European Countries Need to Rollover Debt At A Time When Interest Rates Are Rising

Ambrose Evans Pritchard writes Eurozone sovereign states must issue €915bn in new bonds next year, according the UBS, either to roll over debt or to cover very big deficits – though it is hard to outdo Ireland’s deficit of 32pc of GDP in 2009. Yet investors have just been told in blunt terms to charge a hefty risk premium on any peripheral debt that expires after 2013, with great confusion over what happens even before that date. Can any investor be sure what the terms will be if Ireland or Portugal needs to access the EU’s bail-out fund next week, or next month, or next year? Are haircuts already de rigueur?

A study by Giada Giani at Citigroup entitled “Bondholders Moving Back Home” said data from the second quarter reveals a sharp drop in foreign ownership of debt from Greece (-14pc), Portugal (-12pc), Spain (-8pc), and Ireland (-5pc).

Local banks have stepped into the breach, borrowing cheaply from the ECB to buy their own state debt at higher yields in a `carry trade’ that concentrates risk. These four countries account for the lion’s share of the €448bn in ECB funding for banks (Spain €98bn, Greece €94bn). Frankfurt is propping up this unstable edifice. Mr Trichet may well fret.

A strong case can be made that Spain has decoupled from other PIGS in pain, though the deficit will still be 6pc next year, and the economy is at serious risk of a double-dip recession as wage cuts and higher taxes bite in earnest. But none are safe yet.

An ominous pattern has emerged across much of the eurozone periphery: tax revenue keeps falling short of what was hoped. Austerity measures are eating deeper into the economy than expected, forcing further fiscal cuts. It goes too far to call this a self-feeding spiral, but such policies test political patience to snapping point.

There is little that these nations can in the short-run as EMU members. They cannot offset fiscal tightening with full monetary stimulus or a weaker exchange rate – as Britain can. All they do can is soldier on, sell family silver to the Chinese and Gulf Arabs, beg the ECB to join the currency war to bring down the euro, and pray that the fragile global recover does not sputter out.

Chancellor Merkel is ultimately correct. A mechanism for sovereign defaults is entirely healthy. Had it been in place long ago, EMU would have been stronger. The proper timing for this was at the Maastricht Treaty, or Amsterdam, or at the latest Nice, but in those days the EU elites were still arrogantly dismissive about the implications of a currency union. To wait until now borders on careless.

Commentary

Eurozone countries are facing growing sovereign det interest rate oppression as is communicated in the chart of World Sovereign Debt, BWX, falling lower. This increases the likelihood of a series of failed Treasury Auctions and a liquidity evaporation in the stocks and bond market and dramatically increases systemic risk and the likelihood of ever greater austerity measures.

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