In the March 2018 general election, two Italian political parties (the League and the Five Star Movement) that eventually formed the current government campaigned against many of the structures that are the foundation of the European Union. One part of their agreed policy program, a proposal that resurfaced in the past week, concerns the possibility of issuing mini-BOTs (which stands for Buoni del Tesoro). These would be small denomination “bonds”—non-interest-bearing, tradeable securities—issued by the Italian government to pay debts and usable to pay taxes or purchase goods and services provided by the state. Printed in the size and shape of currency notes, recipients could view them as a new means of exchange.
In this post, we discuss the possibility of Italy leaving the European Monetary Union, and why there is an increased incentive for the government to plan for an abrupt and unanticipated exit. The strategic analogy is to the appearance of a first-strike capacity that undermines nuclear peace. In our view, however, that appearance is misleading: any attempt to exit would not only be a disaster for Italy, as we explained in our post from a year ago, it would be the “mother of all financial crises” …. Read More
As we write, the claims of the Bundesbank on the other euro-area national central banks (NCB) through the TARGET2 system are approaching €1 trillion. What do these claims represent? Are they subsidized German loans to other euro-area countries―primarily Italy, Portugal and Spain? Do they signal further financial disintegration in Europe? Or, as large as these numbers are, are they simply a consequence of the complex mechanics related to the construction of the Eurosystem and how it implements monetary operations?
The answer is two-fold: for the first few years of the euro-area crisis―when German claims peaked at €750 billion―imbalances reflected subsidized loans to counter rising financial fragmentation. From 2008 to 2012, funds shifted from banking systems in the periphery of Europe perceived to be under stress, to banks in the core seen as being relatively stable, creating a web of liabilities and claims among NCBs. After 2012, the risk of breakup receded, so the interpretation of renewed increases in TARGET2 balances has changed. Indeed, the doubling since early 2015 is a natural (and almost inevitable) consequence of the manner in which the Eurosystem implements its various asset purchase programs (APPs)―their version of quantitative easing and large-scale asset purchases. Moreover, the impact of the APP expansion on TARGET2 balances has concealed a further, if still incomplete, reversal of the financial fragmentation triggered by the euro-area crisis several years ago.
To be sure, the increase of TARGET2 balances in both periods reflects a credit expansion, but in the latter, the NCBs collectively earn a return that is far more market sensitive. Put differently, the increase of TARGET2 liabilities associated with the Eurosystem’s APPs is backed by marketable assets that could, and probably should, be transferred to the national central banks (NCB) that currently have claims on the system…. Read More
After years of calm, fears of a currency redenomination—prompted by the attitudes toward monetary union of Italy’s now-governing parties and the potential for another round of early elections—revived turbulence in Italian markets last week. We have warned in the past that an Italian exit from the euro would be disastrous not only for Italy, but for many others as well (see our earlier post).
And, given Italy’s high public debt, a significant easing of its fiscal stance within monetary union could revive financial instability, rather than boost economic growth. Depositors fearing the introduction of a parallel currency (to finance the fiscal stimulus) would have incentive to shift out of Italian banks into “safer” jurisdictions. Argentina’s experience in 2001, when the introduction of quasi-moneys by the fiscal authorities undermined monetary control, is instructive…. Read More
On 31 May 2018, Vítor Constâncio completes 18 years on the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB)—8 as Vice President and 10 as Governor of the Bank of Portugal before that. Ahead of his departure, Vice President Constâncio delivered a valedictory address setting out his views on what needs to be done to make European Monetary Union (EMU) (and what people on the continent refer to as the “European Project”) robust.
Before we get to his proposals, we should emphasize that we continue to view political shifts as the biggest challenge facing EMU (see our earlier posts here and here). The rise of populism in recent euro-area member elections is not conducive to the risk-sharing needed to sustain EMU over the long run. Without democratic support, investor fears of redenomination risk—associated with widening bond yield spreads and, possibly, runs on the banking systems of some national jurisdictions—will continue to resurface whenever political risks spike or local economic fortunes ebb. This latent vulnerability—resembling that of a fixed-exchange rate regime with free movement of capital—diminishes the prospect for strong and stable economic growth in the region as a whole.
Turning to the need for change, the current framework has three significant shortcomings… Read More
In 2012, the ECB faced down a mortal threat to the euro: fears of redenomination (the re-introduction of domestic currencies) were feeding a run away from banks in the geographic periphery of the euro area and into German banks. Since President Mario Draghi spoke in London that July, the ECB has done things that once seemed unimaginable, helping to support the euro and secure price stability.
So far, it has been enough. But can the ECB really do “whatever it takes”? Ultimately, monetary stability requires political support. Without fiscal cooperation, no central bank can maintain the value of its currency. In a monetary union, stability also requires a modicum of cooperation among governments.
Recent developments in France have revived concerns about redenomination risk and the future of the euro.... Read More
Greece faces a stark choice: stay in the euro and implement the policies demanded by its creditors or exit and re-introduce its own national currency. The dimensions of this decision go far beyond economics, affecting Greece’s political and cultural identity for generations. Yet, even in a narrow sense – determining which option will lead to the best economic outcome for Greeks – the decision is complex and fraught with uncertainty... Read More
You can set your watch by the Swiss trains. They are the envy of the world in many ways. Everyone believes that the trains will run on time because they do.
Credibility is at the core of central banking as well. When a credible central banker speaks, households, businesses, and governments listen. And, because they expect the banker to do what she says, their response – measured in terms of how much they work, save, and invest – will reinforce the outcome policymakers seek.
But credibility is tough to earn and – as the Swiss National Bank (SNB) recently learned when it ended a three-year commitment to prevent a rise in the franc versus the euro – easy to lose.... Read More
If Oscar Wilde were still around, he could write a wonderful comedy about European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Like the life of his protagonist, Ernest John, the evolution of EMU is rarely pure and never simple. But it would take a Wilde imagination to see exactly how EMU gets to a happy ending.
Despite its name, EMU was not and is not primarily an economic endeavor...