Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Does The Italian Bond Sale Mean The Eurocrisis Is Over?

Yesterday Italy sold bonds for a little over 3% compared to over 6% in late November. Does this mean the eurocrisis is over? Not necessarily, but it may well mean that the markets have finally figured out that Berlusconi really is gone, that Italy is one of four countries in the eurozone that is running a primary budget surplus (Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg are the others), and a much higher proportion of its debt is held domestically by the high saving Italians.

The worst ongoing problem in the zone is Greece. It is caught in a downward spiral that is hard to see an end to other than an exit from the eurozone. While some worry what will happen "if Greece defaults," the hard fact is that it has already effectively done so. The wholse argument over the size of the "haircuts" on its sovereign debt is really just an argument over how bad the default will be and exactly who will end up having to bear the cost of their default. But for all the worry about linkage and contagion if Greece defaults, by now it looks like the ECB's plan to support European banks will probably work to keep the dominoes from falling down in a row as a result. Maybe Portugal might also have to depart, but both Spain and Italy have better budget fundamentals than either the UK or the US. Probably the eurocrisis will end with all that.

What we may be looking at is a better than expected scenario. I find it increasingly amusing to read and listen to commentators who note that Christmas sales did better than expected and that gasoline prices keep dropping, but who then warn that all this will probably turn around next year. Well, yes, maybe it all will. The eurozone has pretty much fallen into a recession that will probably continue into the next year, and more worryingly China is clearly slowing down with its property bubble seriously cratering. But it may be that the US will return to its old role as the engine of growth for the rest of the world, at least somewhat. Probably the biggest fly in the ointment may be the purely artificial crisis being ginned up over sanctions on Iranian oil to stop their nonexistent nuclear weapons program (despite all the hoopla, the IAEA report did NOT report an actual nuclear weapons program there, despite some new findings of some past research regarding a potential to have one).


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