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.
This column argues that the legacy of public debt resulting from the crisis in the Eurozone is a serious threat. Both the size of the problem and the options to address it make life much more difficult for policymakers than was the case in the late 1930s after the collapse of the gold standard. For some countries, a ‘subservient’ central bank might be preferable to the ECB.
The 1930s deservedly have a bad name. It is hard to imagine that a decade that included the Great Depression and a major de-globalisation of the world economy, and culminated in WWII could be other than notorious. And yet, compared with struggling Eurozone economies today, the economic situation in Europe in the later 1930s was in many ways more promising. This is particularly true of the aftermath of public debt and the difficulty of dealing with it.
Moving closer? Changing patterns of labour mobility in Europe and the US
Mai Dao, Davide Furceri, Prakash Loungani01 December 2013
Labour mobility is one of the keys to a successful currency union – be it within or across nations. This column discusses new evidence showing that the shock-absorbing role of migration has increased in Europe and declined in the US. During the Great Recession, European migration remained high – although not high enough given the vast differences across the Eurozone. Overall, Europe has strengthened this essential adjustment mechanism.
On 21 September 1992, four famous professors – Olivier Blanchard, Rudi Dornbusch, Stan Fischer, and Paul Krugman – took part in a panel discussion at MIT on the merits of the proposed European currency union. Echoing a view common among US-based academics at the time, all four agreed, according to a record of the event, that “a common European currency would have unfavourable economic repercussions.” Blanchard noted that “currency unification works in the US because labour can move between states. The labour mobility in Europe is negligible.”
The euro and price convergence: You wanted it … you got it!
Alberto Cavallo, Brent Neiman, Roberto Rigobon29 November 2013
During the recent turmoil in the Eurozone, little attention has been paid to one of the euro’s founding objectives – price convergence. This column argues that the euro has in fact been very successful in this regard. In a study of the pricing behaviour of Apple, IKEA, H&M, and Zara, the authors find that price dispersion is 30–50% lower for countries in a currency union than for those with a fixed exchange rate.
An early-warning indicator for debt sustainability
Casper van Ewijk, Jasper Lukkezen, Hugo Rojas-Romagosa28 November 2013
The sustainability of government debt cannot be determined with certainty. This column presents an early warning indicator to predict sovereign debt crises using a stochastic simulation framework. What counts is the risk of a significant rise in public debt, more so than the expected evolution of the debt level. A key determinant of the indicator is the quality of budgetary policies in controlling the government budget in the event of adverse shocks.
Lee C. Buchheit , Beatrice Weder di Mauro, Anna Gelpern, Mitu Gulati, Ugo Panizza, Jeromin Zettelmeyer
Insight into the sustainability of public finances is critical to European policymakers and financial markets alike. It informs decisions concerning the need for reform and the determination of the appropriate risk premium on government debt. Furthermore, unsustainable public finances may cause significant spillovers, highlighting the need for international fiscal surveillance. Recent experiences in Europe underscore how hard it is to foresee sovereign debt crises, with regard to both occurrence and depth; assessment of public finances is no easy task.