Well, we are clearly in crisis mode. We are back to weekends being a period when you need to watch the news in a serious way.
And in another bit of deja vu all over again, the powers that be in Europe are readying yet another bailout plan, this one supposedly big enough to do the trick once and for all. The problem is that was the premise of several of the last grand schemes, such as the EFSF and the ESM. The market calming effect relatively short lived because analysts quickly pencilled out the programs were inadequate in size and failed to address the problems of lack of a fiscal mechanism at the EU level and the need to address the elephant in the room, bank solvency.
The program in the works claims address the underlying issue of bank solvency, but even the sketchy leak of this weekend reveals it falls falls short, both in concept and in size.
The new rescue program seeks to create a sovereign debt crisis firebreak at Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, when contagion has already put Spain, Ireland, and Belgium in the crosshairs. The high concept is leverage on leverage plus monetization: the EFSF, which is basically a CDO, would then provide the equity to a new fund, and the ECD would provide “protected ‘debt’” I’m not at all certain what the latter is supposed to mean; reader input is welcome. But this sounds like a CDO squared, with an unfunded equity tranche, as a legal/political cover for the ECB monetizing Euro sovereign debt. Nevertheless, this mechanism will allegedly allow for sovereign bailout program of €2 trillion.
Similarly, the size of the bank recapitalization program is in the “tens of billions”, vastly short of the €2-€3 trillion that some experts think is necessary. And note this is backwards: the debt needs to be written down directly (rather than trying to squeeze blood out of turnips via austerity) and banks recapitalized directly. Instead, the focus is (yet again) on bailing out the sovereigns, who will presumably still be expected to wear austerity hairshirts, which will worsen their debt to GDP ratios (even if this program does succeed in getting them cheaper debt in sufficient volumes).
The Eurocrats are going to be slow out of the gate. They want to launch the plan at the next G20 meeting, which is six weeks away, November 4. Mr. Market doesn’t care about the schedules of the officialdom, and is highly unlikely to wait that long.
From the Telegraph (hat tip Richard Smith):
First, Europe’s banks would have to be recapitalised with many tens of billions of euros to reassure markets that a Greek or Portuguese default would not precipitate a systemic financial crisis. The recapitalisation plan would go much further than the €2.5bn (£2.2bn) required by regulators following the European bank stress tests in July and crucially would include the under-pressure French lenders…
The second leg of the plan is to bolster the EFSF. Economists have estimated it would need about Eu2 trillion of firepower to meet Italy and Spain’s financing needs in the event that the two countries were shut out of the markets. Officials are working on a way to leverage the EFSF through the European Central Bank to reach the target.
The complex deal would see the EFSF provide a loss-bearing “equity” tranche of any bail-out fund and the ECB the rest in protected “debt”. If the EFSF bore the first 20pc of any loss, the fund’s warchest would effectively be bolstered to Eu2 trillion. If the EFSF bore the first 40pc of any loss, the fund would be able to deploy Eu1 trillion.
Using leverage in this way would allow governments substantially to increase the resources available to the EFSF without having to go back to national parliaments for approval, which in a number of eurozone countries would prove highly problematic.
The arrangement is similar to the proposal made by US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to the eurozone at the September 16 EcoFin meeting in Poland. Gathering turmoil in financial markets has convinced Germany to begin work of some kind of variant of the US plan, despite having initially rejected the notion as unworkable as threatening to compromise ECB independence.
The proposal would be hugely sensitive in Germany as its parliament has yet to ratify the July 21 agreement to allow the EFSF to inject capital into banks and buy the sovereign debt of countries not under a European Union and International Monetary Fund restructuring programme. The vote is due on September 29.