Things are only going from bad to worse in Europe.
Reader Antifa had noted in comments that the IMF had expanded access on Thursday to borrowing facilities via a Precautionary and Liquidity Line (PLL), which would allow “responsible” borrowers to take down five or perhaps as much as ten times their normal allotment. But I don’t agree with his/her hopeful view that this meant the IMF was acting as lender of last resort. Only the ECB, an issuer of euros, can play that role. The IMF gets its budget from member nations, and my understanding in the US is that it comes from the Treasury, not the Fed, which means it is a budgetary item. New spending allocations, particularly to ‘furriners, are not likely to get much traction. China was already approached directly (for the EFSF) and was notably cool on the idea. Why would it lend indirectly, via the IMF, when it and other emerging economies are already unhappy that their voting share is out of line with their economic power? The BRICs have made it clear they want more voting rights as a condition to making bigger contributions. So I don’t see the IMF as an effective force, in general, and even on a stopgap basis given it certain to be insufficient firepower.
Mr. Market seems to think so too. Italy had a disastrously bad bond auction today, a mere €10 billion of two year notes and six month bills (remember, the day of reckoning comes in February, when Italy has to roll €300 billion). The rate on the bills was 6.50%; on the notes, 7.81%. Three year note yields rose as high as 8.13%. Even though the ECB intervened, buying both Spanish and Italian debt, it barely made a dent. Yields in Italy on two to five year paper remained in the 7.67% to 7.77%
German bond yields were also higher than they were after Wednesday’s terrible bunds auction. Stunningly, Belgian ten year yields have risen more than 1% this week, from 4.79% to 5.85%, with a downgrade of Belgium to AA by Standard & Poors no doubt contributing.
The Financial Times also reports that investors are fleeing Eurobank stocks:
Uninvestable is just about the worst word in a shareholders’ vocabulary.
The term – meaning that the market sees no point at all in investing in a certain asset – is being used increasingly when talking about European banks.
“It is an absolute disaster zone. I wouldn’t touch them. You couldn’t make me buy a bank,” says Paul Casson, director of pan-European equities at Henderson Global Equities.
Even some bank chief executives seem to agree. “I’d be very interested to see the investor who is prepared to put more capital towards UK banks. All of them are thinking that’s a dumb place to put capital,” Stephen Hester, chief executive of RBS, the part-nationalised UK lender, said this week.
The fact that Portugal was downgraded to junk by Fitch was simply yet another bad bit of news, when months ago, it would have been seen as significant in its own right. Ditto the Moody’s downgrade of Hungary.
Perhaps I’m too far from the carnage to have an accurate reading, but the news reports seem more anesthetized than shellshocked. It seems almost as if the European leadership has successfully faked its way through so many past crunches that they are unable to perceive that the same old tricks are no longer working. And it is increasingly looking as if their dulled reaction times are so out of line with market events that even if they were to snap our of their stupor now, it would be too late.