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Posts Tagged ‘debt crisis’

Saving the eurozone? Saving the world? (Part B)

At its meeting on 26 October, the eurozone countries agreed on a deal to tackle the three problems identified in Part A of this blog:

1. Making the Greek debt burden sustainable
2. Increasing the size of the eurozone bailout fund to persuade markets that there would be sufficient funding to support other eurozone countries which were having difficulties in servicing their debt.
3. Recapitalising various European banks to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults.

The following were agreed:

1. Banks would be required to take a loss of 50% in converting existing Greek bonds into new ones. This swap will take place in January 2012. Note that Greek debt to other countries and the ECB would be unaffected and thus total Greek debt would be cut by considerably less than 50%.

2. The bailout fund (EFSF) would increase to between €1 trillion and €1.4 trillion, although this would be achieved not by direct contributions by Member States or the ECB, but by encouraging non-eurozone countries (such as China, Russia, India and Brazil) to buy eurozone debt in return for risk insurance. These purchases would the form the base on which the size of the fund could be multiplied (leveraged). There would also be backing from the IMF. Details would be firmed up in November.

3. Recapitalising various European banks to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults. About 70 banks will be required to raise an additional €106.4 billion by increasing their Tier 1 capital ratio by 9% by June 2012 (this compares with the Basel III requirement of 6% Tier 1 by 2015).

On the longer-term issue of closer fiscal union, the agreement was in favour of achieving this, along with tight constraints on the levels of government deficits and debt – a return to something akin to the Stability and Growth Pact.

On the issue of economic growth, whilst constraining sovereign debt may be an important element of a long-term growth strategy, the agreement has not got to grips with the short-term problem of a lack of aggregate demand – unless, of course, the relief in markets at seeing a solution to the debt problem may boost business and consumer confidence. This, in turn, may provide the boost to aggregate demand that has been sadly lacking over the past few months.

Certainly if the reaction of stock markets around the world are anything to go by, the recovery in confidence may be under way. The day following the agreement, the German stock market index, the Dax, rose by 6.3% and the French Cac index rose by 5.4%.

Eurozone crisis explained BBC News (27/10/11)
Leaders agree eurozone debt plan in Brussels BBC News, Matthew Price (27/10/11)
Eurozone agreement – the detail BBC News, Hugh Pym (27/10/11)
10 key questions on the eurozone bailout Citywire Money, Caelainn Barr (27/10/11)
European debt crisis: ‘Europe is going to have a very tough winter’ – video analysis Guardian, Larry Elliott (27/10/11)
Eurozone crisis: banks agree 50% reduction on Greece’s debt Guardian, David Gow (27/10/11)
The euro deal: No big bazooka The Economist (29/10/11)
Europe’s rescue plan The Economist (29/10/11)
European banks given just eight months to raise €106bn The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (26/10/11)
EU reaches agreement on Greek bonds Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Stanley Pignal and Alex Barker (27/10/11)
Unlike politicians, the markets are seeing sense Independent, Hamish McRae (27/10/11)
Market view: Eurozone rescue deal buys time FT Adviser, Michael Trudeau (27/10/11)
Greece vows to build on EU deal, people sceptical Reuters, Renee Maltezou and Daniel Flynn (27/10/11)
Markets boosted by eurozone deal Independent, Peter Cripps, Jamie Grierson (27/10/11)
Has Germany been prudent or short-sighted? BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (27/10/11)
Germany’s Fiscal union with a capital F BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (27/10/11)

Questions

  1. What are the key features of the deal reached in Brussels on 26 October?
  2. What details still need to be worked out?
  3. How will the EFSF be boosted some 4 or 5 times without extra contributions fron eurozone governments?
  4. Why, if banks are to take a 50% haircut on their holdings of Greek debt, will Greek debt fall only to 120% per cent by 2020 from just over 160% currently?
  5. On balance, is this a good deal?
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Saving the eurozone? Saving the world? (Part A)

As European leaders gather for an emergency summit in Brussels to tackle the eurozone debt crisis, we consider the issues and possible solutions. In Part B we’ll consider the actual agreement.

There are three key short-term issues that the leaders are addressing.

1. The problem of Greek debt
With fears that the Greek debt crisis could spread to other eurozone countries, such as Italy and Spain, it is vital to have a solution to the unsustainability of Greek debt. Either banks must be willing to write off a proportion of Greek debt owed to them or governments must give a fiscal transfer to Greece to allow it to continue servicing the debt. Simply lending Greece even more provides no long-term solution as this will simply make the debt even harder to service. Writing off a given percentage of debt is known as a ‘haircut’. The haircut on offer before the summit was 21%. Leaders are reportedly considering increasing this to around 60%

2. The size of the eurozone bailout fund
The bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), stood at €440 billion. This is considered totally inadequate to provide loans to Italy and Spain, should they need a bailout. France and other countries want the ECB to provide extra loans to the EFSF, to increase its funds to somewhere between €2 trillion and €3 trillion. Germany before the meeting was strongly against this, seeing it as undermining the rectitude of the ECB. A compromise would be for the EFSF to provide partial guarantees to investors and banks which are willing to lend more to countries in debt crisis.

3. Recapitalising various European banks
Several European banks are heavily exposed to sovereign debt in countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain. It is estimated that they would need to raise an extra €100 billion to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults.

But there is the key longer-term issue as well.

Achieving long-term economic growth
Without economic growth, debt servicing becomes much more difficult. The austerity measures imposed on highly indebted countries amount to strongly contractionary fiscal policies, as government expenditure is cut and taxes are increased. But as the economies contract, so automatic fiscal stabilisers come into play. As incomes and expenditure decline, so people pay less income tax and less VAT and other expenditure taxes; as incomes decline and unemployment rises, so government welfare payments and payments of unemployment benefits increase. These compound public-sector deficits and bring the possibility of even stronger austerity measures. A downward spiral of decline and rising debt can occur.

The answer is more rapid growth. But how is that to be achieved when governments are trying to reduce debt? That is the hardest and ultimately the most important question.

Brussels summit: the main issues to be resolved The Telegraph (25/10/11)
EU crisis talks in limbo after crucial summit is cancelled The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (25/10/11)
Euro zone summit likely to give few numbers on crisis response Reuters, Jan Strupczewski (25/10/11)
Factbox: What EU leaders must decide at crisis summit Reuters (24/10/11)
Hopes low ahead of EU summit Euronews on YouTube (25/10/11)
Euro crisis: EU leaders hope to reach debt plan BBC News (26/10/11)
The deadline Europe cannot afford to miss BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (26/10/11)
Why EU summit is crunch day for the eurozone BBC News, Paul Mason (26/10/11)
Southern European banks need most capital BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (23/10/11)
Will Germany insure Italy against default? BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (26/10/11)
Plan B for the eurozone? BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (26/10/11)
‘No such thing as Europe’ BBC Today Programme, Stephanie Flanders and Martin Wolf (26/10/11)
Markets to eurozone: It’s the growth, stupid BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (24/10/11)
Fears euro summit could miss final deal Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Gerrit Wiesmann and Matt Steinglass (26/10/11)
Time to unleash financial firepower or face euro breakup Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/10/11)
The Business podcast: eurozone crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott, David Gow and Jill Treanor (25/10/11)
Why is Germany refusing to budge on the eurozone debt crisis? Guardian blogs, Phillip Inman (26/10/11)

Questions

  1. In terms of the three short-term problems identified above, compare alternative measures for dealing with each one.
  2. To what extent would the ECB creating enough money to recapitalise European banks be inflationary? On what factors does this depend?
  3. Does bailing out countries create a moral hazard? Explain.
  4. What possible ways are there of achieving economic growth while reducing countries sovereign debt?
  5. Would you agree that the problem facing eurozone countries at the moment is more of a political one than an economic one? Explain.
  6. What are the arguments for and against greater fiscal integration in the eurozone?
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Central banks to the rescue?

The debts of many countries in the eurozone are becoming increasingly difficult to service. With negative growth in some countries (Greece’s GDP is set to decline by over 5% this year) and falling growth rates in others, the outlook is becoming worse: tax revenues are likely to fall and benefit payments are likely to increase as automatic fiscal stabilisers take effect. In the light of these difficulties, market rates of interest on sovereign debt in these countries have been increasing.

Talk of default has got louder. If Greece cannot service its public-sector debt, currently standing at around 150% of GDP (way above the 60% ceiling set in the Stability and Growth Pact), then simply lending it more will merely delay the problem. Ultimately, if it cannot grow its way out of the debt, then either it must receive a fiscal transfer from the rest of the eurozone, or part of its debts must be cancelled or radically rescheduled.

But Greece is a small country, and relative to the size of the whole eurozone’s GDP, its debt is tiny. Italy is another matter. It’s public-sector debt to GDP ratio, at around 120% is lower than Greece’s, but the level of debt is much higher: $2 trillion compared with Greece’s $480 billion. Increasingly banks are becoming worried about their exposure to Italian debt – both public- and private-sector debt.

As we saw in the news item “The brutal face of supply and demand”, stock markets have been plummeting because of the growing fears about debts in the eurozone. And these fears have been particularly focused on banks with high levels of exposure to these debts. French banks are particularly vulnerable. Indeed, Credit Agricole and Société Générale, France’s second and third largest banks, had their creidit ratings cut by Moody’s rating agency. They have both seen their share prices fall dramatically this year: 46% and 55% respectively.

Central banks have been becoming increasingly concerned that the sovereign debt crisis in various eurozone countries will turn into a new banking crisis. In an attempt to calm markets and help ease the problem for banks, five central banks – the Federal Reserve, the ECB, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the Swiss National Bank – announced on 15 September that they would co-operate to offer three-month US dollar loans to commercial banks. They would provide as much liquidity as was necessary to ease any funding difficulties.

The effect of this action calmed the markets and share prices in Europe and around the world rose substantially. But was this enough to stave off a new banking crisis? And did it do anything to ease the sovereign debt crisis and the problems of the eurozone? The following articles explore these questions.

Articles
Central banks expand dollar operations Reuters, Sakari Suoninen and Marc Jones (15/9/11)
Europe’s debt crisis prompts central banks to provide dollar liquidity Guardian, Larry Elliott and Dominic Rushe (15/9/11)
From euro zone to battle zone Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Evans (17/9/11)
Global shares rise on central banks’ loan move BBC News (16/9/11)
Geithner warns EU against infighting over Greece BBC News (16/9/11)
How The European Debt Crisis Could Spread npr (USA), Marilyn Geewax (15/9/11)
No Marshall Plan for Europe National Post (Canada) (16/9/11)
Central banks act to help Europe lenders Financial Times, Ralph Atkins, Richard Milne and Alex Barker (15/9/11)
Central Banks Seeking Quick Fix Push Dollar Cost to August Lows Bloomberg Businesweek, John Glover and Ben Martin (15/9/11)
Central banks act to provide euro zone dollar liquidity Irish Times (15/9/11)
Central banks pump money into market: what the analysts say The Telegraph (15/9/11)
Central banks and the ‘spirit of 2008′ BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (15/9/11)

Central Bank statements
News Release: Additional US dollar liquidity-providing operations over year-end Bank of England (15/9/11)
Press Release: ECB announces additional US dollar liquidity-providing operations over year-end ECB (15/9/11)
Additional schedule for U.S. Dollar Funds-Supplying Operations Bank of Japan (15/9/11)
Central banks to extend provision of US dollar liquidity Swiss National Bank (15/9/11)

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by debt servicing.
  2. How may the concerted actions of the five central banks help the banking sector?
  3. Distinguish between liquidity and capital. Is supplying extra liquidity a suitable means of coping with the difficulties of countries in servicing their debts?
  4. If Greece cannot service its debts, what options are open to (a) Greece itself; (b) international institutions and governments?
  5. In what ways are the eurozone countries collectively in a better economic and financial state than the USA?
  6. Is the best solution to the eurozone crisis to achieve greater fiscal harmonisation?
  7. What are the weaknesses of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) as currently constituted? Should it be turned into a bank or special credit institution taking the role of a ‘European Monetary Fund’?
  8. Should countries in the eurozone be able to issue eurobonds?
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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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