Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Europe’s Depressing Prospects

Normally I don’t like to write about European prospects in the midst of a very rough patch in the market because in that case there isn’t much I can say that isn’t already being said. I find it more useful to wait for those recurring periods in which the markets recover and optimism rises. Still, given the conjunction of political uncertainty in Beijing, low Chinese growth numbers, and another round of deteriorating circumstances in Europe, I will spend most of this issue of the newsletter trying to outline the possible paths countries like Spain must face.

For several years I have been saying that Spain would leave the euro and restructure its external debt. I should say that I specify Spain because it is the country in which I was born and grew up, and so it is also the country I know best. When I say Spain, however, I really mean all the peripheral European countries that, like Spain, are uncompetitive, have high debt levels, and suffer from low savings rates that had been forced down in the past decade to dangerous levels.

Spain had a stronger fiscal position and healthier bank balance sheets than many of its peers when the crisis began, so any argument that applies to Spain is likely to apply more forcefully to its peers. As an aside I will add that France is for me the dividing line between countries that will be forced into devaluation and restructuring and those that won’t – in my opinion France could go either way and we will get a much better sense of this in the first year of Hollande’s presidency. Read More