Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Eurogeddon postponed again as ECB gains three weeks

Eurogeddon is postponed again. Jean-Claude Trichet has saved civilization. There will not be a spiralling bond crisis in Italy and Spain in early August after all. An imminent disintegration of Europe’s financial system has been averted.

On balance, this is good, though not optimal. (Lancing the boil immediately by organising an orderly German exit from EMU would be better: it would halt the Fisherite debt-deflation spiral in Club Med and clear the way for recovery.)

Spanish 10-year yields dropped 85 points to 5.2pc, Italian yields fell 76 points to 5.32pc in the first hour or so of trading after last night’s announcement.

Now for the hard part. Unless the ECB is willing to back up its new role as lender-of-last-resort with massive purchases of Italian and Spanish debt, it will inevitably be tested by markets. Weak hands will take advantage of rallies to offload holdings onto the ECB, i.e. onto eurozone taxpayers. Frankfurt will find itself underwater very quickly without a legal mandate or EU treaty authority.

RBS calculates that the ECB will have to buy roughly half the outstanding tradeable debt of the two countries to defend the line. RBS calculates €850bn. I would put it nearer €1 trillion.

This is currently impossible. The ECB is acting as a temporary back-stop until the revamped EFSF bail-out fund is ratified by all parliaments over coming months. The EFSF will then take the baton.

Yet as we all know, the EFSF has no money. The parliaments have not even ratified the earlier boost to €440bn. As of today, the fund has barely €80bn left after all the commitments to Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. It remains a fiction. (more)