Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Europe is stuck on life support

by Martin Wolf

Financial Times

January 31, 2012

Economic decision-makers are more optimistic than two months ago. The main reason is the belief that the European Central Bank, under the shrewd leadership of Mario Draghi, has eliminated the risk of a financial implosion in the eurozone. As Mark Carney, the respected governor of the Bank of Canada and Mr Draghi’s successor at the Financial Stability Board, remarked at the World Economic Forum in Davos: “There is not going to be a Lehman-style event in Europe. That matters.”

Spreads on credit default swaps on Italian and Spanish banks have fallen since the introduction of the ECB’s three-year long-term refinancing operations in December. Spreads between yields on debt of some vulnerable sovereigns and German Bunds have also eased.

Does this mean the eurozone crisis is over? Absolutely not. The ECB has saved the eurozone from a heart attack. But its members face a long convalescence, made worse by the insistence that fiscal starvation is the right remedy for feeble patients.

Last week’s downgrading of its forecasts by the International Monetary Fund shows the dangers. The IMF now forecasts a recession in the eurozone this year, with a decline of 0.5 per cent in overall gross domestic product. GDP is forecast to fall sharply in Italy and Spain, and stagnate in France and Germany. This is a terrible environment for countries seeking to cut fiscal deficits. Forecasts are far from satisfactory for other high-income countries. But the eurozone is the most dangerous part of the world economy: only there do we see important governments – Italy and Spain – menaced by a loss of creditworthiness.


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