Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Long Sunset of Europe

As we are witnessing a consistent stream of bad economic news from the Eurozone, I am a bit puzzled at the relatively shortsightedness of the analysis of the experts broadcasted across most of TV networks.

The main highlights surrounding Greece, Spain, Portugal and eventually Italy tend to focus around problems of fiscal nature.
In reality, fiscal problems are only an effect and rather not the cause of the matter.
In my modest opinion, the fundamental problem that is shared by many economies in the Eurozone is a fundamental lack of competitiveness. Cost of labor have soared, cost of welfare with it, productivity has decreased and the long term demographic trends, as shared in previous posts, are negative with no possibility of reversal.

The resolution of this matter is further complicated by the limited range of monetary policy options at the country level now that the EURO is in effect.

While in the old days each country made ample use of the monetary policy to boost competitiveness of goods and services, today the government of these countries need to come to terms with the fact that this option is no longer available. The ECB is working on a set of monetary policies that are to address the needs of a wide area of countries at times radically different from each other (look at the spread on the 10 years notes to witness the differences first hand). The end result is in fact a bit of an improbable exercise of equilibrium that tends to lack effectiveness.

Now it is the time in which the Eurozone needs to come to terms with a fundamental dilemma: one central bank setting monetary policies for all members but no strong political centre with the necessary powers and support to make difficult choices. The problem is therefore one of political nature just as much of economic one.

While Germany has been working very hard over the past 10 years to increase productivity without increasing the cost of labor (successful exercise, data shows), other countries have grappled with a consistent decrease in competitiveness and soaring costs. Moving forward given the fundamentals the differences between the central and periphery of Europe are going to unravel with: Germany/France on one side, the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe on the other.

I guess the concern that I would like to share is with regards to the remedy currently implemented.
From a birds-eye view, the liquidity offered in the forms of various loans by the ECB/IMF to Greece has a cost of 5%, hardly favorable terms. The loans can be activated in various forms upon implementation of structural reforms which are bound to further decrease internal consumption, which are going to drive down production and increase employment as well as decrease money velocity. (internal devaluation)

Aren't we running the risk of prolonging the agony, destabilize a country (people unrest is a real side effect) and arrive again at a point in which new injections of money is required?

It is indeed hard to evaluate other solutions given the existing exposure of German banks for example to both the Greek and Spanish debt. A potential return to the dracma for Greece would signify the failure of the EURO experiment. Nonetheless, sooner or later German & French voters are going to call for a better understanding of what is in it for them to bail out Greece now and who knows tomorrow.

Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the ECB, rightly said: "there is a need for a quantum leap in the governance of the Euro area". The real question is whether there is the political might and willingness of the single countries to make this necessary quantum leap. If I have to give odds to the Euro today, I would bet against its existence over the next five years, but let it be clear: as a European myself, I hope to be proved wrong.

1 comment:

  1. I like the vision of the situation a lot, would be interesting to know your opinion about the USA, Easter Europe and Russia in particular.