The eurozone debt crisis is no nearer solution

BIS loans Sept13The Eurozone crisis has been quiet since the summer of 2012, as the markets waited for the German election.  But now this has occurred, it is unlikely that the problem can continue to be ignored.

It is easy to forget the drama of May 2012, when the blog correctly forecast a crisis was about to occur in the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain).  Its view went mainstream in June, when major debt write-offs then took place in Greece, Ireland and Portugal.  Total meltdown was only avoided when the European Central Bank (ECB) promised to ‘do whatever it takes’ to save the euro.

Luckily for the ECB, the meaning of this empty promise has not yet been truly tested by the markets.  Instead, the issue has been ‘on hold’ as investors preferred instead to believe that the new German government would quickly provide the necessary financial support, once the “detail” of September’s election was out of the way.

But the blog stopped believing in fairy tales a long time ago.  So it is time to again review the loan position with the PIIGS, using latest data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the central bankers’ bank.  This shows:

  • Total loans to the PIIGS have further reduced, and were down 45% in March versus 2009
  • Greece is down 82%, Spain down 47%, Portugal down 44%, Ireland down 43%, Italy down 38%
  • As a percentage of GDP, the decline is quite frightening, equal to 30% of the PIIGS’ total economy
  • The loan decline is 100% of Ireland’s GDP, 60% of Greece’s, 48% of Portugal’s, 27% of Spain’s, 18% of Italy’s

Now the election is over, the fairy tale will probably end.  And as the former BIS economic adviser, William White, warned a year ago, “risks are surely building up“.

Of course, investors were happy to take the free money from the central banks and speculate with it in oil and other markets.  But this did not solve the core Eurozone problem, which is that it needs full economic and political union if it is to survive.  A common currency simply cannot work without these, as German Chancellor Kohl and French President Mitterand agreed in 1990 when agreeing to launch the euro.

Equally it is naïve in the extreme to believe that German taxpayers will happily pay the bills for Southern Europe.  The German word for debt is, after all, Schuld – which also means guilt.  And in Germany the Eurozone debate is a morality play, where those in debt are ‘sinners’.

About Paul Hodges

Paul Hodges is Chairman of International eChem, trusted commercial advisers to the global chemical industry. The aim of this blog is to share ideas about the influences that may shape the chemical industry over the next 12 – 18 months. It will try to look behind today’s headlines, to understand what may happen next in important issues such oil prices, economic growth and the environment. We may also have some fun, investigating a few of the more offbeat events that take place from time to time. Please do join me and share your thoughts. Between us, we will hopefully develop useful insights into the key factors that will drive the industry's future performance.

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