I got back last week from a two-day trip to London, where I spoke at an interesting event organized by the Carnegie Endowment. The attendees were for the most part senior bankers and investors, and I got the impression that several, though maybe not all, shared with me a certain amount of surprise that European bond markets were up this year. We were even a little shocked that the buoyant markets were being interpreted as suggesting that the worst of the European crisis was behind us. The euro, the market seems to be telling us, has been saved, and peripheral Europe is widely seen as being out of the woods.
I cannot name any of the attendees at the Carnegie event because it was off the record, but one of them who seemed most strongly to share my skepticism is a very senior and experienced banker whose name is likely to be recognized by anyone in the industry. After I finished explaining why I thought the euro crisis was far from over, and that I still expected that absent a serious effort from Germany to boost domestic spending – an effort likely to leave the country with rapidly rising debt – at least one or more countries would eventually be forced off the currency, he told the group that he hadn’t made as gloomy a presentation only because he considered it impolitic to sound as pessimistic as I did.
Neither of us, in other words, (and few in the meeting) felt that the recent market enthusiasm was justified. Never mind that the Spanish economy, to return to the country I know best, contracted again in the fourth quarter of last year, that it is expected to contract again this year, that unemployment is still rising, and that the ruling party is involved in yet another scandal that has driven its popularity down to 20%. Never mind that young Spaniards are emigrating (20,000 a month net), that the real estate market continues to drop, that businesses are still disinvesting and popular anger is extraordinarily high. The ECB, it seems, is willing to pump as much liquidity into the markets as it needs, so rising debt levels, greater political fragmentation, and a worsening economy somehow don’t really matter. This crisis continues to be just a liquidity crisis as far as policymakers are concerned – and not caused by problems in the “real” economy – and the solution of course to a liquidity crisis is more liquidity.
Lees verder op het blog van Michael Pettis.