May 12, 2014
What is most remarkable about the following detailed FT profile of the Cannes November 3-4, 2011 G-20 summit (when Europe, knowing well virtually every other option had been exhausted and was forced to grovel for Chinese cash)…
…is not that Obama, facing an election and fearful of what a Eurozone disintegration and depression would mean to the US economy and more importantly, to his re-election chances, managed to bring German chancellor Angela Merkel to tears, which he did…
To the astonishment of almost everyone in the room, Angela Merkel began to cry.
“Das ist nicht fair.” That is not fair, the German chancellor said angrily, tears welling in her eyes. “Ich bringe mich nicht selbst um.” I am not going to commit suicide.
For those who witnessed the breakdown in a small conference room in the French seaside resort of Cannes, it was shocking enough to watch Europe’s most powerful and emotionally controlled leader brought to tears.
But the scene was even more remarkable, those present said, for the two objects of her ire: the man sitting next to her, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the other across the table, US President Barack Obama.
The US president asked whether Ms Merkel could work it out with the Bundesbank by Monday. Mr Sarkozy suggested finance ministers meet to agree the details before the summit ended the next day. Perhaps something vague could be mentioned in the summit’s communiqué, Mr Obama suggested. No, said Mr Sarkozy, but we could meet again in the morning.
It was as if the two men had not heard her. She made the point again: “I’m not going to take such a big risk without getting anything from Italy. I’m not going to commit suicide.”
No, the real news is that even as Europe was facing near certain disintegration, it still was unwilling to make the compromises necessary to move away from a pseudo-union, one which is neither a federation where joint bond issuance is possible and where members are ratably responsible for each other, nor where the countries are wiling to cede soverignty to the most stable and viable entity in order to spread risk.
Mr Sarkozy attempted to manage the three-way impasse. The US wanted Germany to contribute its SDRs but Germany was only willing to give a partial commitment if Italy gave in on the IMF programme. Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s finance minister, held firm: Rome would accept IMF monitoring but no programme. Would the Italian monitoring plan, plus a commitment by Germany to contribute bilateral loans, be enough, Mr Sarkozy asked.
“No. Germany has one-fourth of all [eurozone] SDR allocations,” Mr Obama objected. “If you have all the EU countries together but not Germany . . . it starts losing credibility.”
The leaders met again the next morning but the momentum was gone. “The storm was over,” said one person at both meetings. The SDR plan would never again see the light of day. Italy would get a monitoring programme but no funding. And to compound the failure, Mr Berlusconi at his closing news conference publicly acknowledged what everyone had assiduously attempted to keep secret: that the IMF had offered him a rescue programme. Italy would suffer the stigma of needing a rescue but without receiving any assistance.
The Cannes failure provided new oxygen to the eurozone fire. When markets reopened, Italian borrowing costs soared. Within the week they would nearly touch 7.5 per cent. Greece’s would go above 33 per cent, a level almost without precedent for a developed country. Now, with no new firewall in place, it was unclear what would save the euro.
There is more in the full report by Peter Spiegel, but for those who lived through each and every trial balloon headline, what happened next is a clear memory: Goldman’s recent ascendent to the head of the ECB, Mario Draghi, sent Italian bond yields soaring in the process forcing Berlusconi to quit, Greece’s G-Pap also quit after his failed referendum gambit, and the one thing that prevented the all out collapse of the Eurozone, was the (latest) US-Funded global bailout of November 30, 2011.
And ever since then it has been one lie after another, starting with Draghi’s “Whatever it takes” bluff to prevent the collapse the Euro, knowing full well the ECB is unable to monetize bonds at will like the US Fed (in his own words), and which has since transformed to a “whatever it takes” to push the Euro lower (confirming that the Eurozone is only viable in a EURUSD 1.20-1.40 corridor, and proceeding with the OMT “program” which still doesn’t actually exist, nearly two years after its introduction.
So what has happened in Europe since the fateful Cannes G-20 summit in 2011 which made Merkel cry? Why nothing. Absolutely nothing has changed, that infamous austerity which everyone hates never actually happened (those confused about this are urged to look at all time record high (and rising fast) debt numbers across the Eurozone periphery), and worst of all, that most important Keynesian variable - private sector loan growth - never picked up. As the chart below shows, Eurozone lending to private business remains at a record low, and very deflationary, -2.2%.
The reason: since European government merely kicked the can courtesy of yet another global central bank “put” exercise, all the politicians were spared the dread of actually implementing painful reforms. So what did Europe do? It changed the definition of GDP sufficiently to make Spain and Italy appear as if the two fulcrum nations are growing, and also suckered US hedge funds and private equity firms to chase after European non-performing loans and bad debt, now that the scramble for distressed real estate is finally over as US housing has finished its fourth dead cat bounce.
But at least Merkel did not have to cry any more, as the return of the Deutsche Mark was delayed by a few more years, at the expense of all those peripheral workers (the lucky ones who did not lose their job of course) who devoid of the capacity for an external, FX, rebalancing have seen their wages crater for years, just so Germany can keep its export machine humming courtesy of a cheaper currency.
We wonder if once the effect of the liquidity tsunami fades alongside the Fed taper (especially since the ECB’s bluff of full, Fed-style QE will remain nothing more than just that, a bluff), and European bonds are finally reacquainted with selling, in turn sending the continent in yet another recession because, we will repeat again, nothing in Europe has been fixed, whether European stubbornness wins out again, and the member nations would opt out for disintegration of the most artificial union in history, or whether Angela Merkel will cry one final time?
This article was posted: Monday, May 12, 2014 at 5:58 am