Thursday, 10 November 2011

How the ECB Can Prevent the Suicide of the Euro Zone

First, three facts:
1) For a currency that is in risk of imploding, the Euro has done better than the Dollar:

2) At the end of 2010 the total foreign net debt (private and public) of Italy was $0.5 trillion (26% of GDP) while that of the US was $2.47 trillion (17% of GDP); the current account deficit of the two countries was identical (3.24% of GDP); and the total central government debt was 109% of GDP in Italy and 61.3% in the US.
3) Yet the markets are pricing their sovereign debt in a way quite unrelated to these fundamentals (yesterday the 10-year Yield for Italy reached 7.48% while in the US it was at 2.01%):

This is clearly a speculative attack against the Euro itself.

Yet, the ECB seems hand-tied to do anything to repel such attack. By hiding behind its statutory limitations in lending to sovereigns; waiting for successive failed schemes of Merkel-Sarkozy to deal with the sovereign debt problems of Greece, Ireland and Portugal; and sticking to self-defeating half-hearted bond buying in the market, the ECB risks letting the downfall of the Euro occur before its own eyes.

This does not need to be so. By itself, the ECB can kill this speculative attack. First, it needs to point out to the European Union governments that if they persist in a simultaneous suicidal pursuit of restrictive budgetary policies it will need to offset them by pursuing an aggressive expansionary monetary policy. Second, it needs to send a strong message to the markets that, if necessary, it is ready to act as lender of last resort for the Governments under attack.

Here is a suggestion of how it can be done. The ECB should replace its bond-buying in the secondary market (which is fueling the speculation) by a new bank lending facility that in practice would work as back to back loan to the governments. There are various ways to structure such facility within the current lending practices of the ECB; and, as long as the loans would not feed back into the market, they would work.

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