Friday, 29 June 2012

Merkel's Money

Don’t take the rally in Europe’s financial markets as a sign that the euro crisis is over. The 4.3% jump in Germany’s Dax index today and the rise in the euro’s exchange rate are more a reaction to hopes for further flows of ‘free money’ and relief at a crisis postponed once more. The surprise was genuine enough, after German chancellor Merkel’s former hard line on the need for austerity and ‘reform’ among indebted euro countries Spain and Italy, and in the context of widespread German political opposition to further bailouts.

A report on Merkel’s rationale for dropping the position Germany had before the latest Euro meeting, and making big concessions to Spain and Italy (hence, also to France, given French banks’ massive exposure to these countries!), highlights the following issues.

Merkel seems to think that high interest rate on Spanish and Italian debt are the problem, not the mess those countries are in which is leading to the high interest rates! Plus she thinks (or at least said in her statement to the Bundestag) that the EU Commission monitoring of their economic policies is still 'tough', so they did not need any additional terms applied to extra loans.

The end result is that there is a further extension of a 'euro country' general bail out for Spain and Italy, via the European Stability Mechanism, one of the newly invented funds. Merkel did not mention Germany's dominant share in paying for these, nor being liable for these, nor was she impolite enough to note the limited prospects for 'reform' in either country.

She won the Bundestag vote. But there will be further political trouble for her in Germany, and also many more disputes over terms and conditions of the new loans between Germany and other countries, when eventually they are due to be paid out.

Partly, this episode reflects the intractable debt situation in Europe and a desire to postpone confronting problems that cannot be solved. Partly, it is one of the wonders of the credit markets that you can always appear to have more money than you really have, if you only pay attention to the interest payments and not to the accumulation of debt. This is especially when it seems possible to drive the interest rate on borrowing down through state-credit backed bond purchases!

That neat solution of using someone else's money and credit rating to extend further debt begins to unravel when their credit rating is called into question. This is probably still some way off for Germany, which recently has had very low bond yields (even negative yields for 1-2 year bonds!). However, the first sign that the game is up will be when Germany loses its triple-A rating.

In the meantime, this episode also highlights the nonsense that it is German imperialism that is strangling Europe's economy. Yes, Germany is an imperialist power, but it is desperately trying to keep together a system – at growing cost to itself – that has guaranteed both its economic privileges and those that accrue to other members of the euro group. As a policy, this is like delaying an amputation until the last minute, just in case something else, less drastic, comes up. While these matters fester, just consider: how many tens, or hundreds, of billions in cheap credits have been extended to those outside the rich club?

Tony Norfield, 29 June 2012

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading this Tony. It seems as though Merkel and co. are prepared to do practically anything to save the tattered ruins of the Euro. I wrote a little piece on the main two ideological approaches to this just recently, if you fancy a read: