Tuesday, September 13, 2011

All Eyes on Europe

The lack of posts have been two-fold:
  • I’ve been swamped
  • I have been trying to wrap my head around the European situation (i.e. the slow moving car wreck)
While I don’t pretend to be an expert on Europe (though it was obvious enough to be asking the question back in January 2009 whether it was possible that a country would leave the Eurozone), below are my super high level thoughts.

In my opinion (the fact that this is only my opinion is key), it seems more and more likely that the only way the situation in Europe can be successfully resolved, is if the end result is a European fiscal union (this is just another way of saying that Germany needs to bail out those within the broader European Monetary Union if we are to avoid another systemic crisis). If this is the case, the obvious question becomes... is Germany willing to bail out the broader European Union?

The pros / cons of such a bailout for Germany can be broken down into at least two areas; political and economic.


Political

Short-term: Politically, it seems that the easier choice is for Germany to say no, as German citizens are broadly opposed to a bailout. However this is countered by existing politicians who have their legacy tied to the European Union and will likely do anything it takes to maintain that legacy.

Long-term: If Germans are to take a longer term view, a fiscal union helps maintain peace within the region (which was the whole point of the economic union to begin with). That is unless the economic ramifications of a bailout cause political tensions between countries in a scale that exceeds those benefits.


Economic

I have no clue whether the systemic issues that Germany would inevitably feel resulting from sovereign defaults in Europe are greater than the cost of a bail out.

Positives of a bailout for Germany include allowing Germany to maintain an undervalued currency, bailing out Europe = bailing out European trading partners (which maintain demand for German exports), and most important (in my opinion) effectively bailing out the European banking system that owns all the European sovereign debt (including German banks).

Negatives of a bailout include the cost (unless you believe this is just one big liquidity crisis, it will be very expensive) and there is no historical precedent that these countries would get their house in order (i.e. will this just happen again?). More important (in my opinion) is what happens if the broader European solvency issue infects the last remaining healthy European balance sheet (i.e. is a German bail out similar to Bank of America purchasing Countrywide).

2 comments:

Tom Lindmark said...

Maybe the more apt analogy would be Bank of America purchasing Countrywide. The unknown liabilities in the balance sheets of Europe's basket cases will surely take down Germany just as readily as CW is leveling BofA.

Jake said...

Agreed / changed as that is actually what I was thinking about...

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