Banca D'italia in Milan Marka/Getty Images

Europe’s Doom Loop in Reverse

Unlike before the 2011-2012 crisis, the eurozone seems to be locked in a benign credit cycle, in which lower risk premia allow both banks and governments to refinance at lower rates, more credit is available for the real economy, and the resulting recovery increases government revenue. But how long can this cycle persist?

BRUSSELS – During the 2011-2012 euro crisis, the currency area became mired in a “doom loop,” in which weak banks in financially distressed countries rationed credit, causing a recession that intensified pressure on government finances, which were already burdened by the need to cover banks’ losses. But such self-reinforcing spirals can also operate in the opposite direction. Understanding these dynamics may be the key to determining the eurozone’s relative strength today.

In a doom loop, the expectations of default drive up risk premia until the economy reaches the brink of collapse, even if the underlying problems could be managed over time. At a certain point, when the gulf between financial-market pessimism and economic reality becomes too large, the market becomes ready for a reversal.

This was the case for the eurozone during the summer of 2012. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s pledge to do “whatever it takes” to prevent the euro from disintegrating reassured markets so effectively because investors’ fear was largely based, to paraphrase US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on “fear itself.”

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