As we get ready for the meetings of the IMF and World Bank this coming week-end a familiar Euro crisis is brewing again. Yesterday Spanish ten year bond yields rose more, to 6.16%. This week Spain is planning to tap the 12 and 18 month money market on Tuesday, and to raise 2 and 10 year money on Thursday. It needs to carry on borrowing, to keep pace with its deficit, to pay all those public sector bills. Some are alarmed at how much it will have to pay to carry on borrowing.
Spanish shares have been falling. Markets have raised more doubts about some Spanish banks. The government has taken powers to be able to move in and run any regional government in Spain which does not do a better job this year of running its own finances. In March Spanish banks were borrowing Euro 316 billion from the European Central Bank, a large sum.
The original idea of the EU in response to earlier versions of the crisis was to set up a big “firewall” or fund of money to bail out countries in trouble. They then wished the IMF to put a lot more of its members money at risk to back up the European funds. This has been held back by German reluctance to sign up to a very large European fund, and by US resistance to the idea that it should contribute through the IMF when Euroland does not do more for itself.
The Germans successfully pegged the total funds available from Euroland and the EU to a possible Euro 800 billion, of which 300 billion is already pledged to Greece, Portugal and Ireland under existing programmes. Much of this money has to be borrowed by the European Stability Mechanism in due course, which is a Luxembourg intergovernmental organisation backed by the credit ratings of the Euro area countries.
The IMF is being asked by the Euroland countries to have more money available to stand behind the possible borrowed funds the Europeans might raise on their own credit account. Japan and China are indicating that they might put some money in. They do not wish the Euro to flounder, and they would like the Euro to stay higher against their currencies for trade reasons. So too might some of the other emerging market economies. It is unlikely the US will change its stance from “No”, as it is difficult to imagine Congress and Senate voting to ratify such spending, especially in an election year. The UK’s position is also undecided.
The truth is large firewalls cannot solve the big underlying problems. The emergency funds dispensed so far have bought some more time. This time has to be used to tackle the underlying huge imbalances. Somehow member states in the Euro have to show they can finance their budget deficits in the normal way without needing subsidised finance. Somehow the Euro zone has to finance its trade with itself comfortably. Somehow the zone has to strengthen its banks without forcing yet more austerity and recession on the weakest countries. That would be a useful agenda for the IMF to work through. Instead the Euro part of the discussion may turn out to be yet another talk about the extent of firewall funds, who pays the bills and when they might get set up. Instead of discussing how to finance failure, more thought needs to be given about how to get member countries out of the need for subsidised loans in the first place.