Tag Archives: euro

Introducing The Latin Euro

By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson

The verdict is now in:  traditional German values lost and the Latin perspective won.  Germany fought hard over many years to include “no bailout” clauses in the Maastricht Treaty (the founding document of the euro currency area), and to limit the rights of the European Central Bank (ECB) to lend directly to national governments.  Last week, the ECB governing council – over German objections – authorized purchasing unlimited quantities of short-term national debts and effectively erased any traditional Germanic restrictions on its operations.  (The finding this week by the German Constitutional Court — that intra-European financial rescue funds are consistent with German law — is just icing on this cake, as far as those who support bailouts are concerned.)

With this critical defeat at the ECB, Germany is forced to concede two points.  First, without the possibility of large-scale central bank purchases of government debt for countries such as Spain and Italy, the euro area was set to collapse.  And second, that “one nation, one vote” really does rule at the ECB; Germany has around ¼ of the population of the euro area (81 million out of a total around 333 million), but only one vote out of 17 on the ECB governing council – and apparently no veto.  The balance of power and decision-making has shifted towards the troubled periphery of Europe.  The “soft money” wing of the euro area is in the ascendancy. Continue reading

Dominos

By James Kwak

So, as everyone knows, the ECB came out yesterday with its latest plan to stem the creeping European sovereign debt crisis. This one involves potentially unlimited ECB purchases of sovereign debt, so long as its maturity is less than three years (presumably so that the ECB can pull the plug within three years on non-complying governments) and the country in question agrees to comply with fiscal policy reforms (i.e., austerity).

I don’t have any particular ability to forecast whether this will succeed or fail. My inclination is that it will succeed for a while and then turn out to be insufficient, for the reasons that others have identified. Central bank bond-buying will enable governments to borrow money at manageable yields, so their national debt will not spiral out of control solely because of climbing interest rates. But to bring debt levels down will require actual economic growth, and more austerity—even if it isn’t quite as austere as that imposed on Greece in the past—will not generate growth. In addition, the ECB’s promise to “sterilize” its bond purchases—I believe by selling other assets to raise the cash for bond purchases, so the net effect will not be to create money—means that this is not a particularly expansionary form of monetary policy.

This is as good an occasion as any, however, to ask a question I’ve been wondering about for, oh, years now. Every discussion of the European crisis includes the following domino theory (although no one calls it that anymore, for reasons I’ll get back to): If Greece leaves the Eurozone, that proves that it is possible to leave the Eurozone—or, put another way, that the powers that be cannot keep the Eurozone intact. If people realize that it is possible, then bond markets will bet even more heavily against Spain and Italy, which will force them to leave the Eurozone, which would be terrible. Hence Greece cannot leave the Eurozone.

Continue reading

The End Of The Euro: What’s Austerity Got To Do With It?

By Simon Johnson

Most of the current policy discussion concerning the euro area is about austerity.  Some people – particularly in German government circles – are pushing for tighter fiscal policies in troubled countries (i.e., higher taxes and lower government spending).  Others – including in the new French government — are more inclined to push for a more expansive fiscal policy where possible and to resist fiscal contraction elsewhere.

The recently concluded G20 summit is being interpreted as shifting the balance away from the “austerity now” group, at least to some extent.  But both sides of this debate are missing the important issue.  As a result, the euro area continues its slide towards deeper crisis and likely eventual disruptive break-up.

The underlying problem in the euro area is the exchange rate system itself – the fact that these European countries locked themselves into an initial exchange rate, i.e., the relative price of their currencies, and promised to never change that exchange rate.  This amounted to a very big bet that their economies would converge in productivity – that the Greeks (and others in what we now call the “periphery”) would in effect become more like the Germans.  Alternatively, if the economies did not converge, the implicit presumption was that people would move – i.e., Greek workers go to Germany and converge to German productivity levels by working in factories and offices there.

It’s hard to say which version of convergence was more unrealistic. Continue reading

The End Of The Euro

By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson – this post is the first two paragraphs of a column that appears this morning on Bloomberg.com

Investors sent Europe’s politicians a painful message last week when Germany had a seriously disappointing government bond auction. It was unable to sell more than a third of the benchmark 10-year bonds it had sought to auction off on Nov. 23, and interest rates on 30-year German debt rose from 2.61 percent to 2.83 percent. The message? Germany is no longer a safe haven.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, investors have focused on credit risk and rewarded Germany with low interest rates for its perceived frugality. But now markets will focus on currency risk. Inflation will accelerate and the euro may break up in a way that calls into question all euro-denominated obligations. This is the beginning of the end for the euro zone.

To read the rest of this column, please use this link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-28/the-euro-area-is-coming-to-an-end-peter-boone-and-simon-johnson.html

What Next For Greece And For Europe?

By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson

Uncertainty about potential loan losses in Europe continues to roil markets around the world.  For many investors, taxpayers, and ordinary citizens there is no clarity on the exact current situation – let alone a stable view about what could happen next.  What should any friends of Europe — the US, G20, IMF, perhaps even China — strongly suggest that they do?

A good start would involve being honest on four points.  There is nothing pleasant about the truth in such crisis situations, but continued denial increasingly becomes dangerous to all involved.

Greece is on the front burner.  Currently on offer is a debt swap for private sector lenders that, once it goes through, will effectively guarantee 33 cents for every 1 euro in bonds that they currently hold.  The downside protection here is attractive to banks – made possible by the fact they will now get hard collateral in the restructured deal (meaning that Greece buys the bonds of safe EU countries, like Germany, and holds these where creditors could get at them).

The first brutal truth is that this is a default by Greece and all attempts to deny this or use another word just muddy the waters. Continue reading