Mounting Euro Breakup Risk Seen as Moody’s Warns on Ratings
Banks and ratings companies are sounding their loudest warnings yet that the euro area risks unraveling unless its guardians intensify efforts to beat the two-year-old sovereign debt crisis.
As European finance chiefs prepare to meet this week, and Italy seeks to raise as much as 8.8 billion euros ($11.7 billion) in bond sales, economists from Morgan Stanley, UBS AG, and Nomura International Plc say governments and the European Central Bank must step up their crisis response. Moody’s Investors Service said today the “rapid escalation” of the crisis threatens all of the region’s sovereign ratings.
“Skepticism has grown that euro-area policy makers can deal effectively with the key challenges they face,” Pier Carlo Padoan, the chief economist at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said today as he cut forecasts for European and global growth. Serious downside risks remain, linked to “loss of confidence in sovereign-debt markets and the monetary union itself.”
What Deutsche Bank AG calls “a new stage of the crisis” and Nomura labels a “far more dangerous phase” is dawning as signs mount that investors are even concerned about top-rated Germany, the euro’s linchpin economy. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government failed to draw bids for 35 percent of 10-year bunds sold last week and the yield on its 30-year securities had the biggest weekly gain in 14 months.
President Barack Obama said resolving the European debt crisis is of “huge importance” to the U.S. and his administration is “ready to do our part” in stabilizing the global economy.
Obama said a “large part” of today’s annual U.S.-European Union summit was spent on the impact of the crisis in the euro- zone. He spoke at the White House after meeting with European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President José Barroso.
“Markets continue to move faster than politicians,” Mansoor Mohi-uddin, Singapore-based head of foreign exchange strategy at UBS, said in a Nov. 26 note. Investors are starting to “price in the endgame” for the euro, he said.
Moody’s (MCO) said today that credit risks will keep rising without steps to stabilize markets in the short-term and questioned whether policy makers can move quickly enough. The OECD said its 34-nation economy will expand 1.6 percent next year, down from 2.8 percent predicted in May.
Speculation officials will take action buoyed the euro against the dollar today after it suffered its longest losing streak in 18 months. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index rose by the most in two months and the Standard & Poor’s 500 snapped a seven-day decline. Italian bonds rose and German bunds fell.
Governments may be rethinking their crisis fight before two days of talks starting in Brussels tomorrow and a Dec. 9 summit of leaders.
Remedies previously rejected by policy makers as unpalatable and now increasingly called necessary by economists include the ECB ramping up bond buying and governments issuing common securities in a deeper fiscal union. The debate is prompting banks including UBS and Bank of America Merrill Lynch to begin outlining the likely fallout of a euro-area collapse.
“Failure to come up with a comprehensive solution on Dec. 9 is certainly possible, and we believe that it would open up a much darker scenario that, eventually, could entail a breakup of the euro,” said Joachim Fels, Morgan Stanley’s chief economist.
Euro-zone countries are considering creating new powers to enforce fiscal discipline, the Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 26. The proposal, which is still being crafted, would let governments reach bilateral agreements on budgets that wouldn’t take as long to complete as changes to European Union treaties, the Journal said on its website, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Treaty changes would follow later.
Stricter budget rules are needed if the ECB is to play its “full role” and help troubled countries, French Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse said yesterday. Germany today spurned calls to maximise financial firepower, saying its fast track proposals for EU treaty change are key to stopping the rot.
Officials may also ease market-rattling provisions that require bondholders to share losses in bailouts, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble suggested last week.
To increase its potency, the 440-billion euro European Financial Stability Facility may begin insuring bonds of troubled countries with guarantees of between 20 percent and 30 percent of each issue in light of market circumstances, according to guidelines for the finance ministers’ meeting.
Schaeuble told reporters that leaders will seek a “separate path” of aid from the International Monetary Fund to boost the EFSF. The IMF said today it isn’t discussing a rescue package with Italy after La Stampa newspaper reported it may be preparing a loan of as much as 600 billion euros.
The ECB must use the unlimited resources of its balance sheet to prevent a disintegration of the euro which “now appears probable rather than possible,” Nomura economists Desmond Supple and Jens Sondergaard said in a Nov. 25 report.
The Frankfurt-based central bank should be able to “avert a full-force financial crisis” for the rest of this year by next week cutting its benchmark rate back to a record low of 1 percent and granting longer emergency loans to banks, they said. Into 2012, they predict the ECB will follow the U.S. Federal Reserve in pursuing quantitative easing through largescale bond buying to reduce regional borrowing costs.
“This could preserve the integrity of the euro, although the risks are sizable and over the coming weeks and months the outlook for financial markets appears bleak,” said Supple and Sondergaard. “Downside economic risks are likely to build.”
Having bought more than 200 billion euros in bonds to calm markets since May 2010, ECB officials have refused to accelerate the effort or stop sterilizing purchases. They argue that would risk damaging their credibility by encouraging inflation, muddy the legally-mandated divide between monetary and fiscal policies and lessen pressure on governments to restore fiscal order.
President Mario Draghi, less than a month into the job, said Nov. 18 the onus must be on governments to bolster their regional fund and that “we should not be waiting any longer.”
With only “one shot” to get it right, the ECB will await signs its price stability goal is under greater threat from economic weakness and concrete proof governments will ax their debts before it moves to cap yields with “big time” bond- buying, said Deutsche Bank chief economist Thomas Mayer.
“It’s too early to expect the ECB to jump in, but we are moving to a new climax,” Mayer said in an interview.
David Mackie, chief European economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co., said the central bank cannot provide a long-term solution, meaning governments will have to at some point start selling so- called euro bonds, he said.
Merkel last week rejected such securities as “not needed and not appropriate” because they would “level the difference” in euro-region interest rates, reducing pressure on profligate nations to cut budgets and forcing Germany to pay more to borrow. The European Commission nevertheless last week outlined how cross-border bond sales could work together with tougher budget controls.
“The German position on euro bonds should not be viewed as a fixed point,” said Mackie.
The failure of policy makers to end the crisis is prompting economists and investors to plot what might happen if the euro- area does splinter.
The recent increase in bond yields suggests investors worry a breakup of the euro would cause the banks of Germany and other creditor countries to incur losses on their bond holdings, raising the possibility of bank recapitalizations, UBS’s Mohi- uddin said.
At Bank of America Merrill Lynch, strategists Richard Cochinos and David Grad said in a Nov. 25 report that if Germany left the bloc, the euro’s fair value against the dollar would fall 2 percent. If Italy exited, the euro’s fair value would rise 3 percent, they said.
Their report was titled: “Euro zone: Thinking the unthinkable?”
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