Tuesday, December 13, 2011

13/12/2011: European Summit and Markets Efficiency

One thing that clearly must be disheartening for the perfect markets efficiency theory buffs (supposedly there are loads of them around, judging by the arguments from the 'State Knows Best' camp, though I personally know not a single one who thinks that markets are perfectly efficient) is the speed with which the markets produced an assessment of the Euro zone's latest 'Grand Plan'.

Frankly speaking, the ink was still drying on the last week's summit paper pads and it was already clear that the new 'Solution' is not a solution at all and that the Euro zone crisis is not about to be repaired by vacuous promises of the serial sinners not to sin in the future.

This blog highlighted back on the 10th of December (here) the simple fact that Euro zone is highly unlikely to deliver on its newly re-set old SGP criteria targets, no matter what enforcement (short of Panzer divisions) Merkozy deploy. And in a comment to Portuguese L'Expresso (see excerpts here and full text here) and elsewhere I have said that instead of resolving the debt crisis, European leaders decided to create a political crisis.

Many other observers had a similar assessment of the latest Euro Land Fiasco pantomime that was the Summit. And yet, despite the factual nature of analysis provided, I was immediately attacked as a token Euro skeptic and an Anglophile.

Now, more confirmation - this time from the EU Commission itself (presumably this too has evolved into a Euro skeptic and an Anglophile institution overnight) - that the propposed Merkozy Pact is (1) extra-judicial and (2) largely irrelevant to the problem at hand. Today's Frankfurter Allgemeine reports that the new Pact will be - per EU Commission opinion - part of an inter-governmental treaty, which is subordinate - in international law - to any European treaty. This, in turn, means that a country in breach of the 'quasi-automatic fiscal rules - 3%-0.5%-60% formula - can simply claim adherence to existent weaker rules established under the fully functioning European treaties. This, in turn, will mean that there can be no application of the new Pact rules.

Thus, the new Merkozy Pact is subordinated to the weaker fiscal rules under the SGP and any extra-SGP enforcement of these rules is subordinated to the SGP procedures. Can anyone explain how, say Italy, can be compelled to implement the new Pact, then?

Meanwhile, of the other 'agreements' reached at the Summit, the EFSF agreement represents the weakening, not the strengthening of the previous Euro area position. In fact, post Summit, the EFSF is about to lose its AAA status (as France is preparing to lose its own AAA rating). S&P has the EFSF AAA-backers on negative watch and under a review, Moody announced yesterday that it will be reviewing AAA ratings across the Euro zone and Fitch labeled the Summit a failure. And amidst all of this EFSF is going to remain about 1/3 of the size required to start making a dent in the Euro zone problems. That, of course, assuming it can get up to that level - a big question, given pending downgrade and previous difficulties with raising funds.

The third pillar of the Euro zone 'strategy' for dealing with the crisis - the permanent ESM - also emerged from the summit in the shape of a party balloon with a hole in its side. Rapid deflation of the ESM hopes means that even with 'leverage' option, the ESM will not be able to underwrite liquidity to Italy and GIP, let alone Spain & Belgium. Furthermore, there is a question yet to be asked of the European leaders. Fancying ESM at €500 billion might be a wonderful exercise in fictional narrative, but where on earth will they get these funds from?

The fourth pillar of the 'strategy' was the IMF merry-go-round loans carrusel. Now, recall that brilliant scheme. The IMF has strict (kind of strict - see here) rules on volumes of lending it can carry out. But Euro zone problems are so vast, the IMF limits represent a huge constraint on the funding it can provide to the common currency debt junkies. So the EU came up with an 'Cunning Plan'. The EU will lend IMF €200 billion (which EU doesn't really have) and the IMF can then re-lend EU between €800 billion (under old rules on IMF lending) or up to €2 trillion (under that new 'leverage scheme'). Note: IMF doesn't really have this sort of money either.

So a junkie will borrow somewhere some cash, lend it to his dealer-supplier, who will then issue junkie a credit line several times greater than the loan, so the junkie can have access to few more years of quick fixes. Lovely. When you think of it, the irony of the EU passing a new 'Discipline Pact' with one stroke of pen, while leveraging everything it got and even leveraging the IMF to get itself more debt with the next stroke of pen takes some beating in the land of absurdity.

But fear not. The IMF is not likely to engage in this sort of financial engineering. Not because its new leader, Christine Lagarde - who comes from the European tradition of creating massive fudge out of monetary and fiscal policies - objects to it. It is unlikely to do so because its other funders - the US and Japan and BRICs etc are saying 'No way, man' to the Euro zone's plans. The US expressed serious concerns that Euro zone's plan will lead to US losses on IMF funds, while Japan's Fin Min Jun Asumi said that Europe must create a functional firewall first, before any IMF involvement can be approved. He also stated Japan's support for US position.

And so we have it. Post-Summit:

  • There is no effective new 'Treaty' or enforceable new rules
  • There is no enhanced EFSF and the old one is about to lose all its firepower
  • There is no feasible ESM
  • There is no Euro-leveraging of the IMF
Oh, and the ECB is becoming increasingly non-cooperative too.

And amidst all of this, the newsflow gets only worse and worse for Europe's battered economies. Greece is now projecting GDP decline of 6% in 2011 and 3% in 2012. The new deficit projections for 2011 are at 9% of GDP or €2.6 billion worse than the annual budgetary forecast of 8.5% deficit. Ditto for Belgium, where 2011 deficit is heading for 4.2% of GDP - 0.6 percentage points above the budgetary target (€2.2 billion shortfall). And, of course, there is that post-boy of austerity - aka Ireland - where Government tax revenues are collapsing as data through November shows (see details here).

So reality bites, folks. Markets are clearly not perfectly efficient. But once they discover the truth about the Euro Summit, fireworks will begin.
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