This site has had plenty of company in expressing doubts about the latest episode in the continuing “save the banks, devil take the hindmost” Eurodrama. The same issues came up over and over: too small size of rescue fund, heavy reliance on smoke and gimmickry to get it even to that size, insufficient relief to the Greek economy (the haircuts will apply to only a portion of the bonds), no assurance that enough banks will go along with the “voluntary” rescue, and way way too many details left to be sorted out.
But it is a particularly bad sign to see disagreement within the officialdom about the just-annnounced deal. The Telegraph (hat tip reader Jim Haygood) reports that the Bundesbank, which has considerable influence on the ECB, is trash talking a critical part of the pact:
Hours after an all-night summit of euro governments ended, flaws began to emerge in a package that was billed as a “grand and comprehensive” solution to the European debt crisis.
The concerns were led by Germany’s powerful central bank, which expressed fears that a plan to leverage a €440 billion eurozone rescue fund to amass a “fire power” of €1 trillion, or £880 billion, resembled the risky finance methods that triggered the crisis in 2008.
EU leaders are expected to sanction the establishment of a so-called special purpose investment vehicle, or SPIV, to be set up in the coming weeks. It is aimed at attracting investment from countries such as China and Brazil.
Jens Weidmann, the president of the Bundesbank and a member of the European Central Bank, sounded the alarm over the plan to “leverage” the fund by a factor of four to five times without putting any new money into the pot.
We’ve pointed out the only way this scheme might work is if it attracts enough new money, which as the Telegraph indicates, is presumed to be the BRICS (I gather the sovereign wealth funds are too smart for this sort of thing, and even if they went along, their aggregate contribution would not be big enough). The Financial Times reports that China is being courted, but wants “assurances”:
China could be willing to contribute between $50bn and $100bn to the EFSF or a new fund set up under its auspices in collaboration with the IMF, according to one person familiar with the thinking of the Chinese leadership.
“If conditions are right then something a bit above $100bn is not inconceivable,” this person said….
One condition China might ask for is that its contribution be at least partly denominated in renminbi, which would protect its investment against currency fluctuations. China would buy euro-denominated bonds but repayments would compensate for any changes in the value of the renminbi, which has appreciated nearly 20 per cent against the euro in the past three years…
Beijing’s main concern is how any contribution to a European bailout will be viewed domestically by an increasingly informed and critical populace.
“Any mis-steps in helping Europe could cause problems with domestic public opinion – the Chinese people will watch very carefully what their own government does,” Prof Yu said. “European leaders also must have a clear plan of what to do and they must show China they have the political will as well as the support of their own people; if we see protests and chaos all the time, then China won’t have confidence in Europe’s political ability.”
If the Chinese think the Europeans can provide meaningful foreign exchange guarantees, they are smoking something very strong. The austerity programs being put in place will put Europe on a deflationary path. The only way to deleverage the private and government sectors at the same time and not see GDP contraction is to run a large trade surplus. And that means the Eurozone as a whole, not Germany within Europe. To do that, the currency needs to be much lower. The Financial Times’ Wolfgang Munchau has argued the euro will need to fall to between .6 and .8 to the dollar, roughly a 50% depreciation from current levels.
This guarantee is a classic wrong way risk. China is asking Europe to make promises it won’t be able to honor if its policies result in a cheaper currency or other bad results for China. And in general, China’s expectations are unreasonable. Its currency is undervalued. Even ex the undervaluation, the normal state of affairs for a maturing economy is to see its value rise. Any foreign currency investment can be expected to show large foreign exchange losses. And just because you shift your risk on the other party does not mean they can perform. As the example of AIG and the monolines showed, underpriced insurance has this nasty way of blowing up.
Japan was the dumb money in its bubble era. But at least they had an excuse: they yen was super high so everything looked cheap. At least the foreign exchange part of the equation worked in their favor, but they had insufficient knowledge of foreign investments to make good picks. The Chinese may be shrewder about their targets, but they seem woefully in denial on the magnitude and inevitability of foreign exchange risk on some of their plays. So they may rescue the Europeans and continue to resent funding their trade partners, just at the Germans do.
He warned that the scheme could be hit by market turbulence with taxpayers left holding the bill for risky investments in Italian and Spanish bonds.