While you (and I) were having Thanksgiving dinner (and napping afterwards), the eurozone crisis didn’t take the day off:
Wall Street Journal: The ECB will definitely not become the eurozone’s lender of last resort — Meeting in Strasbourg, Merkel, Sarkozy, and Monti pledged to present a package of proposed changes to the European treaty by Dec. 9 that aim to integrate euro-zone economic policies, but quashed suggestions that the European Central Bank should play a greater role in fighting the region’s protracted debt crisis.
Trying to quell a rift with Germany over whether the European Central Bank should take more-decisive steps to solve the debt crisis, Mr. Sarkozy said he and Ms. Merkel agreed to abstain from making demands on the Frankfurt-based bank. Sarkozy said:
“In the respect of the institution’s independence it’s essential that we abstain from making either positive or negative demands on the ECB.”
German Economics Minister Philipp Rösler, in comments made ahead of the reiterated his strong rejection of common euro-zone bonds, while top government lawmakers didn’t completely rule out their introduction. Rösler made clear the euro zone must first change EU treaties and integrate economic and fiscal policies far more deeply. One lawmaker said some discussions on euro bonds may be continuing, but ruled out their introduction during the current government.
In a budget debate, asking Germany’s lower house of parliament to signal its rejection of the collective bonds, Mr. Rösler said:
“We don’t want euro bonds, because we don’t want interest rates to rise dramatically in Germany.”
Wall Sreet Journal: ECB considers longer bank loans — The ECB is considering offering longer-term loans to commercial banks that are having trouble securing funding in private markets, as officials scramble to keep the debt crisis from freezing new lending.
Officials may extend loans to banks at maturities of two or three years, according to people familiar with the matter. The longest maturity at present is 13 months. The ECB will make that 13-month loan available next month, meaning banks that need it will have secure funding through 2012.
Notwithstanding the agreement reached in Strasbourg, new loans at two to three-year maturities would mark an escalation in the ECB’s role as lender of last resort to Europe’s banks. Despite repeated warnings by top officials of the danger that banks could become “addicted” to central bank credit, the ECB has repeatedly made these funds available on an unlimited basis.
Wall Street Journal: ”Heard on the Street” on the rise in German bond yields – The euro-zone crisis is becoming binary. One possibility is greater integration, such as common bond issuance, which implies greater costs for Germany and fiscal dilution. The other is break-up, which implies costs for every country but which may favor short-dated German paper given the possibility of currency appreciation.
Rising German yields may therefore reflect a growing belief in the introduction of euro bonds; indeed higher yields may make common bond issuance more palatable for Germany. A renewed decline in yields could signal increasing fear of a break-up or widespread defaults, although this again might lead to renewed rearguard action to save the euro.
Financial Times: Lex, “Eurobonds: moral hazard ahead“ – If eurozone nations cannot borrow separately, perhaps they can borrow together. That is the logic behind the common debt issuance idea – eurozone bonds – being mooted by the European Commission. Those in favour could cite Wednesday’s other, more scary development – investors turning their backs on a German bond issue – to bolster the case that more liquid collective debt would help to trump countries’ individual difficulties. It is the very crisis the region is trying to fight, however, that makes the joint bond concept look like whimsy.
[...] Peripheral countries would benefit disproportionately, thereby helping to ease overall debt burdens. The weighted average of the eurozone’s borrowing costs is 4.7 per cent. Greece could cut its interest bill by 15 per cent of GDP in this way, according to Capital Economics. Germany’s interest bill would rise proportionately, of course – by some 2.5 per cent of GDP. What’s not to like?
Moral hazard, for starters. By offering the likes of Greece or Italy such rewards, eurozone bonds could remove these countries’ incentive to regain lost competitiveness. Nor would these bonds reduce the stock of existing debt. Unless there was a degree of fiscal union and budgetary enforcement in the eurozone that trampled on national sovereignty, investors would rightly be sceptical about buying such instruments. If the yield on eurozone bonds was to become significantly higher than that on debt of the bloc’s triple A states, the project would crumble.
And then there is the clinching argument – that Germany will not accept them. An ersatz form of eurozone bond issued by the European Financial Stability Facility already exists. Anything more ambitious is a non-starter until the crisis has abated.
Financial Times: Sebastian Mallaby, “Germany is the real winner in a transfer union“ – Over the past 18 months, Germany has tried every trick to limit its contribution to the euro bailouts. It has pushed self-defeating austerity onto bankrupt countries. It has called in the International Monetary Fund. It has tried to pass the hat to China. It has discovered an improbable and futile taste for leveraging up the European Financial Stability Facility. But now these tricks have uniformly failed, and the continent approaches the abyss – with Germany itself suffering the humiliation of a failed bond auction. It is time for Germany to decide once and for all: how much will it pay to save Europe?
Germans can reach the sensible answer only if they discard the myth, widely cherished in northern Europe, that peripheral southern countries are the undeserving beneficiaries of a charitable transfer union . . . The truth is that Germany derives myriad benefits from the currency union. It should pay more to save it.
[...] the currency union that makes adjustment in the periphery so excruciating is the very same currency union that handed Germany its export boom. Rather than condemning lazy southerners, the Germans should share the loot.
[...] As the issuer of Europe’s remaining reserve assets, Germany has enjoyed a flood of capital inflows from the periphery, driving its 10-year government bond yield down to around 2 per cent, this week’s auction notwithstanding. The resulting monetary stimulus arrived just when slowing global growth made it most welcome; this is Germany’s version of the flight to quality that the US enjoys thanks to the dollar’s status. Countries that benefit from international monetary arrangements should be prepared to invest in preserving them.
[...] the Germans have it right: Europe’s currency union does indeed involve transfers. But it is not true that these transfers flow only one way. Germany pays out via bailouts and intra-regional transfers; but it also receives benefits via trade and monetary channels. If only Germany could accept this truth, it might yet muster the will to rescue the euro – and salvage a generation of efforts to build an integrated Europe.
Financial Times: Sharon Bowles, “Time for sovereigns to swallow their medicine“ – Just as structured investment products such as collateralised debt obligations were tainted post-Lehman, so too is sovereign debt. There are other parallels too – just as regulatory reliance on ratings contributed to sleeping on the job over complex products, so too have regulatory exemptions and zero risk weightings removed the brakes from the sovereign debt wagon.
Financial Times: Mohamed El-Erian: “Europe’s banks must be forced to recapitalise now“ – Given this week’s developments, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that what started out as a dislocation in the periphery of the eurozone has now decisively breached the firewalls protecting the outer core and is seriously threatening the inner core . . . In the eyes of the markets, the capital cushion of Europe’s banking system as a whole is no longer sufficient to support its balance sheet. This concern is not limited to the markets. Judging from their eagerness to dispose of assets, bank managements also believe that balance sheet delevering is key to the institutions’ survival and well being.
[...] Europe must now go well beyond the steps proposed at the October 26 summit. In addition to specifying higher prudential capital ratios, governments must now bully banks to act immediately. Where private funding is not forthcoming, which should now be the presumption for a growing number of banks, recapitalisation must be imposed, in return for fundamental changes in the way financial institutions operate and burdens are shared.