A Eurozone Collapse is now far more likely, here are the canaries to watch out for
by Vincent Fernando, CFA
Originally posted April 15, 2010
The latest Global Monetary Analyst raises the notion of stronger Eurozone nations ditching the euro in order to form a stronger, smaller currency union. Morgan Stanley’s Joachim Fels believes that the eurozone/IMF financial backstop for Greece, plus the European Central Bank’s recent backing-down on collateral rules for Greece have substantially, and ironically, increased the long-term risk of a eurozone break-up.
Joachim Fels at Morgan Stanley:
…which gives rise to moral hazard: The bail-out and the ECB’s softer collateral stance set a bad precedent for other euro area member states and make it more likely that the euro area degenerates into a zone of fiscal profligacy, currency weakness and higher inflationary pressures over time. If so, countries with a high preference for price stability, such as Germany, might conclude that they would be better off with a harder but smaller currency union. And because the Maastricht Treaty does not provide for the possibility of expelling euro area members, the only way how Germany could achieve this would be by leaving the euro to introduce a stronger currency.
Obviously, we have not reached the end-game yet. However, with the recent developments, such a break-up scenario has clearly become more likely, for two reasons. First, the lesson for other euro area members from the Greek bail-out package that no matter how badly you violate the SGP guidelines, financial help will be forthcoming, if push comes to shove. This introduces a serious moral hazard problem into the European equation. Fiscal slippage in other countries has now become more rather than less likely. Moreover, the central bank’s credibility has been massively eroded.
Second, the ECB’s climb-down on its collateral rules regarding lower-rated bonds, which ensures that Greek government bonds will still be eligible as collateral in ECB tenders beyond 2010, adds to this moral hazard problem and confirms that the ECB is not immune to political considerations and pressures. Most importantly, what to watch for that might signal the beginning of the end of the currency union as we know it:
What are the signposts that would indicate our break-up scenario is in fact unfolding?
First, watch fiscal developments in other euro area countries closely: Our suspicion is that the aid package for Greece lessens other governments’ resolve to tighten fiscal policy, especially in an environment of ongoing economic stagnation or recession.
Second, watch ECB policy closely: If the ECB turns out to be slow in raising interest rates once inflation pressures return, this would be a sign of a politicisation of monetary policy.
Third, watch the political debate in Germany: Support for Greece has been extremely unpopular and fears that the euro will turn into a soft currency abound. If the aid package for Greece, which so far is a backstop credit line, becomes activated, eurosceptic forces would receive a significant further boost. And, needless to say, if other countries also needed financial support, this would further strengthen euro opposition.
Morgan Stanley is at strains to say that they don’t necessarily support a break-up of the union nor are they blind to the fact that a Greece crisis (without Eurozone/IMF support) could lead to a crisis for Europe today. They just seem to be saying that the the most recent Greece-backstop solution only increases the long-term risks of the entire system simply ending, even though it papered over near-term problems. You’ll have to hunt down the full piece for details.