Tag Archives: Euro area

The IMF “In Principle” Approves Funding For Greece

In the FT, Mehreen Khan reports about the IMF’s conditional acceptance to lend to Greece.

The IMF’s “agreement in principle” (AIP) tool draws on a practice where the fund is able to greenlight its involvement in a debtor country, conditional on the government and its creditors agreeing to future debt relief measures.

Of course, the dispute about the merits of debt relief is unresolved. The IMF thinks Greek debt is ‘unsustainable’ and the European creditors should bear more losses, earlier on while some Euro area countries disagree. (For the numbers, see here).

Earlier in July, the European Stability Mechanism had approved a new cash injection (FT). This followed a dodgy compromise in June, as reported by Jim Brunsden in the FT:

Euro area ministers and the International Monetary Fund unveiled a deal … that will … sav[e Greece] … from default this summer. The IMF will join the bailout as a partner but withhold any money until euro area finance ministers give more detail on what debt relief they might offer Athens. …

Euro-area policymakers have been trying to reconcile competing EU and IMF visions of the €86bn programme and, crucially, whether it will make Greece’s debts sustainable.

Programme conditions set by euro area governments in 2015 included budget surplus targets that the IMF said were punishingly ambitious and unlikely to be met. The fund set out a different vision: lower primary surplus targets for Athens, coupled with comprehensive pension and tax reform and, crucially, far-reaching debt relief.

At the centre of the puzzle was Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, who has insisted that the IMF must join if Greece is going to continue receiving tranches of bailout aid — but has also resisted significant debt relief commitments.

Given that the fund could not join up unless convinced that Greece’s debts were being put on to a sustainable path, the euro area and IMF had to find another solution — and it came in the form of asking Athens to do more.

To give the IMF confidence that Greece could hit budget surplus targets set by the euro area, Athens was asked to widen its income tax base and cut pensions. The measures, adopted in May, are estimated to be worth about 2 percentage points of gross domestic product.

In the meantime, Greece plans to regain market access by 2018 (FT).

Currency Denomination Risk in the Euro Area

In the FT (Alphaville), Marcello Minnena explains what type of currency denominations of Euro area sovereign debt constitute credit events; and how markets assess the risk of such denominations.

After the Greek default in 2012

new ISDA standards entered into force: contracts made since 2014 protect against euro area countries redenominating their debt into new national currencies [unless the debt is redenominated] into a reserve currency: the US dollar, the Canadian dollar, the British pound, the Japanese yen, or the Swiss franc. In all other cases, the only way to avoid the triggering of a credit event is if the switch to the new currency does not result in a loss for the investor: “no reduction in the rate or amount of interest, principal or premium payable”.

Since 2014 two types of sovereign CDS therefore coexist: the old (ISDA 2003) and the new (ISDA 2014). The latter has always traded at spreads wider than the CDS-2003, but the difference (the ISDA basis) has generally been small: 15-20 bps for Italy, 8-12 bps for Spain, 2-4 bps for France, and 1-2 bps for Germany.

Since January 2017, the spread difference for Italy and France has increased by roughly 20 basis points.

Redistribution From Unexpected Deflation in the Euro Area

In the JEEA 14(4) (August 2016) Klaus Adam and Junyi Zhu argue that

unexpected price-level movements generate sizable wealth redistribution in the Euro Area (EA) … The EA as a whole is a net loser of unexpected price-level decreases, with Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Spain losing most in per capita terms, and Belgium and Malta being net winners. Governments are net losers of deflation, while the household (HH) sector is a net winner … HHs in Belgium, Ireland, Malta, and Germany experience the biggest per capita gains, while HHs in Finland and Spain turn out to be net losers. … relatively young middle class HHs are net losers of deflation, while older and richer HHs are winners. … wealth inequality in the EA increases with unexpected deflation, although in some countries (Austria, Germany, and Malta) inequality decreases due to the presence of relatively few young borrowing HHs. … HHs in high-inflation EA countries hold… systematically lower nominal exposures.

The table reports the estimated effects of a one-time unexpected change in the general price level by 10% (expressed either in thousand EUR per capita, or as a share of GDP); a positive sign indicates a gain from deflation.

 Government
(1000 EUR p.c.)
Households
(1000 EUR p.c.)
ROW
(1000 EUR p.c.)
Government
(share of GDP)
Households
(share of GDP)
ROW
(share of GDP)
Euro Area−18.67.810.8−0.730.300.42
Austria−21.711.610.1−0.700.370.32
Belgium−27.640.8−13.2−0.931.37−0.44
Cyprus−9.9−7.217.0−0.52−0.380.89
Finland−3.0−8.411.3−0.10−0.270.37
France−22.310.611.7−0.810.390.43
Germany−17.415.32.2−0.600.530.08
Greece−22.9−1.224.1−1.34−0.071.41
Ireland−19.221.8−2.6−0.540.61−0.07
Italy−23.28.115.1−0.990.350.64
Luxembourg22.712.0−34.70.350.18−0.53
Malta−8.320.1−11.8−0.631.52−0.89
Netherlands−16.5−9.525.9−0.50−0.290.78
Portugal−13.1−0.213.3−0.88−0.010.89
Slovakia−4.82.22.6−0.540.240.29
Slovenia−8.62.95.7−0.560.190.37
Spain−12.4−6.719.1−0.60−0.320.93

Lack of Trust in the European Commission

In the FT, Henry Foy reports about critical comments by Jeroen Dijsselbloem. The chair of the Eurogroup has argued that the Euro area needs an independent fiscal oversight body to disperse fears of “politicised” European Commission decisions when it comes to evaluating national budgets.

Naturally, lack of trust in the Commission is widespread. But now it seems to have reached the higher echelons of EU institutions themselves.

In the meantime, Tony Barber writes (also in the FT) that “The eurozone’s fiscally lax nations are at it again”.

European Unity and the Principle of Unity of Liability and Control

In its recent special report entitled „Consequences of the Greek Crisis for a More Stable Euro Area,“ the German Council of Economic Experts has stressed the dangers due to institutional deficiencies and discretionary decision making in the Euro area. The executive summary concludes with the statement:

The institutional framework of the single currency area can only ensure stability if it follows the principle of unity of liability and control. Reforms that stray from this guiding principle plant the seeds of further crises and may damage the process of European integration.

See also my earlier contributions here and here.

Did Greece or “Germany” Surrender?

Social networks blame the German negotiators at the recent Euro summit for trying to humiliate Greece and dictating policy. This does not make any sense if one views the agreement as a loan contract between parties that are free to choose. But does it make any sense from a broader, political perspective?

According to Open Europe,

Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan told Il Sole 24 Ore, “Almost all [Eurozone countries] were against a new [bailout] programme. Only the French, tiny Cyprus and we were in favour of a compromise. Maybe this isn’t well understood.”

In the FT, Gideon Rachman writes:

What nonsense. If anybody has capitulated, it is Germany. The German government has just agreed, in principle, to another multibillion-euro bailout of Greece — the third so far. In return, it has received promises of economic reform from a Greek government that makes it clear that it profoundly disagrees with everything that it has just agreed to.

German taxpayers seem to agree. According to Open Europe,

a snap Infratest Dimap poll for ARD found that 52% of respondents supported the agreement and 44% opposed it, while 62% said they want Greece to remain within the Eurozone compared to 32% who want it to leave. However, 78% of respondents said they did not trust the Greek government to fully implement the agreement.

Update:

The Economist’s Buttonwood column: “Even More on Debt and Democracy.”

Lars Feld’s comment in the FT.

Lee Jong-Wha’s comment on Project Syndicate.

 

Government, Household and Corporate Debt in the Euro Area

The Economist reviews developments on the debt front:

Between 2007 and 2013 the ratio of government debt to GDP in the euro area rose from 66% to 93%. The spike was more dramatic in the periphery (see chart): in Greece the ratio increased to 175% and in Portugal it virtually doubled to 129%.

The figure in the article shows debt quotas in six countries between 2007 and 2013. The article continues:

Despite Italy’s staggering government debt, its households owe less than Germany’s and its non-financial companies not much more. Spain’s private sector has deleveraged substantially over the past few years, as big recapitalisations have left its banks better able to withstand write-downs of bad loans.

One conclusion put forward is that governments will not be able to reduce debt quotas in the foreseeable future to the levels before the financial crisis.

Banking Union

Willem Buiter, Ebrahim Rahbari and Antonio Montilla provide a detailed assessment of the need for a Euro Area banking union and the progress towards it, in a Citi Research document. Some excerpts from the abstract:

… a single supervisor, a common resolution mechanism, including a joint recapitalisation back-up, and an effective lender of last resort – is necessary for the euro area (EA) to survive.

The CA’s [comprehensive assessment’s] conclusion will likely boost EA financial conditions in coming months. Even so, we believe the CA should have been more stringent, current backstops are still inadequate, and the CA will not eliminate divergences in financial conditions …

Remaining elements of narrow banking union are also very important — These are the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) and the Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM). In particular, the SRM and its bail-in provisions should materially reduce the likelihood that an EA sovereign will be dragged into insolvency through tax-payer-funded bank bailouts. Reduced moral hazard will also likely lower the likelihood and severity of future banking crises. And the combination of CA, SSM and SRM are also likely to mean that the ECB will be an effective lender of last resort for EA banks (and sovereigns).

… one key fragility remains: excessive two-way links between national sovereigns and banks. Risk-weighting of sovereign debt and concentration limits on sovereign debt holdings by banks are necessary to break these links.

A single deposit guarantee scheme is not necessary for monetary union and requires a deeper fiscal union than the minimal common backstops required to make monetary union work. It is therefore unlikely in the foreseeable future, in our view. An EA sovereign debt restructuring mechanism (SDRM) may be necessary to handle legacy sovereign debt restructurings and possible future sovereign insolvencies, but beyond the limited mutualised fiscal backstops necessary for banking union and the SDRM, deeper fiscal union is neither necessary for EA survival nor likely, for political reasons, in the foreseeable future.

The report contains many interesting figures, for example on the exposure of banks to their domestic governments; the correlation between sovereign and bank CDS spreads; lending standards; the share of bank loans in banks’ balance sheets etc.

The Financial Crisis

The Economist’s “schools briefs” on the financial crisis: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Quoting from the first part:

… it is clear the crisis had multiple causes. The most obvious is the financiers themselves—especially the irrationally exuberant Anglo-Saxon sort, who claimed to have found a way to banish risk when in fact they had simply lost track of it. Central bankers and other regulators also bear blame, for it was they who tolerated this folly. The macroeconomic backdrop was important, too. The “Great Moderation”—years of low inflation and stable growth—fostered complacency and risk-taking. A “savings glut” in Asia pushed down global interest rates. Some research also implicates European banks, which borrowed greedily in American money markets before the crisis and used the funds to buy dodgy securities. All these factors came together to foster a surge of debt in what seemed to have become a less risky world.

Household Balance Sheets in the Euro Area

The ECB has published the results of the Eurosystem’s first Household Finance and Consumption Survey. Some results:

  • About 60% of households in the euro area own their main residence—with or without a mortgage. About 11% own a business, and 76% own vehicles.
  • 97% of households own sight deposits or savings accounts. Some (33%) hold voluntary private pensions or life insurance and few (15%) own other financial assets. Only a quarter of households in the top income quintile holds mutual funds; also, a quarter of households in the top income quintile holds publicly traded shares.
  • 23% of households have mortgage debt and 29% have non-mortgage debt. Conditional on having debt, the median value is Euro 68400 and Euro 5000, respectively.

Here are the mean and median net wealth statistics by country and socioeconomic characteristic.

IMF Discussion Note on Banking Union in the Euro Area

Rishi Goyal, Petya Koeva Brooks, Mahmood Pradhan, Thierry Tressel, Giovanni Dell’Ariccia, Ross Leckow, Ceyla Pazarbasioglu et al discuss the case for a banking union in the Euro area in an IMF Staff Discussion Note. The authors argue in favour of both a single supervisory-regulatory framework and a common resolution mechanism as well as safety net.