Friday, June 15, 2012
European Central Bank last hope as dam breaks in Spain.... same as no hope
"We're facing maximum tension. The situation is unsustainable over time," said the country's finance minister Luis de Guindos. Yields on 10-year Spanish bonds yields punched to almost 7pc, above levels that triggered ECB intervention to back stop Spain last November.
"The ECB needs to intervene very quickly or it is game over," said Nicholas Spiro from Spiro Sovereign Strategy. "There is a whiff of capitulation in the air."
The dramatic escalation comes just days after the eurozone agreed a €100bn rescue package for the Spanish state to recapitalise its crippled banks. "It is very worrying. Markets are behaving as if the eurozone is heading for break-up," said Jens Sondergaard from the Japanese bank Nomura.
France's industry minister Arnaud Montebourg said the markets were flying out of control because the ECB was failing to take charge. "We need an ECB that does its job," he said.
In an astonishing outburst for a French minister, he lashed out at German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the "German right" for driving much of Europe into slump. "Certain European leaders, led by Mrs Merkel, are fixated by blind ideology."
Spain is caught in a vicious downward spiral as the property crash accelerates, further undermining the banks and state finances. This in turn is drawing Italy into the fire and threatens to overwhelm the EU's rescue machinery.
"We must have a real circuit breaker," said Sondergaard. "The question is whether the ECB will now blink and go down the route of quantitative easing (QE)".
He said the ECB should slash interest rates by half a point to 0.5pc and "pre-commit" to half a trillion euros of QE over coming months, blanketing the Spanish and Italian bond markets.
Nomura said the ECB must act with overwhelming force rather than engaging in piecemeal bond purchases that fail to restore confidence and have the toxic side-effects of pushing existing bondholders down the credit ladder -- the dreaded effect of "subordination".
"The eurozone has the wrong policy mix across the board. Fiscal policy is too tight; monetary policy is too tight; and the tough regulation of the banks is coming at the wrong time. Together it is all pushing the eurozone to breaking point," he said.
Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy said in a private letter to EU leaders last week that the ECB is the only body with firepower and nimbleness able to contain the crisis at this point.
The pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears in Frankfurt where ECB hawks insist that any such intervention to help EMU's struggling debtors would reduce the pressure for root-and-branch reforms.
The bank said in its June report on Thursday that Spain must make further draconian cuts to meet its deficit target of 3pc of GDP next year. It enraged monetarists by denying yet again that the eurozone faces a serious monetary slowdown or "an abrupt and disorderly adjustment" for banks -- or a credit crunch in layman's language.
"It shows fantastic complacency. They are not complying with their own mandate," said Professor Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research. Critics say that all key measures of the eurozone money supply are now contracting, pushing the whole region into deeper slump. The ECB has missed its 4.5pc growth target for M3 `broad money" by a wide margin.
Mr Spiro said the fast-escalating crisis in Italy may force the ECB to act. Foreigners own half Italy's €2 trillion public debt and they are increasingly shocked by the failure of the EU authorities to halt contagion. "Foreigners haven't been buying Italian bonds, but most have not been selling either. The risk is that they will now start selling en masse," he said.
"Italian banks are under massive financial repression to buy the debt but they are running out of money. The ECB will have to act but it has lost so much credbility already that it will have to buy on a massive scale to make a scrap of difference."
The ECB has already bought over €200bn of Italian, Spanish, Greek, Irish, and Portuguese bonds, justifying it as necessary to ensure the proper "transmission" of monetary policy. The move caused a storm in Germany, prompting the resignation to both German members of the ECB board last year. A chorus of economists have exhorted the ECB to cap Spanish and Italian yields at 5pc or so by pledging unlimited intervention. Yet such a naked rescue of insolvent states would trigger legal challenges in the courts for breach of the EU's no-bailout clause.
Professor Paul De Graue from the London School of Economics said the bank should go ahead anyway and "let the lawyers argue about it for the next ten years."
There are no such constraints on outright QE or money printing by the ECB, in extremis. Monetarists say the bank should buy the bonds of all EMU states to lift the entire region and prevent debt-deflation taking hold in the South.
Fresh data yesterday shows how desperate the crisis is becoming in Spain. The property crash is accelerating. House prices fell at a 12.6pc rate in the first quarter of this year, compared to 11.2pc the quarter before, and 7.4pc in the quarter before that. Prices have fallen 26pc from their peak.
"Fundamentals point to a further 25pc decline," said Standard & Poor's in a report on Thursday. It may take another four years to clear a glut of one million homes left from the building boom.
Mrs Merkel chided the country gently yesterday for letting a "property bubble" spin out of control in the boom years. Her words prompted a furious reaction from Madrid.