Note: This is a longer version of what appeared as an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on the 1st of Feb 2013
After a year in which European Union policy makers spent much time obsessing about banking union, it is time to take stock of the discussion. The question today is not about the intellectual case for a more unified approach to bank regulation and supervision within a single-currency area such as the euro zone. That case is still strong. Rather, it is about if what is being pedalled as a ‘banking union’ will deliver the goods—whether it will help tackle the economic crisis that still looms large over Europe or not. Evidence is now stacking up that it will not.
The EU's banking union was sold as a means to break the "vicious circle" connecting weak banks and weak sovereigns—and to do so quickly. As a way to mitigate the risks that troubled banks pose and weak sovereigns pose to each other, however, the plan is looking more ineffectual by the day. Although the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) can inject capital into struggling banks, a number of caveats apply.
This piece was written on the 14th of September and appeared as an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal on the 20th of September
Markets have been euphoric about the recent good news in the euro zone: the European Central Bank’s promise of potentially unlimited bond purchases, the announcement of a banking union, Germany’s green light for the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a pro-European result in the Dutch election, and a softer EU stance on Greece.
All of this is in marked contrast to the fears of a summer meltdown that never quite happened. Could this be the beginning of the end of the euro zone’s crisis?
This piece was first written and circulated on the 2nd of September and appeared as a comment piece in Le Monde on the 10th of September
The Eurocrisis is on a pause as markets and EU leaders alike wait with bated breath for ECB. President Draghi, who has promised the European Central Bank will not let the Euro fail, to reveal his hand. They are right to think what the ECB will say or do is very important, but it is hard not to feel that too much is being expected of the ECB.
Between the things the ECB cannot do and the things it will not do, its ability to deliver a sustainable ‘big bang’ has been severely curtailed. There are three main reasons to suspect that no matter what the ECB does this week or the next it will not be sufficient to stem the Eurocrisis. Those who have their hopes riding on the ECB are best advised to recognize that while larger scale ECB interventions are necessary, they are simply not sufficient to bring the Eurocrisis under control.
Following Mario Draghi’s remarks last week in London, wherein he promised that the ECB stood ready to do ‘whatever it takes’ to save the Euro, as long as it was ‘within its mandate’, the markets were flooded with a wave of optimism. This optimism took on frenzied proportions as the head of the Austrian central bank, one of 23 members of the ECB’s governing council, evidenced support for the idea of the ESM getting a banking license. Much of this optimism has vanished in the face of the reality that confronted markets at the ECB’s press conference today. That is not to say that there has been no progress, only that what has been announced is not a game-changer.
We were sceptical at that time and said so. It turns out we were justified in our scepticism. The ECB did not intend to, nor was capable at this point of delivering a 'bazooka'. It has outright rejected the idea of the ESM getting a banking licence, once again. It has however held out a promise to reactivate the defunct Securities Markets Program (SMP) albeit with some important modifications. This note discusses what this means and what impact this may have on the progression of the Eurocrisis.
Spiking skywards? Tackling rising yields in the Eurozone
The Eurocrisis is once again dominating the headlines. Renewed talk of a Greek exit, record yields for Spanish bonds and rising Italian borrowing costs have been splashed all over newspaper headlines. This week Spanish bond yields reached new record highs breaching the 7% level for maturities of two years and above. Italian yields too were trying new highs.
Then the president of the ECB spoke saying that the ECB would do "whatever it takes" to save the Euro. The markets reacted positively and yields fell. There is an expectation in the markets that policy makers may come up with some new measures to address the spiking yields soon. We are much more sceptical both of their immediate intentions to enact more measures and their ability to bring the yields down sustainably. One could hardly expect the president of the ECB to not say that he would do whatever it takes to save the Euro. This Policy Brief addresses two questions 1) why are spiking yields a problem? and 2) what are the near-term options for bringing these down.