Hey, remember my last bloggingheads, when I went to the 1930s analogy to describe the current problems in the global political economy? Well, that was a few days ago, and my, how things have changed -- to make that 1930's analogy even more powerful. The eurogoggles metahor may be coming to an end -- because the situation is so dire that even the cheeriest summit won't alter perceptions in financial markets.
After a week of gyrating europolitics on the Greek bailout and meaningless G-20 summitry, markets and media will be focused on Italy this week. This matters -- for both Europe and the world, Greece is a diverting sideshow compared to a major financial collaspse in Italy. The pressure on Italian PM Sylvio Berlusconi to resign have gotten so loud that he had to take to his Facebook page to say, "The rumors of my resignation are groundless." New rule of thumb: any time a politician follows Sarah Palin's lead, there's going to be a problem.
The Daily Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard explains the eurofarce that is currently playing out:
As of late Friday, the yield spread on Italian 10-year bonds over German Bunds was a post-EMU record of 458 basis points. This is dangerously close to the point where cascade-selling begins and matters spiral out of control.
The European Central Bank has so far bought time by holding a series of retreating lines but either it has reached its intervention limits after accumulating nearly €80bn of Italian debt, or it is holding fire to force Silvio Berlusconi to resign – if so, a foolish game.
The ECB’s hands are tied. A German veto and EU treaty constraints stop it intervening with overwhelming force as a genuine lender of last resort. The bank is itself at risk of massive over-extension without an EU treasury and single sovereign entity to back it up.
This lack of a back-stop guarantor is an unforgivable failing in the institutional structure of monetary union....
The spreads on EFSF 5-year bonds have already tripled to 151 above German debt, leaving Japan and other early buyers nursing a big loss. The fund suffered a failed auction last week, cutting the issue from €5bn to €3bn on lack of demand.
Gary Jenkins from Evolution Securities said the “frightening” development is that the EFSF is itself being shut out of the capital markets. “If it continues to perform like that then the bailout fund might need a bail out,” he said.
Europe’s attempt to widen the creditor net by drawing in the world’s reserve states evoked near universal scorn in Cannes and a damning put-down by Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. “I have not the slightest intention of contributing directly to the EFSF; if they are not willing to do it, why should I?”
Europe is resorting to such antics because its richer states – above all Germany -- still refuse to face up to the shattering implications of a currency that they themselves created, and ran destructively by flooding the vulnerable half of monetary union with cheap capital.
Simon Johnson is, er.... less than optimistic about these developments:
MIT Sloan School of Management professor Simon Johnson didn’t equivocate on the perils of the current global economic environment. “We have built a dangerous financial system in the United States and Europe,” said the former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. “We must step back and reform the system.”
Professor Johnson cited alarming parallels with October 1931, when “people thought the worst was behind them, but the smart people were wrong and instead the crisis just broadened.” (emphasis added)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: any time the global economy is counting on Sylvio Berlusconi to do the right thing is not a good time.