Friday, October 28, 2011

Second European Market Response: Italian Borrowing Costs Surge

The first response of world financial markets to the eurozone package produced early Thursday morning was positive. 

The second response…

Italy issued 10-year debt on Friday but paid the highest price since joining the euro as investors demonstrated skepticism over the center-right government’s economic reform program in the first bond auction in the region since new steps were agreed to tackle the eurozone debt crisis.

The auction served to underline Italy’s current dependence on purchases of its bonds on the open market by the European Central Bank in a program that began on August 8 as yields rose above 6 per cent.” (

The underlying concern with the new eurozone package is that the officials in Europe still believe that the problem is one of liquidity, a crisis in confidence, which can be resolved by more bailout gimmicks.  As a consequence, these officials have, once again, avoided the fact that the problems they are facing are solvency problems and that eventually someone will have to bear losses.  The solvency issue has not been resolved since little or no new money is being put on the table.

Yes, there is an agreement for a 50 percent write down of “private” holdings of Greek debt.  But, note, that “public” holdings of Greek debt amount to about 40 percent of the total Greek debt outstanding.  These “public” holdings will not be subject to the haircut reducing the debt. 

The “public” holdings include the Greek securities held by the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and eurozone governments. 

Furthermore, the “haircut” is a “voluntary” write down in the hopes that a payout on Credit Default Swaps will not be triggered.  European leaders feared that if a “non-voluntary” event occurred, a CDS payment would be kicked off and this might cause a “Lehman Brothers affect” which would create more funding problems for banking institutions throughout the continent.

Also, this funding problem might expose other countries…like Italy, Spain, Portugal and France…in their efforts to place their sovereign debt.

The difficulty Italy had in placing its debt on Friday might be an indication that this effect is already at work.

 And what additional pressure does this put on the European Central Bank?

The ECB remained firmly in crisis management mode following the marathon Brussels summit to stem the sovereign debt crisis.

Within hours of the meeting, traders reported that the ECB was intervening again in the Italian government bond market – a clear sign that its controversial purchases were far from being wound down. “ (

Included in the plan was a proposal for the recapitalization of European banks.  But, the question is, will these new requirements actually provide the protection needed.  In the recent failure of the Dexia bank, the bank met the initial requirements for capital.  It seems as if the regulators of the European financial system are still reluctant to admit the serious needs of the banking system to add capital…a shortcoming that is related to the “joke” these regulators perpetrated in the two applications of “stress tests” to the banks of Europe. 

But, the European officials also included in their bank recapitalization plan a proposal that the national governments in Europe would increase guarantees of their banks.  This just increases the specter that these national governments will have additional liabilities adding to their already heavy debt loads. 

Finally, there is the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).  This is the last resort lender in which everyone in Europe commits to bailing out everyone else in Europe.  That is, the EFSF is a scheme that says that “Europe is Solvent”…even though individual nations within the eurozone are not solvent.

Whether or not “Europe is Solvent” depends on the willingness of the solvent countries within the EU to continue to pay for the shortcomings of those countries that are not solvent.  The success of this depends upon whether or not the existing problems are “liquidity” problems or “solvency” problems.  “Liquidity” problems relate to a lack of confidence and a lack of confidence can only be a short-term phenomenon. 

Officials hope that by “re-arranging the chairs” once again that the crisis of confidence will come to an end.  The thing these European officials fail to understand that in the game of “musical chairs”, every time the music begins to play again another chair is taken from the game.  At some point, the fact that the eurozone does not have sufficient capital to cover its outstanding debt will become evident.

The efforts to bring money in from China, Japan, or elsewhere, seem like a desperate move.   

Again, it seems as if Europe has come up short again. 

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