Farewell to the Euro?

MUNICH – “It’s not the euro that’s in danger, but the public finances of individual European countries.” One hears this everywhere nowadays, but it’s not true. The euro itself is at risk, because the countries in crisis have, in recent years, been running the eurozone’s monetary printing presses overtime.

Some 90% of the refinancing debt that the commercial banks of the GIPS countries (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain) hold with their respective national central banks served to purchase a net inflow of goods and assets from other eurozone countries. Two-thirds of all refinancing loans within the eurozone were granted within the GIPS countries, despite the fact that these countries account for only 18% of eurozone GDP. Indeed, 88% of these countries’ current-account deficits over the last three years were financed via the extension of credit within the Eurosystem.

By the end of 2010, ECB loans, which originated primarily from Germany’s Bundesbank, amounted to €340 billion. This figure includes ECB credit that financed capital flight from Ireland totaling €130 billion over the past three years. The ECB bailout program has enabled the people of the peripheral countries to continue to live beyond their means, and well-heeled asset holders to take their wealth elsewhere.

The capacity for continuing this policy will soon be depleted, as the central-bank money flowing from the GIPS countries to the core countries of the eurozone increasingly crowds out the money created through refinancing operations there. If this continues for two more years as it has for the past three, the stock of refinancing loans in Germany will disappear altogether.