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:
How much is enough? The case of the Resolution Fund in Europe
Thomas Huertas, María J Nieto18 March 2014
The European Resolution Fund is intended to reach €55 billion – much less than the amount of public assistance required by individual institutions during the recent financial crisis. This column argues that the Resolution Fund can nevertheless be large enough if it forms part of a broader architecture resting on four pillars: prudential regulation and supervision, ‘no forbearance’, adequate ‘reserve capital’, and provision of liquidity to the bank-in-resolution. By capping the Resolution Fund, policymakers have reinforced the need to ensure that investors, not taxpayers, bear the cost of bank failures.
During the crisis, individual institutions such as Hypo Real Estate required public assistance of €100 billion or more.1 So how can a European Resolution Fund of only €55 billion possibly suffice for all banks in the Eurozone?
It could, provided the Fund is part of a well-designed architecture for regulation, supervision, and resolution, that makes banks not only less likely to fail but also safe to fail – meaning that they can be resolved without cost to the taxpayer and without significant disruption to financial markets or the economy at large.
A popular view among economic commentators is that rich countries face a serious risk of deflation, and should adopt aggressive macroeconomic stimulus policies to ward it off. This column argues that despite similar headline inflation rates, the US, Europe, and Japan in fact face very different macroeconomic conditions. In the US, much of the recent disinflation is attributable to positive supply-side developments. In Europe, an aggressive round of quantitative easing might encourage policymakers to delay the reforms that are necessary to avoid a prolonged Japanese-style malaise.
A common theme among many economic policymakers, financial market participants, and the media is that rich industrialised nations face a high risk of deflation, and that deflation always harms economic performance and so must be combatted with aggressive macroeconomic stimulus. Such broad assessments are misleading, and under certain circumstances may lead to misguided policies. More clarity on the topic is required.
Tracking the causes of Eurozone external imbalances: New evidence
Jose Luis Diaz Sanchez, Aristomene Varoudakis06 February 2014
External imbalances within the Eurozone grew substantially between the introduction of the euro in 1999 and the global financial crisis of 2008–09. Using new empirical evidence, this column argues that imbalances in the Eurozone periphery were mainly driven by a domestic demand boom, triggered by greater financial integration, with changes in the periphery’s competitiveness playing only a minor role. Internal devaluation may thus have been of limited effectiveness in restoring external balances, although better external competitiveness may eventually boost medium-term growth.
Pietro Alessandrini, Andrew Hughes Hallett, Andrea F Presbitero, Michele Fratianni
The Eurozone sovereign debt crisis, triggered by the 2008–09 global financial crisis, exposed macroeconomic imbalances in member countries that had accrued gradually following the advent of the euro in 1999. The growing current-account deficits in the Eurozone periphery and surpluses in the core were a main symptom of these imbalances (Figure 1).1 These patterns of intra-Eurozone current-account imbalances led to the accumulation of large external debts in the Eurozone periphery, matched by growing claims held by commercial banks in the core.
Before the introduction of the euro, it was hoped that by promoting increased intra-regional trade it would increase business-cycle synchronisation within the Eurozone, and thus help it to fulfil the criteria for an optimum currency area. This column presents recent research that compares the evolution of business-cycle synchronisation in the Eurozone and east Asia. While the euro has had some impact on business-cycle synchronisation in the Eurozone, it has done so not through increased intra-regional trade intensity, but rather through some other channel – most likely financial integration.
Nicholas Crafts talks to Viv Davies about his recent work on the threatening issue of public debt in the Eurozone. Crafts maintains that the implicit fault line in the EZ is evident; several EZ economies face a long period of fiscal consolidation and low growth and that a different sort of central bank might be preferable. They also discuss the challenges and constraints of banking, fiscal and federal union. The interview was recorded in London on 17 January 2014.
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.
Though in the past two years substantial progress has been made in completing the structure of Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union, not all economic inconsistencies have been solved. This column discusses three main challenges that still need to be addressed. First, sound fiscal policies need to be conducted while keeping sustainable welfare systems. Second is the conflict between policy objectives and economic realities – vulnerable economies cannot reduce their debts and simultaneously gain competitiveness. Third, financial stability and integrated financial markets cannot be established unless the relationship between banks and their sovereigns is reformed. Addressing each of these challenges is important, and it could benefit all Eurozone members.
While it would be premature to declare victory, owing to sustained policy efforts at all institutional levels, major progress has been made in the past two years that has put Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) on much firmer ground. All strands of economic policymaking have been working together to overhaul economic governance, to ensure the efficient transmission of monetary policy, and to create effective financial firewalls. What made this possible was the clear political determination to safeguard the integrity and future of EMU.
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.
Joint liability in international lending: A proposal for amending the Treaty of Lisbon
Kaushik Basu, Joseph Stiglitz02 January 2014
The Eurozone crisis exposed weaknesses in the Eurozone’s design. This column – by Nobelist Joe Stiglitz and World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu – argues that the Eurozone’s financial architecture can be improved by amending the Treaty of Lisbon to permit appropriately structured cross-country liability for sovereign debt incurred by EZ members.
The sovereign debt crisis exposed weaknesses in the Eurozone’s financial architecture that may not have been fully anticipated when the founding treaties of the Eurozone were drafted. Key among these weak spots are the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon which regulate intergovernmental debt obligations and preclude direct financing of sovereigns by the ECB.