Monday, September 6, 2010

Do not fall for talk of European solvency

by Wolfgang Münchau
Financial Times
September 5, 2010

While the Europeans are celebrating the end of the financial crisis, something strange is happening in the bond markets. The gap in the yields – the spread – between the 10-year bonds of peripheral eurozone countries and Germany has been growing at an alarming rate. It is now close to the level that prevailed in the days before the European Union decided to set up its bail-out fund in May.

Last Friday, the spreads were 3.4 per cent for Ireland, 9.4 per cent for Greece, 3.4 per cent for Portugal, and 1.7 per cent for Spain. The yield on 10-year German bonds is currently ridiculously low, about 2.3 per cent. The financial markets somehow regard Germany as a paragon of virtue, stability and sound financial management, and are happy to demand virtually no return on 10-year investments. If the bond markets were ever returned to normal, and if the spreads were to persist, peripheral Europe would find itself subject to an intolerable market interest rate burden.

This observation gives rise to the immediate question of whether some countries would be able to remain solvent under such a scenario. Solvency is defined as the ability to finance debt in a sustainable way, and is affected both by the amount of debt, and future income through which the debt is repaid.


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