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Merkel Says Debt Crisis Can’t Be Solved at July 21 Summit

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor. Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe’s fiscal crisis can’t be solved in one go, damping expectations that government leaders may resolve the region’s debt woes at a July 21 summit.

“There won’t be one spectacular step” this week, Merkel told reporters in Hanover, Germany, today. “It’s entirely about creating a controlled, composed process of gradual steps and measures.”

Merkel’s comments come as European officials struggle to agree on measures to fight a crisis that is spreading from Greece and today sparked a jump in Spanish financing costs after a treasury bill auction. Policy makers are split on how to prod investors into financing a new Greek bailout package and whether the 17-nation euro area should issue eurobonds to help debt-laden nations tap markets.

The euro rose 0.5 percent to $1.4177 at 4:01 p.m. in Berlin, from $1.4112 yesterday, after earlier rising 0.7 percent. The yield on 10-year German government bonds, the region’s benchmark, increased six basis points to 2.71 percent.

“I don’t expect European leaders to reach a decision this week,” said David Kohl, deputy chief economist at Julius Baer Group in Frankfurt. “They’ll continue to fight over whether to include bondholders or not. Still, a Greek debt restructuring wouldn’t be a solution to the problem.”

Second EU Summit

European Union leaders plan to meet for the second time in a month on July 21 in Brussels, aiming to break a deadlock over a new Greek rescue that has spooked investors. There are no current plans for euro region finance ministers to convene as a group before the leaders’ summit, said an EU official, who declined to be identified because preparations for the meeting are ongoing.

Spanish and Italian bond yields surged yesterday, piling pressure on officials to end the turmoil. Spain and Greece sold 6.08 billion euros ($8.6 billion) of bills today. The Treasury in Madrid said it sold 3.79 billion euros of 12-month bills at an average yield of 3.702 percent, compared with 2.695 percent the last time the securities were sold on June 14.

Merkel said the euro region’s problems must be solved “from the core,” which means reducing debt and increasing competitiveness.

Governments Squabble

Europe’s debt crisis has worsened this month as EU governments squabble with each other and with the European Central Bank about what to do. ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said July 10 that Europe is at the “epicenter” of a debt crisis that concerns the entire developed world and urged the euro area to do the “maximum” in terms of governance reforms.

Merkel’s comments came after Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said EU leaders would seek a “comprehensive solution” to Greece’s debt crisis and stop the contagion threat at their summit. She told reporters in Vienna today the European Financial Stability Facility probably needs “more flexibility” and that Greece may need longer repayment times for its rescue loans.

EU leaders have a “menu of options,” Francois Perol, head of the French Banking Federation, told reporters today in Paris. “Some might be interested by forms of buyback, others by renewal formulas,” he said, declining to give further details.

Greek Yields Surge

Yields on Spanish and Italian 10-year and Greek two-year bonds hit euro-era records yesterday. Spanish 10-year yields fell 15 basis points to 6.17 percent as of 11:09 a.m. in Rome, narrowing the spread over German bunds to 346 basis points. Greek two-year yields surged 113 basis points to 37.10 percent, while Italy’s 10-year bond yield dropped 23 basis points to 5.74 percent.

Some finance ministers have started to zero in on eurobonds as part of the fix for a crisis that has ricocheted through the euro region for more than 18 months and is now threatening to engulf two of its biggest members. While jointly issuing bonds with Germany may help debt-laden nations tap markets at lower interest rates, it could also raise borrowing costs for Europe’s largest economy.

The European Affairs spokesman for Merkel’s Bavarian Christian Social Union ally in parliament, Thomas Silberhorn, said joint euro region bond sales would “overstretch solidarity” between the region’s members as they would force donor countries such as Germany to accept liability for the debts of all other members.

‘Credit Event’

While Germany wants private investors to participate in a second bailout package for Greece, Trichet says the ECB won’t accept Greek government bonds as collateral for loans in the event of a default or “credit event.”

EU President Herman van Rompuy has asked leaders to meet in Brussels to discuss “the financial stability of the euro area as a whole and the future financing of the Greek program.” Yesterday, stocks declined around the world, the euro fell and the cost of insuring European sovereign debt rose to records amid concern the euro region isn’t any closer to solving the crisis a year after Greece’s initial rescue.

A summit was originally mulled for last week before being postponed amid German fears it would backfire without a pact on private-sector involvement. Germany’s government says no extra aid is possible without bondholders staying exposed to Greek debt.

The euro-region recovery is losing momentum as leaders struggle to contain the crisis. In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, investor confidence dropped to the lowest in 2 1/2 years in July, the ZEW Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim said today. European economic confidence dropped in June and manufacturing growth slowed.

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