Monday, 11 June 2012

Finally, a move to rescue banks

Spain asked for a bailout from the EU and the other EU countries appear to have accepted it. It is not a general bailout as known from Greece, Portugal and Ireland, but limited to assistance in recapitalising the ailing savings banks. Apart from my firmly held conviction that the method chosen is the most expensive for everybody, it was positive that something happened.  Even if the details will take some weeks to hammer out, I think it is important to understand that this step is more momentous than the three previous bailouts. Finally the EU is moving to resolve the situation with Europe’s sick banks.

Importantly, the oversight with the package appears not to go to EU and IMF, but only to the EU and it is not a general control of the country’s spending, but only a control of the banking sector. It may be an important pointer that we are moving towards a “banking union” with a joint euro-zone banking regulator.

It ought also by now be clear that the crisis is not only about public sector debt. The four countries that had seen the strongest increase in private sector debt in 2000/2007 are also those where the banking sector is in deepest problems. UK, Spain, Ireland are involved in major rescue actions for their banking sector and the economies are suffering from protracted recessions or zero growth.

The fourth, Denmark, has escaped a deeper economic crisis because of a very efficient mortgage financing system, and relatively healthy public finances. But the economic growth is anaemic, the banking sector is still in deep trouble, and more than a quarter of the country’s banks have closed. The largest bank, Danske Bank, only survived through generous government loans.

Greece is in deep trouble because of public over spending to the tune of 15 per cent of GDP. Portugal needed its bailout because of a sclerotic economy and its government is fighting to rush economic reforms which should have been implemented 10/15 years ago.

So the lesson is that 1) bailouts are different from case to case, 2) it is good that EU is finally getting some focus on the banks and 3) private sector indebtedness is at least as important in the current economic crisis as the public sector debt. 

Portugal obtained EU’s accept to spend some 6.6 bn EUR out of its emergency facility to recapitalise the country’s four largest banks. Good news for two reasons: another banking rescue as in Spain, and it appears that the costs can be covered without increasing the emergency facility. It is a sign that Portugal’s economy is moving the right way. 

I still do not exclude that the best solution would be to keep the emergency facility in place until 2014 instead of 2013. We will see.

The German opposition may have some luck flexing its muscle (it controls the Bundesrat and could delay all legislation) and appears to have forced Chancellor Merkel to accept some kind of growth initiative for Germany. That is absolutely fine, it is completely in line with the fact that general elections will take place next year, but it is not enough. We still need more pressure on the government to accept something like the "redemption fund" that would change investors' perceptions of European government debt.

Five steps to European Happiness
Well, not quite. But the events in Spain, Portugal, and Germany are small steps in the right direction. All of them fall within the five requirements I listed back in December 2011. Here is the link to my blog post from back then.

No comments: