might just be a prelude to much higher inflation in Greece, it is the kind of fudged development which can appeal to politicians. It could therefore have a part to play in the future of the eurozone. Anyway, it is destined to be widely discussed in coming weeks. Read more

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the twists and turns in the eurozone crisis had, in the early months of 2012, lost the power to shock global asset prices. The reason given was that the prophylactic provided by the use of the ECB’s balance sheet essentially trumped the deteriorating economic fundamentals in several countries, notably in Spain. This view has since been severely challenged, but it has just about remained intact; after all, American and Asian equities are still 6-7 per cent up so far this year.

However, the crisis which surrounds political events in Greece threatens to change all that. This is the first major revolt by any electorate against the eurozone’s austerity policies, and it is those policies which have underpinned the willingness of the ECB to use its balance sheet to rescue the banking system. Furthermore, Greece is just the tip of the iceberg. The swing against austerity by voters in the eurozone is manifesting itself in many different places. I have been wondering whether this is good or bad news for the resolution of the crisis. Read more

Talks in the eurozone about the intended €130bn bail-out package by the EU and IMF have become more convoluted than ever this week. The latest deadline for a final decision by the eurozone is now said to be Monday, and there is no certainty that the deal will be ratified even then.

However, assuming that the Germans, Dutch and Finns are willing to sanction the deal, which on balance seems likely, the package will produce a further large increase in the exposure of eurozone taxpayers to Greece, without reducing the overall burden of Greek indebtedness very much at all.

The deal would therefore involve a further big step towards the “socialisation” of Greek debt to other eurozone sovereigns, while reducing the exposure of the private sector to any further Greek default. From now on, the burden of Greek debt will either by borne by Greek taxpayers, or by eurozone/IMF taxpayers, depending on whether additional defaults occur in future. It will be a simple head-to-head between sovereign governments, which is why the debate is becoming so heated. Read more

In typical European fashion, a summit deal which seemed out of reach at midnight last night was triumphantly unveiled at 4am. The deal does not, and was not intended to, have any effect on the core problems facing the eurozone. There is still an urgent need to restore growth to economies which are hamstrung by uncompetitive business sectors, and continuous fiscal tightening. Recession still looms, especially in the southern economies.

What the deal is intended to provide is adequate medium term financing for sovereigns and banks which have been facing urgent liquidity problems. On that, it is notable that the summit has not really raised any new money, apart from an increase in the private sector’s write-down of Greek debt by some €80bn.

All of the remaining “new” money, including €106bn to recapitalise the banks and over €800bn to be added to the firepower of the EFSF through leverage, has yet to be raised from the private sector, from sovereign lenders outside the eurozone, and conceivably from the ECB.

There is no guarantee that this can be done. The eventual out-turn of this summit will depend on whether this missing €1,000bn can actually be raised. Read more

Euro symbol at the European Central Bank

Euro symbol by the European Central Bank headquarters. Image by Getty.

When the idea of leveraging the European Financial Stability Facility to increase its firepower was touted as the solution to the European sovereign debt crisis at the International Monetary Fund meetings last weekend, markets rallied sharply. They saw this (rightly) as the first sign of a policy initiative which might actually be large enough to get ahead of the deteriorating crisis. But I commented here on Sunday that there was no real indication that Germany was ready to embrace the scheme and, sure enough, Wolfgang Schäuble, finance minister, yesterday described the approach as “a silly idea” which “makes no sense”.

Germany’s public opposition to increasing the size of the EFSF may be partly tactical, given tomorrow’s key vote on the fund in the Bundestag. But it is also based on a crucial sticking point. The strong economies fear that increasing the size of the fund would result  in them losing their own triple A status and they have consistently given a greater weight to these costs than to the less certain, but potentially much larger, costs of a euro breakdown. Read more

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel. Image by Getty.

The Greek financial tragedy seemed set to enter the end game last week, when the troika representing big official lenders (the EU, ECB and IMF) was close to abandoning the next tranche of official loans to the country. Without these official loans, a disorderly default would have been inevitable within a month, and the departure of Greece from the euro, if not from the EU itself, would have been on the agenda.

Germany was reported to be examining these radical options at the weekend. However, having looked over the precipice, Angela Merkel, German chancellor, seems to have recoiled from them, for now. We will learn more in the next few days, but yesterday she hinted that she would still prefer a delayed, “orderly” Greek default, rather than an immediate and disorderly one. Unfortunately, neither option looks very appealing. Read more

A couple of months ago, financial markets realised that the developed economies were slowing sharply, while the policy response from central banks and finance ministries was slow, or confused, or in some cases, like the debt ceiling debacle in Washington, directly damaging. Since then, some policy makers have woken up and smelled the coffee. There have been significant policy shifts in the US, and at the ECB. But there has been no progress whatsoever in the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Last week, that became by far the most urgent problem facing the global economy. Read more

The events of the last few weeks have shone a very harsh searchlight on the nature of sovereign debt within the European Monetary Union. Although critics of EMU have always argued that monetary union without fiscal union is “impossible”, it was only when Angela Merkel started to call for a procedure to handle a possible default on the sovereign debt of a member state that the markets began to focus on the fact that such a default really is possible. Read more

If the eurozone were a genuine single economy, like the US, then the buoyant second quarter GDP figures, published today, would be a cause for unbridled celebrations. The increase of 1.0 per cent in GDP in Q2 was nearly double the growth rate in the US and, if maintained, it would be more than enough to bring down the unemployment rate in Europe. Yet much of the market reaction has focused not on the fact that the eurozone as a whole enjoyed a fantastic quarter, but on the widening gaps which are developing between the healthy German economy and the ailing economies on the periphery of the bloc, and which leave the troubles of the euro far from resolved. Read more