Telegraph: Euro trap closes to allow ‘the EU do things it cannot do now’ *

Telegraph
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
26.02.2009

On the same theme, three notes have hit my desk on the risk of EMU break-up/default — one from France, one from Benelux, and one from a Swede in the City

1) Laurence Chieze-Devivier from AXA Investment Managers — in “Leaving the Euro?” — says that the rocketing debt costs of Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Italy are taking on a life of their own. (Italy has just revised is public debt forecast from 2010 from 101pc to 111pc. That is a frightening jump. While the CDS default swaps on Irish debt is are at 376 basis pouints. Austria is at 240. This is getting serious).

It is far for clear whether all these countries will accept the sort of drastic retrenchment required to stay in EMU. “By leaving the euro, internal adjustments would become less `painful’. An independent currency would re-establish economic competitiveness quickly, not achieved by a sharp drop in employment or wage cuts”.

Mr Cheize-Devivier makes a point often missed. Countries in trouble may not have a choice. “In our view a FORCED EXIT could be provoked by investors’ distrust.”

The AXA view is that the crisis will ultimately lead to the creation of a new EU machinery — in effect, an EU economic government — ensuring the survival of EMU.

(This, of course, is what many Brit, Danish, Swedish, and Gallic eurosceptics always suspected, which is why wanted their countries to stay out. Romano Prodi candidly said once that the euro would lead to a crisis one day that would let the EU do things it cannot do now)

2) Carsten Brzeski for ING in Brussels said the eurozone laggards were more likely to default than pay the punishing costs of leaving EMU.

“It is difficult to believe that Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, would be better off outside the eurozone. While a government could possibly get away with a redenomination of its debt, the private sector would still have to service its foreign debt. We believe any attempts to leave monetary union would lead to the mother of all crises, and total isolation in any future European integration”

Mr Brzeski said the bigger danger is that countries will face a buyers’ strike for their debt as a flood of bond issues across the world saturates the markets.

“A further worsening of the crisis could lead to (partial) sovereign defaults in one or several countries.”

Others would launch come to the rescue. The “No-Bail” clause in the Maastricht Treaty would be ignored. The EU would instead use the “exceptional occurences beyond its control” clause (Article 100.2) to do whatever it wanted.

There would be a price. “The country in question could be partly warded and have to fuilfil strict controls”.

Quite. This is another long-held fear of eurosceptics: that EMU would lead to vassal states.

3) Gabriel Stein from Lombard Street Research in “A Road-map for EMU break-up” says the euro has shielded weaker member from a currency crisis in this global recession, but only the cost of letting imbalances get further out of hand. Currency crises are often good. If you don’t get tremors, you get an earthquake.

Mr Stein says a country like Italy that has lost some 40pc in labour competitveness could in theory do what Germany has done for the last 13 years after the D-Mark was locked into the euro system at an overvalued rate. It could screw down wages but that was during a period of global growth. No Greek or Italian government is likely to opt for mass unemployment, or stay in power if it does so.  (Actually, I would go further. I doubt whether Italy can possibly do this. Germany was able to pull it off because the Club Med states were all inflating merrily. Italy would have to deflate against a low-inflation Germany. If Italy deflated with a public debt of 111pc of GDP, it would face a debt compound trap. In my view, Italy is already past the point of no return.)

Mr Stein’s piece is a study of break-down mechanics. What would actually happen? The country’s parliament could pass a law redenominating debt into the new Lira, Drachma, or whatever. But there would be a pre-emptive run on bank deposits long before then. “Anyone not desirous of losing money would presumably see the writing on the wall and transfer any funds beyond the reach of the state. In other words, close down that account with Monte dei Paschi di Siena and open a new one with Commerzbank in Germany”.

Such a wholesale shift would lead to a collapse in the money supply, perhaps equal to the 38pc contraction in M3 from October 1929 to April 1933 in the US — but concentrated in a much shorter period. “Banks would be forced to call in outstanding loans, bring about a collapse in the country’s business.”

That is something I never thought of before. Italy is really damned if it does, and really damned if it doesn’t. Lasciate Ogni Speranza, Voi Che Entrate EMU

Full article

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