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Posts Tagged ‘sovereign debt’

An end to Greek austerity?

After Syriza’s dramatic victory in the Greek election, it is now seeking to pursue its manifesto promises of renegotiating the terms of Greece’s bailout and bringing an end to austerity policies.

The bailout of €240bn largely involved debt restructuring to give Greeks more time to pay. A ‘haircut’ (reduction) on privately held bonds, estimated to be somewhere between €50bn and €110bn, was more than offset by an increase of €130bn in loans granted by official creditors.

The terms of the bailout negotiated with the ‘Troika’ of the EU Commission, the ECB and the IMF, had forced the previous Greek government to make substantial fiscal adjustments. These have included large-scale cuts in government expenditure (including public-sector wages), increases in taxes, charges and fares, and selling state assets through an extensive programme of privatisation.

Although Greece is now regarded as having achieved a structural budget surplus (a surplus when the economy is operating at potential output: i.e. with a zero output gap), the austerity policies and a decline in inward investment have dampened the economy so much that, until last year, the actual budget deficit and public-sector debt continued to rise as tax revenues plummeted.

Since 2007, GDP has fallen by nearly 27% and the unemployment rate is around 26%. The fall in GDP has made the achievement of a reduction in the debt/GDP ratio that much harder. General government debt has risen from 103% of GDP in 2007 to 176% in 2014, and the budget deficit, although having peaked at 12.2% of GDP in 2013, has only been brought down through huge cuts.

As a report to the European Parliament from the Economic Governance Support Unit argues on page 27:

With less front-loaded fiscal adjustment, the EU-IMF financing envelope for Greece would have needed to expand, in what is already the largest financial assistance programme in percent of GDP in recent global history. On the other hand, a less rapid fiscal adjustment may have helped to preserve some of the productive capacity that, in the course of the adjustment, was destroyed.

The new government, although pledging not to default on debt, is insistent on renegotiating the debt and wants to achieve a high level of rescheduling and debt forgiveness. As the new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, says:

On existing loans, we demand repayment terms that do not cause recession and do not push the people to more despair and poverty. We are not asking for new loans; we cannot keep adding debt to the mountain.

But, just as the Greek government is insistent on renegotiating its debt, so the German government and others in the EU are insisting that Greece sticks to the terms of the bailout and carries on with its current programme of debt reduction. Another haircut, they maintain, is out of the question.

We must wait to see how the negotiations play out. We are in the realms of game theory with various possible threats and promises on either side. It will be interesting to how these threats and promises are deployed.

New Leader in Greece Now Faces Creditors New York Times, Liz Alderman (26/1/15)
Syriza’s historic win puts Greece on collision course with Europe The Guardian, Ian Traynor and Helena Smith (26/1/15)
Greece Q&A: what now for Syriza and EU austerity? The Guardian, Phillip Inman (26/1/15)
Greek elections: Syriza gives eurozone economic headache BBC News, Prof Dimitri Mardas (26/1/15)
How a Syriza government would approach the eurozone The Telegraph, Andrew Lilico (19/1/15)
Australian economists urge Greek debt forgiveness as Syriza election win looks likely ABC News, Michael Janda (26/1/15)
Will Syriza win rock the global economy? CBS News, Nick Barnets (26/1/15)
Syriza should ignore calls to be responsible Irish Times. Paul Krugman (27/1/15)
Syriza Victory in Greek Election Roils European Debate Over Austerity Wall Street Journal, Marcus Walker (25/1/14)
Greece markets hit by debt default fears BBC News (28/1/15)
Why Europe Will Cave to Greece Bloomberg, Clive Crook (29/1/15)
Greece and the euro: Take the money and run The Economist, Buttonwood (28/1/15)
Tanking markets send dire warning to Greece’s new government Fortune, Geoffrey Smith (28/1/15)
The biggest debt write-offs in the history of the world The Telegraph, Mehreen Khan (2/2/15)

Questions

  1. Why has Greek debt continued to rise despite extremely tight fiscal policy?
  2. How is the structural deficit defined? What difficulties arise in trying to measure its size?
  3. Would there have been any way of substantially reducing the Greek budget deficit without driving Greece into a deep recession?
  4. What are the arguments for and against cancelling a large proportion of Greek debt? Is there a moral hazard involved here?
  5. Will the recently announced ECB quantitative easing programme help to reduce Greece’s debt?
  6. Are negotiations about debt forgiveness a zero sum game? Explain.
  7. What are the likely impacts of the Syriza victory on the global economy?
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Deflation danger in the eurozone

‘Deflation could be replacing debt as the main problem – and there’s nothing to suggest the ECB is up to the job.’ So begins the linked article below by Barry Eichengreen, Professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.

The good news in this is that worries about debt in eurozone countries are gradually receding. Indeed, this week Ireland officially ended its reliance on a bailout (of €67.5 billion) from the EU and IMF and regained financial sovereignty (see also).

The bad news is that this does not mark the end of austerity. Indeed, many eurozone countries could get stuck in a deflationary trap, with austerity policies continuing to depress aggregate demand. Eurozone inflation is less than 1% and falling. Broad money supply growth is now below that of the US dollar, the yen and sterling (see chart: click here for a PowerPoint).

The ECB has been far more cautious than central banks in other countries in acting to prevent recession and deflation. Unlike the USA, Japan and the UK, which have all engaged in extensive quantitative easing, the ECB had been reluctant to do so for fear of upsetting German opinion and taking the pressure off southern European countries to reform.

But as Eichengreen points out, the dangers of inaction could be much greater. What is more, quantitative easing is not the only option. The ECB could copy the UK approach of ‘funding for lending’ – not for housing, but for business.

Europe’s economic crisis could be mutating again The Guardian, Barry Eichengreen (10/12/13)

Questions

  1. What problems are created by falling prices?
  2. What effect would deflation have on debt and the difficulties in repaying that debt?
  3. What measures have already been adopted by the ECB to stimulate the eurozone economy? (Search previous articles on this site.)
  4. Why have such measures proved inadequate?
  5. What alternative policies are open to the ECB?
  6. What are the arguments for the ECB being given a higher inflation target (such as 3 or 4%)?
  7. What are the arguments for and against relaxing fiscal austerity in the eurozone at the current time?
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Super Mario’s new game

The ECB president, Mario Draghi, has announced a new programme of ‘Outright Monetary Transactions (OMTs)’ to ease the difficulties of countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. The idea is to push down interest rates for these countries’ bonds. If successful, this will make it more affordable for them to service their debts.

OMTs involve the ECB buying these countries’ bonds on the secondary market (i.e. existing bonds). This will be limited to bonds with no more than three years to maturity. Although restricting purchases to the secondary market would not involve the ECB lending directly to these countries, the bond purchases should push down interest rates on the secondary market and this, in turn, should allow the countries to issue new bonds at lower rates on the primary market.

The OMT programme replaces the previous Securities Markets Programme (SMP), which began in May 2010. This too involved purchasing bonds on the secondary market. By the time of the last actions under SMP in January 2012, €212 billion of purchases had been made. Unlike the SMP, however, OMTs are in principle unlimited, with the ECB president, Mario Draghi, saying that the ECB would do ‘whatever it takes’ to hold the single currency together. This means that it will buy as many bonds on the market as are necessary to bring interest rates down to sustainable levels.

Critics, however, argue that this will still not be enough to stimulate the eurozone economy and help bring countries out of recession. They give two reasons.

The first is that OMTs differ from the quantitative easing programmes used in the UK and USA. OMTs would not increase the eurozone money supply as the ECB would sell other assets to offset the bond purchases. This process is known as ‘sterilisation’, which is defined as actions taken by a central bank to offset the effects of foreign exchange flows or its own bond transactions so as to leave money supply unchanged.

The second reason is that OMTs will be conducted only if countries stick to previously agreed strong austerity measures. This is something that it looking increasingly unlikely as protests against the cuts mount in countries such as Greece and Spain.

Articles
Super Mario to the rescue Financial Standard, Benjamin Ong (7/9/12)
Outright monetary transactions: Lowdown on bond-buying scheme Irish Times, Dan O’Brien (7/9/12)
Draghi comments at ECB news conference Reuters (6/9/12)
ECB’s Mario Draghi unveils bond-buying euro debt plan BBC News (6/9/12)
ECB Market Intervention: Outright Monetary Transactions (“OMT”) – A Preliminary Assessment Place du Luxembourg (9/9/12)
Evaluating the OMT: OrlMost Too late? Social Europe Journal, Andrew Watt (7/9/12)
Mario Draghi speech: what the analysts said The Telegraph (6/9/12)
ECB challenges German concern over bond-buying Irish Times, Derek Scally (26/9/12)
Draghi: efforts helping to support stable future MarketWatch, Tom Fairless (25/9/12)
Mario and Mariano versus the man with the beard BBC News, Paul Mason (6/9/12)
Good week for the euro – but also a warning BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (12/9/12)
The price of saving the eurozone BBC News, Robert Peston (26/9/12)
Special Report – Inside Mario Draghi’s euro rescue plan Reuters, Paul Carrel, Noah Barkin and Annika Breidthardt (25/9/12)
ECB to face biggest test on euro gambit Financial Times, Michael Steen and Peter Spiegel (25/9/12)

Press release
ECB: Monetary policy decisions ECB Press Release, (6/9/12)

Questions

  1. What are the key features of the OMT programme? How does it differ from the former Securities Markets Programme (SMP)?
  2. In what ways does the OMT programme differ from the quantitative easing programmes in the USA and UK?
  3. How will the ECB’s buying bonds in the secondary market influence the primary bond market? What will influence the size of the effect?
  4. How does sterilisation work in (a) the bond market; (b) the foreign exchange market?
  5. Why is it claimed that the OMT programme is a necessary but not sufficient condition for solving the crisis in the eurozone? What additional measures would you recommend and why?
  6. What are the risks associated with the OMT programme?
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More bank debt to ease bank debt

In December 2011, the ECB provided some €489bn to banks in the form of three-year loans at low interest rates (1%) through open-market operations (see Will new ECB repo operations support the eurozone bond market?).

These ‘Longer-term refinancing operations’ or ‘LTROs’ are designed to ease the burden on European banks which have been struggling to persuade markets that they are dealing with their large amounts of toxic debt, some of which is sovereign debt. Indeed, some of the ECB loans have been used to purchase Italian and Spanish bonds, thereby reducing the likelihood that these countries will default on their debts – at least for the timebeing.

On 29 February 2012, the ECB offered another round of LTROs. Some 800 banks borrowed €530bn under the scheme, bringing the total to a little over €1tr. Initially, much of the money has been put back on overnight deposit with the ECB. The hope, however, is that the loans will be used to support increased credit throughout the eurozone and to fund further purchases of sovereign debt.

But will the increased narrow money supply in the eurozone through these open-market operations result in increased broad money and increased spending and growth? The answer to that depends a great deal on confidence: confidence of banks to lend to firms and consumers; confidence of firms and consumers to borrow. The hope is that the extra money supply will not simply see a corresponding reduction in the velocity of circulation.

The following articles consider the likely effects of these longer-term repos on the real economy.

Articles
ECB hands €529bn in emergency loans to European banks Guardian, Heather Stewart (29/2/12)
Q&A: The ECB’s bank funding programme The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (29/2/12)
Fighting Debt with Debt Forbes, Bob McTeer (5/3/12)
Is ECB’s €1trn cash boost just the tip of the iceberg? Investment Week, Kyle Caldwell, Dan Jones (5/3/12)
Banks deposit record €821bn at ECB Financial Times, Mary Watkins (5/3/12)
Europe economy may see slim gain from supersize funding: poll Reuters, Sumanta Dey (5/3/12)
Who is the ECB helping? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (29/2/12)

ECB information on OMOs
Open Market Operations ECB

Questions

  1. Explain how longer-term refinancing operations work.
  2. What will determine how much of these ECB loans will be lent to companies?
  3. Explain what is meant by (a) the velocity of circulation; (b) the money multiplier. Why will the size of these two determine the likely success of the ECB’s LTRO programme?
  4. Why may the ECB’s actions boost market sentiment? Why might they have the opposite effect?
  5. Explain what is meant by the “continued de-leveraging by banks”. How does this impact on the money multiplier?
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Greece lightening?

After a marathon 13-hour session in Brussels, ending at 5am on 21 February, eurozone finance ministers agreed a second bailout for Greece. The aim was to lighten Greece’s debt burden and prevent the country being forced to default.

Under the deal, Greece will have some €107bn of its debt written off. The main brunt of this will be borne by private creditors, who will see the value of their Greek bonds fall by 53.5% (some 70% in real terms). Old bonds will be swapped for ones with longer maturities and lower interest rates. In addition, Greece will be given further loans of more than €130bn through the EFSF on top of the €73bn already lent. The monies will be put in a special escrow account and can be used only to service the debt, not to finance general government expenditure.

In return, Greece must reduce its debt to GDP ratio from the current 160% to 120.5% by 2020. It must agree to continuing tight austerity measures and to significant supply-side reforms to reduce the size of the public sector and increase efficiency. Implementation of the measures would be overseen by an EU Task Force based in Greece.

But while governments in the EU and around the world are relieved that a deal has been finally agreed and that Greek default seems to have been averted – at least for the time being – the problems for Greece seem set to get worse. The further austerity measures will deepen the recession, now in its fifth year. Growth is not expected to return until 2014 at the earliest, by which point real GDP is expected to have shrunk by some 17% from the start of the recession. The question is whether the Greek people will stand for further cuts in income and further rises in unemployment, which had reached 20.9% in November 2011 and is still rising rapidly.

Articles
Eurozone backs Greek bailout Euronews (21/2/12)
Greece Wins Second Bailout as Europe Picks Aid Over Default Bloomberg, James G. Neuger and Jonathan Stearns (21/2/12)
Eurozone agrees second Greek bail-out Financial Times, Peter Spiegel and Alex Barker (21/2/12)
Greece secures bailout to avoid debt default Independent, Gabriele Steinhauser and Sarah DiLorenzo (21/2/12)
EU tells Greece to cut more jobs, sees 2014 growth Reuters, Gabriele Robin Emmott and Nicholas Vinocur (21/2/12)
Eurozone agrees €130bn bailout for Greece The Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (21/2/12)
Greece averted nightmare scenario – finance minister BBC News (21/2/12)
Greece: Dangerous precedent? BBC News, Robert Peston (21/2/12)
The end of the marathon? The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (21/2/12)
What Analysts Think of the Greek Deal The Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Fletcher (21/2/12)
Three steps to a strong eurozone Guardian, Henning Meyer (21/2/12)
Opinion: the eurozone is just buying time Deutsche Welle, Henrik Böhme (21/2/12)
Greece must default if it wants democracy Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (19/2/12)
Eurozone’s Greece deal: debt and delusions at dawn Guardian. Editorial (21/2/12)
€130bn plaster leaves Greece independent in name only Guardian, Larry Elliott (22/2/12)
The Greek debt deal: Thumbs down The Economist, Buttonwood’s notebook (21/2/12)

Webcasts and podcasts
Are Greeks’ euro days numbered? Channel 4 News (21/2/12)
Wolf and Authers on Greece Financial Times, John Authers and Martin Wolf, (21/2/12)
Greece ‘unlikely to meet targets’ BBC Today Programme, Ngaire Woods, Guntram Wolff and Alistair Darling (21/2/12)
Austerity-hit Greeks scorn bailout deal Euronews (21/2/12)
Greek Bail Out Could Lead To More Violence Sky News (21/2/12)

Official Press Release
Eurogroup statement Europa Press Release (21/2/12)

Questions

  1. Outline the features of the bailout on offer to Greece. What is Greece expected to do in return for the bailout?
  2. To what extent has the deal lightened Greece’s macroeconomic problems?
  3. Why does granting a bailout create a moral hazard? How has the ECB/IMF/EU Commission Troika attempted to minimise the moral hazard in this case?
  4. Has Greece’s financial problem been essentially one of liquidity or solvency?
  5. What supply-side measures is Greece being required to implement? Will they have any demand-side consequences?
  6. From where is Greek growth likely to emanate after 2014?
  7. What are the downside risks of the deal?
  8. How likely is it that there will have to be a third bailout?
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Macroeconomic debate

The history of macroeconomic thought has been one of lively debate between different schools.

First there is debate between those who favour active government intervention (Keynesians) to manage aggregate demand and those who favour a rules-based approach of targeting some variable, such as the money supply (as advocated by monetarists) or the rate of inflation (as pursued by many central banks), or a hybrid rule, such as a Taylor rule that takes into account a weighted target of inflation and real output growth.

Second there is debate about the relative effectiveness of monetary and fiscal policy. Monetarists argue that monetary policy is relatively effective in determining aggregate demand, which in turn affects output in the short run but only prices in the long run. Keynesians argue that monetary policy can be weak in the short run if the economy is in recession. Quantitative easing may simply be accompanied by a decline in the velocity of circulation. It’s not enough to make more money available and keep interest rates close to zero; people must have the confidence to borrow and spend. Keynesians argue that in these circumstances fiscal policy is more effective.

Third there is the debate about the size of the state and the extent of government borrowing. Libertarians, following the views of economists such as Hayek, argue that reducing the size of the state and reducing government borrowing will create a more dynamic economy, where the private sector will expand to take up the slack created by a reduction in the size of the public sector. Their approach to policy involves a mixture of cutting deficits and market-orientated supply-side policy. Economists on the left, by contrast, argue that economic growth is best stimulated in the short term by increases in government spending and that supply-side policy needs to be interventionist, with the government investing in infrastructure, research and development, education and health. Such growth policies, they argue can be targeted on the poor and help to arrest the growing inequality in society.

These debates have been given added impetus by the global financial crisis in 2008 and the subsequent recession, slow recovery and possibility of a slide back into recession. The initial response of governments and central banks was to stimulate aggregate demand. Through combinations of expansionary fiscal policy, interest rates cut to virtually zero and programmes of quantitative easing, the world seemed set on a course for recovery. But one result of the policies was a massive expansion in government deficits and debt. This led to increasing criticisms from the right, and a move away from expansionary to austerity fiscal policies in order to contain debts that were increasingly being seen as unsustainable. And all the while the debates have raged.

The following podcast and articles look at the debates and how they have evolved. The picture painted is a more subtle and nuanced one than a stark ‘Keynes versus Hayek’, or ‘Keynesians versus monetarists’.

Podcast
Keynes v Hayek: The debate continues BBC Today Programme, Nicholas Wapshott and Paul Ormerod (23/12/11)

Articles
Von Hayek Revisited – Warts and All CounterPunch, David Warsh (26/12/11)
Fed up with Bernanke Reuters, Nicholas Wapshott (20/12/11)
Paul Krugman Versus Milton Friedman Seeking Alpha, ‘Shareholders Unite’ (6/12/11)
Keynes Was Right New York Times, Paul Krugman (29/12/11)
Keynes, Krugman, and Austerity National Review Online, William Voegeli (3/1/12)
The Madness of Lord Keynes The American Spectator, Samuel Gregg (19/12/11)
Central Bankers vs. Natural Stock Market Cycles in 2012 The Market Oracle, David Knox Barker (28/12/11)
Now is the time to eat, drink and be merry Financial Times, Samuel Brittan (29/12/11)

Questions

  1. To what extent is quantitative easing consistent with (a) Keynesian and (b) monetarist approaches to macroeconomic policy?
  2. What is meant by the ‘liquidity trap’ and what are its implications for monetary policy? Have we witnessed a liquidity trap since the beginning of 2009?
  3. What are the arguments for and against an independent central bank?
  4. Explain Milton Friedman’s assertion ‘that it was the Fed’s failure in 1930 to pursue “open market operations” on the scale needed that deepened the slump’.
  5. What are the implications of growing government deficits and debt for policies to avoid a slide back into recession?
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Will new ECB repo operations support the eurozone bond market?

The European Central Bank does not provide direct support to eurozone countries by buying new bonds. However, it can give indirect support by helping banks buy such bonds. In a move announced on 8 December, the ECB will increase the maximum term of its ‘longer-term refinancing operations’ (LTROs) from the current 13 months to three years. In other words, it will effectively provide three-year loans to banks by purchasing banks’ assets on a ‘repurchase (repo)’ basis, whereby banks agree to buy back the assets at the end of the three-year term.

The hope is that banks will use these loans (at an annual rate of 1%) to purchase new bonds from countries such as Italy and Spain. If banks are more willing to buy them, this should help reduce the interest rate at which governments are forced to borrow. Banks would benefit from the ‘carry trade’, whereby they borrow at a low interest rate (from the ECB) and lend at a higher rate to governments by buying their bonds.

To encourage banks to take advantage of these new longer-term repos,the ECB announced that the assets it was prepared to purchase would include securitised assets with a rating of single A (the highest rating is AAA). In other words, it would accept assets with a ‘second-best rating’.

But although the scheme would allow banks to make a clear gain from a carry trade, banks may be reluctant to use such loans to increase their holdings of sovereign debt of countries with large debt to GDP ratios, given concerns in the market about the riskiness of such assets.

Articles and podcast
ECB repo extension a fillip for sovereigns Financial News, Matt Turner (15/12/11)
Doubts over ECB move to boost bond sales Financial Times, Tracy Alloway (15/12/11)
ECB Chief Plays Down Hopes for Bigger Bond Purchases Wall Street Journal, Tom Fairless And Margit Feher (15/12/11)
Eurozone crisis ‘misdiagnosed’ BBC Today Programme, George Magnus (16/12/11) (second part of podcast)
Banks snap up €500bn in loans from European Central Bank Guardian. Larry Elliott (22/12/11)
Analysis: ECB cash to give indirect boost via banks Reuters, Natsuko Waki and Steve Slater (22/12/11)
Demand for ECB loans rises to €489bn Financial Times, Tracy Alloway and Ralph Atkins (21/12/11)
ECB’s rescue of eurozone banks is temporary BBC News, Robert Peston (21/12/11)

ECB Press release
ECB announces measures to support bank lending and money market activity ECB (8/12/11)

Questions

  1. Explain how repos work. What is the difference between repos and reverse repos?
  2. What is meant by the term ‘carry trade’?
  3. Why may banks be unwilling to gain from the carry trade possibilities of the ECB’s new 3-year LTROs by using them to fund the purchase of new sovereign bonds? What risks are entailed by their doing so?
  4. How do these new long-term repo operations differ from quantitative easing? Explain whether or not the effect is likely to be similar
  5. What are the arguments for and against the ECB engaging in a round of substantial quantitative easing?
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The bonds that tie

When governments run deficits, these must be financed by borrowing. The main form of borrowing is government bonds. To persuade people (mainly private-sector institutions, such as pension funds) to buy these bonds, an interest rate must be offered. Bonds are issued for a fixed period of time and at maturity are paid back at face value to the holders. Thus new bonds are issued not just to cover current deficits but also to replace bonds that are maturing. The shorter the average term on existing government bonds, the greater the amount of bonds that will need replacing in any one year.

In normal times, bonds are seen as a totally safe asset to hold. On maturity, the government would buy back the bond from the current holder at the full face value.

In normal times, interest rates on new bonds reflect market interest rates with no added risk premium. The interest rate (or ‘coupon’) on a bond is fixed with respect to its face value for the life of the bond. In other words, a bond with a face value of £100 and an annual payment to the holder of £6 would be paying an interest rate of 6% on the face value.

As far as existing bonds are concerned, these can be sold on the secondary market and the price at which they are sold reflects current interest rates. If, for example, the current interest rate falls to 3%, then the market price of a £100 bond with a 6% coupon will rise to £200, since £6 per year on £200 is 3% – the current market rate of interest. The annual return on the current market price is known as the ‘yield’ (3% in our example). The yield will reflect current market rates of interest.

These, however, are not ‘normal’ times. Bonds issued by many countries are no longer seen as a totally safe form of investment.

Over the past few months, worries have grown about the sustainability of the debts of many eurozone countries. Bailouts have had to be granted to Greece, Ireland and Portugal; in return they have been required to adopt tough austerity measures; the European bailout fund is being increased; various European banks are having to increase their capital to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults (see Saving the eurozone? Saving the world? (Part B)). But the key worry at present is what is happening to bond markets.

Bond yields for those countries deemed to be at risk of default have been rising dramatically. Italian bond yields are now over 7% – the rate generally considered to be unsustainable. And it’s not just Italy. Bond rates have been rising across the eurozone, even for the bonds of countries previously considered totally safe, such as Germany and Austria. And the effect is self reinforcing. As the interest rates on new bonds are driven up by the market, so this is taken as a sign of the countries’ weakness and hence investors require even higher rates to persuade them to buy more bonds, further undermining confidence and further driving up rates.

So what is to be done? Well, part of the problem is that the eurozone does not issue eurobonds. There is a single currency, but no single fiscal policy. There have thus been calls for the eurozone to issue eurobonds. These, it is argued would be much easier to sell on the market. What is more, the ECB could then buy up such bonds as necessary as part of a quantitative easing programme. At present the ECB does not act as lender of last resort to governments; at most it has been buying up some existing bonds of Italy, Spain, etc. in the secondary markets in an attempt to dampen interest rate rises.

The articles below examine some of the proposals.

What is clear is that politicians all over the world are trying to do things that will appease the bond market. They are increasingly feeling that their hands are tied: that they mustn’t do anything that will spook the markets.

Articles
Bond market hammers Italy, Spain ponders outside help Reuters, Barry Moody and Elisabeth O’Leary (25/11/11)
German Bonds Fall Prey to Contagion; Italian, Spanish Debt Drops Bloomberg Businessweek, Paul Dobson and Anchalee Worrachate (26/11/11)
Rates on Italian bonds soar, raising fears of contagion Deutsche Welle, Spencer Kimball (25/11/11)
Brussels unveils euro bond plans Euronews (23/11/11)
Germany faces more pressure to back eurobonds Euronews on YouTube (24/11/11)
Bond markets Q&A: will the moneymen hit the panic button? Guardian, Jill Treanor and Patrick Collinson (7/11/11)
Why we all get burnt in the bonfire of the bond markets Observer, Heather Stewart, Simon Goodley and Katie Allen (20/11/11)
Retaining the confidence of the bond market is the key to Britain’s success in the EU treaty renegotiations The Telegraph, Toby Young (19/11/11)
Boom-year debts could bust us BBC News, Robert Peston (25/11/11)
UK’s debts ‘biggest in the world’ BBC News, Robert Peston (21/11/11)
Markets and the euro ‘end game’ BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (24/11/11)
The tricky path toward greater fiscal integration The Economist, H.G. (27/10/11)
The tricky path toward greater fiscal integration, take two The Economist, H.G. (23/11/11) and Comments by muellbauer

Data
European Economy, Statistical Annex Economic and Financial Affairs DG (Autumn 2011) (see Tables 76–78)
Monthly Bulletin ECB (November 2011) (see section 2.4)
Bonds and rates Financial Times
UK Gilt Market UK Debt Management Office

Questions

  1. Explain the relationship between bond yields and (a) bond prices; (b) interest rates generally.
  2. Using the data sources above, find the current deficit and debt levels of Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK, the USA and Japan. How do eurozone debts and deficits compare with those of other developed countries?
  3. Explain the various proposals considered in the articles for issuing eurobonds.
  4. To what extent do the proposals involve a moral hazard and how could eurobond schemes be designed to minimise this problem?
  5. Examine German objections to the issue of eurobonds.
  6. Does the global power of bond markets prevent countries (including non-eurozone ones, such as the UK and USA) from using fiscal policy to avert the slide back into recession?
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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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