Category: Economics for Business: 8e Ch 25

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?

It doesn’t seem that long ago when Greece was in the news regarding its deficit and need for bailing out. Back then, countries such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland were being mentioned as the next countries which might require financial assistance from the EU. It is now the Irish economy that is in trouble, even though the Irish government has not yet requested any financial help. The EU, however, is ‘ready to act’.

The Irish economy experienced an extremely strong boom, but they also suffered from the biggest recession in the developed world, with national income falling by over 20% since 2007. Savers are withdrawing their money; property prices continue to collapse; and banks needed bailing out. Austerity measures have already been implemented – tax rises and spending cuts equal to 5% of GDP took place, but it has still not been enough to stabilise the economy’s finances. All of these problems have contributed to a large and unsustainable budget deficit and a significant lack of funding and that’s where the EU and possibly the IMF come in.

If the Irish economy continues to decline and experiences a financial crisis, the UK would probably be one of the first to step in and offer finance. As our closest neighbour and an important trading partner, the collapse of the Irish economy would adversely affect the UK. A significant proportion of our exports go to the Irish economy and, with Irish taxpayers facing troubled times, UK exporting companies may be the ones to suffer.

One thing that this crisis has done is to provide eurosceptics with an opportunity to argue their case and blame the euro for the collapse of Ireland. With one monetary policy, the Irish economy is tied in to the interest rates set by the ECB and low interest rates fuelled the then booming economy. The common currency also increased capital flows from central European countries, such as Germany, to peripheral countries, such as Ireland, Spain and Portugal. In themselves, capital flows aren’t a problem, but when they are used to fund property bubbles and not productive investments, adverse effects are inevitable, as Ireland found to its detriment.

As prices collapsed and banks simply ran out of money, the government stepped in and rescued not only the depositors of Irish banks, but also their bondholders. Unable to devalue their currency, as it’s the euro, the Irish economy was unable to boost exports and hence aggregate demand and in turn economic growth. Although, the Irish government has not requested any financial help, as the French Finance Minister commented about a potential bailout: “Is it six months or a few days away? I’d say it’s closer to days.” The following articles look at this developing situation in Europe.

EU plays down Irish republic bail-out talks BBC News (17/11/10)
Ireland bailout: the European politicians who will decide Telegraph, Phillip Aldrick (17/11/10)
Don’t blame the Euro for Ireland’s mess Financial Times, Phillipe Legrain (17/11/10)
Britain signals intention to help Ireland in debt crisis New York Times, James Kanter and Steven Erlanger (17/11/10)
Ireland will take aid if ‘bank issue is too big’ Irish Times, Jason Michael (17/11/10)
Irish junior party says partnership strained Reuters (17/11/10)
Ireland resists humiliating bail-out as UK pledges £7 billion Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (17/11/10)
Markets stable as Ireland bailout looms Associated Press (17/11/10)
The implausible in pursuit of the indefensible? BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (16/11/10)
Ireland bailout worth ‘tens of billions’ of euros, says central bank governor Guardian, Julia Kollewe and Lisa O’Carroll (18/11/10)
The stages of Ireland’s grief BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (18/11/10)
Q&A: Irish Republic finances BBC News (19/11/10)
Could Spain and Portugal be next to accept bail-outs? BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (19/11/10)

Questions

  1. Why will the UK be affected by the collapse of the Irish economy?
  2. If Ireland were not a member of the eurozone, would the country be any better off? How might a floating exchange rate boost growth?
  3. The Financial Times article talks about the euro not being to blame for the Irish problems, saying that ‘tight fiscal policy’ should have been used. What does this mean?
  4. Why is the housing market so important to any nation?
  5. What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against the euro? Would Ireland benefit from leaving the euro?
  6. Should the UK government intervene to help Ireland? What are the key factors that will influence this decision? What about the EU – should Ireland ask for help? Should the EU give help?
  7. Austerity measures have already been implemented, but what other actions could the Irish economy take to increase competitiveness?

One of the key problems faced by all countries over the past three years has been a lack of consumer demand. Firms face demand from a number of sources and when the domestic economy is struggling and domestic demand is weak, a key source of demand will be from abroad. By this, we are of course referring to exports. However, it was not just one country that plunged into recession: the global economy was affected. So, when one country was suffering from a weak domestic market, it turned to its export market and hence to other countries for demand. However, with these economies also suffering from recession, the export market was unable to offer any significant help. In order to boost exports, governments have tried to make their export markets more competitive and one method is to cut the value of the currency. Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Columbia and Taiwan are just some of the countries using this strategy.

Following these interventions, the Brazilian finance minister has commented that a new trade war has begun. Speaking to a group of industrial leaders in Sao Paulo, Mr. Mantega said:

‘We’re in the midst of an international currency war. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.’

As more and more governments intervene in the currency market in a bid to boost exports, those refraining from intervening will suffer. Furthermore, interest rates throughout the developed world have remained low, as central banks continue their attempts to boost economics. However, this has led vast amounts of money to be transferred into countries, such as Brazil, where there is a better supply of high-yield assets. This has worsened the state of affairs in Brazil, as the Brazilian currency is now thought to be the most heavily over-valued currency in the world. This adversely affects Brazil’s export market and its trade balance. The following articles look at the lastest developments in this new ‘war’.

Articles

Currencty ‘war’ warning from Brazil’s finance minister BBC News (28/9/10)
Brazil warns of world currency war Telegraph (28/9/10)
Brazil warns of world currency ‘war’ Associated Press (28/9/10)
Brazil defends exporters in global currency battle Reuters (15/9/10)
Kan defends Japan’s intervention in the currency markets Associated Press (25/9/10)
US and China are still playing currency Kabuki Business Insider, Dian L. Chu (21/9/10)
How to stop a currency war The Economist (14/10/10)
What’s the currency war about? BBC News, Laurence Knight (23/10/10)

Exchange rate data
Exchange rate X-rates.com
Statistical Interactive Database – interest and exchange rates data Bank of England
Currencies BBC News
Currency converter Yahoo Finance

Questions

  1. Demand for a firm’s products comes from many sources. What are they? Illustrate this on a diagram.
  2. Why is a weak currency good for the export market?
  3. How will a country’s trade balance be affected by the value of its currency?
  4. Explain the process by which investors putting money into high-yield assets in countries like Brazil leads to currency appreciation.
  5. What are the options open to a government if it wants to devalue its currency? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each method?

The east African countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda have been operating with a common external tariff for some time. The East African Community (EAC), as it is known, came into force in 2000. Initially it had just three members, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; the other two countries joined in 2007. As the Community’s site says:

The EAC aims at widening and deepening co-operation among the Partner States in, among others, political, economic and social fields for their mutual benefit. To this extent the EAC countries established a Customs Union in 2005 and are working towards the establishment of a Common Market in 2010, subsequently a Monetary Union by 2012 and ultimately a Political Federation of the East African States.

This Common Market came into force on 1 July 2010, with free movement of labour being instituted between the five countries. The plan is also to do away with all internal barriers to trade, although it may take up to five years before this is completed.

The following articles and videos look at this significant opening up of trade in east Africa and at people’s reactions to it. Will all five countries gain equally? Or will some gain at the others’ expense?

Articles
East African Countries Form a Common Market New York Times, Josh Kron (1/7/10)
Dawn of an era for East Africans The Standard, John Oyuke (1/7/10)
5 East African countries create common market The Associated Press, Tom Maliti (1/7/10)
FACTBOX-East African common market begins Reuters (1/7/10)
Bold plan to have single EAC currency by 2012 Daily Nation, Lucas Barasa (1/7/10)
East Africa’s common market begins BBC News, Tim Bowler (30/6/10)
East Africa: Poor Road, Railway Network Holding Back Integration allAfrica.com, Zephania Ubwani (1/7/10)
Challenges for one East Africa Common Market The Sunday Citizen, James Shikwati (4/7/10)

Videos
Common market barriers NTVKenya (on YouTube) (2/7/10)
The fruits of E.A.C. NTVKenya (on YouTube) (2/7/10)

The East African Community (EAC)
Official site
Wikipedia entry

Questions

  1. Distinguish between a free trade area, a customs union, a common market and a monetary union.
  2. How is it possible that all five countries will gain from the establishment of a common market?
  3. Distinguish between trade creation and trade diversion. Under what circumstances is the establishment of a common market more likely to lead to (a) trade creation; (b) trade diversion?
  4. Why do some people worry about the consequences of free movement of labour with the EAC? How would you answer their concerns?
  5. What factors would need to be taken into account in deciding whether or not the five countries would benefit from forming a monetary union?

Russia and Kazakhstan have been discussing the formation of a trade agreement for some time and an agreement is now in place. From July 1 2010 a customs union between these two countries will be launched. Belarus has also been in talks with the Russian government, but as yet, it will not become a member, due to disputes with Russia. Belarus was hoping that the customs union would free it from export duties on oil, but this has not been the case. The gas dispute between Russia and Belarus has continued, although a meeting is taking place to try to resolve the issue.

President Alexander Lukashenko has said that Belarus will sign the Customs Unions documents if Russia cancels petroleum products duties now and oil duties from January 2011. He said:

“As a goodwill step, we propose removing customs barriers and customs duties on petroleum products now, and we will wait until the beginning of next year regarding oil duties; but the duties must be removed from January 1.”

Although the customs union between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus formally began on January 1 2010, it will not work fully until these disputes have been resolved. The following articles consider this agreement and the likely impact on the countries’ negotiations to join the WTO.

Russia, Kazakhstan agree customs union minus Belarus Reuters (28/5/10)
Russia hopeful of settling Belarus gas dispute Reuters (19/6/10)
Belarus to sign customs union documents, if Russia cancel oil duties RIA Novosti, (18/6/10)
Creation of customs union should not hinder Russia’s entering WTO RIA Novosti (17/6/10)
Kazakhstan ‘moving to re-instate Soviet Union’ with customs unions with Russia Telegraph, Richard Orange (11/6/10)
Russia, Kazakhstan launch customs union without Belarus AFP (28/5/10)

Questions

  1. What is a customs union? How does it differ from a common market and a monetary union, as we have in Europe?
  2. Russia wants to maintain its tariff on gas and oil supplies. Illustrate the effects of the imposition of a tariff. Does society gain?
  3. What are the arguments for and against retaining protectionist measures on trade with other nations?
  4. Assess the likely effects of the customs union on (a) the individual members and (b) other nations. Who do you think will benefit and lose the most?
  5. What will be the impact of the customs union and its disputes on the accession of these countries to the WTO.
  6. Is it a good idea for Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus to join the WTO? What conditions have to be met?