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Posts Tagged ‘contagion’

Rescuing Greece? Rescuing the euro?

With a mounting crisis in the eurozone, heads of government met in an emergency meeting in Brussels on 21 July.

The task was a massive one: how to tackle Greece’s growing debt crisis and stave off default; how to protect other highly indebted countries which have already had to seek emergency bailouts, namely Ireland and Portugal, from falling market confidence and thus rising interest rates, thereby making their debts harder to service; how to prevent speculative pressures extending like a contagion to other highly indebted countries, such as Spain and Italy; how to prevent speculation against the euro and even to prevent its break-up; how to reduce the size of budget deficits at a time of low growth without jeopardising that growth. A problem is that Greece has already adopted the required austerity measures for it to receive a second bailout from the EU agreed at the end of June, and yet its debt burden is likely to rise as growth remains negative.

Eurozone leaders recognised that the stakes were high. Failure could see contagion spread, interest rates soar and perhaps one or more countries leaving the euro. No agreement was not an option. As it turned out, the agreement was more comprehensive than most commentators had expected. Markets reacted positively. Stock markets in Europe and around the world rose and the euro strengthened.

So what was the agreement? Has it solved the Greek and eurozone crises? Will it prevent contagion? Or has it merely put the problem on hold for the time being? Will more fundamental measures have to be put in place, such as much fuller fiscal union, if the eurozone is to function as an effective single currency area? The following is a selection of the hundreds of articles worldwide that have reported on the summit and the agreement.

Greece thrown lifeline by eurozone leaders BBC News, Chris Morris (22/7/11)
A Marshall plan with ‘haircuts’: The draft agreement Guardian, Chris Morris (21/7/11)
Banks forced to share pain of bailout for Greece Independent, Sean O’Grady and Vanessa Mock (22/7/11)
EU leaders agree €109bn Greek bail-out Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Quentin Peel, Patrick Jenkins and Richard Milne (21/7/11)
Greece to default as eurozone agrees €159bn bailout The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Bruno Waterfield (21/7/11)
Europe steps up to the plate The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (21/7/11)
Greek bailout boosts global markets Guardian, Julia Kollewe, Ian Traynor and Lisa O’Carroll (22/7/11)
Greek bailout deal: What the experts say Guardian (22/7/11)
Bailed out – again. Eurozone throws Greece €109bn lifeline Guardian, Ian Traynor (22/7/11)
New package for Greece must match last year’s if it is to stave off default Sydney Morning Herald, Malcolm Maiden (22/7/11)
Russian or Belgian roulette? The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (21/7/11)
Saving the euro: A bit of breathing space The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (22/7/11)
Europe’s ‘safe haven’: corporate bonds Financial Times, Demetrio Salorio (21/7/11)
Summit that saved the euro? Financial Times, John Authers and Vincent Boland (21/7/11)
Greece aid package boosts stock markets BBC News (22/7/11)
Q&A: Greek debt crisis BBC News (22/7/11)
Timeline: The unfolding eurozone crisis BBC News (22/7/11)
Eurozone summit: It may be a solution, but doubts remain Guardian, Larry Elliott (21/7/11)
German taxpayers are being asked to socialise Europe’s debts The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (22/7/11)
The eurozone is not a nation state Financial Times blogs, Gavyn Davies (20/7/11)
One step back from the abyss BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (22/7/11)
For long-term gain, the EU will have to share the pain Independent, Sean O’Grady (22/7/11)
Greek debt deal ‘not the last word’ BBC Today Progrgamme, Stephanie Flanders and Sir John Gieve (22/7/11)

Questions

  1. Outline the measures agreed at the eurozone heads of government summit on 21 July.
  2. Explain what is meant by a ‘haircut’ in the context of debts. What types of haircut were agreed at the summit?
  3. How big a reduction in Greece’s debt stock will result from the deal? Why may it not be enough?
  4. Explain how the European Financial Stability Facility (ESFS) works? How will this change as a result of the agreement?
  5. What vulnerabilities remain in the eurozone?
  6. What are the arguments for closer fiscal union in the eurozone? Is more required than merely a return to the Stability and Growth Pact?
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The Greek Tragedy continues

Today (16/6/11) in Greece, the Prime Minister is trying to form a new government that will help the country tackle its large and growing debts. Austerity measures have been put in place by the Greek government and these cuts and subsequent job losses (unemployment now stands at 15.9%) have resulted in massive riots.

Critics of the eurozone and Greek membership are suggesting that the price Greece has to pay to remain a member might be too high. Billions of euros have already been given to the bankrupt country and yet it seems to have made little difference – more money is now needed, but Finance Ministers have so far been unable to agree on how best to finance another bailout. These concerns have adversely affected financial markets, as investors sell their shares in light of the economic concerns surrounding Greece. The trends in financial markets over recent weeks suggest a growing feeling that Greece may default on its debt.

If an agreement isn’t reached between European leaders and/or Greece doesn’t accept the terms, then it could spell even more trouble and not just for the Greek economy and the eurozone. Banks across Europe have lent money to Greece and if an agreement isn’t reached, then this will mean losses for the private sector. Whilst these losses may be manageable, further trouble may arise due to contagion. Other countries with substantial debts, including Spain, Ireland and Portugal could mean a significant increase in these potential losses.

As the crisis in Greece continues, doubts remain over whether the European leaders even know how to deal with the crisis and this creates a lack of confidence in the markets. Activities over the coming weeks will play a large part in the future of Greece’s eurozone membership, trends in financial markets and the direction of the UK economy. The following articles consider Greece’s debt crisis.

Greece debt crisis sends financial markets reeling BBC News (16/6/11)
Euro slumps vs Swissie, Greece intensifies concern Reuters (16/6/11)
EU and IMF agree Greek debt deal Financial Times, Peter Spiegel (16/6/11)
Greece crisis: Commissioners fear ‘future of Eurozone’ BBC News, Joe Lynam (15/6/11)
Stocks slump as Greece crisis turns violent Bloomberg Business Week, Pan Pylas (15/6/11)
Euro slides as Greek default fears deepen Financial Times, Peter Garnham (16/6/11)
Germany insists all of EU must pay for Greece bailout Guardian, Ian Traynor (15/6/11)
US stocks slump on US, Greek woes Associated Press (16/6/11)
More time to argue about Greece BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (16/6/11)
Greece: Eurozone ministers delay decision on vital loan BBC News (20/6/11)
Greece crisis: Revolution in the offing? BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (19/6/11)
Greece crisis: Not Europe’s Lehman (it could be worse) BBC News, Robert Peston (20/6/11)
Greek debt crisis: eurozone ministers delay decision on €12bn lifeline Guardian, Ian Traynor (20/6/11)
Eurozone must act before Greek crisis leads to global meltdown, IMF warns Guardian, Larry Elliott (20/6/11)
Greece: Private-sector voluntary aid may be impossible BBC News, Robert Peston (21/6/11)
Greece crisis and the best way to cook a lobster BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (22/6/11)

Questions

  1. What is meant by contagion and why is this a potential problem?
  2. What are the options open to European leaders to finance the bail out?
  3. If an agreement is not reached or Greece do no accept the terms, how might the UK economy be affected?
  4. What has been the impact of recent events in Greece and Europe on financial markets and currencies across the world? Explain your answer.
  5. Why are critics suggesting that the price of Greece remaining in the Eurozone might be too high? If Greece was not a member state what would it mean it could do differently to help it deal with its mounting debts?
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Second time lucky for Ireland?

On 28 November 2010, a deal was reached between the Irish government, the ECB, the IMF and other individual governments to bail out Ireland. The deal involved an €85bn package to bail out the collapsing Irish banks. Not all of the money went directly to the banks and the Irish government did set aside some of the loan. However, some of this money will now be required by four key lenders in Ireland, after a stress test by a group of independent experts found that the Republic of Ireland’s banks need another €24bn (that’s £21.2bn) to survive the continuing financial crisis. Allied Irish Banks require €13.5bn, Bank of Ireland €5.2bn, Irish Life €4bn and EBS a meager €1.5bn. The governor of the central bank, Professor Patrick Honohan said:

‘The new requirements are needed to restore market confidence, and ensure banks have enough capital to meet even the markets’ darkest estimates.’

The stress test focused on an assumption of a ‘cumulative collapse’ in property prices by 62%, together with rising unemployment. Following this, the Irish Finance Minister announced the government’s intention to take a majority stake in all of the major lenders. The Irish banks have been told they need to reduce the net loans on their balance sheets by some €71bn (£63bn) by the end of 2013. This process of deleveraging is likely to generate further losses, as many loans and assets will be sold for less than their true value. The causes of this ongoing financial crisis can still be traced back to the weakness within the Irish economy and more specifically to mortgage accounts being in arrears following the property market bubble that burst. A key question will be whether this second bail-out is sufficient to restore much needed confidence in the economy and particularly in the banking sector. The articles below consider this ongoing crisis.

Irish hope it is second time lucky for bail-out Telegraph, Harry Wilson (1/4/11)
Irish Bank needs extra €24bn euros to survive BBC News (31/3/11)
Ireland forced into new £21bn bailout by debt crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor (31/3/11)
The hole in Ireland’s banks is £21bn BBC News Blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (31/3/11)
ECB has given Ireland serious commitment Reuters (1/4/11)
Ireland banking crisis: is the worst really over? Guardian: Ireland Business Blog, Lisa O’Carroll (1/4/11)
Ireland: a dead cert for default Guardian, Larry Elliott (1/4/11)
Timeline: Ireland’s string of bank bailouts Reuters (31/3/11)

Questions

  1. What is the process of deleveraging? Why is likely to lead to more losses for Ireland’s banks?
  2. What are the causes of the financial crisis in Ireland? How do they differ from financial crises around the world?
  3. What are the arguments for and against bailing out the Irish banks?
  4. Will this second bailout halt the possible contagion to other Eurozone and EU members?
  5. If this second bailout proves insufficient, should there be further intervention in the Irish economy?
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A financial health check

Every six months the Bank of England publishes its Financial Stability Report. “It aims to identify the major downside risks to the UK financial system and thereby help financial firms, authorities and the wider public in managing and preparing for these risks.”

In the latest report, published on 17 December 2010, the Bank expresses concern about the UK’s exposure to problems overseas. The two most important problems are the continuing weaknesses of a number of banks and the difficulties of certain EU countries in repaying government bonds as they fall due and borrowing more capital at acceptable interest rates. As the report says:

Sovereign and banking system concerns have re-emerged in parts of Europe. The IMF and European authorities proposed a substantial package of support for Ireland. But market concerns spilled over to several other European countries. At the time of writing, contagion to the largest European banking systems has been limited. In this environment, it is important that resilience among UK banks has improved over the past year, including progress on refinancing debt and on raising capital buffers. But the United Kingdom is only partially insulated given the interconnectedness of European financial systems and the importance of their stability to global capital markets.

The Bank identifies a number of specific risks to the UK and global financial systems and examines various policy options for tackling them. The following articles consider the report.

Articles
Bank warns of eurozone risks to UK as EU leaders meet Independent, Sean O’Grady (17/12/10)
Deep potholes on the road to recovery Guardian, Nils Pratley (17/12/10)
It’s reassuring that regulators are still worried about financial stability The Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (17/12/10)
Europe is still searching for stability and the UK must find it too Independent, Hamish McRae (17/12/10)
Shafts of light between the storm clouds The Economist blogs: ‘Blighty’ (17/12/10)

Report
Financial Stability Report, December 2010: Overview Bank of England
Financial Stability Report, December 2010: Links to rest of report Bank of England

Questions

  1. What are the most important financial risks facing (a) the UK; (b) eurozone countries?
  2. What is the significance of the rise in banks’ tier-1 capital ratios since 2007?
  3. Which is likely to be more serious over the coming months: banking weaknesses or sovereign debt? Explain.
  4. What is being done to reduce the risks of sovereign default?
  5. Why might the weaker EU countries struggle to achieve economic growth over the next two or three years?
  6. How do interest rates on government debt, as expressed by bond yields, compare with historical levels? What conclusions can you draw from this?
  7. What is likely to happen to bond yields in the USA, the UK and Germany over the coming months?
  8. What has been the effect of the extra £200 billion that the Bank of England injected into the banking system through its policy of quantitative easing?
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Ireland’s bailout

In the post of the 17th November, Greece 2: This time it’s Ireland, we looked at the problems of the Irish economy in servicing its debts and whether it would need a bailout. Well, despite protesting that such a bailout would not be necessary, in the end events overtook the Irish government. International loss of confidence forced the government to accept a bailout package. After a weekend of talks, a deal was reached on 28 November between the Irish government, the ECB, the IMF, the European Commission and individual governments.

The deal involves loans totalling €85 billion. Of this, €35 billion will go towards supporting the Irish banking system. The remaining €50 billion will go to supporting government spending. The loans will carry an average interest rate of 5.8%, which is more than the 5.2% on the bailout loans to Greece, but considerably below the rates that Ireland would have to pay on the open market. Being loans, rather than grants, they only delay the problems of dealing with Ireland’s large debt, which has been rising rapidly and is predicted to be around 80% of GDP for 2010 (see Annex Table 62 in OECD Economic Outlook Statistical Annex). They thus provide Ireland with liquidity while it implements policies to reduce its debt.

Ireland itself has contributed €17.5 billion to the loan fund; of the rest, €22.5 billion will come from the IMF, while the European Union and bilateral European lenders, including the UK, Sweden and Denmark, have pledged a total of €45.0 billion, including £3.25 billion from the UK.

One of the main purposes of the loans is to reduce the likelihood of speculation against other relatively highly indebted countries in the EU, such as Portugal, Spain and Italy. The hope is that, by granting Ireland loans, the message would be that similar support would be made available to other countries as necessary. ‘Contagion’ would thereby be halted.

Podcasts and webcasts
Ireland’s €85bn bailout is best deal available, says PM Guardian webcast (29/11/10)
Interview with Jim O’Neill BBC News (29/11/10)
Irish deal ‘better than market rate’BBC Today Programme, Ajai Chopra (29/11/10)
Ireland bailout ‘doesn’t stop pressure building’ BBC Today Programme, Tony Creszenzi and Brian Hayes (29/11/10)

Articles
EU/IMF Irish bailout – the details FT Alphaville, Neil Hume (28/11/10)
Ireland rescue is not a game changer Financial Times, Mohamed El-Erian (29/11/10)
IMF insists Ireland got a ‘good deal’ Irish Times (29/11/10)
Can the eurozone afford its banks? BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (29/11/10)
Irish bailout leaves markets nervous for good reason CNN Business 360, Peter Morici (30/11/10)
Eurozone debt crisis deepens Times of Malta (30/11/10)
Will the Irish crisis spread to Italy? Vox, Paolo Manasse and Giulio Trigilia (29/11/10)

Questions

  1. Distinguish between liquidity and solvency solutions to sovereign debt problems.
  2. Is Ireland’s debt problem purely a sovereign one? Explain.
  3. What will determine whether the bailout for Ireland will halt contagion to other countries?
  4. Why might the implementation of an austerity package make the sovereign debt problem worse in the short to medium run?
  5. Will the Irish crisis spread to Italy?
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Fixing the euro: a long-term solution or mere sticking plaster?

In the past few days, the euro has been under immense speculative pressure. The trigger for this has been the growing concern about whether Greece would be able to force through austerity measures and cut its huge deficit and debt. Also there has been the concern that much of Greece’s debt is in the form of relatively short-term bonds, many of which are coming up for maturity and thus have to be replaced by new bonds. For example, on 19 May, Greece needs to repay €8.5 billion of maturing bonds. But with Greek bonds having been given a ‘junk’ status by one of the three global rating agencies, Standard and Poor’s, Greece would find it difficult to raise the finance and would have to pay very high interest on bonds it did manage to sell – all of which would compound the problem of the deficit.

Also there have been deep concerns about a possible domino effect. If Greece’s debt is perceived to be unsustainable at 13.5% of GDP (in 2009), then speculators are likely to turn their attention to other countries in the eurozone with large deficits: countries such as Portugal (9.4%), Ireland (14.3%) and Spain (11.2%). With such worries, people were asking whether the euro would survive without massive international support, both from within and outside the eurozone. At the beginning of 2010, the euro was trading at $1.444. By 7 May, it was trading at $1.265, a depreciation of 12.4% (see the Bank of England’s Statistical Interactive Database – interest & exchange rates data

If the euro were in trouble, then shock waves would go around the world. Worries about such contagion have already been seen in plummeting stock markets. Between 16 April and 7 May, the FTSE100 index in London fell from 5834 to 5045 (a fall of 13.5%). In New York, the Dow Jones index fell by 8.6% over the same period and in Tokyo, the Nikkei fell by 7.6%. By 5 May, these declines were gathering pace as worries mounted.

Crisis talks took place over the weekend of the 8/9 May between European finance ministers and, to the surprise of many, a major package of measures was announced. This involves setting aside €750bn to support the eurozone. The package had two major elements: (a) €60bn from EU funds (to which all 27 EU countries contribute) to be used for loans to eurozone countries in trouble; (b) a European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV)’), which would be funded partly by eurozone countries which would provide €440bn and partly by the IMF which would provide a further €250bn. The SPV would be used to give loans or loan guarantees to eurozone countries, such as Greece, which were having difficulty in raising finance because of worries by investors. The effect would also be to support the euro through a return of confidence in the single currency.

In addition to these measures, the European Central Bank announced that it would embark on a ‘Securities Markets Programme’ involving the purchase of government bonds issued by eurozone countries in difficulties. According to the ECB, it would be used to:

.. conduct interventions in the euro area public and private debt securities markets to ensure depth and liquidity in those market segments which are dysfunctional. The objective of this programme is to address the malfunctioning of securities markets and restore an appropriate monetary policy transmission mechanism.

Does this amount to quantitative easing, as conducted by the US Federal Reserve Bank and the Bank of England? The intention is that it would not do so, as the ECB would remove liquidity from other areas of the market to balance the increased liquidity provided to countries in difficulties. This would be achived by selling securities of stronger eurozone countries, such as Germany and France.

In order to sterilise the impact of the above interventions, specific operations will be conducted to re-absorb the liquidity injected through the Securities Markets Programme. This will ensure that the monetary policy stance will not be affected.

So will the measures solve the problems? Or are they merely a means of buying time while the much tougher problem is addressed: that of getting deficits down?

Webcasts and podcasts
Rescue plan bolsters the euro BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (10/5/10)
The EU rescue plan explained Financial Times, Chris Giles, Emily Cadman, Helen Warrell and Steve Bernard (10/5/10)
Peston: ‘Crisis is not over’ BBC Today Programme (10/5/10)
Greece ‘will get into even more deep water’ BBC Today Programme (11/5/10)

Articles
EU ministers offer 750bn-euro plan to support currency (including video) BBC News (10/5/10)
EU sets up crisis fund to protect euro from market ‘wolves’ Independent, Vanessa Mock (10/5/10)
Euro strikes back with biggest gamble in its 11-year history Guardian, Ian Traynor (10/5/10)
Debt crisis: £645bn rescue package for euro reassures markets … for now Guardian, Ian Traynor (10/5/10)
The E.U.’s $950 Billion Rescue: Just the Beginning Time, Leo Cendrowicz (10/5/10)
Eurozone bail-out (portal) Financial Times
Bailout does not address Europe’s deep-rooted woes: Experts moneycontrol.com (11/5/10)
An ever-closer Union? BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (10/5/10)
Eurozone crisis is ‘postponed’ BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (10/5/10)
Multi-billion euro rescue buys time but no solution BBC News, Lucy Hooker (11/5/10)
No going back The Economist (13/5/10)
It is not Greece that worries EURO: It is China that teeters on a collapse Investing Contrarian, Shaily (11/5/10)

Data and official sources
For deficit and debt data see sections 16.3 and 18.1 in:
Ameco Online European Commision, Economic and Financial Affairs DG
For the ECB statement see:
10 May 2010 – ECB decides on measures to address severe tensions in financial markets ECB Press Release

Questions

  1. Why should the measures announced by the European finance ministers help to support the euro in the short term?
  2. Why should the ECB’s Securities Markets Programme not result in quantitative easing?
  3. Explain what is meant by sterlisation in the context of open market operations.
  4. What will determine whether the measures are a long-term success?
  5. Explain why there may be a moral hazard in coming to the rescue of ailing economies in the eurozone. How might such a moral hazard be minimised?
  6. Why should concerns about Greece lead to stock market declines around the world?
  7. What is the significance of China in the current context?
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