The increasing competitiveness of the southern Eurozone
Raphael Auer11 April 2014
Some view the improvements in current accounts for Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain as short-lived – the result of a temporary compression of import demand that is likely to be reversed as the recession eases. This column argues the contrary, based on the fact that their improving trade balances reflect better export performance. This development points toward a fundamental stabilisation of the competitiveness of these economies.
Current-account (CA) rebalancing is a necessary step for the Southern EZ countries to overcome their debt and external balance of payments crises.1 Figure 1 documents the impressive speed and magnitude of the southern EZ’s CA rebalancing.
Marco Buti, Maria Demertzis, João Nogueira Martins30 March 2014
Although progress has been made on resolving the Eurozone crisis – vulnerable countries have reduced their current-account deficits and implemented some reforms – more still needs to be done. This column argues for a ‘consistent trinity’ of policies: structural reforms within countries, more symmetric macroeconomic adjustment across countries, and a banking union for the Eurozone.
As argued in an earlier commentary, the financial crisis exposed important economic inconsistencies in the way that EMU operated.1 Although progress has been made, the reality is that more needs to be done. A number of countries still need to consolidate their public finances further, and also implement structural reforms to promote growth and sustain satisfactory welfare systems. At the same time, there is a need for vulnerable countries to ensure consistency between regaining competitiveness and the sustainability of private and public debts.
The Eiffel group: A political community to rebuild the architecture of the euro
Agnès Benassy-Quéré, Shahin Vallee27 March 2014
The recent crisis has highlighted some problems in the current structure of the Eurozone, such as the lack of political integration. This column introduces the Eiffel group – a group of French experts – and its call for a ‘political community of the euro’. The economic and political rationales behind the proposal are discussed in detail. This proposal (also shared by experts in other countries) calls for a debate about the architecture and institutions underpinning the European Monetary Union.
The idea that the European Monetary Union can only exist with some form of political integration and a proper budget is not new. In 1977, the MacDougall report suggested that a budget of the order of 5-7% of GDP was necessary, and in the run-up of the Maastricht treaty, Jacques Delors was insistent on the needs for political integration (see, e.g., Delors 1991). Yet, for lack of political consensus, it was decided to proceed with monetary union alone in the hope that monetary and financial integration would eventually precipitate both fiscal and political integration over time.
Charles Calomiris talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his recent book, co-authored with Stephen Haber, ‘Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit’. They discuss how politics inevitably intrudes into bank regulation and why banking systems are unstable in some countries but not in others. Calomiris also presents his analysis of the political and banking history of the UK and how the well-being of banking systems depends on complex bargains and coalitions between politicians, bankers and other stakeholders. The interview was recorded in London in February 2014.
TARGET balances, Bretton Woods, and the Great Depression
Michael Bordo21 March 2014
Since 2007, there has been a buildup of TARGET imbalances within the Eurosystem – growing liabilities of national central banks in the periphery matched by growing claims of central banks in the core. This column argues that, rather than signalling the collapse of the monetary system – as was the case for Bretton Woods between 1968 and 1971 – these TARGET imbalances represent a successful institutional innovation that prevented a repeat of the US payments crisis of 1933.
During the Eurozone crisis, an analogy was made between the events in Europe between 2007 and 2012 and the collapse of the Bretton Woods System between 1968 and 1971. There has been a build-up of TARGET liabilities since 2007 by some central banks (notably Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, or the ‘GIPS’), and of TARGET assets by Germany and others.
A fiscal shock absorber for the Eurozone? Lessons from the economics of insurance
Daniel Gros19 March 2014
Since the onset of the sovereign debt crisis, the argument for a system of fiscal transfers to offset idiosyncratic shocks in the Eurozone has gained adherents. This column argues that what the Eurozone really needs is not a system which offsets all shocks by some small fraction, but a system which protects against shocks which are rare, but potentially catastrophic. A system of fiscal insurance with a fixed deductible would therefore be preferable to a fiscal shock absorber that offsets a certain percentage of all fiscal shocks.
Even before the euro crisis started, it had been widely argued that the Eurozone needed a mechanism to help countries overcome idiosyncratic shocks. The experience of the crisis itself seemed to make this case overwhelming, and throughout the EU institutions it is now taken for granted that the Eurozone needs a system of fiscal shock absorbers. For example, The Report of the President of the European Council calls for:
Viral Acharya talks to Viv Davies about his recent work with Sascha Steffen that, using publicly available data and a series of shortfall measures, estimates the capital shortfalls of EZ banks that will be stress-tested under the proposed Asset Quality Review. They also discuss the difference in accounting rules between US and EZ banks and the future potential for banking union in the Eurozone. The interview was recorded by phone on 25 February 2014.
Falling short of expectations? Stress-testing the European banking system
Viral Acharya, Sascha Steffen17 January 2014
The Single Supervisory Mechanism – a key pillar of the Eurozone banking union – will transfer supervision of Europe’s largest banks to the ECB. Before taking over this role, the ECB will conduct an Asset Quality Review to identify these banks’ capital shortfalls. This column discusses recent estimates of these shortfalls based on publicly available data. Estimates such as these can defend against political efforts to blunt the AQR’s effectiveness. The results suggest that many banks’ capital needs can be met with common equity issuance and bail-ins, but that public backstops might still be necessary in some cases.
The Eurozone is mired in a recession. In 2013, the GDP of the 17 Eurozone countries fell by an average of 0.5%, and the outlook for 2014 shows considerable risks across the region. To stabilise the common currency area and its (partly insolvent) financial system, a Eurozone banking union is being established. An important part of the banking union is the Single Supervisory Mechanism, which will transfer the oversight of Europe’s largest banks to the ECB (Beck 2013).
Fiscal sustainability has become a hot topic as a result of the European sovereign debt crisis, but it matters in normal times, too. This column argues that financial sector reforms are essential to ensure fiscal sustainability in the future. Although emerging market reforms undertaken in the aftermath of the financial crises of the 1990s were beneficial, complacency is not warranted. In the US, political gridlock must be overcome to reform entitlements and the tax system. In the Eurozone, creating a sovereign debt restructuring mechanism should be a priority.
On 19 October 2010, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy agreed that in future, sovereign bailouts from the European Stability Mechanism would require that losses be imposed on private creditors. This agreement was blamed for the increase in sovereign spreads in late 2010 and early 2011. This column discusses recent research on the market reaction to the surprise announcement at Deauville. With the exception of Greece, the rise in spreads was within the range of variability established in the previous 20 days.
The aversion to debt restructuring in the Eurozone has been remarkable, even though public debt ratios in several countries are well above the IMF-identified critical debt overhang threshold of 100% of GDP (IMF 2012). By early 2010, some recognised the urgency of restructuring Greek public debt (Calomiris 2010). But the official position between late 2009 and early 2011 deemed even Greek debt to be sustainable. Beyond the particularities of Greece, general principles were invoked. In the words of Cottarelli et al.