Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Eurozone’s Delayed Reckoning

NEW YORK – The risks facing the eurozone have been reduced since the summer, when a Greek exit looked imminent and borrowing costs for Spain and Italy reached new and unsustainable heights. But, while financial strains have since eased, economic conditions on the eurozone’s periphery remain shaky.

Several factors account for the reduction in risks. For starters, the European Central Bank’s “outright monetary transactions” program has been incredibly effective: interest-rate spreads for Spain and Italy have fallen by about 250 basis points, even before a single euro has been spent to purchase government bonds. The introduction of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which provides another €500 billion ($650 billion) to be used to backstop banks and sovereigns, has also helped, as has European leaders’ recognition that a monetary union alone is unstable and incomplete, requiring deeper banking, fiscal, economic, and political integration.

But, perhaps most important, Germany’s attitude toward the eurozone in general, and Greece in particular, has changed. German officials now understand that, given extensive trade and financial links, a disorderly eurozone hurts not just the periphery but the core. They have stopped making public statements about a possible Greek exit, and just supported a third bailout package for the country. As long as Spain and Italy remain vulnerable, a Greek blowup could spark severe contagion before Germany’s election next year, jeopardizing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chances of winning another term. So Germany will continue to finance Greece for the time being.

Nonetheless, the eurozone periphery shows little sign of recovery: GDP continues to shrink, owing to ongoing fiscal austerity, the euro’s excessive strength, a severe credit crunch underpinned by banks’ shortage of capital, and depressed business and consumer confidence. Moreover, recession on the periphery is now spreading to the eurozone core, with French output contracting and even Germany stalling as growth in its two main export markets is either falling (the rest of the eurozone) or slowing (China and elsewhere in Asia).

Moreover, balkanization of economic activity, banking systems, and public-debt markets continues, as foreign investors flee the eurozone periphery and seek safety in the core. Private and public debt levels are high and possibly unsustainable. After all, the loss of competitiveness that led to large external deficits remains largely unaddressed, while adverse demographic trends, weak productivity gains, and slow implementation of structural reforms depress potential growth.

To be sure, there has been some progress in the eurozone periphery in the last few years: fiscal deficits have been reduced, and some countries are now running primary budget surpluses (the fiscal balance excluding interest payments). Likewise, competitiveness losses have been partly reversed as wages have lagged productivity growth, thus reducing unit labor costs, and some structural reforms are ongoing.

But, in the short run, austerity, lower wages, and reforms are recessionary, while the adjustment process in the eurozone has been asymmetric and recessionary/deflationary. The countries that were spending more than their incomes have been forced to spend less and save more, thereby reducing their trade deficits; but countries like Germany, which were over-saving and running external surpluses, have not been forced to adjust by increasing domestic demand, so their trade surpluses have remained large.

Meanwhile, the monetary union remains an unstable disequilibrium: either the eurozone moves toward fuller integration (capped by political union to provide democratic legitimacy to the loss of national sovereignty on banking, fiscal, and economic affairs), or it will undergo disunion, dis-integration, fragmentation, and eventual breakup. And, while European Union leaders have issued proposals for a banking and fiscal union, now Germany is pushing back.

German leaders fear that the risk-sharing elements of deeper integration (the ESM’s recapitalization of banks, a common resolution fund for insolvent banks, eurozone-wide deposit insurance, greater EU fiscal authority, and debt mutualization) imply a politically unacceptable transfer union whereby Germany and the core unilaterally and permanently subsidize the periphery. Germany thus believes that the periphery’s problems are not the result of the absence of a banking or fiscal union; rather, on the German view, large fiscal deficits and debt reflect low potential growth and loss of competitiveness due to the lack of structural reforms.

Of course, Germany fails to recognize that successful monetary unions like the United States have a full banking union with significant risk-sharing elements, and a fiscal union whereby idiosyncratic shocks to specific states’ output are absorbed by the federal budget. The US is also a large transfer union, in which richer states permanently subsidize the poorer ones.

At the same time, while proposals for a banking, fiscal, and political union are being mooted, there is little discussion of how to restore growth in the short run. Europeans are willing to tighten their belts, but they need to see a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of income and job growth. If recessions deepen, the social and political backlash against austerity will become overwhelming: strikes, riots, violence, demonstrations, the rise of extremist political parties, and the collapse of weak governments. And, to stabilize debt/GDP ratios, the denominator must start rising; otherwise, debt levels will become unsustainable, despite all efforts to reduce deficits.

The tail risks of a Greek exit from the eurozone or a massive loss of market access in Italy and Spain have been reduced for 2013. But the fundamental crisis of the eurozone has not been resolved, and another year of muddling through could revive these risks in a more virulent form in 2014 and beyond. Unfortunately, the eurozone crisis is likely to remain with us for years to come, sustaining the likelihood of coercive debt restructurings and eurozone exits.

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    1. CommentedHergen Heinemann

      Nouriel you say:
      Of course, Germany fails to recognize that successful monetary unions like the United States have a full banking union with significant risk-sharing elements, and a fiscal union whereby idiosyncratic shocks to specific states’ output are absorbed by the federal budget. The US is also a large transfer union, in which richer states permanently subsidize the poorer ones.
      Nouriel you forget, that the EU-zone is a bunch of egocentric selfish states, which cannot be forced by any rules to do the neccessary in order to be entitld for asking the solidarity of the core states.

    2. CommentedJoshua Ioji Konov

      How Austerity Measures may bring Negative Effect on the Economy
      BX:Market Economy
      There are number of austerity measures especially in EU to bring deficit and national debts lower than 3%, that practice is quite controversial with History. Such actions most definitely helped to jumpstart the First World War and than brought the preconditions for the Second World War. However, in a pro-supply economics of Capitalism and pro-supply marketplace such measures should work well to prompt investment and affiliate the trickle down powers of capital that would make the economic environment healthy. Such ideology approach in economics that is based on historical experience and pure perception of the presence is expected to bring its “magic” economic revival to its followers. The conservative forces elsewhere are uniting to put once and forever end to spending, end to social and infrastructural programs, end to Medicare, and end to any tax brakes or subsidies to small business and the middle class overall. And, these powers are almost right, it is most definite that if the current system of economics and financing is not enhanced to accommodate the new developments that have come with the ongoing Globalization and ever rising Productivity that have kicked off industrial production outsourcing and relocation, with the incredible industrial capacity succeeded by China and now expanded to some other countries like India, Brazil, Vietnam then the currently used economics of “shady” business practices lacking business laws in contracting, personal liability of corporate structures, of “shady” financial exchanges practices making Stock and other Exchanges hardly accessible by small and medium investors of the middle class, of high interest lending to small and medium businesses and individuals, of deepening poverty almost elsewhere in the World, of low percent growth by the Most Industrialized Economies, of constant lack of Fiscal Reserves by many economies consequence of decreasing industrial production, and etc.

      When following the statistics of marginal economic growth, relatively high unemployment, deepening poverty, shrinking middle class, if objectivity is the ruling factor it becomes more then obvious that these developments are not in result of excessive consumption, nor these are in result of rising deficit or national debt or the payments over this national debt, at least not yet.

      To simplify the reasons to the Last Recession and the still ongoing economic marginality to a deficit and debt issues is pure ideology, it is alike to believe into “magic” powers of a “trickle-down” “shady” economics of concentration of capital and eventual self-adjusting powers of this capital prompting industrial production onto economies like the US where even productivity is very high the industrial employment is more expensive then almost everywhere the Return of Invested Capital to such industrial production is not even close enough to this in China, or Malaysia, or now Vietnam, so unless the “magic” of so called “trickle-down” economics is not a real magic there will be nothing major happening that could affect the US or UK or any economy by using the ideology approaches as a matter of fact. The austerity measures in UK, the Keynes approaches of US, the wide spreading poverty “method” elsewhere else, the anti-deflationary methods used in Japan are to be short term adjustments to an ongoing process of shortages of Fiscal Reserves, of shortages of Industrial Production, of ever expanding poverty if the system of Economics does not accommodate these new developments of Globalization and rising Productivity and changes the economic approaches in international business laws, international financing, low interest rate lending and financing renewable energies and environmental protection, and etc., the Global Financial Order must be changed, ladies and gentlemen, with one that takes in account all of these new developments and the ideology of Karl Marks, however productive it had been for a couple of Centuries, must let go, and a new system of Economics very practical and pragmatic one should be let rule.

      Until this new system of Global Financing and flexible adjustment of Monetary and Fiscal Quantities is developed and apprehended Mr. Cameron’s austerity measures may well bring some “magic” if you believe in magic anywhere.
      What about President Obama’s approach: at least he is more real to call problems with their real names: high unemployment, lack of Fiscal Quantities, poor Consumption, deepening poverty and disappearing Middle Class, and we shell respect his effort to do what must be done despite ferocious attacks by the conservative, by the insurance companies, and by many blinded individuals who still believe in the “magic” powers of the “trickle-down” Capitalism in a Worlds of China, India, and etc.
      © Joshua Konov,2010

    3. CommentedAntónio Correia

      Undoubtedly, the "economic conditions on the eurozone’s periphery remain shaky. Under the "muddling through" approach, followed by the franco-german axis and the EU institutions, " the eurozone crisis is likely to remain with us for years to come, sustaining the likelihood of coercive debt restructurings and eurozone exits ".
      As Paul Krugman recently said, "The Euro is a shaky construction". The Euro has been designed – by Delors et al – as a "single currency" instead of a (much more realistic) "common currency", and now it is very clear that this was a very bad choice. In a paper presented several months ago

      [ ],

      Harold James recommended "keeping the Euro for all members of the Eurozone but also allowing some of them (in principle all of them) to issue – if they needed it – national currencies". One month ago, the guidelines of a similar recommendation - but exhibiting an extra flexibility - have been proposed for the EU27

      [ ]:

      " - The Euro should be a COMMON currency within the future EU - including the EU27 members outside the current 'Euro Area' - but not necessarily the SINGLE currency:
      - In this context, the coexistence of TWO parallel currencies should be allowed in each EU member state (under certain conditions, established in a novel European Treaty), within the framework of an appropriate "Cooperative European Disunion" .
      - Besides the "Common Euro", the complementary currency in each member state could be either a "national currency" (...) or a completely new currency, shared by that member state and some other "compatible" EU member states, taking into account both the relevant macroeconomic issues and appropriate geographic, historic and cultural issues."

    4. CommentedJohn Gavin

      The debt-based monetary system used in our central banks is very flawed. Debt is used to crate our money supplies and so, debt must grow as the economy grows. The cost of theis debt is also paid with money created as more debt, so the debt growth is exponential.
      This means that debt vs GDP is not linear but parabolic and is limited by the effect of accelerating debt on economic growth. When the ability to pay for the growing debt reaches this limit, then GDP will plummet. Negative GDP becomes a self-sustaining descent into oblivion.
      As our governments ignore spending and simply raise tax rates, the time to failure will be shortened. The ensuing crash becomes irreversible as money seeks shelter. Governments who add more debt as revenues contract are guaranteeing a severe collapse of their monetary system and GDP as debt skyrockets.
      Political attempts at fairness only increase the chance of collapse. In the USA, it's hard to conceive of a successful outcome as the White House insists on increasing the risk of default as it continues to deny the need for drastic changes to the system in order to end the use of debt by the federal government.

    5. CommentedPaul A. Myers

      I believe Mr. Roubini's conclusion is half-right: there will continue to be coercive debt restructurings but I think the risk of a euro exit will be quite small.

      At each debt restructuring, much more is to be gained by the principal parties than to let a default occur. So they will continue.

      In the intermediate term, some sort of fiscal framework will emerge, and it will involve some degree of transfer union. But it will be supervised by some sort of representative political authority or institution. Since the transferees are relatively small in both population and economic presence, the transferee areas will only be able to bargain for so much out of the core.

      In contrast in the US, the small states have disproportionate political power in the US Senate. So small states have magnified leverage. This will not be the case in Europe.

      So, eventually, a European transfer union might be more "efficient" than the US.

      Deeper political integration should ultimately benefit the economically strong; power and influence will march with the big battalions.

    6. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

      I would like to ask Mr. Roubini to respond to the current statistics of Eurozone stock indexes, who have returned double digit returns to their investors against the rather appalling conditions of gloom; is it a dysfunctional construct that belies the rhetoric that debt restructuring programs of some of the States in distress is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for monetizing a growth-deprived economic sojourn? How could the European stock indexes discount a rather bleak future as the operating environment continues to be turbid and goes beyond the shores of the Union and in as many directions as possible?

      Procyon Mukherjee

    7. Commenteddonna jorgo

      intristing ..maybe EUZ will saperate before GR go out..
      17 countries to EUZ have problem bankare ..have problem export -import we will waiting 2013 no is short term 2015---and...
      thank you i like you column (always)