The Report That Will Blow Up The Eurozone
28 january, 2012
From Automatic Earth
No, I’m not talking about the fact that Germany and Holland want to take over as the de facto government in Greece, as Noah Barkin writes for Reuters (that they want to do it through Brussels is a mere technicality).
Germany is pushing for Greece to relinquish control over its budget policy to European institutions as part of discussions over a second rescue package, a European source told Reuters on Friday.
"There are internal discussions within the Euro group and proposals, one of which comes from Germany, on how to constructively treat country aid programs that are continuously off track, whether this can simply be ignored or whether we say that's enough," the source said.
The source added that under the proposals European institutions already operating in Greece should be given "certain decision-making powers" over fiscal policy. "This could be carried out even more stringently through external expertise," the source said.
The Financial Times said it had obtained a copy of the proposal showing Germany wants a new euro zone "budget commissioner" to have the power to veto budget decisions taken by the Greek government if they are not in line with targets set by international lenders.
"Given the disappointing compliance so far, Greece has to accept shifting budgetary sovereignty to the European level for a certain period of time," the document said. Under the German plan, Athens would only be allowed to carry out normal state spending after servicing its debt, the FT said.
Ilargi: Nor do I mean the report from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy that Ambrose Evans-Pritchard cites for the Telegraph, and which implies a second bailout for Portugal is looming near:
Portugal is fighting a losing battle to contain its public debt and may be forced to impose haircuts of up to 50pc on private creditors, according to a top German institute.
A report for the Kiel Institute for the World Economy said Portugal would have to run a primary budget surplus of over 11pc of GDP a year to prevent debt dynamics spiralling out of control, even in a benign scenario of 2pc annual growth.
"Portugal's debt is unsustainable. That is the only possible conclusion," said David Bencek, the co-author, warning that no country can achieve a primary budget surplus above 5pc for long. "We won't know what the trigger will be but once there is a decision on Greece people are going to start looking closely and realise that Portugal is the same position as Greece was a year ago."
Yields on Portugal's five-year bonds surged on Thursday to a record 18.9pc, reflecting fears that the country will need a second rescue from the EU-ECB-IMF Troika. Three-year yields hit 21pc.
Ilargi: Or even the true meaning behind the steep drop in the Baltic Dry Index, on which Sebastian Walsh reports for Financial News:
Statistics from the Office of National Statistics this morning showed that the UK went into reverse in the last quarter of 2011, when the economy shrank by 0.2% – but as the Baltic Dry Index shows, the global economy is looking even more worrying.
The index – often used as a proxy for the health of the global economy as it reflects the prices charged for shipping commodities such as metals, coal or grain around the world – has fallen by 61% since October. The index was at 842 at yesterday’s close – down from its 12-month high of 2173 last October.
Nick Bullman, managing partner at risk consultant Check Risks, said the index is a good way of looking at the risks to the global economy, "as it tends to be where they hit first".
According to Bullman, its initial collapse in October was driven primarily by a fall-off in demand from China, where declining housing prices pushed purchasing managers to cut back on orders for the raw materials whose transport the Baltic Dry Index reflects.
He said: "This collapse looks similar to the falls we saw in the Baltic Dry ahead of the recessions of the late 1970s and early 1990s – but this drop is actually steeper."
Bullman added that it was also a more direct indicator of global economic health than government-produced statistics. "Personally, I’m not interested in employment data and GDP figures because they’re manipulated," he said. [..]
Bullman said that shipping companies have also been deliberately slowing down their journeys to save fuel, with trips from China to the US going now taking around 50% longer than they were early in 2011.
Instead, he said he was surprised by how long the Baltic Dry took to fall. The NewContex index – an indicator of prices for transporting products in container ships – started falling in April last year. Bullman said: "When we saw that happening in April, we realised that risks had returned to pre-2008 levels. We thought the Baltic Dry would start falling too, but it was actually relatively resilient."
"What this is signalling is that the world economy is slowing down much more quickly than people have been thinking."
Ilargi: The report I refer to in the title requires a little background info:
In Holland, where I'll be for a few more days, there's a "rogue" right-wing party named PVV (Party for Freedom). It has no cabinet ministers, but the minority moderate right-wing government needs its support to stay in the saddle. The PVV, like other European right-wingers, is, among many other things, against much of what the European Union stands for. It's certainly against the Euro, and the bailouts with Dutch taxpayer money of countries like Greece and Portugal.
A few months ago, the PVV announced they had commissioned a report from British financial consultancy firm Lombard Street Research on the economic consequences of staying in the Eurozone versus returning to the guilder.
That report is about to be published "within days". It will prove to be highly explosive material. And the PVV will do all it possibly can to make sure it receives a lot of media attention. It may tear down the incumbent government, which is a heavy advocate of all things Europe, and which will have to quit once the PVV support dies, but for that party that's not the no. 1 concern.
And if and when Holland has a large scale discussion on the report and the issues it raises, Germany won't be able to ignore it and stay behind. And then, neither will France.
Max Julius of Citywire.uk did a piece on the report, without mentioning it directly, 10 days ago:
Germany and the Netherlands are likely to quit the eurozone rather than swallow an indefinite number of 'unrequited transfers' to the union’s crisis-stricken nations, according to Charles Dumas, chief economist at Lombard Street Research.
Speaking at an event in central London, he said that before joining the single currency, German incomes had stayed level but their purchasing power had increased as the Deutschmark appreciated. With the weaker euro, the economist said, they have seen 'tremendous' wage restraint, leading to huge growth in German firms’ market share but ‘no serious growth of the economy’ and a squeeze on disposable incomes. Meanwhile, consumption rose elsewhere in the eurozone, he said.
'So what you’re actually dealing with here... is a German population which has had a rotten deal – and that’s why they’re all so angry' noted Dumas, who is also chairman of the macroeconomic forecasting consultancy. Branding the monetary union a 'suicide pact', he continued: 'So what this exercise in uniting Europe has achieved is to divide Europe.'
Dumas [noted that] the 'Club Med' nations needed about 5% of gross domestic product in annual debt refinancing 'more or less indefinitely'.
This would amount to €150 billion a year, of which Germany would have to stump up just over €60 billion, France a little under €50 billion and €15 billion from the Netherlands, he said. And this would be on top of the shortfall in consumer spending, in addition to the fact that wages and consumption may have to be held down in the future, Dumas warned.
Ilargi: This morning, Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad cited Dumas as saying these numbers are "cautious estimates". They are valid only if Greece and Portugal would leave the Eurozone in 2012 - which Dumas expects will happen -. If they don't, the payments will be even higher.
He predicts the costs of a return to the guilder will be much less than for instance the Dutch government's Central Planning Bureau claims, which warns of huge losses if Holland were to leave the Euro.
Dumas: "It's just like in a religion: first they promise you heaven, and if that doesn't work out, they threaten you with hell."
The economist dismissed the notion that the region would be able to turn itself around so as to make such support from its 'core' unnecessary. Citing the example of the persisting transfers from west to east Germany, he pointed out: 'The ones that need the money to flow in carry on needing the money to flow in, or just stay poor.'
Dumas also warned that austerity was only worsening Greece’s budget deficit, and that it was 'difficult to imagine' the deeply indebted state receiving the four quarterly batches of financing it is due this year. ‘It’s almost impossible to imagine people continuing to stump up the money, because they simply have not actually gone into this thing with the intention of unrequited transfers to Greece ad infinitum,’ he said as the country resumed talks with its creditors over a planned debt swap.
Calling the one-off damage of splitting up the eurozone 'seriously exaggerated', Dumas warned that as the crisis deepens, he believes 'Germany and the Netherlands will actually realise that they had better call it a day and jump out.'
Ilargi: Sure, the Dutch government, and certainly the EU and the banking system, have formidable PR machineries at their disposal. We’ll see a lot of numbers being floated that contradict Lombard's report. And we'll have to wait a few days to see exactly what numbers Dumas et al. come up with.
But the people of Germany and Holland are already very nervous about the fact that they face austerity and budget cuts while billions of euros are transferred to southern Europe. Up until now, the fear of economic disaster predicted in unison by government leaders have kept them quiet. Now that a reputable economic research firm flatly contradicts these predictions, and states that, instead, it's staying within the Eurozone that will be the far more costly option, the people will grow increasingly restless.
Charles Dumas again, from Algemeen Dagblad:
"The Dutch people have lost thousands of euros in purchasing power per year since the currency was introduced."
Governments in Berlin and The Hague will have a lot of explaining to do. They have to do so against a backdrop of (near-)failing Greek debt swap talks, which will at the very least force them to admit that they have a lost tens of billions in taxpayer money to Club Med countries already.
With a second Portugal bailout waiting in the wings. And lots of negative news on Italy and Spain. And more domestic budget cuts.
They’ll realize that their governments have painted far too rosy pictures about the issues so far. And they’ll expect them to deliver more of the same. This is what we call a receding trust horizon.
It's not the report alone, it's the entire combination of factors. The report will "merely" serve as the catalyst that blows up the powder keg. It may take a few months, but it will happen. The publicity hungry rogue PVV party that commissioned it, followed by anti-Eurozone voices elsewhere, will make sure of that.