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Fitch Ratings, London 08 March 2013

Fitch Ratings has downgraded Italy’s Long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) to ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-‘. The Outlook on the Long-term IDRs is Negative. Fitch has simultaneously affirmed the Short-term foreign currency IDR at ‘F2’ and the common eurozone Country Ceiling for Italy at ‘AAA’.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

The downgrade of Italy’s sovereign ratings reflects the following key rating factors:

  • The inconclusive results of the Italian parliamentary elections on 24-25 February make it unlikely that a stable new government can be formed in the next few weeks. The increased political uncertainty and non-conducive backdrop for further structural reform measures constitute a further adverse shock to the real economy amidst the deep recession.
  • Q412 data confirms that the ongoing recession in Italy is one of the deepest in Europe. The unfavourable starting position and some recent developments, like the unexpected fall in employment and persistently weak sentiment indicators, increase the risk of a more protracted and deeper recession than previously expected. Fitch expects a GDP contraction of 1.8% in 2013, due largely to the carry-over from the 2.4% contraction in 2012.
  • Due to the deeper recession and its adverse impact on headline budget deficit, the gross general government debt (GGGD) will peak in 2013 at close to 130% of GDP compared with Fitch’s estimate of 125% in mid-2012, even assuming an unchanged underlying fiscal stance.
  • A weak government could be slower and less able to respond to domestic or external economic shocks.

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Eurogroup statement on Spain

The Eurogroup supports the efforts of the Spanish authorities to resolutely address the restructuring of its financial sector and it welcomes their intention to seek financial assistance from euro area Member States to this effect.

The Eurogroup has been informed that the Spanish authorities will present a formal request shortly and is willing to respond favourably to such a request. The financial assistance would be provided by the EFSF/ESM for recapitalisation of financial institutions. The loan will be scaled to provide an effective backstop covering for all possible capital requirements estimated by the diagnostic exercise which the Spanish authorities have commissioned to the external evaluators and the international auditors. The loan amount must cover estimated capital requirements with an additional safety margin, estimated as summing up to EUR 100 billion in total.

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SPIEGEL‘s cover story on the history of the common currency

Politicians have maneuvered their countries into an unparalleled situation in the euro crisis. And they already know what most voters don’t yet suspect. In the end, only two possibilities will remain to save the beleagured common currency: an expensive transfer union or a smaller monetary union. Either solution will be extremely costly

The Greek crisis has revealed why the euro is the world’s most dangerous currency. The euro was built on a foundation of debt and trickery, where economic principles were sacrificed to romantic political visions. The history of the common currency is the story of a good idea that turned into a tragedy of epic proportions. By SPIEGEL Staff.

How a Good Idea Became a Tragedy

Before Germany’s Horst Reichenbach had even stepped off the plane in Athens, the Greeks knew who was coming. He had already been given various unflattering nicknames in the Greek media, including “Third Reichenbach” and “Horst Wessel” — a reference to the Nazi activist of that name who was posthumously elevated to martyr status. The members of his 30-strong team, meanwhile, had been compared to Nazi regional leaders.

The taxi drivers at the airport were on strike, while hundreds stood in front of the parliament building, chanting their slogans. One protestor was wearing a T-shirt that read: “I don’t need sex. The government fucks me every day.” Within the first few hours, Horst Reichenbach realized that he had landed in a disaster area.

Reichenbach is the head of the task force the European Commission sent to Athens to provide what Brussels officials call “technical assistance” in the implementation of necessary reforms. For the Greek media, the task force is the advance guard of an invasion force, the bureaucrats that have arrived to transform beautiful Greece into a German colony.

Reichenbach describes his tasks as follows: restructure the tax system, streamline the administration, accelerate privatization, strengthen legal certainty, open up access to protected professions, restructure the energy and healthcare sector and remove structures that are hostile to investment. The effort, says Reichenbach, requires “thinking in terms of years instead of months.” He was the vice-president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and had planned to retire at the end of December. But then he received a call from European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who then dispatched Reichenbach on this mission impossible.

He is a middleman between two Europes, the north and the south. The euro was intended as a currency that would help Europe grow together, but the first major euro crisis is in fact pitting the north and the south, the deutschmark economy and the lira economy, against each other. To make matters worse, there are also two different speeds in Europe, with one part of Europe moving at the high-paced speed of financial markets and banks, while the other drags along at the speed of governments and parliaments. And then there is also the Europe of two versions of the truth. One is at home in Brussels, Berlin and Paris, in the centers of power, while the other resides in the living rooms and on the streets of European cities.

As admirable as it is for Reichenbach and his 30 nation-builders to be bringing order to Athens, no amount of reorganizing can simply do away with €350 billion ($473 billion) in government debt. How to cope with this debt without ruining the European project is the most pressing question of recent weeks. After 20 years of bad decisions, spineless reforms and postponed actions, it isn’t the citizens but the markets that have forced united Europe into an endgame over the euro. How can this currency have a future? Is there a risk that Greece is only the first domino in a row that could end with Germany? Is the euro zone a faulty design?

A team of SPIEGEL reporters went to Brussels, Luxembourg, Athens, Berlin and elsewhere to find answers to these questions. They have reconstructed the rise and fall of a currency that can only survive if the mistakes that were made over two decades are corrected in the next few months.

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The circular nature of the scheme is surreal. Highly leveraged vehicles, in part backed by weakened nations like Spain and Italy, are to undertake the “rescue” of the same countries and their banks. Levering the EFSF merely highlights circularity in the entire European strategy of bailouts, drawing attention to the correlated default risks between the guarantor pool and the asset portfolio of the bailout fund. This is akin to an entity selling insurance against its own default. This only works if all commitments are fully backed by real cash and savings, which of course nobody actually has, requiring resort to familiar “confidence tricks”.

Satyajit Das, author of Extreme Money: The Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk