This note was originally published at 8am on July 13, 2012. INVESTOR and RISK MANAGER SUBSCRIBERS have access to the EARLY LOOK (published by 8am every trading day) and PORTFOLIO IDEAS in real-time.
“I get no respect. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest.”
I’ve been handed the Early Look pen this morning and thought starting with Dangerfield’s humor was in order. After all, I cover Europe for the macro team and there’s nothing funny about what’s going on in the region. Frankly stated, we don’t see a “bazooka” in Europe over the intermediate term as Eurocrats remain politically divided and in a slow and reactive mode to address sovereign and banking imbalances, slapping band-aids on peripheral woes at every corner, but failing to craft a real “path” forward.
Unfortunately, now the stakes are much higher as Italy is Too Big to Bail. For reference, Italy’s total sovereign debt alone is €1.9 Trillion with €372 Billion in debt coming due in the next 12 months versus the combined EFSF and ESM bailout facilities worth around €700-800 Billion. To boot, markets continued to shake this week on statements from Italian PM and technocrat-in-Chief Mario Monti that Italy may want to tap the Eurozone bailout mechanism to help lower its borrowing costs (the 10YR is currently at 5.99%); that he has no plans to seek another term when elections are called next spring; and on Moody’s downgrade of the Italian sovereign yesterday to Baa2 from A3. And if the political state wasn’t fractured enough, rumors also flew of a Berlusconi comeback. Can you say Bunga Bunga increased risk premium Party!
Interestingly enough, much hangs on the Eurozone’s ability to craft a fiscal union (compact) alongside its monetary union. It is firmer ground on this step that we think is critical before real action can be delivered on such proposed plans as: a banking authority; pan-European deposit insurance; European Redemption Fund; European Financial Transaction Tax; and Eurobonds.
That said, we see the passage of a fiscal compact many months to years out, if ever, as countries will be slow to give up their sovereignty to Brussels/Frankfurt. Further, we’d expect the aforementioned facilities to receive approval after much foot-dragging and politicking as the ECB is likely to be wary of extending its balance sheet as a backstop for the programs while strong fiscal nations like Germany will likely balk at signing off on lower creditworthiness in exchange for the region’s risk (Eurobonds).
However, as these programs stew, the most pressing issue right now is that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), originally targeted to be operational by July 1 with firepower of €600 Billion, is in limbo given that Germany’s Constitutional Court passed on making a decision on it this week; already German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned that a ruling (in conjunction with the fiscal compact) could be pushed to this Fall!
We mention this indecision on the ESM and fiscal compact from the Germans for a number of reasons:
- A lack of decision on Germany’s commitment will broadly breed further indecision across capital markets until the court makes a decision.
- Spain’s €100 Billion bailout is dependent on the loans from the EFSF and ESM, and further clarity on the firepower of both facilities is essential because A.) they were not originally crafted with a specific mandate for bank bailouts; and B.) lending first through the sovereign (at least as they were originally intended), before sovereigns can then loan to banks, will simply pile on more sovereign debt and perpetuate the cycle of more sovereign and banking imbalances across the weaker states.
- We believe Germany is still carrying the biggest policy stick in Europe (despite a stronger “socialist” French-Italian handshake developing) and how Merkel and her courts rule will have great impact on how Germany may or may not choose to underpin a future fiscal union.
In the Balance
If the political landscape and potential direction of the Eurozone sounds convoluted, it is! We return to our fundamental view that neither bailouts nor encouraging more borrowing through cheaper money is the solution to Europe's problem of over-indebtedness. That said, we fully realize that when assessing Europe one must recognize that what Eurocrats “should” do (from an economic policy perspective) may be very different from what they “will” do.
Given the runway on a ruling from the German Court and the fact that there are no planned Summits (i.e. catalysts) around which markets could rally over the intermediate term, we expect Crumble Cake Europe to continue to trade on headline risk, and the EUR/USD cross to remain a relative loser until more decisive action is taken from Eurocrats. As we show in the chart below, the cross broke our intermediate term TREND Line of $1.22 this week and is nearing 2010 lows, back when Greece received its first bailout in May.
Should Europe play out as we expect – continued slower growth beyond consensus and Eurocrats socializing weaker members and changing the goalposts along the way– we fear that the next two years across the Eurozone could look a lot like the last two years – short of a default from Italy or more expedient action on such measures as Eurobonds.
I suppose I misspoke at the beginning of this missive when I said there was nothing humorous in Europe. Yesterday, Italy's national statistics office threatened to stop issuing data on the economy, saying that it has been crippled by government spending cuts aimed at reducing national debt.
Whether or not Italy has an agency to report its economic data reminds me of the old philosophical question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Unfortunately for the Eurozone, the whole is only as strong as its weakest parts and everyone is forced to listen!
Our immediate-term support and resistance ranges for Gold, Oil (Brent), US Dollar, EUR/USD, and the SP500 are now $1559-1589, $96.76-103.01, $82.81-84.06, $1.20-1.23, and 1329-1354, respectively.
Have a great weekend!