CAMBRIDGE – The prospects for the euro and the eurozone remain uncertain. But recent events at the European Central Bank, in Germany, and in global financial markets, make it worthwhile to consider a favorable scenario for the common currency’s future.
The ECB has promised to buy Italian and Spanish sovereign bonds to keep their interest rates down, provided these countries ask for lines of credit from the European Stability Mechanism and adhere to agreed fiscal reforms. Germany’s Constitutional Court has approved the country’s participation in the ESM, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has given her blessing to the ECB’s bond-buying plan, despite strong public objections from the Bundesbank. And the international bond market has expressed its approval by cutting interest rates on Italy’s ten-year bonds to 4.8%, and on Spain’s to 5.5%.
Italian bond rates had already been falling before ECB President Mario Draghi announced the conditional bond-buying plans. That reflected the substantial progress Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government had already made. New legislation will slow the growth of pension benefits substantially, and the Monti government’s increase in taxes on owner-occupied real estate will raise significant revenue without the adverse incentive effects that would occur if rates for personal-income, payroll, or value-added taxes were raised.
Reflecting these reforms, the International Monetary Fund recently projected that Italy will have a cyclically adjusted budget surplus of nearly 1% of GDP in 2013. Unfortunately, because Italy will still be in recession next year, its actual deficit is expected to be 1.8% of GDP, adding to the national debt. But economic recovery will come to Italy, moving the budget into surplus.