Thursday, September 6, 2012

The weakest will win in the euro battle

by John Plender

Financial Times

September 6, 2012

In the age-old battle between creditors and debtors, weak sovereign borrowers and overstretched banks more often than not triumph over financially strong creditors. Look no further than the unfolding eurozone saga for confirmation of this rule. Indeed the latest European Central Bank initiative to buy distressed eurozone sovereign debt through so-called outright monetary transactions perfectly illustrates how the illusion of creditor power is progressively being stripped away.

Of course, Germany is the dominant actor in this drama. Yes, it has been the chief architect of moralistic austerity programmes for “profligate” citizens of southern Europe and Ireland as a precondition of transfers that the German people would otherwise regard as anathema. True, the burden of adjustment is widely seen as falling exclusively on the debtors, who will be subject to supposedly strict conditionality under the ECB’s new buying plan.

Yet the underlying reality is that the ECB’s new initiative, aimed at putting to rest investors’ fears about the reversibility of the euro, may prove to be just one in a succession of implicit transfers to the eurozone’s distressed debtors.

There is no escaping the fact that northern Europe has incurred substantial losses on its loans to southern Europe and Ireland, which have yet to be fully recognised. When formal default occurs this will simply confirm that an involuntary resource transfer has taken place, as Mark Cliffe, group chief economist at ING, points out.


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